2017-01-21

DYI: truck cap roof rack

Once we'd repaired the truck cap http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2017/01/reparing-truck-cap.html. it was time to build a new roof-rack. New towers for the Thule roof-rack we had were something like $350. On top of that the "feet" for the towers had ripped out of the roof-rails damaging them... we could offset the rack several inches from where it was, but it wouldn't be as strong. We ended up with this:

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I wanted to re-use the bars off the old rack if we could, but they'd been bent. So I found a tree with 2 nearby trunks spaced just about right. I stuck the bar between the trunks so I could bend it, using the rest of the bar as a giant lever... it worked great and it just a couple of minutes I'd straighted out both bars.

Next was the question of how to actually attach the bars to the truck. Angie and I took a ride to Home Depot and poking around came up with something we thought would work pretty well. 4 Door-stop plates, each bolted on with 2 large bolts, and huge washers on the underside.

Okay, that makes a nice stand-off for the bar, what flumoxed us for a while was how to attach the bar to the stand-off. We came up with some overly complicated methods involving bolts etc. We considered just using rope, and finally settled on fiberfix tape. It's simple and permanent, doesn't require tons of little bolts and plates, and we don't have to worry about UV damage like we would with rope. Great... simple enough.

When we got home I took a look at where the door-stop plates would actually mount, and I didn't like how far in they ended up. So, Angie helped me unbolt them and pull them off. I re-used some of those holes actually when drilling my new holes for the much larger bolts I was using.

Of course we applied silicone to the washers, plates, and bolts before sticking them through, to try and get a watertight seal. Here's the fully assembled roof-rack. This is just after applying the fiberfix, so it's still setting.

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Angie and I both tested it and the whole thing feels VERY secure... actually it's probably overkill. When we rolled the truck the towers and track were the first part to fail, and as a result the bars, basket, and cap itself were all left mostly undamaged. If anything ever catches on this roof-rack it'll rip a chunk out of the roof of the cap... My plan is to not do that ;-).

To get the truck fully fixed up and ready for travel we also had to get an alignment, turned out it was pretty far off. Just for looks I glued a plastic plate back on the front door
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And 'cause music is nice we picked up screw-extractors and a new antenna. I borrowed my friend's drill (my bits), drilled it out, and extracted the base of the old antenna no problem.

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We were able to save some, but not all the U-bolts I used to mount the basket to the old cross-bars. A few replacements and everything was back together again, highlift and roof-basket mounted up top.

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After doing this, I am never buying a production roof-rack mounts again. This was really quite easy. I feel like the end result is at least as tough, and relatively attractive.

Cost for this was ~$50.0. That's for the replacement u-bolts, new standoff plates, bolts, nuts,  washers, silicone and fiberfix... and we didn't even reuse the rails. If you were doing this from scratch you'd need to get something to use as crossbars of course.

Finally, we're ready for the road again! We do need to sand and paint a few spots on the cap so they don't rust, but overall we're fully functional again, and heading south toward Missouri in a couple of days, and then onward to Arkansas.

UPDATE:The roof rack was sliding back and forth under the fiberfix binding, causing nasty weight shifts while cornering. We picked up some bolts, drilled the rack cross-bars using a hand-crank drill, and ran small 1/4" bolts straight through the rack and metal bracket to keep it from sliding. It's worked great since.

Reparing a truck cap

When we rolled our truck http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2017/01/jack-is-back.html, the cap got a little damaged

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Our first thought was to just repair that crack on the right edge, and that would probably do it. So, first thing was to try a bunch of ways to push it back in to position, so we could somehow glue it back that way. Our first attempts were by hand and didn't go so well, then I tried this:

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First I attached the ratchet strap to the one roof-rack tower that hadn't been broken off, but I quickly ripped that one off two. The picture above is the ratchet strap running down and around to the bumper on the left side. Using this we could wrack it just about back to straight, but it just popped back.

I posted about this on Facebook and my friends with boats suggested just grinding out a bunch of the fiberglass and putting it back. That seemed pretty reasonable, but it's not warm enough here in Wisconsin for epoxy to work well. I read a bunch about doing the repair to understand it... but then we called a specialist here in WI and he said he'd take a look.. Another shop had said he was the Guru for the whole area.

Well, when we got there he said if it was his he wouldn't bother repairing it. He said that random fiberglass like this is so weak to start with that the reduction in strength due to the damage doesn't matter, and he'd figure out a way to torque it back in place. He also noticed the right edge of the window frame had shifted downwards, so it was no longer level with the roofline. He also said he'd use superglue on the crakc.

So, Angie and I gave that a shot. We pushed, shoved, clamped it down in spots and unclamped it, hammered, tried bending the hinge... and nothing worked.

I got fed up, and as a last ditch I drilled a hole in the upper left corner of the cap, near the window, stuck a bolt through it to attach to (I actually used one of the J-clamps the cap is held on with to do it... ended up bending the bolt but that was cheap to replace) and ran a ratchet strap from there down to the bed on the right side, like this:

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Cranking that tight I was able to actually wrack it back straight. So, since it was late I pulled it a bit past straight and let it sit overnight. Next day when I let it loose the cap had shifted a little, warping back!

I discovered online that some people used heat to rework fiberglass a little, so I cranked it tight again and hit it with my friend's propane torch on the corners where I needed it to warp back.

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The heat allowed me to crank the strap a little tighter, a little more heat, crank it a little tighter, pulling the cap farther and farther past straight in the opposite direction. I released it a few times to check (letting it cool first). I got it pretty close, but not *quite* good enough to close the window properly.

So, we figured maybe repairing the crack would add a little more spring to that side and help a little more. We cranked it nice and tight again, compressing the crack together, and then glue the crack with fiberfix.

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THAT did it, when we released the strap it was "close enough".

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I held my judgement though until the next day. But it hadn't sprung back yet, it's now day 2 and it's still holding the position. Hooray! This was quite a long time in the making... so we

This cap cost us over $2000 new... If we'd been unable to repair it we probably would've bought a less nice used cap with less head-room and no windoors, and just made do.... but it's great to have our cap back.

There were also a couple of damaged spots in the roofline, but they aren't structural, so I just filled with a 5 minute epoxy today. Total cost ~$15 for epoxy. ~$12 for fiberfix ~$0.25 for a new bolt. A few cents worth of propane, and a borrowed ratchet strap. <$30.0 to repair the cap (not including gas).

Next up... the roofrack (and a few other repairs).

2017-01-12

Jack is back!

It's been wild

Last time I posted a picture of jack, he looked like this:
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http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2016/12/rolled-truck-in-north-dakota-blizzard.html

Well, picking up where that story left off, the insurance company totaled the truck. When we talked to the owner of the body shop it was at he said 20k to get it to original condition... well shit. Being a super nice guy he saw the looks on our faces and had a real conversation with us when I pressed him. After talking about what we wanted (mechanically sound and safe, but ignoring looks) he said he could do it for ~$1400... THAT sounded better to us.

It was Christmas-time, so we traveled back to our respective parent's houses by train. This consisted of: Walk 3 miles across Bismark, swap around clothes etc. at the truck, walk to bus station, leave on bus at 2am (bus is late actually 5am, get to Fargo at 8am, hang out in coffee shops, get on train next day at 2am, 2 day train ride getting in 8 hours late.

Money and paperwork
After totaling out the vehicle for about 11k, and subtracting the 1k deductible, the insurance company sold the truck back to us for a bit over $600. The tires alone are worth that. The trick is that if I buy it back, it's salvage title, so I can't insure it for collision or comprehensive... and the paperwork can get harry.

Here's how I ran the numbers on whether to buy it back:
- USAA valued my last totalled tacoma for parts at 8k, so I figure if I total it, I can sell it for ~6k fairly easily
- I bought it back for ~$600, and repair estimate was ~$1400, so that's ~$2k in on the vehicle.

So if it's totalled I should be 4k in the black, so that gives me a lot of room for further repairs

As far as how much money I lost on rolling it
- I bought it for $15k
- They payed me $9k
- I had to pay another $2k to get it
- I can still sell it for $8k trivially, as a running Tacoma

Which comes out break even. I lost a lot on hotels, eating out, lost time, etc. I need to repair the roof-rack, bla bla, but overall... I came out a lot better than one would expect for totalling a car.

As for paperwork, I was worried I'd have to drive it back to MA for a salvage inspection. The rules on the DMV website were opaque, the insurance folks at AAA didn't know. Finally I ended up talking with our total loss representative at Mapfre and they said that because the vehicle is over 10 years old, there is NO paperwork, no inspections, nothing. That's it, we're good to go.

So, that's what we did... Being unsure when the truck would be complete Angie took the train up to my parent's house after Christmas. When it was ready we reversed the train/bus trip, picked up the truck in Bismark ND, and drove it back to my friend's house in Wisconsin. The drive back was a little exciting. First we drove from Bismark to Fargo. It was fine most of the way, but the highways in Fargo were black ice and weather looked bad in Minnesota, so we decided we were done for the day. We stopped at a motel 6 and slept for 18 hours (having not slept properly for 3 nights prior), breaking in the middle for dinner. The next morning we looked and Minneapolis was in fact a disaster as predicted, so we decided to route south around it via Sioux Falls, adding 2 hours to the drive on an ideal day. A good chunk of the road heading south was glare ice, and we did those parts at 20-30 mph, blinkers flashing as we looked out at cars and trucks that had slid off the road on either side. From Sioux Falls to Madison WI was a lot better, and we made it here by about 1am.

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The truckSo, here he is... He feels like he could use an alignment, but everything seems to be running great. This is the side that didn't roll through the snow. The remainder of the roof rack is in the back on top of the platform.

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On the other side though it looks really good for having been rolled. The door didn't open properly before due to a dent in the front quarter panel, and of course the mirror was smashed. The shop popped the dent out, as well as the fender and the door itself. When Angie first tried pulling the door latch it would lock the door, but something popped back in to place and it seems to work properly now. Amazingly, the window even rolls down and back up again smoothly!

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The roof of the cab took most of the damage. They shoved it back in to place and got a really solid seal around the window, but it definitely looks a little worse for the wear. I need to sand and repaint the spots that really got creased. The cab may rust through before the truck wears out now... oh well... if it does I'll have to either replace that sheet metal or do a cab swap, for now it works fine though.

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The cap lost a few little chunks of fiberglass, no biggy, but I think I'll fill in the biggest hole just to keep water from getting in there, freezing, and opening things up wider. I might just mix up epoxy and shove it in there.

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The most immediately problematic damage is a crack in the truck cap. Our theory is that we can repair this either with fiberfix or a standard fiberglass repair kit. It's an issue because the cap is twisting left, so the window doesn't close properly (as you can see here), and the structural integrity is an issue for remounting the roof rack. In theory it should be an easy fix. A major reason we headed for a friend's place is that our stuff has to go somewhere while we take it all apart and put it back together, so a garage is likely to be helpful.

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Other minor work we need to do includes checking the transmission and differential fluid levels, bending the bed sides back inwards maybe an inch, sanding and painting the dents on the body so they don't rust, remounting the right front signal properly, replacing/repairing the roof rack, replacing one storage box that got smashed, and replacing the radio antenna... but that's all minor stuff.

Jack is back, and back on the road! And with a little luck pretty soon we'll be fully operational again. Then we're heading south :D.