A car for carrying canoes


I am looking for a second car, a used one, mostly for canoe trips.

Currently we’re a one-car family. I have an SUV that I find is too tall for me to comfortably load canoes and, in any case, I need a second car so I don’t wind up in a conflict with my wife if I want to take a trip when she needs the car.

My trusted mechanic who is not canoe-savvy, recommended 2 cars that he thought were reliable used cars: Toyota Matrix and Honda Fit.

I will be using standard Yakima/Thule posts and bars.

Both the Matrix and Fit are lower than my SUV, but just looking at their shape I see arched roof lines that make me think they would not allow for sufficient spacing between the bars.

My SUV allows for 2’-9" spacing. Which I think is just adequate.

I’m not sure I’d get that kind of spacing from the Matrix or Fit.

I think the roofs of station wagons like the Subarus, VW Jetta/Passat, Ford Focus, etc would give better spacing.

Does anyone have experience with the Matrix or Fit with roof racks and can you recommend them or recommend against them for carrying canoes?


Marty Cooperman

Cleveland, Ohio

Jeep Cherokee Sport
If yer kin find one fer sale (folks dat gots one now-a-days hold onta them).

De Cherokee Sport waar de last o’ de non-full-size-van vehicles wit welded rain gutters so puttin’ on all sorts o’ heavy duty racks be no problem an’ they aar not too high fer folks ta git de boat on de roof. Ah’ git a 6 foot bar spread on mine.


Huyndai Elantra Touring

– Last Updated: Dec-20-11 9:40 AM EST –

That is a regular wagon.
Mark, of kayak41north.com sometimes puts his long boats on the Fit. It is an amusing sight

Side note - both Thule and Yakima sell track systems - track that can be attached directly to the roof of vehicle. Legs/posts go directly into the track. Pro - distance between the bars is noticeably larger than the usual approach. I've seen Toyota Matrix'es with this setup.
I believe Pro-Line has track setup as well.

Have to agree on the cherokee - but
I keep my Cherokee just for hauling boats but as Fat Elmo said they are hard to find as the last ones were made in 2001. It’s by far one of the best cars ever made for hauling canoes and kayaks. From there it depends on what you are looking to pay for a used car. Subaru Outbacks and Forrester other then the latest Outbacks (with the dumb factory roof racks) are popular for hauling boats.

2nd The Elantra Touring
I use mine for sea kayaks. Factory rails.

I know how much we on this board love car threads, but here is my belief: Any car will carry a canoe.

Here is my experience: Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon - three canoes at over 80 miles per hour, no problem. Sunfish sailboat from Connecticut to Manitoba - no problem.

I have taken two canoes across country, one of them an XLTripper on a Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra with a 4 cylinder engine. That car also carried three picnic tables a short distance.

I drive a Ford Focus now, and it is less desirable than the old ones, but still works very well for two canoes, more if necessary. Though I pull a small trailer if there are three, just because it is easier.

Power - doesn’t matter. A VW Bug had about 30hp. Just about every modern car has 100+, so they have the gumption.

Bar spread - this is nice, but it doesn’t matter either. You must tie the bow and stern though, and not just down but down to both sides. I really believe with this set-up I could tie a canoe with only one rack bar instead of two, though why try?

Roof angle - ideally it should be flat, but it doesn’t matter either. If your car slopes back, it is a good idea to use thicker bar pads on the back to sort of level it out, and maybe put the bow of the canoe to the back of the car if it has asymmetrical sheer. You don’t want to have the wind pushing it up.

So, the ideal beater canoe car might be an old Ford Escort Wagon or perhaps a Toyota Camry wagon, but anything will do, so don’t base your decision on some minor advantage - get a good engine and transmission and lots of good rope and cord.

Last of the Taurus wagons.
Still driving one, my third. Should be able to get a “good enough” one for under $4K and anybody anywhere can work on it and get parts.

Check Out Old Volvo Wagons
That come with roof rails or euro rails, which support Thule or Yakima horizontal bars that can be spaced five (5) ft. (o.c.) apart. The roof height is lower than most SUV’s, but not as low as my old '92 Honda wagon (3.5 Ft. o.c.), that could zip into underground hotel parking stalls, with low overhangs, fully loaded with outrigger canoes, w/o ripping out ceiling pipes, etc. My '88 4dr Accord sedan allowed 4 ft. o.c. spread between racks and was very low for carrying canoes and kayaks. Check out VW Sportwagons, which have the same set up. The Scion XB would be perfect, but they don’t come with factory roof rails, you’d have to drill holes and install 3rd party after market “tracks” etc.

Minivan for me
For the last 22years…lots of space between bars, lots inside, not too tall.

for me
The canoe vehicle has less to do with carrying the boat and more to do with all the stuff.

Basis requirements for carrying the boat are availability of racks and good spread of said racks.

After that they are all the same. I like a car where I can store a lot of my gear so I’m not constantly unloading. I use a king cab frontier with tool box and trac rac. It would be too tall for you, but in my mind I would love some kind of wagon. A smaller truck would be a good option if your looking used.

Ryan L.

thank you for the voice of reason

– Last Updated: Dec-20-11 3:36 PM EST –

I agree.

Well, OTOH there may be cars that you don't WANT to put a boat on top. But none of us can afford one of those.

The two of my friends have toyota matrix with the yakima permanent mount tracks. Here is what that looks like:


The Matrix is a great car for transporting boats and is roomy for carrying plenty of camping gear for two people and two boats. We have one set up for transporting two solo canoes. The mileage is much better than what I get with my Honda Odyssey and easier to load boats up on the roof.

Smaller wagon
Smaller wagons lower lift height, extend bar distance and have side rails to mount to. BMW 328, Audi A-4 and Saab 9.3 and 9.5 leap to mind as does Subaru’s Outback if not too recent.

matrix / vibe
The Vibe is a Matrix made by Pontiac. Resale is lower and AFAIK reliability is close to being on par with the Toyota.

If you can find an XRS (toyota) or GT (Pontiac) and you enjoy driving even a little bit, get it. They are a hoot to drive.

If I had that much to spend on a car,

– Last Updated: Dec-20-11 5:02 PM EST –

I wouldn't spend it on a car.

My wife's '07 Outback is 6" taller than my Taurus with a third less bar spread. Still okay for carrying canoes, but certainly not better.

Came THIS close to buying a V90.
Last of the great rear-wheel drive Volvo wagons. Best seats of any I’ve sat in.

In the end, though, I couldn’t justify it. It literally cost twice as much as the loaded Taurus I did buy. My interest in that Volvo inspired a friend to buy it after I balked. He tells me I made the right call.

not the '07

– Last Updated: Dec-20-11 5:19 PM EST –

That's when they made the model switch. Taller car and shorter spread (and no more weather bands). The 00-06s were lower, and the 99 and earlier, lower yet.
And - it has AWD, which everyone thinks they need.

Lots of those old Tauri still roaming the highways though!

Tell me about it.
I didn’t choose her car, but now she wants something “sportier” and telling me her Sub is destined for me!

you gotta keep the taurus
Sell the scooby. You can’t let go of a relic!

Watch that front-end wear though
I have a traffic-light game regarding the Taurus. When I see one stopped at a traffic light, I watch the front wheel as it accelerates from a stop. It’s hard to believe how often I see the front tire suddenly jerk forward about half an inch at the moment the driver steps on the gas (braking to a stop pushed some worn-out part backward, and stepping on the gas causes it to suddenly jump the other way, like a dog hitting the end of its leash). Since I see that all the time on (the few remaining) Tauruses and can’t remember ever seeing such a thing on any other car, I naturally conclude that their front suspensions become junk with age. Also, a friend of mine owned one, and it chewed through rear tires at a phenomenal rate. His mechanic told him that was “a Taurus thing”. Too bad that one of America’s last station wagons wasn’t any better than that.