To Whom It May Concern: Reported Risk of Manufacturer Roof Rack Crossbar Structural Failure on Ford Focus Wagons
I recently purchased the Thule 825 Port Side kayak carrier to be mounted on our factory-supplied 2002 Focus wagon roof rack. The instructions in the package included a water sports hardware list, displaying which bolts to use on specific automobile manufacturer roof racks. However, the Ford Focus wagon was not listed. There was no explanation readily available as to why. After significant effort, I finally was able to talk with somebody in management at Thule.
The Thule representative checked into the issue and explained that Thule also must do testing on manufacturer racks, since their guarantees of product performance must include performance of the factory racks upon which the Thule components are installed. She explained that the roof rack cross members failed on the Focus wagon, thus precluding their listing of the Focus wagon on their recommended list. Her exact words were, “they snapped” upon testing using their testing protocols. Reliable mounting of the “J” bars was also reported to be an issue with these crossbars.
Since a major part of my decision to buy that car was its roof rack, I called Ford corporate to express my alarm and seek a remedy that would ensure the safety of our kayak and the safety of occupants and others in the vicinity of transport. Ford would not admit to any concerns with respect to any question of structural integrity of the roof rack crossbars and affirmed that the roof rack is rated to carry 220 pounds. After a tense and lengthy discussion of my concerns, the Ford representative curtly told me it came down to whom would I trust: Ford or Thule? Let’s see. The Thule representative encouraged me to either buy the Thule crossbar system to reinforce the existing rack OR return their product and buy a kayak carrier from another manufacturer, but please be careful in considering the Focus crossbars in making my decision. (Hmmm . . . certainly, attitude should factor into this decision . . .)
Beyond that, I was left with the feedback from both companies and my experience to go on. My experience is that we have been carrying our 65 pound 138T Old Town Loon, mounted flat on four foam blocks on the crossbars – quadruple-strapped both to the crossbars AND the main longitudinal roof tracks. Why? Because, when I slide the kayak onto the roof rack crossbars, the normally slightly up-bowed crossbars go flat under the weight of the kayak. Based upon this observation alone, I would never strap the kayak just to the crossbars without reinforcement. To me, in comparison to the main tracks, the crossbars feel flimsy.
The Ford representative said Thule was just trying to get me to buy their crossbar system, and I asked, “Why would Thule approve all the big Ford SUV roof racks, driven presumably by more wealthy people but try to con the little Focus drivers who have less money to afford expensive roof rack systems?”
My anger is focused (no pun intended) on what is evidence to me that I paid for a vehicle with an inadequate roof rack system. In virtually all other ways, this car has been a joy to own and drive, but I am completely disillusioned by Ford’s reaction to my concerns – not only for our sake, but for all the other Focus wagon drivers out there (AND those driving behind them) who may be at dangerous risk with use of these roof racks.
One more curious thing: Last night, my online research on this subject yielded references to later models of this vehicle being sold WITHOUT the crossbars, with one reference claiming they are available separately. If this is true, I guess it’s kind of like selling shoes without shoelaces. And it presumably shifts responsibility onto the car owner who installs them. (These days, we all need to learn to think like corporate lawyers.)
If you drive a Focus wagon, should you use your factory-installed roof rack to transport your kayak(s)? I have shared my limited understanding of the possible risks so you will be able to make a more informed decision. As for us, we plan to reinforce our crossbar system in the most economical, yet safe, way (probably Thule crossbars, since they test their products). And, when this otherwise great car finally wears out, this lifelong Ford driver will be looking at other manufacturers. I encouraged the Ford rep to have her company look into Thule’s test findings – for the sake of the public, if not their own possible liability. I hope she does. Meanwhile, I did report what limited evidence I have to the appropriate safety commission, but I don’t intend to wait for any possible recall.
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