Best Car for Holding Kayaks

We now have a Volvo 1990 sedan with Yakima racks that easily holds 4 Easy Rider Eskimo Single Sea kayaks because the car has a lip around the edge and a flat top, which has been wonderful. We are looking for a new car with all wheel drive, able to sleep two people, us, and hold the 4 kayaks. We are also looking at trailers but would like to see if we can carry 2 - 4 kayaks easily on top. Most new cars are very high off the ground. We do not drive much as we have a business at home and would like something that would take a trailer for kayaks or a tent trailer that would hold the kayaks. We know we are dreamers! Just trying to unload 3 vehicles that each serve a purpose and get just one - kids are grown up and gone!!!

Thanks! Debbie

Small truck
Something like a Toyota extended cab 2 or 4WD. Rhino line bed and install a nice canopy. Custom ladder aluminum rack that can be unbolted from rails and surrounds canopy. Can haul several kayaks, tow, can sleep in it, untra reliability, good economy, comfortable, more capable off road than a car, can haul stuff for business and family. Keep wet smelly stuff isolated.

Oh, I guess new beds are composite…so no need to line them.

I don’t know how folk live without a truck…

Stay with Volvo
I’ve got two wagons now with the Euro Rails. Thule and Volvo (OEM by Thule) crossbars. Both are FWD and low to ground (not X-Country model) which makes loading easy. Also available in AWD in both the V70 and X-Country version, but I think it’s overkill where I live and more stuff to go wrong. The 94 is a 5 speed, the 05 is automatic. Both get about 28-29 mpg on highway.

Also have a small truck (4WD 6 cyl Dakota), but it only gets 16 mpg with two boats up top.

I have a…
…Suburu Impreza Outback Sport Wagon that is all wheel drive, relatively low to the ground, can do very limited off road, handles great on pavement, and probaby gets over 30 mpg. I was also trying to fill all of my potential needs with one car. Sleeping two would probably depend on how big you are!


I agree, the Volvo wagons are great vehicles for hauling kayaks. I have an 04 XC70. It has a nice low roof line for easy loading, good distance between the bars, the rails are rated for 220 lbs. so it can hold 4 kayaks, but you won’t necessarily want the new model. They’ve changed the design, the roof is higher and more rounded (boo hoo)and the side rails start further forward, which will put the bars further forward too. I was really disappointed to see the changes.

Honda Element

Subaru Outback

No, wait, Subaru Forester

– Last Updated: Nov-11-08 8:38 AM EST –

Point is, there are many cars that fit the need, no one "best", only "best for you".

Subie Outback Likely Too Small
We have one, and by the time we are carrying three to four kayaks, two people and the gear that goes with that level of kayaks plus clothing etc for a staying away for a few nights, we are really pushing the limit. Then if you want to sleep in the car as well - you’ll need a tent to put your gear into. For the really big trips, we go back to the Sable wagon.

From what we have been able to tell without deep research, the Volvo X70 is probably the closest to the capacity of the Sable wagon without going to a crossover with more roof, even worse mileage etc. You may be able to go with the 2 wheel drive version to save bucks on the mileage if you have a 4 wheel alternative for snow/mud season.

Salty is right…
I love my '07 F150xtended cab with a six foot bed, but it’s big and not for everybody…

A TOYOTA Tacoma extra cab, 4WD with a cap,a rack on top, and a class II hitch will provide everything you need. I’d stick with the last generation, before they grew too big. Something like an '04. Fuel efficient if you go with a four and a stick. Can’t beat the reliability/flexibility.

If you must have a car, Forrester is great, but small for sleeping. SAAB 95 or Volvo wagons are great. I have a 2000 95 and have slept in it. Volvo 740/940 series were great too if you can find one in good shape. Had an '89 740 Turbo that I loved. Cheap and haul a lot of stuff, low to the ground.

Guess it depends how tall you are.

Best car for holding kayaks?
one that is paid for.

Car, not truck, right?

– Last Updated: Nov-11-08 11:02 AM EST –

I'd normally say any small or midsized station wagon, but since you're looking to carry 4 kayaks, racks become the real factor. If you use whitewater style kayak stackers, and carry them on their gunwhales, you can do it. I have a friend who does that on a Suby Forester all the time.

What then limits you is the carrying capacity of the roof if you have factory siderails on the car, like my Jetta Wagon does. I think my rails are rated to 150 lbs max. I can carry 2 kayaks or a kayak and a canoe on my setup easily, but that's all I ever need to carry anyway. Some aren't even rated that high, and some are nearly bombproof. Depends on the individual model of car.

IMO, the ultimate paddlemobiles were the 80's vintage Volvo Wagons with rain gutters. Long, straight roofline, good cargo capacity, OK on fuel, and they run forever. But you already know that.

We’ve been using station wagons

– Last Updated: Nov-11-08 1:04 PM EST –

to haul boats, gear and us...

Both my Sable wagon and my wife's Outback wagon are setup with older Yakima stackers so each can haul up to 4 kayaks at a time.

Either car works for people, boats, and gear. The Sable is more spacious and works better when we are hauling additional paddlers and gear. The Sable would probably also work better to sleep in.

I prefer wagons to SUVs and trucks. Station wagons have lower roofs and usually get better gas mileage and are often more comfy.

what leob1 said…

dream on
I have a Subaru Outback and while I don’t love it, it does the job. I can also load 4 boats on top, but usually it is just two. Wouldn’t want 4 on for a very long time. I get abuot 28 MPG w/o boats and I can tow a small trailer with the class 2 hitch.

I would love a vehicle with a bit better towing capacity and better MPG. When you figure it out, do tell what you chose.

If I had to decide now, it would be the Toyota Tacoma.


Volvo Station Wagon
Has always been the car I figure as the ultimate kayak vehicle.

Low long roof


Fort Lauderdale

I’d modify that statement a bit,
…so that the “has always been” statement refers only to vehicle choices and driving constraints of recent times. I can remember lots of station wagons and a couple of light trucks with even longer roof lines, and in those days, fuel costs were not a reason not to use such cars. The boat-rack cross bars on my dad’s vehicles had a seven- to eight-foot span between them, with room to make it longer if you wished. Can’t touch that on today’s cars. Oh, and there were actually places to use as tie-downs. Imagine that!

Old style Jeep

– Last Updated: Nov-11-08 11:25 PM EST –

I have had three older body style Jeep Cherokees with real rain gutters and used Yakima towers (5 to 6' bar spread) with no problems. I now carry a 21' Thunderbolt on a Gran Cherokee with factory side rails, Yakima bars, J cradles & only 51" of spread. At times, pretty scary even with a bow tie.

First, check manufacturers load limits
for their car racks. Most will NOT be able to take the weight of 4 kayaks, once you have added the weight of the kayaks, the saddles/crossbars etc. Not many vehicles rails have a rack loadlimit of +/- 200lbs. Older cars such as those with rain gutter mount racks had a somewhat higher load limit, but most factory racks/aftermarket racks fall short of 200lbs. I bought a V.W. Passat wagon for boat hauling because of its long rails, though I now think it a vehicle with a lot of issues and high repair expense.

VW issues
It really depends on which VW you buy. The gasoline powered cars have many more issues than the diesels do, but the diesels have PITA specs for things like motor oil that you can’t get in the US unless you buy it from VW or over the internet (Your engine self-destructs if you use the wrong oil for any length of time). The automatic trannys have dependability issues as well. I only buy sticks, so no issue for me there.

I had a 2001 Golf with a gas engine that was always broken. Electrical problems since day 1, engine had to be rebuilt under warranty at 35K miles, brakes wore out too fast, etc etc etc. The '04 diesel wagon, OTOH, has been wonderful, as long as the dealer doesn’t work on it. Plus, it gets 50 - 52 MPG on the highway. My rear brakes lasted 102K miles, fronts are still good at 106K. No electrical issues at all. And, it destroyed a Toyota Avalon that rearended me 2 years ago at 40 MPH (I was stopped when he hit me), and I was able to drive away from the scene uninjured. Its only real peculiarity is chronic EGR cooler failures (Really shoddy design). I’m on my 4th one, and if it fails again, I’m gonna bypass it. First 3 replacements were done under warranty, and I supposedly have an upgraded version in there now. We’ll see.

But overall, it’s been the best paddlemobile I’ve owned in 30 years of driving boats around. My 1989 Golf would be #2 on the list, but I was single then, and didn’t need a wagon.