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RANT: catastrophic Thule rack fail

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RANT: catastrophic Thule rack fail

Old 12-05-23, 02:50 PM
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RANT: catastrophic Thule rack fail

{This is not intended to bash REI nor Thule. Just heads up}

It was time to replace our ancient, Yakima roof rack, so I went to REI who sold me on the Thule Apex 4 after the bike sales associate looked at my Forester OEM receiver and gave it her blessing. Using the quick install page the Thule was built and attached. We had many uneventful hauls with two to four road bikes… until I hit a hump in the road at 45 mph and the rack with our beloved road bikes tumbled behind us into pieces (luckily nobody behind us and we weren’t hauling friend’s bikes). Bikes and rack totaled.

I took the rack back to REI who said it was a rack failure so Thule was on the hook. Subsequently Thule said if I had bothered to Read The Manual I would have seen the warning regarding minimum hitch pin receiver depth for the safety locking pin to work properly (the pin engaged but the rack minimally inserts into the receiver). Thule would NOT cover our loss. They also said this is “well known” regarding the OEM Subaru receiver, and they Thule has been lobbying Subaru to redesign but they refuse. I replied that I followed the first page of the manual “quick assembly instructions” (I sent a screen shot) where there was no caveat of any kind. The warning they mentioned was present - deeper in the manual - in fine print.

They then agreed to cover the used value of our bikes ($5,000) once we shipped the broken bikes to them. They paid $400 to ship and included bike boxes so well made a small person could live in one. BUT they would not replace the rack because it wasn’t the rack that failed! Wow. Back to REI, who agreed to replace the rack purchase fully, and provide a rack of my choice with a big discount.

An REI bike technician overheard the discussion and said he was very familiar with this issue and that doing a little research I would have learned that the Subaru OEM receiver is lousy, and “everybody gets an aftermarket one.” Really? So thousands of Subarus in Colorado with bike racks and everyone but me was aware of this, while the Boulder REI manager and other staff were not? Nor could they recommend what would work with my “well known” receiver? So I called Kuat who said they were well aware of this problem, and that their hitch based racks worked well with the Subaru OEM receiver.

So the staff and I looked it over and it was true, and the Kuat has been excellent. Moral of my story, do more research and as always, RTFM!
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Old 12-05-23, 03:47 PM
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Looks like a set of very unfortunate circumstances. I would have used the quick install guide as well. Doubt I would have even looked at the fine print. REI is not a fault since they are under no obligation, other than being nice, to inform you the incompatibility, since it is stated in the fine print. Thule makes super racks, I have had a few, with no issues; but if this is a well known issue, they should sticker the boxes NOT FOR USE ON SUBARU unless the receiver is upgraded. Feel for you.

Edit: One thing you post doesn’t make exactly clear is where the rack or hitch failed. Did the pin break releasing the rack or did the rack hitch metal break, or the Subaru hitch detach slamming the rack down?
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Old 12-05-23, 04:06 PM
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Consumers who experience a vehicle issue that could be a safety defect are encouraged to file a complaint with NHTSA.

Document everything, receipts, photos, communications.

if NHTSA gets enough complaints, Subaru may have to make good.

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Old 12-05-23, 05:29 PM
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Originally Posted by rsbob;[url=tel:23091775
23091775[/url]]Looks like a set of very unfortunate circumstances. I would have used the quick install guide as well. Doubt I would have even looked at the fine print. REI is not a fault since they are under no obligation, other than being nice, to inform you the incompatibility, since it is stated in the fine print. Thule makes super racks, I have had a few, with no issues; but if this is a well known issue, they should sticker the boxes NOT FOR USE ON SUBARU unless the receiver is upgraded. Feel for you.

Edit: One thing you post doesn’t make exactly clear is where the rack or hitch failed. Did the pin break releasing the rack or did the rack hitch metal break, or the Subaru hitch detach slamming the rack down?
Thanks for your response. I naively expected REI to own this issue because they wouldn’t sell the rack to me without looking at the car first to check compatibility. To me that implies culpability. Oh well, it worked out for me. But others are apparently suffering the same fate according to Thule. In terms of what failed, more precisely, the hitch pin was not a through pin but rather a small spring loaded pin that “clicks” in. This is so lazy, obviously designed so one can quickly insert, tighten the retaining wedge and click the safety pin into the hole. Unlike our Kuat, and every other thing I tow having a hitch pin that travels all the way through with a cotter pin securing it. Saves maybe two steps??? Thule could dump this design and do it the old fashioned way, and Subaru OEM receivers will forever be fine. I will attempt to attach screen shots. The receiver hitch pin hole depth on the Forester has a mere 3/4” depth for the Thule the safety pin. One could in theory place the insertion much farther in and tighten the retaining wedge, but then no way to use the hitch pin hole for backup. The problem is the Thule spring loaded pin does not go all the way through the receiver. Rather, it sits just inside the hole on the receiver. I assume the jostling allowed pin to pop out of the hole or the spring failed. The current on-line manual dated 2020 has no “quick install” page like my printed manual (we purchased 2018). Also, the 2020 manual has clear, bold depth recommendation of >1.5”. The Subaru receiver depth is less than half that.

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Old 12-05-23, 08:42 PM
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Holy crap, what a lame latching mechanism. With my Saris, there is a steel pin that goes through both holes with a bolt head at one end and a secure lock in the other. It needs to be screwed in with a wrench/socket wrench.

What would prevent the rack you had from being easily stolen? Maybe the image above doesn’t show that.
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Old 12-06-23, 12:19 AM
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Our Yakima Hold Up rear carrier has a thru bolt which was the case for the two previous Yakima hitch carriers we had in the past.

This time, the more expensive version, the Hold Up EVO, has some sort of quicker easier mechanism ("Tool-free locking SpeedKnob makes installation and removal fast, easy and secure") which I can't really speak to except to say it wasn't a thru bolt and have no idea whether it's a good design or not. I didn't buy it, mainly because it was more expensive. It did seem to me at the time, that it might be nice to have a speedier attachment since I do move it on and off the car regularly. But cheapness won and maybe I'm doubly glad I did?

The main reason I buy Yakima is that I have had and have several Yakima products already and like to keep in the same key system.
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Old 12-06-23, 02:16 AM
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The rack fell off 5 years after you purchased it, and you never read the manual during that 5 years?
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Old 12-06-23, 03:42 AM
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No way in the world I'd have perched any of my bikes on a hitch rack that didn't use a thru and thru pin to secure it. I'm surprised the OP didn't have a failure before now. You don't need a manual to see that design should have been a hard pass. At some point, you have to own your part of bad stuff that happens. Or bad stuff is gonna keep on happening.
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Old 12-06-23, 05:11 AM
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Perfect storm of compounded Thule & Subaru design issues, obscure small print in the manual for a known critical safety issue, REI missing it on vehicle inspection and the customer not reading the entire manual!

I always read the entire product manual for anything like this and check what the vehicle manufacturer says about it. Thule shouldn’t really have a “Quick install” guide for a safety critical item. It invites the customer to cut corners and ignore the rest of the manual. Thule’s at fault here for sure.
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Old 12-06-23, 06:44 AM
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Most, if not all car manufacturers, will make factory hitches for TOW weight only and not TONGUE weight.

These are two very different things.

TOW gross trailer weights are supposed to be evenly distributed so that a trailer is balanced as best as possible on it's wheels. That's why a human can indeed still move around a big albeit balanced trailer, but grabbing onto its arm to align onto a ball.

TONGUE weight is the force stepping downward onto the hitch. Cheater bars and breaker bars work because they are long and you are applying weight that is transformed into hundreds of ft-lbs at the pivot, in this case at the hitch.

I remember one time I didn't see a speed bump and just going thru it at safe speed limits sent my platform rack and it's 4 bikes jumping up in my rear view like it was a shuttle launch. I stopped suddenly to inspect and all was good.

Aftermarket hitches typically have a tongue weight of about 350 lbs for Class2, and I don't care if you are moving as little as one road bike, 2" hitch always. More metal wins. I can make my own call to know if a hitch is a go or no go, not some sales rep (I definitely never take advice from these) or manual.

Sucks to be the OP but all this is a simple case of negligence.
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Old 12-06-23, 07:25 AM
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Originally Posted by soyabean
Most, if not all car manufacturers, will make factory hitches for TOW weight only and not TONGUE weight.

These are two very different things.

Car manufacturers specify both maximum values, but many owners don’t understand the difference. IIRC the maximum Tongue weight for my OEM car hitch is 350 lbs while the max Tow weight is 3,500 lb.

They also specify a maximum overhang distance for the tongue weight.
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Old 12-06-23, 07:36 AM
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None of the Thule racks have a through bolt to lock the rack in place. Thule uses an expansion bolt to secure the rack into the receiver. The “finger” that goes into the receiver hole is an additional locking/safety feature.
I bought an Epos rack, which has a similar a mechanism, works very well and makes rack install and removal fast and easy. I’m dubious of OP’s claim that this information was buried in the manual. Even if this was true, not RTFM is foolhardy.
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Old 12-06-23, 08:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Thigh Master
.... the Boulder REI manager ....
I've been to Boulder many times (my brother lives there), and it seems every third vehicle on the road there is a Subaru of one kind or another. This seems like the kind of mishap that has probably happened before, unless it was a totally random freak occurance.

My 1up rack doesn't even use a through bolt, just a wedge ball to keep it secure. On the one hand, I can make it extremely tight if I so choose. But it is events like the OP's that worry me, in case that thing ever decides to wiggle its way loose.
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Old 12-06-23, 09:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Reflector Guy
I've been to Boulder many times (my brother lives there), and it seems every third vehicle on the road there is a Subaru of one kind or another.
You can’t blow a snot rocket in Boulder without hitting a Suburu, and a large percentage of them have bike racks. Yet, you don’t hear about hitch racks falling off of Suburus with any regularity.
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Old 12-06-23, 09:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Thigh Master
{This is not intended to bash REI nor Thule. Just heads up}

It was time to replace our ancient, Yakima roof rack, so I went to REI who sold me on the Thule Apex 4 after the bike sales associate looked at my Forester OEM receiver and gave it her blessing. Using the quick install page the Thule was built and attached. We had many uneventful hauls with two to four road bikes… until I hit a hump in the road at 45 mph and the rack with our beloved road bikes tumbled behind us into pieces (luckily nobody behind us and we weren’t hauling friend’s bikes). Bikes and rack totaled.

I took the rack back to REI who said it was a rack failure so Thule was on the hook. Subsequently Thule said if I had bothered to Read The Manual I would have seen the warning regarding minimum hitch pin receiver depth for the safety locking pin to work properly (the pin engaged but the rack minimally inserts into the receiver). Thule would NOT cover our loss. They also said this is “well known” regarding the OEM Subaru receiver, and they Thule has been lobbying Subaru to redesign but they refuse. I replied that I followed the first page of the manual “quick assembly instructions” (I sent a screen shot) where there was no caveat of any kind. The warning they mentioned was present - deeper in the manual - in fine print.

They then agreed to cover the used value of our bikes ($5,000) once we shipped the broken bikes to them. They paid $400 to ship and included bike boxes so well made a small person could live in one. BUT they would not replace the rack because it wasn’t the rack that failed! Wow. Back to REI, who agreed to replace the rack purchase fully, and provide a rack of my choice with a big discount.

An REI bike technician overheard the discussion and said he was very familiar with this issue and that doing a little research I would have learned that the Subaru OEM receiver is lousy, and “everybody gets an aftermarket one.” Really? So thousands of Subarus in Colorado with bike racks and everyone but me was aware of this, while the Boulder REI manager and other staff were not? Nor could they recommend what would work with my “well known” receiver? So I called Kuat who said they were well aware of this problem, and that their hitch based racks worked well with the Subaru OEM receiver.

So the staff and I looked it over and it was true, and the Kuat has been excellent. Moral of my story, do more research and as always, RTFM!
So, did the pin come out or did the hitch or receiver fail? The pin is not structural - it's there to properly locate the hitch in the receiver and to ensure that the hitch doesn't subsequently slip out. It's the extent of hitch insertion into the receiver that governs tongue weight. You're going on about how little the hitch inserted into the receiver, but it sounds like the pin came out, so the failure wasn't a result of the extent of hitch insertion, but the pin coming out. Is that right?
FTR I've had an OEM receiver on my Outback for ~20 years - mainly for pulling trailers. It's a perfectly good receiver - the key is that (i) the hitch inserts almost a foot into the receiver, and (ii) the pin goes right through the receiver and locks on the other side. And there are safety chains in the (very unlikely) event that either the hitch or pin fails. It's our responsibility to ensure that things don't detach from our cars. I'm sure other road users are glad that you've learned a lesson (although you've managed to make everyone but you responsible) - RTFM and maybe go the extra to ensure security - a proper locking pin etc

Last edited by 13ollocks; 12-06-23 at 10:19 AM.
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Old 12-06-23, 10:16 AM
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Originally Posted by 13ollocks
It's my responsibility to ensure that things don't detach from my car. It was your responsibility to ensure that your rack stayed attached.
Agreed.

Just because the OP has been using it since "2018", doesn't means it was safe nor ever safe. Just because my house never burned down, doesn't mean I don't need fire insurance.

To the rest that are looking for a bike carrier:

-2" hitch on vehicle.
-carrier must mount DEEP into the hitch with a THRU bolt.

The problem with 1-1/4" carriers is that they still sway and bounce a whole lot more than the 2" ones. Any movement during transport is applied towards wear and fatigue.

I'm flabbergasted that the store even decided to pay attention to a 5 year old purchase. The vendor wasn't even the installer, and potential lawsuits are always directed to manufacturers. The store franchise is big enough to have a legal department to deal with these things. Maybe it was their commercial insurance policy that dealt with this.
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Old 12-06-23, 11:02 AM
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Originally Posted by soyabean
Most, if not all car manufacturers, will make factory hitches for TOW weight only and not TONGUE weight.
Vehicle and hitch manufacturers make a hitch according to standard hitch classifications (SAE J684) (VESC-5) which include a tongue weight rating.
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Old 12-06-23, 12:11 PM
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Originally Posted by dedhed
Vehicle and hitch manufacturers make a hitch according to standard hitch classifications (SAE J684) (VESC-5) which include a tongue weight rating.
My Subaru OEM hitch (1 1/4") came with specific tow weight (2200 lb) and tongue weight (200 lb) limitations. I'm assuming that these were governed by the receiver size, which itself was governed by the car power (165 bhp). Quite reasonably, there wasn't a 2" receiver option for this car
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Old 12-06-23, 12:34 PM
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Originally Posted by rsbob
Holy crap, what a lame latching mechanism. With my Saris, there is a steel pin that goes through both holes with a bolt head at one end and a secure lock in the other. It needs to be screwed in with a wrench/socket wrench.

What would prevent the rack you had from being easily stolen? Maybe the image above doesn’t show that.
I believe the knob that tightens the internal wedge had a key.
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Old 12-06-23, 12:38 PM
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Originally Posted by tomato coupe
The rack fell off 5 years after you purchased it, and you never read the manual during that 5 years?
If there were a requirement to read the entire manual before, or during, the use of a product we would never have a traffic jam anywhere in the world.

For decades people have been hurtling thousands of pounds down roads at catastrophic speeds and have little clue what is inside the owner’s manual. And if you buy a used car, it is quite likely no manual will come with the car.

Quite an ask for a bike rack.

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Old 12-06-23, 12:41 PM
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Originally Posted by tomato coupe
The rack fell off 5 years after you purchased it, and you never read the manual during that 5 years?
I mentioned in my initial post that it was my failure that I did not read the entire manual. That said, why would anyone if page One of my manual was apparently all that was needed to properly install and use the rack? The only reason Thule reimbursed for the bikes was because they agreed the start-up page should have had all warnings listed front and center, rather than buried in fine print in the back of the manual. And they were buried.
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Old 12-06-23, 12:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Reflector Guy
I've been to Boulder many times (my brother lives there), and it seems every third vehicle on the road there is a Subaru of one kind or another. This seems like the kind of mishap that has probably happened before, unless it was a totally random freak occurance.

My 1up rack doesn't even use a through bolt, just a wedge ball to keep it secure. On the one hand, I can make it extremely tight if I so choose. But it is events like the OP's that worry me, in case that thing ever decides to wiggle its way loose.
The wedge ball is similar to my failed Thule, which can loosen during the two miles of washboard dirt road we traverse. Even the current Kuat loosens most of the time. We have used a tow hitch with racks for decades and always check them when we get to pavement. The majority of time the "wedge-ball" needs a bit of snugging up. I can't imagine a receiver based rack without a hitch pin for back-up.
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Old 12-06-23, 12:49 PM
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Originally Posted by nomadmax
No way in the world I'd have perched any of my bikes on a hitch rack that didn't use a thru and thru pin to secure it. I'm surprised the OP didn't have a failure before now. You don't need a manual to see that design should have been a hard pass. At some point, you have to own your part of bad stuff that happens. Or bad stuff is gonna keep on happening.
I owned my "part" at the end of my original post.
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Old 12-06-23, 12:56 PM
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If the on-line manual is the one relevant to your product, there really isn't any "fine print." Installation is covered in detail on page 3. I don't really see a "quick Installation" guide. Maybe that's a separate page?

Maybe this is the manual?

https://www.manuals.ca/thule/apex-xt/manual?p=19

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Old 12-06-23, 12:57 PM
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Location: Above Jamestown, CO
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Originally Posted by PeteHski
Perfect storm of compounded Thule & Subaru design issues, obscure small print in the manual for a known critical safety issue, REI missing it on vehicle inspection and the customer not reading the entire manual!

I always read the entire product manual for anything like this and check what the vehicle manufacturer says about it. Thule shouldn’t really have a “Quick install” guide for a safety critical item. It invites the customer to cut corners and ignore the rest of the manual. Thule’s at fault here for sure.
Thank you., That is the best summation of the whole thing. Wish I had said that at the outset. That is what I learned. And I am a reader of manuals! Another piece to the "perfect storm" was I was exhausted from work and we were finally getting a vacation. Given the REI inspection was a-ok, not to mention on a brand new OEM receiver, I went with the Quick Install after work, fried, during a hot evening the night before the trip. It didn't fail on that or many other trips... amazingly. I glanced over the manual sometime after, regarding weight restrictions, etc., but the hitch depth didn't pop out at me.
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