How much do kayaks affect small cars?

Hey, I am semi looking for a new car (well used new to me) and was wondering how much kayaks on top made a difference in gas milage. I am talking about something small like a cavalier, civic etc. I want something that gets decent milage just on small cars does the wind drag affect the gas milage more severly than on a larger car or van.

a whole different animal!

yep it affects it

But I don’t think the theoretical differences will affect your choice as much as your budget and what’s available. Basically don’t drive around at freeway speeds with a roof rack on if you aren’t carrying a kayak. Once you start driving pickups, vans and big cars the difference is less as others show.

My daughter got a 12yr old Oldsmobile Custom Wagon with 58,000miles,amazing enough it gets 22mpg at 65mph. Now that would be a kayak carrier if the damn roof would take a rack it’s entire length and not the last 3’ of the factory rack.

A used Camry wagon would be nice.

What is “semi looking”?
Looking with one eye? J/K

A Civic owner told me carrying even one bicycle on top killed his mpg. Small vehicles with small engines are more affected, proportionally, by a given load than larger vehicles with larger engines.

That fact has to be balanced by how often/how many miles you will actually be rooftopping.

The dollars lost to reduced mpg from rooftopping on a small vehicle will probably still be less than the additional dollars spent driving a less fuel-efficient model the rest of the time.


– Last Updated: Feb-06-06 2:49 PM EST –

Yea semi looking means - I have reliable transportation now, but hate my gas milage. So would like something smaller ;)

Personal experience
with Suby Outbacks is that one touring kayak knocks mileage down about 2-4 mpg. Last summer I did a round trip from WV to CT and back, one boat, a Yakima SPace Case, one adult female and two adolescent children + a ton of gear and got 23mpg total. If I had done the same trip w/o the cartop junk and the added humam weight I would have gotten at least 27.


Milage Does Suffer
I drive a VW diesel and I think that the milage went down a bit when I started leaving my roof rack on. The differance was slight. When I am on the road with two boats on top the best I have been able to do is about 3 mpg less than without the boats on top. I get about 6% less miles per gallon with boats as compared to without boats.

Happy Paddling,


toyota echo
Have a toyota echo with yakima roof rack. I drive 15 or so miles back and forth to work and I realize that I get some loss of gas efficiency. However, getting home and loading the boats (17 foot tempest and ocean scupper pro or tempest and 19 foot skin on frame and being on the water within a half hour of being home from work is well worth any 5 or 6 percent loss in economy. I figure this way I don’t have to pay for a therapist.

It’s all relative.


It’s not about MPG,
it’s about stability. A civic sized car with a 16’ boat on the roof is unstable. Think of it as severe weathercocking. Unless your car has 3500 in it’s description, sticking your hand out the window effects MPG. Tom

I’m with ya Tom
Years ago I was almost killed in my Subaru when rear ended on Washingtons deadliest Highway. My wife was a Trauma specialist at Harborview for six years. I now drive a 3/4 ton Dodge Cummins with nearly 400k on the clock. (had since new) Been rear ended half a dozen times…worst that happened was I spilled my coffee…no damage to the truck…major damage to the cars! Hit head on on ski hill road, Alta Wy. Christmas day 4 years ago by drunk ski patroller in Toyota truck. His truck totalled, mine fixed with no frame damage. Full on airbag gig…not fun…dude was an ass…he could have killed me and no big deal, but he almost killed an avalanche dog (beautiful yellow lab). Now that woulda been a sin!!! Big Dodge does it all. Hauls all the gear and boats the Subies can’t, NEVER fails me, gets 20 mpg and cost per mile has beat the hell outta any Subaru I’ve owned including fuel. Ya gotta do the big math problem on the car deal and not just focus on fuel economy. Not gonna go far on BC or Ak roads full of gear and boats in your hybrid toyota! What’s best is what meets the most of your needs most of the time, and keeps you alive. Happy motoring! Be safe. Better to die on the water than the damn freeway.

hitech european diesels
how about this engine in a big aerodynamic station wagon. Scroll way down to the Ford/Peugeot 2.2liter four cylinder turbodiesel engine. It’s got 7injectors per cylinder. 175hp, 330ft/lb torque. That would drive like a big old V8.

Need to keep total picture in mind
Your diesel gets 20 mpg highway, which many people would consider unacceptable no matter how much weight it can tow or carry. Another factor is the sheer size of the thing. If someone needs to use the same vehicle for kayak-hauling AND commuting to the city, maneuvering a big truck and parking it will be harder. I won’t consider owning a full-sized truck because they feel like barges to me, and I don’t even commute to the city. I don’t mind driving someone else’s occasionally; I just wouldn’t want to have one day in and day out.

Also, it will get crap for city mpg compared with those small cars you seem to detest. (I am playing devil’s advocate here, because I love trucks for their flexible space and camping applications as well as carrying/towing abilities.)

Then there’s the stink and loud rattling. No matter how much they’ve improved since “the old days”, diesels still stink and rattle. Much more so than any other type of passenger vehicle engine.

Not All
Not all diesels get 20mpg or less than that around town. Not all of them are noisy. And, not all diesels are in trucks.

I drive a small diesel station wagon and average 50 on the highway. The least mpg I have ever noted was 41 which was after a 4.5 hour 80 mile per hour run. The wagon weighs considerably less than 3500 lbs but handles two long boats without issue, (don’t know that they are up there unless I look through the sun roof.).

Recently put new software in the computer and raised the hp from 100 mfg spec to 142 shown on the dyno. Have not seen any change in the mpg. I have a new 5th gear that I am planning to install changing the final drive ratio to improve mpg further, (dyno confirmed torque up from 178 to 239 so it will handle a taller final gear.).

Happy Paddling,


F-150 expensive!
I drove an F-150 with a 5.0 (302CI) V8 and it typically got around twenty MPG on the Highway. With two canoes on the roof, going down the interstate at 70-75mph, it got 12. Dropping to 60-65, it got 13.5. This was an expensive trip to Florida!

On a trip to Algonquin from Ottawa, we had two vehicles: a Civic with a single kayak and a Ford pickup with two kayaks on top.

When we calculated out the gas expenses, the Civic beat the pickup hands down.

I’m sure the Honda got worse gas mileage with the kayak on top than it would have done without, but it was still better than the truck (which gets about 30mpg empty and 27-28 loaded).

I’d go for the vehicle with the best possible gas mileage, with the caveat that you still need some “performance” with a boat on top. I think most modern cars can give you what you want. (Well, maybe not a Smart Car. )


small cars
I drive a Mazda Miata…(convertable)…

I strap My 14 ft CD Breeze on the top and Cruise at 70 MPH…If I use any extra Gas…Who cares…2–or 3 $$$ extra of gas…is acceptable…I do not notice any Drag On my car…Heck the Kayak is 6 inches longer than My Car…When I get to where I’m Going its a free ride Downstream…The Portage cost more than the Gas…If You wanna Paddle yer Boat…then Factor in a Couple of Dollars…Its still a Bargain…

and I love the Looks I get…LOLOL…Ken

Shut Up And Paddle
In general, an honest assessment of what percentage of our annual miles are actually driven with boats atop the roof will determine the appropriate vehicle. 5%? 10%? 20?

As others have already said, the fuel saved driving even a modestly efficient vehicle for the OTHER 80-90% will typically more than pay for the occasional loss of economy while hauling boats.

Few of us paddle as much as we think we do, just as the vast majority of pickups I see on the roads (ostensibly purchased “for haulin’ stuff”) are typically hauling nothing but a*s. Most S.U.V.s are used for neither Sports nor Utilities, and despite the cool commercials showing Jeeps chewing up Kilimanjaro, you probably don’t need AWD do go to the mall.

Like wearing a Gore-Tex expedition jacket to the office, most vehicles are purchased as lifestyle declarations, and have little to do with actual usage. My 10-foot-long, 14-year-old, 35-MPG Japanese hatchback easily hauls my 15-foot kayak and all the camping gear I need for a multi-day trip. Sure, Blue Book value is HALF the purchase price of my boat, but the money I save on payments, insurance, fuel, and maintenance is more than enough to buy a new boat each year.

Buy realistically, consume modestly, pollute sparingly. And perhaps there will be something left of this world for our kids to enjoy …

Don’t detest small cars at all
In fact I love BMW’s. Very tight, safe, and efficient, long lived machines. Big truck is loud, and stinky at times, and only makes sense for my type of use. Would be silly for you perhaps…I just offered another perspective.

my trip this weekend
Got 33mpg driving to Key Largo and back (650mile round trip) this weekend with a surfski up top at 75mph. Would normally get about 35mpg without the boat up there at that speed. Have gotten as bad as 29mpg when the roof is really loaded up and I try to drive fast.

Last year I drove to Boone and back with a sprint k1, a mountain bike, and a surfski up top and got 35mpg while averaging about 65mph. Normally I get about 36-37mpg if I maintain speeds in the 60-65 range.

I drive an ION with 2.2L I4 that has 140bhp and five speed manual. I’m very light on the throttle and tend to get better than EPA rating.

I’ll take a small hit on mileage when hauling stuff since 90% of my driving is done with nothing up top.

I used to drive an IH Scout Traveller with a 345 cubic inch V8. Got 16mpg around town and 17-18 mpg on the highway regardless of cargo with that old low compression V8. But that mileage is still half what the Saturn gets. So what if I could load up without lowering my fuel economy. When I switched to the Saturn I was just about able to swing the entire car payment with the monthly savings in fuel.

Your model works for you
and that’s cool. I don’t disagree with anything you say. It depends on your needs. My life and work have me hauling almost daily, and no car will do that. Would I be smart to buy an old econobox for the occassional round town drive? Or would putting a Biodoesel tank at my home be better. I’ve thought about many options and have come to the conclusion that few small cars will help me much. My wife has an older subaru legacy that can get us 30 mpg with nothing atop. The truck gets used for work. 07 diesel will be MUCH cleaner as well, and we’re seeing a lot more Biodiesel influence out west. My truck can run the stuff, but there’s reality there too. It’s got storage and quality issues and can do great damage to older engines as it’s a solvent Still, theres lots of positive stuff going on. Where you live also influences things.