Honda Element BOV

Started by RonnyRonin, June 27, 2021, 02:21:21 PM

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Like many I'm stuck with a BOV optimized for daily life rather then payload, off road performance and range. I used to have a 4runner but have traded down to a honda element; its easier to park in town, gets better fuel milage, is more comfortable on long trips and the cargo space is far more usable for the things I normally lug around.

Buuuut....aftermarket support and mods are pretty lacking for what is essentially a sub-compact minivan that hasn't been made for 8 years or so. I've had to get a bit creative, and as such most of these mods are pretty universal for any small SUV or car with a hitch and roof bars.

I had been saving up for a receiver hitch for some time, but was lucky enough to find one in an alley on top of a dumpster (yes, for my exact car, new in package with all hardware  :shock: a few days before christmas even). This saved me a cool $150, and one brief evening with a headlamp got it installed (pure bolt-on job thank goodness).

Of course some compact SUVs can only seem to get 1.25" hitches, luckily there is an easy 2" option for me, but most of my adventures should work for either size.

The first and most basic mod by far is a simple rear cargo rack:

this one was $20 on craigslist, and has a nice dog leg so as to not kill my departure angle too much. It also clears my hatch and tailgate, so even though it blocks a lot you can still work around it. Of course the sky's the limit with these, as long as you don't overload it. My main purpose was to be able to store fuel outside the passenger compartment, and this does that fairly well, if not adding a ton to my car length and being generally in the way:

these were empty just for fun of course, I'm sure it would drive like absolute crap with that much weight, but I could also make the west coast non-stop.

wanting something more out of the way, I next tried a swing-aside bike rack to mount stuff to.

My goal was two cans and a full sized spare, my buddy is just holding the tire there for reference as I haven't found one yet.

having the gas cans clear out to one side is pretty unwieldy on the folding, but it does fully clear the hatch and gate for easy loading and unloading. The advantage of having it clear to one side is pretty big:

Hands free fuel transfer, since the cans can be filled and emptied in place I dont' have to lug them around or stand by the side of the road dumping a gas can into my car.

Probably no surprise to anyone; but the slotted angle I used to support the MRAP can carrier was NOT up to the task and bent after one speed bump (tested it with water cans, don't worry). Since the swing aside bike rack was quite bulky and heavy and eating up too much garage space I ended up selling it before I got a chance to refine that particular setup.

more recently I revisited the project with a cheaper and lighter fold DOWN bike rack, it still clears the hatch and gate, but is more in the way then the swing-aside. By placing the cans further away I can use the top hatch without having to fuss with the rack at all, making it far more daily driver friendly (and thus more wife approved). Instead of slotted angle I used Superstrut, which is my new favorite building material. I used two spans to attach the can carriers (cheap chinese ones this time) directly to the 2" steel upright, and a third span is hidden underneath to support some weight as well. After a few days of mean alley potholes and speed bumps it hasn't twisted or slipped at all so I'm calling it good. With a lighter hitch rack and lighter can holders I am more within my tongue weight rating, and feel better about also carrying two rather large steel bikes at the same time for fallback transportation during a BO.

Departure angle isn't quite as good, but just as a single steel tube out the back dragging it isn't the biggest impediment, likely just a problem if I try to back up a hill and it digs in.


Speaking of superstrut, I was having a hard time finding crossbars that I either liked, or could afford. Most are aggressively curved and seemed to all be north of $100. Most roof baskets I see on subarus and the like are sitting VERY high and sucking a lot of wind. I wanted something lower, and more modular.

Superstrut for the win; a 10' span cost me $20 and between cross bars and spacers I had about 6" left over. I painted them flat OD, and bolted them straight into my roof. Hona Element mounting points are a bit abnormal, I assume most other cars are better off using the factory side rails, but would heartily recommend superstrut cross bars for being cheap, flat and rigid.

I was able to mount these scary close to my roof, and their frontal area is pretty small. I was expecting howling or whistling but a few freeway trips have yielded no extra road noise. I was also expecting to lose 1-2 MPG but I ended up getting the best tank in 2 years after I put the bars on...daily driving at town speeds I naturally can't seem to tell a difference in efficiency.

I shopped around for a long time for a roof basket, but they are either
a) very expensive
b) very low quality
c) have massive frontal area for a small capacity
d) heavy enough to be a significant portion of my roof weight rating

or all four. after a few months mulling it over and a fortuitous trip to a thrift store I had my answer:

Completely flat cargo area, no side bars to interfere with loading, and minimal frontal area when empty.

it has the same cargo space as a twin bed because...well, it is a twin bed.

I used the conduit clamps for the super strut to make the whole rack removable with 4 bolts. The untreated wood slats are sure to fair very poorly in the weather but I'm already debating what to replace them with; perhaps plywood or expanded metal mesh. The steel frame of the bed is incredible light and rigid, being a continuous welded loop of square tubing with no breaks in it there is very little flex, even from corner to corner, and weighs less then most baskets half the size.

Of course with a roof load the goal to keep it as low and light as possible, so I doubt I would throw that much fuel up there, but I would probably keep a few pelican cases of essential gear that I wanted fast access to and not be buried somewhere in the back cargo area. Likely my camp kitchen, recovery gear, tools, and probably a few light drybags with superfluous light things like extra clothing.

I'd  like to add a wind faring to the front eventually, and if I'm dreaming big an LED light bar but that's unlikely at this point. The Bed frame was free from a friend cleaning house so the total cost of the roof rack was around $40 for superstrut and hardware.
share your tobacco and your kindling, but never your sauna or your woman.


I dunno if they're made for the Element, it not being a typical offroad/bugout rig, but you might look for MOLLE panels.  I saw 'em for Tacomas, 4runners, and various Jeeps: panels that screw into various locations, and can be used either for attaching MOLLE pouches or just hanging tools.  Even in the beds of pickups.

It actually looks pretty neat, I just don't want expensive and easily-detached items in the bed of my truck; I kinda want a MOLLE panel that would attach to the rear bulkhead of the cab, behind the back seats.

...I hear ya about fuel economy, though. :'(


I've been trying to make some seat backers to get all of my tools and recovery gear off the floor (currently its all in a milk crate behind the drivers seat...not the safest in a crash. I made some pretty great ones as far as organization goes but the massive weight made sagging and attaching them a problem...need to revisit the issue soonish. I even had some level III rifle plates in the seat backers, but yet again more weight.
share your tobacco and your kindling, but never your sauna or your woman.


I've seen people use wire grid panels, then either MOLLE pouches for smaller stuff or just strapping larger items to the grid.

I can't find a good picture now of course, but if you search up "molle grid car" and picture wire grid instead of the expensive MOLLE options, you'll get the idea.

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