Roof rack or no roof rack: Hauling big stuff on your car

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Roof rack

A roof rack may be easy to handle, but it kills your gas mileage. Image from Flickr.

A roof rack may seem like a great idea for hauling bikes, snowboards or luggage on your vehicle. Roof racks, though, increase drag and reduce your vehicle mileage very significantly. So is it worth it to use a roof rack, or are there better options for hauling big stuff with your car?

The effect of a roof rack

Sure, a roof rack on your car can haul lots of stuff. Merely having an empty roof rack on your car will reduce your mileage by as much as 10 to 12 percent. With a mountain bike, skis, snowboards, rooftop box or kayak on the roof rack, you will be reducing your mileage by 20 to 30 percent. That could turn your Prius into a gas-guzzler or your minivan into an oil hog.

Other places to haul your stuff

Hauling a lot of stuff on your roof rack reduces your gas mileage. If you are like most people, though, that doesn’t mean you can give up hauling your gear. So what is the best way to make the best of this bad mpg situation? You have a few options.

A rear-mounted rack

For bicycles and smaller items, mounting a rack on the back of your vehicle may be your best option. This can improve your gas mileage by 10 percent over a roof rack, and it still provides plenty of hauling space. Rear-mounted racks can work on hatchbacks, sedans or station wagons.

An aerodynamic trailer

Replacing your roof rack with a well-designed trailer can actually improve your miles per gallon. You will still take a hit, but in the end it will be much smaller.

Rent a different vehicle

The best gas mileage comes from hauling your gear on the interior of a vehicle. If your car isn’t big enough, and you are planning a long trip, it may be financially easier for you to rent a vehicle that can haul everything. At between $10 and $20 a day, you could easily spend less to rent a vehicle than you would in extra fuel.

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