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Pickup Bed Rack Buyer's Guide

Bruce Smith February 2, 2012

Rack ‘em up!

Pickup Bed Rack Buyer’s Guide: Pickup bed racks have long been a necessity for just about every contracting and landscape business, but these days racks are used for more than carrying just ladder and pipe

By Peter D. DuPre

Bed rack. Ladder rack. Pipe rack. No matter what you call it, the aftermarket bed rack is one of the most valuable and useful accessories an owner can install on a pickup. Carpenter, landscapers, contractors and plumbers use racks for hauling tools, cargo and equipment to and from the jobsite.

But like any piece of modern job equipment, the bed rack has to be able to do the required job and its design evolve with the times or it’s consigned to the scrap heap.

Over the past few years, a tough business climate, rising expenses and shaved profit margins have dictated that business owners re-examine the vehicle they drive, the accessories they purchase and the way they use their vehicles.

Trucks are no longer purchased with just load hauling in mind. Fuel economy is now a vital part of the equation, as is expanded utility.

Greater utility value

Today’s pickups are often used for business and personal use, which means that on the weekends, the tools and equipment are put away and the kayaks, dirt bikes and ATVs are put on board. This means that the bed racks being sold today must also be multi-purpose.

This may sound pretty obvious, but the fact is a ladder rack with permanent anti-slide bars installed may not be suitable for hauling a canoe or kayak as the vertical bars can damage boats and other toys.

Likewise, a bed rack with non-removable crossbars can make it difficult to load ATVs and dirt bikes.

Luckily, racks are changing. Over the past couple of years the bed rack has evolved so that it is more flexible for both work and play. A rack is no longer just a rack; it is now part of a cargo management system that helps make your work (and play) truck more practical and useable.

For example, on Protech’s Rear Goal Post rack, the front part of the carrier is also an aluminum mesh cab protector while US Rack’s Hawaiian Sawhorse acts as a load rack and when removed from the truck can be used as a storage rack for holding boats and functioning as jobsite sawhorses.

Backbone and Spyder Inudstries innovative truck racks act as cab protectors and can be accessorized with LED lighting for safety and improved visibility.

And if you don’t always need a rack but want the flexibility of having one whenever and whereever you might need one, the Invis-A-Rack clamps onto the bed rails and pops up to provide 500 pounds of load carrying ability whenever you need it and folds away again when the job is done.

Other racks are designed to be directly loaded by forklift, quickly install or un-install, carry integral tool bins/boxes, or even convert to carry boats, bikes and recreational equipment.

Fit & Finish

Another trend to hit the bed rack industry over the past couple of years is improved finishing.

It used to be that most racks came painted with a thin coat of semi-gloss black to protect the steel conduit construction – a finish that almost never looked good for more than a few short months before the unit started to rust.

Today, many steel and aluminum racks come with a durable powder-coat finish, and some companies offer their finishes in matched or coordinated colors to go with your truck’s finish. Box aluminum racks are also available with a mirror-like polished finish.

So whether you need a versatile bed rack that is forklift loadable, portable, multi-functional, easily removable, adaptable and even folds out of the way when not in use, odds are a bed rack manufacturer makes it.

And if they don’t, you can probably order what you need as a custom made unit that is specifically tailored to your business and personal needs. Here’s an overview of the market covering many of the major manufacturers:

Adrian Steel

The powder-coated Loadflex Ladder Rack from Adrian Steel (adriansteel.com) is a tough ladder rack with easy on, easy off uprights that can be quickly removed for recreational activities. Constructed of 1 1/2- by 1 1/2-inch, 14-gauge wall steel tubing, Loadflex racks have a 250-pound payload capacity, and no cutting or drilling of the Loadflex is needed for installation. Rest arms easily adjust from 20 1/2 to 35 inches for wide ladders and feature a slot-through bolt design to prevent separation. In addition, Plastisol rung stop and rope hooks are welded-on for securing loads to the rack. Fits all late model GM, Ford and Dodge full-size trucks.

Backbone

All Backbone truck racks (getbackbone.com) are manufactured in the U.S. for truck enthusiasts who appreciate form as much as they do function. Backbone’s stylish headache racks, bed rails and tie down systems are custom made for each application. The racks are made from TIG-welded and extruded heavy-gauge aluminum, and have color as well as polish options for a completely custom look. Their products also come with a lifetime warranty. The LED lighting option creates added visibility and opportunity for further customization with various lens options. Backbone’s “Knuckle” sliding tie downs can be placed at any point along the bed rails and on the headache rack, adding flexibility for securing loads. They are available in polished or powder-coated aluminum.

Christensen Manufacturing/System One

The Tradesman Package from Christensen’s System One (ladderracks.com) provides an impressive range of cargo handling capabilities and storage options using strong, lightweight aluminum components and stainless steel fasteners resulting in a flexible, fuel-efficient and easy-to-use system. The company’s ladder racks start with the Pick-up Trak which is fastened to the inside lip of the bedrail and forms a structural foundation distributing the weight of the ladder rack and cargo while protecting the bedrail. The System One racks, with their flexible design, can include accommodation for full access toolboxes, stowage bins and drawers, plus built-in winches for securing overhead cargo. Color inserts are included and come in 62 colors to match your truck or corporate colors.

Go Rhino! Products

The Quick Rack™ ladder and lumber rack from Go Rhino! Products (gorhino.com) is just that – quick to install. With its patented, no drill attachment system, the Quick Rack™ installs to the bed rail in just a couple of minutes. Furthermore, the three separate rack sections can be positioned anywhere on the bed rail for complete flexibility in cargo loading. The Quick Rack™ weighs only 30 lbs and is manufactured using a strong ribbed design that allows it to carry up to 500 lbs of cargo that can be easily secured by two, 14-foot ratcheted tie downs.

Invis-A-Rack

The Invis-A-Rack (invisarack.com) is, perhaps, the most innovative cargo management system on the market. The no-drill rack can be installed by one person in about 10 minutes. The unit clamps under the bed rails and the company’s design allows you to convert your truck from no-rack to a bed rack that will carry 500 pounds in just a couple of minutes, making it the most fuel efficient rack on the market. It is only used when you need it. The rest of the time the rack is tucked out of the way under the bed rails, allowing you to maintain the uncluttered look of your original truck. Additionally, the fold-a-way design means that when not in use and properly stowed, owners will experience a fuel savings when compared with similar vehicles carrying a standard bed rack. The powder-coated unit comes with a limited lifetime warranty and is constructed from 6000-Series structural aluminum.

Proline Products

Proline Products (prolineracks.com) offers a wide variety of truck and van ladder racks and related accessories from other manufacturers on their website, and they manufacturer their own racks as well with the TR-501, their top-of-the-line model. The TR-501, made from 14-gauge steel with a durable powder-coat finish, features a fully adjustable rack to fit virtually any truck and adjusting to a length of 10 feet (including overhang), fitting bed lengths from 5 foot 8 inches up to 8 feet long. The 501 easily installs to the truck bed rails, though some drilling is required, and the unit comes with “stand off” mounting plates to adapt the rack to trucks using bed caps. Also included with the rack are quick-release linch pins for quick removal of the rear crossbar, to enable easy loading of tall cargo. Weight capacity is 1,000 pounds when mounted to the bed rails or 750 pounds when using the mounting plates for bed cap-equipped trucks.

Pro-Tech Industries

Selling a variety of cab protectors, racks and accessories, Pro-Tech Industries (protech.net) builds sturdy cargo management systems from welded box aluminum, which means lightweight and enhanced fuel economy for the operator. Pro-Tech pickup cab racks are available with rugged aluminum mesh, stylish louvers or with no insert at all. Standard units are built to fit most truck bodies or styles. Brake light cutouts and 24-inch feet are standard on all units. Options include lumber ears, extended feet, sign brackets, rope hooks, slider cutouts and more. Complementing their cab protector rack is the Rear Goal Post rack that works in conjunction with it, providing both carrying ability of up to 250 pounds. For heavy-duty use, Pro-Tech’s box aluminum, cab-over lumber rack has a cargo capacity of up to 1,500 pounds. In addition, the company makes a variety of bed boxes that work with the racks – and they will also custom make a rack to your specifications.

Ryder Racks

Ryder Racks (ryderracks.com) stylish design provides stability and durability without the weight of a steel rack. These TIG-welded bed racks are fabricated with high-polished anodized aluminum that is corrosion resistant and rust free. Ryder Rack are made to order, which offers each customer the ability to customize their rack exactly how they desire. Accessories include additional cross members, removable cross members, window guards, side panels for decals, tie-down cleats, ratchet straps, and custom fabrications or modifications are always welcome.

Smittybilt

Although known mainly as a supplier of Jeep, off-road equipment and custom dress-up parts, Smittybilt (smittybilt.com) offers a full-feature bed rack that will fit just about any pickup. The Contractor’s Rack is manufactured from heavy-gauge 2-inch tubing finished in textured black matte, is completely adjustable to any in bed length or cab configuration and has a “no drill” installation that allows installation or removable in just minutes. The rack features adjustable legs and feet for complete custom installation, has removable center and rear crossbars to aid in loading tall cargo, and also has gusseted corners for extra strength, built-in tie downs and an air deflector to eliminate wind noise.

Spyder

Custom pickup racks that have distinctive looks with function are fast gaining popularity and one of the innovators is Spyder Industries (spyderindustries.com) where you can spec out your rack online or with a phone call. (We have one on our Project Super Crew sweepstakes truck.) Their dual-hoop spider web headache racks and single rear bed hoops, wich allows you to haul items up to 20 feet long, are built with steel and top-coated with a black powder coat finish. Spyder offers numerous options including built-in LED turn/tail/backup lights and work lights.

TracRac

A division of Thule, the TracRac (tracrac.com) G2 is the second generation of their aluminum sliding truck rack system and is designed to help you carry ladders, lumber, kayaks, canoes and more, safely and securely. Damage free installation and dual powder coating make this the one of the most functional, durable, and best-looking truck rack systems on the market. Features include aerodynamic design with wind deflection for reduced noise, aluminum construction, no-drill installation, heavy-duty load stops/tie downs that adjust across the full width of the truck, aluminum ARC side cleats, crossbars with endcaps, quick release clamping knobs and a 1,250-pound load capacity. Optional accessories include custom fit tonneau cover, sliding truck box, cantilever extension and base rail tie downs with 600 pounds capacity and locking mounts.

Truck Racks, Etc.

The Hauler II from Truck Racks, Etc. (truckracksetc.com) is a heavy-duty universal aluminum bed rack that fits all full size pickups, long bed or short. Construction is of bright dipped and anodized aluminum and there are no welds to break. Features a rack capacity of 1,200 pounds and includes legs that adjust along the cross bar for a universal and customizable fit. Mounting plates are available to fit trucks equipped with bed caps (up to 1,000 pound capacity when so fitted). The rack comes partially assembled, with the remaining bit bolting together with common hand tools.

U.S. Rack

Manufacturing the largest variety of distinct no-drill bed rack designs in the country, U.S. Rack (usrack.com) offers more than 30 different racks suitable for on-the-job and weekend use. All easily install and remove without drilling. The secret is a clamp-type design that allows sturdy installation with load carrying ability. For example, their sturdy Windstream design carries up to 400 pounds and is constructed from aerodynamically-shaped tubular aluminum. It is completely adjustable to fit any pickup, including Toyota, Nissan and Dodge trucks with bed rail accessory systems. Each independent aluminum crossbar contains a fir reinforcing spar and is firmly supported by extruded aluminum legs with zinc-plated, powder-coated steel connector hardware and integrated clamping bases that can be mounted anywhere along the bedrails.

Vanguard Manufacturing

If you are looking for a bed rack that’s compatible with a service or utility body, Vanguard Manufacturing (vanguardmanufacturing.com) has the answer. The company makes a variety of rack models, including a square-tube ladder rack, cab guards, caddy racks and racks that work with bed caps. Their TCR utility body rack is 70 inches wide and is available for both 8- and 9-foot long beds. Constructed from 1.625 OD steel tubing, with angle iron rack, torsion bar for load distribution and built-in mesh steel cab protector, and rear end bar that swings 180 degrees, it will carry up to 1,000 pounds in cargo.

Buy With Accessories In Mind

When it comes to buying a bed rack, the number one consideration for most owners is usually carrying capacity. A plumber may need to carry 1,200 lbs of galvanized piping and a carpenter may need a rack with a 700 lb capacity, while a painter or landscaper may only need a couple of hundred pounds of carrying ability. Capacity is important, to be sure, but it shouldn’t be the only determining factor in purchasing a rack.

Construction details are also important, especially if you are planning to accessorize you rack or use it in conjunction with bed boxes, use it with a bed cap, or install auxiliary lighting. Flexibility is the key here. When shopping for a rack, ask if it comes with mounting plates to accommodate a bed cap. Also, consider what tie downs and cargo security devices you’ll be needing such as tie down cleats, extra clamps, tracks, and so on. If you are considering carrying tool bins at a later date, you’ll need to be considering a rack such as those sold by System One. If you want portability and invisibility, then U.S.Rack and Invis-A-Rack may offer products compatible with your needs.

Planning on installing auxiliary lighting? Well, in our opinion, for safety and appearance sake, wiring needs to run in the structure and not be tied to the exterior. This means that for most purposes a box steel or aluminum rack is better than steel tube construction, as it is easier to run wiring.

On the whole, it is better to examine a particular company’s racks along with their accessory offerings. Not all accessories are compatible with all brands, so try to think ahead, choosing a rack that provides the most immediate practicality combined with future flexibility.

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