Taylor and I recently bought a 2015 Mercedes 170” Cargo Sprinter Van, with plans to convert it into a home on wheels. Our goal is to take this van all over North America eventually reaching Alaska.
To help inspire others, we are documenting our journey and each step of our van build, creating video tutorials on youtube along the way.
The 6th project of our van build series is installing roof rails.
Tools Needed to Install Roof Rails
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Before we get into each step of the roof rail installation, below are the tools used during the installation on our Mercedes Sprinter Van (this tutorial could apply to other vans as well).
- Roof Rails from Vantech: https://amzn.to/33G0kJo
- Heat Gun: https://amzn.to/35LBSIn
- Channel Locks: https://amzn.to/2oHedIM
- Hammer: https://amzn.to/35MRuf4
- Trim Remover (used to pry open plugs): https://amzn.to/2VSMNLP
After unboxing the VanTech roof rails, we realized they provide a weatherproofing gasket along with the bolts and nuts.
Step by Step: Roof Rail Installation
Below is a step by step guide on how to install roof rails on your Mercedes Sprinter Van. We think this tutorial is helpful for other van builds as well, like a Ford Transit or Dodge Promaster.
To start, you will need your ladder and head to the roof of your van. You will need your heat gun (you can probably use a hairdryer worst case), your chisel (we used plastic ones so ensure we do not scratch the paint), and your channel locks pliers.
It’s a good idea to put something on top of your roof so you do not scratch it with your tools, we used a piece of cardboard which worked just fine.
Step 1: Pry Open Roof Rail Plugs
The first step is to heat the roof rail plug (circular looking lid on the roof rail) with your heat gun for 10-15 seconds. Once heated, take your chisel and pry open the plug, this should be relatively easy, if it’s not, apply more heat.
Step 2: Remove Roof Rail Plugs
Once you lifted the roof rail plugs, pull it off with chanel lock pliers.
In the unfortunate event that the lid tears, simply go into the van and hit the plug with a hammer.
Step 3: Remove Excess Glue
If excess glue remains after removing the plug, apply heat with your heat guy and chisel the rest off. You can use acetone to help remove this as well.
Step 4: Line up the roof rails
Once all of the roof plugs are removed as well as the excess glue you are ready to line up your roof rails. If you purchase your roof rails from VanTech, the rails come in 3 pieces, marked A, B, and C.
- A = the longest
- B = mid-size
- C = smallest
Make sure you line up your roof rails in the proper direction (use the van tech instruction. Piece A is in the front of the van, piece C is in the back, B is in the middle.
Step 5: Apply Weather Proofing Strip
Before you apply the weatherproofing strip to the roof rails, make sure you connect all three pieces with the connecting adaptors. Once this is done, apply the weatherproofing to the pieces.
VanTech gives you 6 pieces of weatherproofing strips, 3 different sizes. Apply the largest weatherproof strip to piece A, mid-size to piece B and smallest weatherproof strip to piece C.
Step 6: Thread Bolts Through Roof Rails
Now you’re ready to thread the bolts through the weatherproof strip. I used a drill bit to create a pilot hole to allow the bolt to easily go through the weatherproof strip to ensure the bolt doesn’t pull off the weather stripping.
Step 7: Tighten Down The Rails
The last step for installing roof rails to your roof is tightening the bolts down from the inside. The instructions say to use a 7/16th’s but that is too big. Instead, I used a 10mm socket which worked great!
Don’t forget to use the washer’s VanTech provides to help secure the bolt in place.
Summary – Roof Rail Installation
Overall this project is relatively easy and you can do it! It took me about 4 hours from start to finish and that includes the time spent worrying about capturing the content on camera. I did this alone, but if Taylor was able to help with this project I am sure we would have completed it faster.
We definitely think you can install roof rails yourself if you have the right tools! But if you don’t feel comfortable consider getting it installed professionally.
Check out our other Van Build blog post:
Thinking of buying a van?
Before we decided to buy our own van we rented one to test the waters! This helped us realize it’s something we really want to do since buying a van and converting it is a lot of money and a lot of effort! We rented a van in Portugal and absolutely fell in love with van life!
A heads up: This blog post is a review of the van we rented, not really a van life video.
If you have any questions about how to install roof rails to your van, drop a comment below! If you’re interested, please follow our van build series where we will document every step of the build process as well as our youtube channel!
As always, thank you for reading/watching our content!