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SUV 4x4 Cargo Rack
Custom made rack system for Toyota Tacoma

If there is any one SUV, Jeep or truck accessory that makes your adventure recreation lifestyle go smooth, it's a good cargo or sport rack.

by Louis Dawson

Big SUV or small Jeep, the day will come when you will run out of cargo space. A trailer or larger vehicle might be your solution, but most people need to use what they have. How? Add a cargo rack to your vehicle and you'll be forever grateful!

Often the best cargo racks are custom built for specific vehicles, with pylons, brackets, cargo boxes and other add-ons provided by rack makers such as Yakima or Thule. Good fabricators can make such racks for little more cost than buying a comparable retail rack system. Your custom rack will be stronger, lower profile (better appearance and gas mileage), and fit your vehicle exactly. Check out this custom rack system we had fabricated for our Toyota Tacoma trailhead approach vehicle (TAV). CODE 4x4 can easily build such a rack for any vehicle.

Rack
Leer topper custom cargo rack, with help from CODE 4x4.

We bought our Leer topper with rack mounts installed, as drilling your own mounting holes may void the topper warranty. We removed the stock mounting pylons, and built custom pylons with integrated bars. CODE 4x4 frabricated the custom platform to fit both our Jeep Cherokee and the Tacoma -- it's perfect! We prefer rack platforms without sides. Such racks yield less wind noise and better gas mileage, cost less to build, and they're better for odd sized loads and low branches. Click the images below for details!

Tacoma cargo rack. Yoyota rack bars. Toyota rack pylon detail.
Rack bars
Bar detail
Pylon
Toyota Tacoma cargo rack detail.
Pylon top view
Platform attachment
Bicycle mount

SUV, Jeep and 4X4 Rack Definitions, Tips and Details:

A "luggage rack" is what you sometimes find on stock vehicles. These engineering afterthoughts are designed for minimal weight. Stock luggage racks sometimes have side rails, sometimes they're nothing more than strips of plastic glued to the vehicle roof. For car camping and loads of backcountry gear, luggage racks are next to useless because they can only carry minimal weight, and the constant vibration and movement of your load will likely damage your vehicle's paint or dent your roof.

A "cargo rack" or "sport rack" is the beefy version of a luggage rack, is the type of rack covered in this article, and is what you need for car camping and trailhead access. Cargo racks most often consist of pylons that attach to the top of the vehicle in various ways. The pylons usually support "rack bars" which then support all manner of accessories, including platforms and baskets used to carry luggage without damaging the vehicle roof. Racks consisting of several lighter weight bars are sometimes referred to as "ladder racks." "Lumber racks" are the massive structures frequently installed on pickup trucks, designed to carry super heavy loads. CODE 4x4 can build those as well.

Remember that you can't exceed the rack weight rating for your topper. (In our case 350 lbs.) To carry more you have to fabricate a sub-frame or external frame that supports your rack -- thus taking the load off your topper. Soon we'll be fabricating a clean lightweight "factory" looking subframe inside our topper -- stay tuned!

When installing a pair of bicycle fork holders, take care they are wide enough apart so the handle bars of the bicycles have room. More, be sure to install the fork holders so they are easy to remove if you need them out of the way for lumber or a cargo box. I considered installing our fork holders facing forward on the end of the rack, so the top of the holder was level with the rack platform, that way I'd never have to remove them. But installing them such makes it possible to drop the bicycle forks down on your vehicle roof if you slip. On an older truck I'd have installed them that way, but on our new truck the paint is still sacrosanct.

If you custom build a sport rack, remember to use steel pipe rather than tubing for the cross bars, as the 1 1/16 inch diameter of the pipe is more compatible with Yakima rack accessories than the 1 inch outside diameter of tubing. If necessary, stiffen the pipe with a chunk of steel tube forced into the bore of the pipe. Also consider the width of your rack bars. If you're a do-it-yourselfer and buy much plywood and other building materials with the 4-foot form factor, consider making your bars a hair over 48 inches wide. Otherwise, shorter bars may look better and have a trimmer side profile. The bars on our Tacoma rack are 45 inches wide, they'll still carry a sheet of plywood by hanging it slightly over one side, but have a trim side profile for trail driving and general appearance.

For more about this customized Toyota Tacoma please click here.

(Author Lou Dawson is our CODE4x4 webmaster and a well known Colorado outdoor writer who's first drive was his dad's flatfender Jeep. Article copyright Louis Dawson, WildSnow.com )