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Choosing a Vehicle Rack

By: · August 17, 2009

It’s winter. It’s snowing. You’ve got your car, your friends, everybody’s stuff, and you’re ready to roll. Except that you can’t see out the back of your car because the gear is piled so high. And it’s hanging out the back. And it’s bungee-corded together. And if you make one quick turn, everything will go flying. Scratching your head, you watch as your buddies make a valiant attempt at solving the problem by tying everything atop the vehicle with some kind of rope-through-the-window get-up. Then, from behind the trees, through the snow, a ray of light strikes the shiny steel of the rails on your roof, and the bright beam of sunshine illuminates your imagination: what you need is a roof rack…

Whether it’s the pair of mountain bikes that came with your new Jetta, the half-dozen boots and boards of the local snowboarding crew crowning your classic Land Cruiser, or your solo surfboard cruising on your ’69 Cadillac, protecting your gear is as important as protecting your car—if not more. By combining factory-installed roof rails with sophisticated, aerodynamic roof racks, there are many excellent solutions to help you pack up and go quickly and with ease.

All Things Considered

But, before buying a roof rack, consider your needs: do you strap your gear to your car maybe once or twice a year? If so, you may want to go with something more temporary, a roof rack that you can completely remove after using. However, if you’re an avid skier or snowboarder, cyclist or kayaker, surfer or swap meet-er, or any combination of these, your needs, your car, and your budget will determine your choices.

No matter what kind of rack you chose, there are a few basics to consider. For example, check the details of the manufacturer’s warranty program. Inspect the quality of the materials: do they use steel or aluminum? You may want a rack that is lighter (aluminum) and thus easier to use, or one that is more durable for heavier items (steel). Is the rack powder-painted to endure extreme weather conditions? Are fasteners and adjustment devices easy enough for one person to access and use—especially in cold weather with your ski gloves on? Is there a lock or security system to protect your gear while you grab a bite to eat?

Additional considerations include screws, bolts, straps, and clips: are they well constructed, sturdy, easy to maintain and, if needed, replace? Consider your roof rack just like you would any other piece of equipment, and maintain it accordingly.

Types of Racks There are basically two types of racks: roof-mounted and trunk-mounted.
There are basically two types of racks: roof-mounted and trunk-mounted. Your car may have factory-installed roof rails onto which mounting a rack would be ideal. Roof-mounted racks are the most versatile and secure way of carrying your equipment. Trunk-mounted racks, however, are more aerodynamic and may be easier to load.

If you’re a cyclist, you may prefer fork mounts on the rear of your car. Especially if you’re vertically challenged, loading a bike up on top of your car can be awkward and frustrating. Trunk mounts are quick and easy to use, although the more bikes you load onto the rack, the less stable the rack may become. You may also opt for a rack that doesn’t require you to remove your front wheel. Either way, you want to make sure that neither your bike nor your vehicle will get scratched when you’re loading it onto the rack (this goes for all equipment). Also, if you have various sizes (adults and kids), make sure you pay attention to the size of the frame so that it fits everyone’s bike securely.

Sermon on the Mount

A roof-mounted rack may be the best solution if you already have rails on your roof, if you plan to use the rack for other equipment, and if you have different sized bikes. Keep in mind that they are less aerodynamic than trunk mounts and that drag can cost you some time and money (think fuel).

For the snowy set, there are some great new options that provide versatility and are exceptionally easy to lock and load. Actual hard-shell carriers let you pack boards, boots, coats, gloves—probably even the kitchen sink. That way, you can load all your frosty, wet gear on top of the car in its own compartment then get in and blast the heat without having to worry about that wonderful melty-smell. Closed carriers are also great for kayaks, as they’ll protect their surface so that you can scuff up your water toys where you should: in the water.

To top it all off, equip yourself with mounts that make it easy to load your gear on top of even the tallest vehicles. If you opt for special mounts, make sure that they are durable and easy to use because there’s no better way to ruin a perfect day than with a painful struggle to get your stuff on top of the car. You’re cold, you’re sore, you’re tired. Make it easy on yourself: make sure that your mounts are durable and properly treated for tough weather, and check to see if they’re easy to use with your gloves on. After that, you’re ready to lock and roll.

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