<font color=blue size=+1>Buyer beware when buying vehicle roof racks</font><p>
There are a lot of vehicle roof racks on ebay, by big names like Yakima, Thule and others. As someone in the used Yakima roof rack business on ebay I can tell you there are plenty of racks up for auction that shouldn't be there because they are missing parts that can't be purchased, or they're just broken. Sometimes the seller is honest about these things up front, and sometimes they're not. Since these racks can sell for up to several hundred dollars it is in your best interest as a buyer to know that you're getting something you can actually use without having to spend another fortune and lots of time hunting down replacement parts. The main thing that is often missing parts or broken in auctions are the towers. Towers are the 4 bases or supports that attach the rack to your car and hold the cross bars in place, and probably the most important part of your roof rack. Most racks consist of 4 towers and 2 bars. From there you can accessorize with whatever attachments you desire.<p>
Below is a 3 step process will help keep you from getting screwed on your ebay rack purchase. And farther down the page there is some useful information about the most common types of Yakima towers, and things to look for when buying used ones. Although this guide is written with Yakima in mind, the concepts are also applicable to Thule and other rack systems.<p>
<li>Before bidding, get on the Yakima (or Thule) website and determine what your vehicle needs. I will use Yakima as an example from now on. On the Yakima site (yakima.com) you can find out what your car needs by clicking on the CHOOSE MY RACK link and entering your vehicle's year, make and model. The rack configurator will then tell you what type of towers your car needs, and what length bars you should get.
<li> Once you know what kind of towers you need, look at the description of them on the Yakima website. Go to the PRODUCTS tab, click on RACK SYSTEMS and find your tower. Look at the diagram, and then pull up the SPARE PARTS list so you know what replacement parts Yakima sells and how much they are if you may need them. Do this because a lot of folks are selling towers that are incomplete and some parts are not actually available without just buying a whole new tower. Also, download the instructions, as most auctions don't include them. Yakima has PDF instruction files for all of their current products on their web site.
<li> Now you can look on ebay again and weed out the auctions that are missing parts you can't replace. Look carefully at the pictures for evidence of missing parts. If you don't see something, ask the seller a question.
In your search on ebay you may run into some towers you didn't see on the Yakima website. If you can't find an item on
the web site, it is probably because it is an older type of tower they no longer sell. Many of these are still very useable, but extra care should be taken to make sure you get all the necessary parts in the auction. Examples of older model towers are <br>
<li>Doublecross or Crosstop (replaced by Lowrider),
<li>Railrider (replaced by control tower) and
<li>SST (replaced by Q tower). </ul>
<p>Below is some further information about common problems with used towers, and whether or not replacement parts are available to solve these problems. This discussion does NOT include information on all types of Yakima towers. Just the 4 most common ones and their older counterparts.
<p>If you are considering buying any of the older model towers, you should first call Yakima at 888-925-0703 and speak with a representative. They can tell you whether the older tower will work with your vehicle or not. 90 percent of the time, if the Yakima website says your car needs Lowrider you can use Doublcross or Crosstop towers. If it says Control Tower with Landing Pad 1, 2 or 3 you can usually get Railriders (with the appropriate number suffix)
<b>Other important things to know about some of the towers.</b>
<ul><b> Q towers</b>. These fit most vehicles because they need to be outfitted with a set of clips customized for your type of vehicle. Yakima makes over 120 different styles of Q-clips to fit just about any car out there. The RACK CONFIGURATOR should have told you what Q clips you need for your car.<p>
The Q tower was just recently redesigned to make a great tower even better. The design improvements make it basically impossible to lose its component parts, and eliminates a mechanism for attaching the towers to the bars that sometimes got stripped. The new design basically looks just like the old Q tower in shape, but it installs a little differently than the old version.
<p>The old version of the Q tower was a good design and Yakima retained it for nearly 20 years. The only major flaws in the old Q tower design were 1) that the plastic shell that covered the metal frame inside was removable and came in 3 pieces. If one or more of these pieces were lost, you couldn't use your tower and you couldn't buy a replacement plastic part, you basically had to buy a new tower. And issue 2) is that the old Q towers have a cam mechanism that you tighten the tower onto your bars with, which sometimes stripped with too many installations and removals. Either that or the receptacle for the 6mm allen wrench that tightens the cam becomes stripped. If either the cam is stripped or the allen wrench receptacle is stripped, this is a broken tower and you would need to replace it. If you bought one of these on ebay and it won't tighten onto your bar for either reason, you need to contact the seller and find out why he sold you a broken tower. Fortunately this is a much less frequent problem than lost parts, but it is NOT something that can be seen from looking at the tower in an auction photo.
<p> Improvements in the new Q tower design: First, there are no removable plastic shell pieces, the tower has one solid cover over the metal guts. The plastic front of the new Q tower is hinged just above the foot, and you pull the front cover toward you to open it. This allows you access to the guts of the tower from the front, where you will need to insert a small allen wrench to tighten the tower onto the bar. Second, the mechanism that attaches the tower to your bars does NOT rely on a rotating cam anymore that could become stripped.
<p>One more thing to look for with either version of the Q tower is to make sure the lock housings are included. This is a part that comes out in both versions of the tower (you have to remove the lock housing to install the Q clips), and the lock housing is just held in by a small u-shaped metal clip on the inside of the tower. In the new Q tower design, the lock housing attachment clip is permanently attached to the tower and slides up and down in a track to allow installation and removal of the lock housing. In the old design, the clip is a separate piece that you pull off and set aside while you work with the lock housing and the Q clips. If the lock housing clip or the lock housing itself are missing, Yakima does sell replacements for them fairly cheaply. Just adjust your bid accordingly.
<p>With all this said, don't shy away from the old Q tower. It is a solid, reliable product. Just make sure you get a set of towers that's complete with all the plastic shell pieces. The auction photos should tell you what you need to know. If they don't, then ask.
<p><b>Q clips:</b>Your Q tower system is not complete until you get the right Q clips for your car. Yakima makes over 120 different kinds of Q clips for an excellent fit for your vehicle. You just need to use the RACK CONFIGURATOR on their website to find out what clip number you need.
<li> Q Clips are sold separately from the towers. If a tower auction comes with Q clips (let's use Q20 clips as an example - these fit many Nissan and Toyota SUV's but not much else) it is very likely they won't fit your car. But there are lots of other Q clips for sale on ebay and at Yakima retailers everywhere.
<li>New Q clips are supposed to come with the rubber feet that go on the bottom of the towers. The feet sit on your roof. Don't buy a set of Q clips on ebay without the rubber feet, unless you bought a set of towers that came with the feet.
<li>Brand new Q towers do NOT come with the rubber feet because they are sold with the Q clips. The rubber foot pads are necessary to keep the rack from scratching your roof.
<p><li><b>SST towers</b>. These are the predecessor to the Q tower and they are very old, like from the 80's. There are still some out there that are in reasonable condition though, but there are some out there that are very rusty. Sometimes sellers call these Q towers when they are not. SST towers take Y clips, and Q towers take Q clips. They are not interchangeable. Like Q clips, there are a number of different Y clips for a custom fit for your car, and because they are old, you will need to call Yakima to find out what will fit your car, as the information is not on their web site. Finally, there are 2 different types of locking/tightening mechanisms for SST towers. The silver ones take the newer SKS lock cores, and the black ones have built in locks which take Yakima's older round keys with a 3 digit number beginning with a 0.
<p><li><b>Lowrider or Doublecross or Crosstop towers</b> are the easiest towers to install, as you don't need any tools to do the installation. One thing that is often missing from these auctions is the rubber pads. Make sure you get all 4 rubber pads when you buy the towers. The rubber pieces are normally found attached to the tower and cover the whole part that wraps around your factory side rail. Yakima does carry replacement rubber feet for Lowrider and the older models. If the tower is missing anything else, such as the arm / screw mechanism that tightens onto your bars, don't buy it. These items are not sold separately by Yakima.
<p><li><b>Control tower or Railrider towers</b> These have a universal top part and several different bottom parts
that fit on different types of factory tracks or side rails on your vehicle's roof. The bottom part or base is called a
<i>landing pad</i>, and there are 9 different types. Landing pads are sold separately from the control tower,
<p>HOWEVER if you are buying a railrider tower model, the landing pads and all mounting hardware should be included. If they are not, you will have to buy them from Yakima directly. A railrider auction should include 4 plastic base pieces, 8 (or 16 depending on the model) metal clips or rectangular plates to attach the bases to your rails, and at least 8 screws to hold the plates onto the bases. Screws come in long or short lengths and you need to find out from Yakima which ones your car needs for proper attachment to your factory rails. Railriders only had 3 different styles (Railrider 1, 2 or 3). You need to CALL Yakima to confirm fit for any of these. The Railrider 1 tower had 2 different sized mounting plates, labeled A or B. Again, check with Yakima on what your car needs. Generally if their website says you need control tower with Landing Pad 1 this is equivalent to Railrider 1, but always ask Yakima. There is nothing wrong with buying these older Railrider models as long as you get the parts you need. Yakima does sell the replacement hardware so if you're missing a screw or a plate you can get it.
<p>VERY old railrider towers do not lock, but come with an unusual allen wrench to install them. If the auction does not include the wrench, don't buy it.
<p>More recent railrider towers use sks lock cores, just like the control towers do, and also require a special allen wrench for installation. When locked, the bolt with the special head is covered up so it can't be unscrewed.
<p><li><b>1A raingutter towers.</b> These towers do just what the name implies. They fit into raingutters on your car's roof. Not too many cars actually have raingutters anymore but some do. These towers can also be mounted to camper shells with some special mounting brackets which are sold separately from the towers.
<p>Raingutter towers are supposed to come with rubber feet that make the fit in the raingutter more snug, but if they are missing the rubber feet it's probably not a big deal. You could improvise, or you could get replacements from Yakima.
<p>One important issue about these towers is what kind of locks they might have. The very oldest raingutter towers came with lock cylinders that had a small gold key and a 2 digit lock number. Yakima does NOT carry replacement keys for 2 digit lock numbers anymore. Then Yakima upgraded to a cylinder that had a 3 digit key number stamped on it that started with a 0, like 039 or 050. And the key head was round. They DO carry replacement keys for these. Current models have a cylinder that accepts the sks (same key system) lock cores, which are sold SEPARATELY from towers.
<p>Another problem that can occur with very old raingutter towers is that the part that attaches to the bars is aluminum and the bolt that snugs the fit up is steel. Sometimes the bolt will seize up due to the 2 different metals. Another common problem is that the threads on the head that holds the bar get damaged, again because it's aluminum and may be softer than the steel bolt. These parts are all replaceable via Yakima.
<li><b>locked towers.</b> It is not a good idea to buy towers that are locked when the seller doesn't have the keys. If they're locked you can't mount them on your vehicle.
For current model locks, the lock number is usually on the back side of the lock cylinder which is inside a metal lock housing in the tower so you won't be able to see it to find out what
the lock number is unless you can remove it. You can't even remove the lock core unless the lock is unlocked AND you have a special key from Yakima called the control key. Unless you happen to have every Yakima key there is and can do trial
and error until you find the right one to open the locks, or you're willing to possibly ruin your towers by drilling the locks out (and definitely ruin the locks in the process) you're not giong to get the towers to open to mount on your car. So don't buy any locked items unless the lock number is stamped on the front or the seller happens to remember the lock number. It can't hurt to ask.
<p><li><b>bars.</b> The only thing to worry about with the bars is whether they are straight and whether they have big gouges out of the black material covering them. Stay away from bent bars, bars with large silver areas exposed. or
bars that appear to have swelled at the ends. As bars age they rust from the edges inward and when they rust the plastic coating expands. This makes it hard to get the towers on (or off).
<p>After all that you may be wondering why you should buy a used Yakima rack at all. There are plenty of decent ones
out there. But there are enough bad ones out there too. These are best left to folks who buy and repair these things
with accumulated spare parts over time, e.g. to sell in used sporting goods shops or the like.
<p>Once you've got your towers and bars, you're ready to add accessories. Again, be a smart consumer and check the
Yakima website first before buying to make sure you're getting all the parts you're supposed to get in the auction, as
these items often go for a good chunk of money.
<p>It's your money, and your time. Do a little research up front and you'll save yourself a lot of legwork and frustration later.