With so many elevating roofs on the market for the T5 and T6, the hunt for a perfect roof could easily put you in a spin.
There are front, side and rear lifting types, different manufacturers, and a multitude of varying prices, so what really is the difference between them all, and is it worth splurging on a big brand?
As it’s one of the biggest purchases you’ll make after buying your van, it’s important to get it right.
We’ve seen a good many roofs which don’t quite cut it when it comes to the jostle of family time in a van so we thought we’d share our experiences from the workshop and our own time on the road.
Two of the biggest players in the elevating roof market are Reimo and SCA, with Reimo probably taking top spot as the most popular. As converters we offer both brands, along with the Eco which is made locally for us by Skyline.
Below is a summary of the key features for each of these three options, and a general overview to help you get your bearings.
The SCA is the one of the more expensive roofs on the market. Like the Reimo Easy-Fit (which came after the SCA), the SCA is completely factory assembled and comes with a separate and substantial galvanised steel ring frame.
The frame is secured to the van using a combination of plates, rivets and bonding agent, making the best effort possible to replace the strength removed from the van when cutting a 1.1m x 2.3m hole out of the van roof.
This is an important safety consideration when thinking of the stresses that your camper may go through should it be involved in an accident, but also equally important the single piece frame reduces the likelihood
of squeaks developing as the van moves and twists. In our experience, most 4 part frames can develop squeaks over time where the pieces join, which van be annoying when driving.
Other features include a high lift for adult head room in the roof bed and raised glass fibre lower shell where the canvas joins the van roof, to reduce water ingress and capillary action. A built-in front spoiler reduces wind noise and on the Deluxe version, a sliding panel to close off roof space with bonnet style catches for quick release and closing the roof.
Finally, the SCA also features a removable roof canvas making repair or replacement simple. The fabric is fitted to a track on the underside of the lifting shell and an aluminium hockey stick round the bottom, allowing for straightforward repair or replacement, should the canvas become damaged. The canvas has been designed by Esvo, a leading European tent manufacturer ensuring the best protection against water ingress.
The SCA is available in short and long wheelbase, front and rear lift, standard or high rear hinges.
The market leader by a long shot is the German built Reimo; available in front and rear lift, short and long wheelbase. The Reimo comes in two basic types, Standard and Easy-fit.
The Standard has a four-part roof frame to replace the strength which is removed by cutting the hole in the top of your van. A kit of parts then attaches the lifting glass fibre roof shell to the van. The top of the canvas is attached to the lifting part with staples and a plastic strip, the bottom is attached with a plastic hockey stick which is screwed directly to the van roof and finished off with a silicone seal. If the canvas needs a repair which requires removal, typically the canvas will need replacing.
The standard “Superflat” Reimo roof has less headroom height at the front than the SCA, but can have a cantilever bed option offering greater headroom downstairs if needed.
The Reimo Easy-fit is a factory assembled roof with built-in strengthening frame. This glues onto the van in one piece requiring just the hole to be cut in preparation.
The Easy-fit also has a separate front spoiler for reduced wind noise and a smart look. Internally a “Deluxe” bed offers additional comfort and there is an optional sliding panel to close off the upstairs space for a warm and peaceful night downstairs.
Eco roofs come in two models. Both are low profile front elevating with high lift front pistons and rear hinges for more rear space, have adult headroom in the roof bed and match up to Reimo in build and finish quality.
The first model has a standard canvas; the second boasts our Safari canvas. A twist on the conventional front elevating roof, the Safari is a call to the wild with 180-degree views. Just zip back the canvas and enjoy the great outdoors without even getting out of bed!
With 4ft lift at the front to ensure even the tallest adult can sit up with comfort whilst enjoying a morning brew. Available with gel coat black or white or spray finish for metallic and other colours.
These are just three examples of the elevating roof options available. There are others that also have niche advantages, like the Leisure Drive side elevating type that is good if you are going to be using your van in windy conditions (i.e. spend a lot of time by the beach) as a side elevating roof gives much more wind protection than a front or rear type. The Leisure Drive has limited headroom up top though, so the bed space is only suitable for smaller children.
Another side elevating roof is made by O’Conner’s Campers under the Space Roof name and is cavernous upstairs with an extending side panel giving it by far the most room. Great canvas colours and stainless steel fixings also set it apart from the crowd but the large canvas will also be noisier in the wind and rain.
At Cambee we mainly fit the SCA 196, as it has a many great features and some key advantages over other brands on the market.
But it’s also one of the most expensive but still less than the Reimo Easy-fit, so what is it that makes it so good?
Here are some of our thoughts on why you should consider putting a little more of your budget into your roof.
The SCA roof is secured using a simple system of webbing straps, similar to roof rack straps. Although this seems basic on such a high-end product, it has the advantage of being easily repairable if damaged or frayed.
There are many other fancier mechanisms for holding down a roof, for example turnbuckles or bonnet-release catches, but mechanical fixings can go wrong quite easily and once broken, they’re difficult to repair – annoying when far away from home.
Having a system which is simple is an advantage in our opinion.
To deploy the SCA you simply undo the straps, open the sliding door and push the roof up in the air. There is quite a high lift at the front, giving plenty of room to sit up in bed as an adult.
Crucially, the SCA roof comes with a breathable cotton canvas roof fabric which helps to prevent condensation forming inside the van. Many cheaper roofs, particularly after-market Reimo copies, use a vinyl canvas which is not breathable. When you are sleeping, and especially when cooking in the van, a lot of moisture is generated which will become trapped on the inside of the roof fabric. These water droplets can then collect creating pools of condensation inside the van. Although often overlooked, a breathable canvas is a really important feature.
Another pivotal feature of the SCA 196 is that the canvas is easily removable. SCA have integrated a channel around the inside of the top shell, and a large washer round the bottom which can be unscrewed to allow the roof canvas to slide off the back.
One of the weakest points of any conversion is the elevating roof canvas. Highly susceptible to damage from malfunctioning hinges, kids, broken zips, there are any number of reasons why you may need to repair or replace a roof canvas over the next 10 to 20 years. Having the ability to easily remove the fabric for repair is really important. You can take it to any automotive upholsterer or specialist fixing convertible car hoods, and once fixed, can be refitted to give plenty more service over your van life adventures.
Two of the window panels are mesh, one at the front and one on the side, with the front window being double-zipped to allow for extra air flow and ventilation in hotter weather by opening the mesh right up. This is an unusual SCA feature and we love it for the sense of cool freedom it brings when a siesta or some book time is called for.
The remaining driver’s side window is a clear panel which, when unzipped, will allow light into the van without letting in the elements on wet or breezy days.
Stuffed with small and pleasing features, we love this roof because of the attention to seemingly minor details which improve the overall function of the roof:
The frame of your chosen roof is key to a great conversion. It replaces the strength lost when the top panel is cut out of the roof of your van. Many manufacturers build their frames in 4 sections which are fitted and secured using a combination of welds and rivets. This provides adequate strength to the vehicle from a safety perspective.
However, whilst driving it is normal for some flexing to occur in any vehicle of this size. And as time goes by the vehicle will flex more, and so the possibility of squeaks will increase.
SCA have designed the 196 elevating roof to have a one-piece frame which is bonded and riveted at 75mm intervals. Brackets give a final reinforcement which fits the frame extremely securely to the vehicle, and reduces the opportunity for squeaks to develop.
Making sure the roof frame doesn’t move against the van body is really important in reducing squeaks – there’s nothing more annoying on a long drive than a squeaky van!
Also popular among converters is the SCA 194 roof which is very similar to the 196 but has a number of differences that may be worth noting.
Keeping things simple is part of the ethos of Cambee, and the SCA 196 is a great example of clear, unfussy design delivering excellent functionality.
Your van adventures start with the conversion, and there are many decisions to make; from cabinets and beds, to seat spinners and heaters. There are literally hundreds of options when it comes to converting campervans.
Probably the single most important question you will face is which elevating roof to fit. Choosing the best quality roof possible could mean hassle free use for 10 to 20 years! If this means spending less on the rest of your conversion, then it’s worth noting that you can upgrade your other interior choices as time goes by and budgets allow.
But once you cut a big hole in the top of your van and stick a roof to it there’s no going back! And if you haven’t made a good choice, there is little that can be done to improve it.
Invest in a really good quality roof because long term, it’ll be a really good decision.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are entirely independent of any particular manufacturer and no remuneration has been received. They are conclusions drawn from experience of the products, the fitting process and use of them by Cambee and its employees.