Just Put a Roof Rack on It

Jamie Lincoln Kitman

Jamie Lincoln Kitman | Jun 15, 2016

In the world of automobiling there is this peculiarly American notion that you should buy the car that suits not just your ordinary needs but also your requirements at their most extreme.

Sure, it's great on vacation, but how many hippopatamuses do you really run into ferrying your kids to soccer practice the other 50 weeks out of the year? (Land Rover)

Ergo, the city couple who told me some years ago that they had to buy a Ford Excursion because they like to go away for a couple of weeks each summer with their two small children. “With the baby seats and the crib and the diapers, we just can’t get all our stuff in an ordinary station wagon,” they exclaimed, with that what can you do, give a hands-up shrug signifying befuddlement, but also meaning "Please don’t point out the ridiculousness of this position," we prefer not to think about it.

From the Department of Dubious Mathematics: Time spent parking an oversized car = 1.5 x the time said car "comes in handy". (IFCAR, Wikipedia)

For, undoubtedly, there was something they could have done and it’s something we can all do now. It’s called the roof rack. Try using yours sometime. Some cars come with one and, for those that don’t, provision for one can be made relatively inexpensively.

There is something you can do, and it's called "the roof rack." (Thule)

Put aside the majestic landscape advertising -- the sort that puts you in mind of your vehicle’s rock-climbing ability – and  ninety-nine percent of the time you can get by in the real world with a vehicle that’s smaller, more fuel-efficient and, for those who care about such things, fun to drive. Unless you’re moving refrigerators on a regular basis, a car will do. And for that one time every so often you do something that requires a truck, you can rent one and it’ll feel like it’s free because you’ll have saved so much not feeding a larger car, truck or crossover than you really need.

When you really need more space, just add some.  (Car Talk)

America’s attachment to maximum car is clearly fostered by the nation's enduring sense of limitless cheap gas supplies, a notion that no number of energy “crises” or unpredictable price spikes can disabuse us of.  There is, too, the illusion that you’re getting more value and space in larger, high-riding vehicles. Not all of them are so spacious, it turns out, and all of them extract a financial premium for their four-wheel-drive, high-riding stance, in terms of initial and running costs.

In case you're wondering what's under this roof rack, it's a 1964 Rambler Classic 770 Wagon. (CZmarlin, Wikipedia)

But to the extent that they are actually larger, it is, often, like heating a house that is well more than you can use, a waste on many levels. It is not so far away from the impulse to have two double-wide freezers in the basement. Stocked to the gunwales for...what? The apocalypse? In cars and refrigerators, why not plan for regular life and not the worst case?

"We can't eat those beans, Timmy; we're saving them for the apocalypse!"

Instead, I propose, increase your car’s functionality overnight with a locking roof carrier or bike rack for those occasions when you need them. If you’ve ever driven around Europe, where gas is dear, you’ve seen the ingenuity people bring to living their often quite rural lives with smaller cars. Small cars tow small trailers and almost everyone uses their car’s roof.

Turns out you can do more with a roof than just keeping the rain out. (Thule)

There are other reputable brands, and some people will choose to fabricate carriers themselves, but I’ve always liked Sweden’s Thule brand, which celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary next year. Their stuff (carriers, bike and ski racks) looks high quality and progressively designed to me, but you could probably fool me, just because it works well.

Then there are those who chose to skip the rack alltogether. (Bin im Garten, Wikipedia)

Roof racks will make your small car bigger. And, if we are to be honest, they’ll make your large SUV even larger, which might appeal to some folk even more.


Get the Car Talk Newsletter



Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One