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How to Secure Items on a Roof Rack: The Cargo Basics

How to Secure Items on Roof Rack

It’s not uncommon to find yourself with items that need to be transported, but are either too big or too numerous to fit inside your car. Tying these large items to the roof of your car is sometimes your only option. Times like these, having a roof rack really comes in handy. Knowing how to secure items on a roof rack properly is also vital to the well being of your belongings, but more importantly, it’s a serious safety concern for you and other motorists. Here are a few things to consider before your next over-packed trip:

Weight and SizeHow to Secure Items to Roof Rack

Different rules apply depending on the load you want to carry. Always pay attention to the load limits of your roof rack either printed in the manual or stamped on the rack itself. If you have a bunch of small things, your best bet is to bundle them together as one big item before securing it to the rack, making it much less likely that one will escape without notice. This can be accomplished by packing everything into big suitcases or large plastic bins, wrapping them very securely in a tarp, or ideally, using something made for the job. Most rack manufacturers also make cargo baskets and boxes. If you’re only dealing with one big object to begin with, you mitigate the risk of losing pieces, but you also have less control over the shape, which is an important consideration when securing your load.


Items should be secured to the top of the car insuring the least amount of wind resistance possible. If you have an odd shaped item like a tree, the smaller/narrower end should be in front and tied as low to the roof as possible to prevent air from catching the underside and flipping it up. Something like a bicycle can’t really rest flat, so in that case, focus on having the least amount of protrusions possible; i.e., wheels forming a line parallel to the form of the vehicle. On a related note, never tie anything across the roof that exceeds the width of the vehicle (beyond either side mirror). Aside from being dangerous, this is illegal in most states.

Movement and Tie Downs

It’s also crucial to secure your load to guard against movement on all axes — front to back, side to side and up and down. For this reason, bungee chords are not your best option, there’s simply too much give. Rope is OK, but you have to master several fancy knots for it to be safe. Ratchet straps are a cheap and easy way to ensure the highest level of safety when deciding how to secure items on a roof rack. Two equally spaced straps running front to back and two side to side across the load will do the trick for most standard-shaped items. Remembering that there are weight limits to racks, be sure to secure the straps so that the load doesn’t move around, but not so much that it damages the rack itself. Also, tuck or tie any excess straps into the load so they aren’t flapping in the wind. Before driving, give everything a strong shake to make sure there’s no movement in any direction.

Most importantly, drive carefully and stop to check/re-shake your load every 15–30 minutes.

Check out all the body & 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 how to secure items on a roof rack, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Freeimages


Blair Lampe View All

Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter.  In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.

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