11 Do’s and Don’ts of Having a Roof Rack on Your Vehicle

by Adrian | Last Updated: October 29, 2020

Once you decide you want a roof rack on your vehicle, you’ll likely feel much better about your upcoming camping trip or family vacation. After all, roof racks allow you to place tons of items on them that include everything from sleeping bags to luggage. 

This, of course, gives you much-needed space in the backseat area or the trunk of your car, so having a roof rack is always a good thing.

Of course, just like any other product on the market, things can happen that cause car owners to be less satisfied than they thought they’d be once they finally get their rack installed, but it doesn’t have to be this way. 

In fact, once you learn a few do’s and don’ts of having a roof rack on your car or truck, you’ll quickly find that you are completely satisfied with this decision.

To make double-sure you’re happy with your decision to add a roof rack to your vehicle, keep in mind the following tips and suggestions.

1. DO Consider Your Car-Weight Ratio

In every car owner’s manual, a weight limit is described for that particular vehicle, and it’s good to know that number before you take off on your road trip with your loaded roof rack on top of your car. 

As a general rule, most roof racks can accommodate between 100 and 250 lbs. of items such as sleeping bags, tents, or extra luggage. 

You’ll need to check that number against the recommended add-on weight for your car or truck and make sure your rack doesn’t exceed it. If your roof rack is loaded with too many items, it can weigh down the car and cause damages to the vehicle or even accidents while you’re on the road.

If your owner’s manual recommends not adding more than 200 lbs. to the vehicle, you shouldn’t go over this number – even if the rack itself has a recommended number/weight that is higher. Paying attention to what your owner’s manual recommends is always the best thing to do.

2. DO Make Sure Your Stuff Is Secure

Just because you’re using a roof rack doesn’t mean you can just throw your items on there any way you want to. Make sure you pack that roof top box or bag on your roof rack just like you would a suitcase – with everything close together and as tight as possible. 

To make the items even more secure, try placing a polythene sheet on top of them once everything is packed, then tuck in the sheet around the edges of the carrier to make extra-sure all of the items are as secure as possible.

In addition, use all of the straps properly when tying down your carrier to the roof rack. Make sure the straps are tightened as much as possible so that you’re extra-sure everything inside of the carrier – in addition to the roof rack itself – is as secure and safe as possible. 

After all, there is no point in having a roof rack if you’re not going to make certain everything fits the way it’s supposed to before you take off.

3. DO Carry Extra Equipment with You on Your Trip

Let’s face it, regardless of the quality of your roof rack or the money you spent on it, things occasionally do go wrong. One of the most common occurrences is the straps breaking, which means your roof rack and carrier will no longer be as secure as it once was.

This is why having extra straps in your vehicle is such a good idea. Most of these straps can be purchased either through the manufacturer or even a hardware or luggage store, and they can certainly come in handy if a strap breaks while you’re on the road.

You’ll likely know as soon as the strap does break, because your carrier will usually start to make noises that are unfamiliar to you. When straps do break, they usually break one at a time, so you don’t have to have dozens of straps on hand. 

Just try to keep two to three of them in the glove compartment of your vehicle so that if this does happen, you’ll have one to fix the problem immediately.

The roof rack usually also takes one standard sized allen-key or allen wrench to lighten all the components, so make sure you keep that one in the vehicle always at hand.

4. DON’T Forget to Check the Tire Pressure

Even if you’re obeying all of the rules and not overloading your vehicle or your roof rack, you’ll still be putting extra pressure on your tires.

Before you get started on your vacation or camping trip, make sure you check the pressure in your tires so that the number is neither too low nor too high. 

Most vehicles have the recommended pressure number printed somewhere inside the car – usually on the inside of the door somewhere – and since tire gauges are so inexpensive, it’s a good idea to go ahead and keep one in your vehicle at all times.

Checking the tire pressure before you leave is always a good idea, but if anything changes during the course of the trip, you can always stop and check the pressure again just to make sure the number is just right. 

It’s also important to remember that when you’re loading the roof rack with items, you should spread out the items so that the weight is even. This can also help keep that tire pressure number in the safe range.

5. DON’T Ignore the Visibility Issue

If you’re driving with a roof rack on the top of your vehicle, you need to position it correctly so that all other drivers on the road will see it and can adjust their view accordingly. 

Your visibility – and the visibility of all the other drivers on the road – is crucial to make sure everyone is as safe as possible while driving. 

This is quite simple to do because all you need is to make sure your roof rack is installed properly and according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Roof racks installed incorrectly can greatly increase the chance of accidents occurring because other drivers may not be able to see the roof rack as they drive, which could result in an accident. 

Again, all you have to do is make sure your roof rack is installed the right way and is nice and secure before you start to drive, and this should take care of the problem.

6. DON’T Drive for Long Periods Without Stopping

Driving with a roof rack means extra pressure is being put on your entire vehicle, including your tires and even your engine. This can result in something going wrong as you travel, including more difficulty in driving and an increase in the chance that an accident will occur or your tire pressures will become too low. 

But there is an easy fix because all you have to do is stop periodically and check both your roof rack and your vehicle to make sure everything is running the way it’s supposed to.

When you stop, check your tire pressure and check to make sure the straps are still securing your roof rack properly and that the roof rack hasn’t moved at all during the drive.

Although rare, roof rack do become off center every now and then, but if you check yours periodically, you can quickly remedy any problems before they become too difficult to take care of or control.

7. DO Be More Careful in Certain Situations

When you’re driving around with a roof rack or bars on the roof of your vehicle, it is easy to forget about the extra bulk or weight involved and do something irresponsible.

If you’re driving into a parking garage, under a bridge or even under an interstate or highway, the height of that structure is usually posted before you get there, and you’ll need to pay attention to that number so you can stay safe and so you won’t damage either the carrier or the vehicle.

Before you leave, you should know how much height your carrier bag has added to the height of the vehicle, and know the total height as well. 

Most of the time, your roof rack won’t add so much height that you have to worry about it being damaged if you drive under something that is low-lying, but you should know the exact height of the vehicle so that you know for sure and so you can avoid these low-lying structures whenever possible.

8. DO Check with Your Insurance Company Before You Leave

Car insurance companies usually need to know every time you make a physical change to your vehicle, including the addition of a roof rack.

If you don’t notify your insurance carrier that you’ve added a roof rack to your car or truck and something happens later on that requires you to make a claim, they can essentially deny that claim since you didn’t notify them ahead of time about the change.

When it comes to insurance, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, so make sure you notify your car insurance provider to make them aware of the addition of the roof rack. 

In addition, some insurance providers won’t cover certain types of roof racks, so if you can notify them before you even make the changes, that is even better. Just make sure they know what is going on with your vehicle so there are no potential problems later on.

9. DO Pay Attention to Your Gas Mileage

This is especially important when you have an SUV, and here is why. Adding a lot of weight to the top of your vehicle automatically raises the center of gravity. 

Since SUVs already have a higher center of gravity than sedans or other vehicles, this can result in less fuel efficiency and a bigger strain on your engine. 

In fact, many SUV owners are surprised by how much extra gas they use simply because they’ve added a roof rack to the vehicle.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to make things a little easier. When you shop for your roof rack, try to get one that is aerodynamically designed. This can help lessen drag and wind-resistance, which can improve your gas mileage at least a little. 

With an SUV, it is natural to use more gas than other vehicles whenever you have a roof rack installed, but purchasing the right type of roof rack can make it a little bit better for you in the end.

10. DON’T Ignore Potential Weather Problems

The weather will always affect the efficiency of your roof rack. How? Mostly because when it rains or sleets, the items stored on that roof rack can become damp or wet if the right type of rooftop bag isn’t purchased in the beginning. 

When you’re shopping for carriers or bags for your roof rack, make sure you pay close attention to the terminology the manufacturer uses when it comes to how protected your items are from the elements.

For instance, rooftop carriers, bags and boxes can be water-resistant or waterproof, but only waterproof carriers provide 100% protection from rain, snow, and sleet. 

With a water-resistant carrier, there is always the possibility that your items could be damaged if you run into severe weather conditions, so if the weather is finicky where you’re planning to travel to, a waterproof carrier is what you’ll need.

11. DON’T Ignore the Many Types of Roof Racks

If you’re new to roof rack, it’ll behoove you to get to know them a little before you purchase one. They range from 9 square feet to 20 or more square feet of extra space, and they can be rectangular or aerodynamically shaped roof bars or full platform roof racks.

To get the absolute most out of your roof rack, it’s best if you study them so that it is easier to find one that perfectly meets your needs.

You should also check to make sure the roof rack you’ve just fallen in love with can fit on your particular vehicle. Although most roof racks are made to fit dozens of vehicles, some are made only for certain styles of vehicles, and you need to know this before you buy a roof rack of any type. Fortunately, all of these things are easy to find out because most of this information can be found online.