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Considering a Roof Rack? 4 Tips for Choosing and Installing

Maybe It's Time to Get a Roof Rack

For your active family, a roof rack turns your vehicle into a versatile, ready-for-anything, trip-taking machine. Although many cars and SUVs come with basic roof racks standard, if your car isn’t equipped yet, you can install one yourself.

Your car may have a bare roof (no rack at all), roof rails (no crossbars) or a full rack, but no matter what you’re starting with, with these tips, you’ll quickly have your gear loaded and ready for your next family adventure.

1. Full Roof RackRoof Rack with Multiple Bicycles Attached

If your vehicle is equipped with roof rails and crossbars, then your mission is already mostly accomplished. The only thing you’ll need are gear adapters. To transport a bike or a kayak, for example, specific adapters clamp to your existing crossbars.

Installation takes just a few minutes and requires little more than basic tools or possibly no tools at all. Some automakers, such as Subaru, sell individual components to make transporting your equipment even easier. After installation, load your gear per the instructions included with the adapters.

2. Roof Rails Only

Roof rails on top of your car are really only one step away from a full roof rack. The missing ingredient is a pair of crossbars. Your automaker probably has crossbars that are made for your specific make and model, but aftermarket crossbars, which clamp to your existing roof rails, are most likely available as well. To attach them, just use the supplied tool or a grab a set of basic hand tools. Once the crossbars are in place, you’ll need to look for the appropriate adapters to mount the specific gear you’re hauling.

3. Bare Roof

Even if you start with nothing but a bare roof, factory and aftermarket options can get you and your gear on the road with little fuss. Factory roof racks often require templates and drilling, which your service center can usually provide. On the other hand, with a good set of tools, factory instructions and patience, you can install a set of factory roof racks in about an hour.

Factory roof racks aside, there are other options. Bolt-on roof racks will require careful planning and execution, especially with regards to waterproofing. Clamp-on roof racks don’t require any drilling and are easy to mount and unmount when you don’t need them.

4. Things to Keep in Mind Regarding Roof Racks

Aftermarket roof racks may not come as a kit, but individual pieces, which you can mix and match depending on your vehicle. Similarly, gear adapters are specific, such as for a snowboard or cargo basket, so you only have to buy what you need. Look for security features, such as a keyed clamp, unique installation tools or a security cable pass-through, which will help prevent theft of your roof rack, adapters and, most importantly, your equipment.

It’s recommended that you remove any non-factory racks, or at least the crossbars, when you’re not using them. Even empty roof racks can seriously disrupt the aerodynamics of your car, cutting into your fuel economy. Of course, if you’re actually carrying something, you don’t need to worry about this.

Roof racks are high, maybe even over your head, so be careful when loading and unloading your gear. You can scratch the paint, break a window or even hurt yourself. But with a little elbow grease, you’ll be cruising to the beach or the slopes clutter free in no time!

Check out all the cargo accessory products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on roof racks, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Jerew View All

Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.

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