Car topping--how small can you go?

With gas prices soaring and my recreational fund shrinking, I’m considering downsizing my vehicle. Anyone have any thoughts on the minimal vehicle size for car topping one (or two) 16 foot touring kayaks? Oh yeah, there’s that ecological concern, too.

Buy a trailer…

– Last Updated: Jul-14-05 10:35 AM EST –

Click on more trailers at the bottom of the page.

Trailer seems like a good option
I don’t use one, but the SportsRig trailers seem pretty cool to me. Check them via the Buyers Guide button at left.

With a trailer, you could drive a Mini or maybe even a hybrid.


its all about bar spread
I think trailers are a pain in the rear. Certainly easier to load and unload, but it makes driving and parking harder. And, a good rack system is at least half as much.

As long as you can get at least a 30" bar spread (more is better for longer kayaks), then you will be fine. I have a 2-door Ford Focus hatchback, and I use a Yakima rack with the stretch kit. I paddle a 14" kayak, and it fits fine on the car. If I had a longer kayak, I might spread the stretch kit a little more, and I certainly have the roof length for it. You will likely only need a stretch kit if you have a 2-door car. But the bonus of using one is that you can remove the entire rack as one unit, rather than two separate pieces. It makes putting it back on a lot easier.

Just the other day I saw a couple taking down a composite tandem from the roof of their ancient VW Beetle. They were using a standard bar with cradles up front, and a T-bar system attached to a hitch in the rear. If you can fit a long tandem on a Beetle, you can certainly fit two 16 footers on most any car (Yugos not included).

Small car
We have an Escort wagon, and it really is pretty darned small. We put a 16 and an 18 up there with no problems. I think you would have to get pretty small for it to become an issue, a Mini would be a problem.

…Don’t let Jim hear you say that!..

A Mini has a pretty decent roof length
for carrying boats. My dream car is the Scion Xb… As long as I could get racks on it.

They are kind
of all roof, aren’t they. Hmmm, you would have some pretty long bow and stern lines down to the bumpers, but I suppose even that is probably possible. That would look pretty cool, a mini with an 18’ on top.

You will need at least enough bar spread to get around cockpit length & a bow tie would really help. I carry a 21’ with 4’3" spread & sometimes wish for more. I carried a 14’9" DR kayak on a Saturn with 26" spread & it was a nightmare! I hit a really strong crosswind & it blew off the cradles. Good luck.

J Bars

– Last Updated: Jul-14-05 12:22 PM EST –

We use the Yakima J Bars to fit two 20" beams on our little car, and I think I could almost still squeeze a bike in the middle. I guess if you had a boat with a longer cockpit getting around it could to be an issue though. Hadn't thought of that.

VW Jetta TDI Wagon
It carries a 17 and an 18 yak without a hitch. The low roof eases loading and unloading. At fifty miles per gallon, it does much better than the honda or toyota hybrids.


hey that’s my next car too!
I imagine myself traveling with two sea kayaks on top, two whitewater kayaks inside, a mountain bike inside, and still getting 30 mpg. :slight_smile: Of course it is ridiculously underpowered. It’s like driving a funky looking golf cart.

back in the day, i used to transport my 19 foot, 80 pound Grumman aluminum canoe around on top of my '78 Volkswagon. can’t get any smaller than that i bet and it worked just fine for years.

I had 3
16’+ kayaks on top of my Honda Element last week…no problems.

Very small. Just be sure…

– Last Updated: Jul-14-05 2:03 PM EST –

It has enough HP to haul at highway speeds with the kayaks on. Someone posted recently about a Suzuki (?) that looked to be great as far as roof goes - but couldn't cut it with the wind resistance.

I'm not at talking a lot of HP, but personally wouldn't want less than 150 in a small yak hauler.

Minis work GREAT. I know two that use them regularly for this. Long flat roof line!

I had no trouble hauling 18' kayak and 21' surf skis on a Dodge Neon - and it had a pretty rounded roof.

The smaller Subarus are favorites among paddlers (and the SAAB 9-2X dressed up Subabru is priced cheap now with the incentives/pricing. Plenty of power in Aero trim - it''s a WRX!) - but the Linear model is easier to get if you're not a turbo junky and is a steal right now.

I just got the rack for my new Audi A3 (nice rack - but I will miss the Saris for tool free simplicity, easy on and off, and innovative saddle design). A3 has a longer roof than the Neon had, and is nice and low - but rack spacing is closer (Audi specifies location exactly - the Neon I just put it where I wanted - and the Saris saddles flexed enough that the bars could be placed out on the curve of the roof more).

Anyway, once you get used to lifting kayaks onto a small car (and buying less gas) you will laugh (or feel sorry) every time you see a big SUV.

Honda Element
How do you like your Honda Element. I’m thinking of perhaps getting one of those in the next year or so.

Chevy Aveo Sedan
Mine Hauls fine. It has the 5 speed stick shift and only 103 hp but seems to go 70 to 75 just fine with boats on top. However, the mileage is signifcantly reduced to 28 mpg when going fast with boats or bikes up top.

My car is pretty small
I carry a 21’ surfski on a Saturn Ion. Last year I went to NC with a surfski, an ICF K1, and a mountain bike on top. I have also hauled my touring boat (Q600) and my brother’s touring boat (NF Legend) on my car together. The biggest thing I’ve had up there is a Mad River Explorer 17. That mammoth canoe dwarfed my little car but rode fine for a 2hour drive down to the Merchant’s Millpond from Mom and Dad’s house last Christman Eve.

93 Mercury Tracer
Mine held two sea kayaks just fine. What someone before me said about making sure the bars are spread apart enough to allow the cockpit to sit in between them. Which for my boat is about 32". Necky Elaho from bow to stern (with rudder) just under 17’.

Ford Focus Wagon
I have a Ford Focus Wagon and i get about 30mpg winter driving and about 27mpg summer (A/C). I top two boats on a 14 ft and 12 ft. I use Thule feet attached to the existing roof rack. This really makes a great gear car too, because you can lower the seats and have a van like effect. you can actually lay down in the back.

Now, the downside. At speeds about 50mph, this thing roars like a angry tiger and you can barely hear yourself think. The other drawback is the power. Out on the flat, it can hang on the 70mph mark with no problem. But, if you have to launch into traffic, or head up a steep hill, you will need to do math equaitions.

Good Luck