Top 5 Roof Rack Safety Tips

By: Emilie Sennebogen
Top 5 Roof Rack Safety Tips
Top 5 Roof Rack Safety Tips Lasse Kristensen/Gettyimages

Road trips are a blast, with good music, good conversation and some interesting sights along the way. But being packed in like sardines in the car for hours? Not so much. Loading up a roof rack with your travel gear is a great way to let your passengers spread out, minimizing whining and increasing everyone's enjoyment.

Adding a load to the top of your car comes with some safety risks. If you don't want to be that person on the Interstate chasing down your personal belongings because they weren't secured properly, all the while darting between speeding cars and tractor trailers, then heed our warnings. Here's what you need to know before heading out on the open road.


5: Installation

If you don't have a car that came with a roof rack, then the numero uno priority of selecting a roof rack is to make sure it fits your car properly. Every rack has attachment points where it hooks onto the car, and if the points don't line up with the shape of your car's roof, that's big time bad news. At the very least, it will mess up your paint, and at the worst, it could take a dive off your vehicle at 70 miles per hour. For best results, consult a professional.


4: Height

Cyclist putting bike on car roof rack
Cyclist putting bike on car roof rack Justin Paget / Getty Images

If you have a passenger car or even an SUV, you're probably accustomed to ignoring "low overhang" warnings. When you add a load to the top of your automobile, you'll need to pay more attention to these signs, especially if you're carrying a bike. Once you're loaded up, you should measure the exact height and keep a note by the steering wheel. Be sure to keep an eye out for bridges, parking garages, and even wires and tree limbs. And remember that when you make the quick, right-off-the-highway-fast-food-stop, you may need to need to skip the drive-thru and head into the counter.


3: Balance

A packed roof rack raises the center of gravity of your car, leaving it susceptible to intensified swaying -- especially at high speeds. Load shift often happens if the roof rack is not packed properly, which can cause all sorts of problems while driving. If the weight is too far to the front, it'll dive forward every time you brake, and if it's too far to the back, it makes the steering feel loosey-goosey. So it's super important to pack a stable load and secure it tightly. The key is to spread out the load, so the weight and size of items are evenly distributed.


2: Accessibility

Couple driving car
British Columbia, Canada. Noel Hendrickson / Getty Images

You may pride yourself on your ability to pack your luggage into your vehicle like a Tetris game, but packing a roof rack is an entirely different beast. Be sure to choose lighter items and pack the heaviest of those light items first. Loading and unloading is a big pain while you're on the road, so try to pack items you won't need to access regularly. Yes, we're making it sound pretty complicated, but cargo carriers are a great way to contain all of your goods in a confined area, and also create a more aerodynamic load.


1: Weight

When planning your rooftop packing, it's a good idea to know both the roof rack's weight limit, as well as your vehicle's. If you're packing a lot of stuff, it's not a bad idea to create a list with approximate weights to make sure you're in good stead. Heavy loads create more wind resistance, meaning lower gas mileage and a lot more noise. And exceeding the weight limit can cause damage to your vehicle, and possibly even a serious accident. SUVs have higher centers of gravity to begin with, so adding a heavy rooftop load could make one roll over.


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