Roof Rack Questions

I just bought a Focus wagon with the standard roof rack. It's my first wagon, and it occurred to me that I have no idea how to use it. I don't know anyone with a wagon, and the only thing in the owner's manual is
that it's good for carrying up to 200 lbs, but don't rest anything directly on the roof.
So, how do I safely use it? Obviously, I don't want the whole thing falling off when I brake, or have the things I carry landing on the highway.
For example, how would I carry things like:
Bikes? 2 x 4s? Plywood? Luggage? 24' Extension ladder? Unruly children?
(Better check on state laws on that last one)
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You need to buy a set of crossbars which span between the two longitudinal rails on your wagon. These can be bought either from Ford or from a good sports shop (Thule or Yakima brand). These clamp firmly to the rails, and then you can tie your longer objects directly to the crossbars (ladder, luggage, plywood). Use a good set of cam-and-belt tie-downs to be really sure on the highway. If you want to carry bikes, you need to buy yet another adapter (you can again buy the Ford product, the Thule or Yakima). For these, you anyway need the crossbars first. For luggage, you should buy a basket which connects to the... you guessed it... crossbars. I haul bikes and boats, so my setup with crossbars and two bike carriers cost me about 260 USD over here in Switzerland.
For a really good overview of the products available, go to:
www.yakima.com or www.thule.com
Stephen
p.s. with the *proper* racks and good tie-downs, my boats and bikes are rock-steady up to 140kph.
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I agree with the comments of Stephen F.
I would only add that if you are on the budget, then you do not necessarily need to buy the crossbars and systems from Thule or Yakima. Having said that, Thule makes racks and boxes that will fit directly to the factory bars - saves $$$ by not getting ancillary equipment. These are easier to mount and remove, but your expansion options might be limited. You can also buy a generic brand roof rack in one of the national automotive stores, and then make your own adapters for the factory bar - I did it with a bicycle rack which I got for my Focus (SportRack expendable bike rack, $45 Cdn). The plus side of a Thule or Yakima systems is that those are usually transferable if you got another vehicle, are of good quality, and there are variety of accessories you can attach. You can also buy fabric cargo boxes, but I do not recommend those.
As for carrying stuff on roof, I found it very convenient. It is quite popular way of hauling cargo in Europe - I've seen many wagons, including at least two Focuses, with roof boxes. Personally, I think it expands on the concept of a"sport" wagon. Expect a bit of a penalty in fuel consumption, but a bonus in capacity. As long as you securely and evenly mount the roof cargo (in cargo box, crate, or in a ski or bike rack etc. - see Thule site for ideas), sometimes with help of tiedows or bungee cords, and within the combined weight capacity, then you should not have problems. Also, make sure that whatever rack you get, it is lockable for security and some extra peace of mind. One downside is that with the higher Focus Wagon roofline, it may be difficult for some to load the roof.
Hope this helps -
Cplgi '00 Focus SE Wagon (and loving it! - still)

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bikes
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I do electrical contracting and often attach large ladders and other bulky items to the roof (even a puch mower!) using the suggested Yakima add-on cross bars. On Long items (stuff that extends beyond the roof in the front and back) it can be a bit tricky to secure them.
The plastic bumpers don't make for very good tie-down points as they flex and bend in ways that turn my stomach. Even securing your straps to points beneath the auto (there are great spots on the corners of the frame on both the front and back) and extending them to the item tied to the roof (like kayaks or ladders) stresses the bumpers as the strap traverses the bumper and pinches it upwards. I haven't found a good solution for this, although a front brush guard would do nicely for a front hard-point if I had unlimited funds.
In the meantime, I continue to secure items in the manner I described above and hope that I don't ruin my bumpers.
St. Louis

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