popular cars for boat transport

I’m finally retiring my old Volvo wagon as it approaches 250,000 mi. I was hoping to find a slightly smaller vehicle with good gas mileage to replace it (wagon, hatchback, tiny SUV) but been frustrated by the incompatibility of most smaller new cars and a decent roof rack.

I can’t seem to find anything smaller (and cheaper!) than a Subaru Forester that will take a standard Thule or Yakima tower and loadbar with more than a 24 to 28" spread beteen the bars - I’m not comfortable hauling my boats any distance on such a small platform.

I was thinking I’d buy a new or nearly new car for once in my life. Anyone have any suggestions? What are folks out there using other than pickups and big SUVs?


A little pricey…

… but the Mini Cooper has a long, low, flat roof and I’ve seen 20’ boats on them.

I have an older (lower) Outback that works well for me.

I Like Our Honda Element
Gets arround easily off-road on our farm, hauls me to work, we camp in it, and it hauls our boats and wet gear. I would prefer a longer spread between racks just because I’m USED TO longer spread. No problems with boats up to 17’ for us and we’ve hauled 3 boats lots of times. Only vehicle I’ve ever liked this much was my '71 International Travelall and it’s a heck of a lot easier on gas than my old “Party wagon” as it was named! WW




Outback works well
my 2002 sure does a lot of boat hauling - I use Thule racks and carry up to 3 sea kayaks of 17-19 feet length. My only gripe: there is no convenient tie-in spot on the front for a bow rope. I tied some good rope loops to the supports for the radiator, then hook a carabiner into those. For the official vehicle of the Amer. Canoe Assoc., you’d think they’d have a nice tie spot on the front!


Even before I get to the put in
and get out on the water, I’m in my Element!

4WD Chevy Tracker
I bought used two years ago has served me well. 2000 model that I’ve put 80K miles on has hauled my 170 I-Boat and 139 OT XL (singularly and together) many a mile without a problem with the factory racks or Malone wing and J cradles. The 40 x 40 span allows me the luxury of not having to use fore and aft lines since the Malones hold them tightly.


Scion XB

We have a forester
and love the darn thing. It sits low enough that you can load the boats into the yakima J cradles without straining, and even without two 18 foot Quests aboard, we still got better than 25mpg on a 2-1/2 hour drive to the beach from central virginia. That included some semi-mountainous driving, highway, and the in-town stuff once we reached the beaches.

I have logged more than 70,000 miles on this car already, and not a hiccup. If you are patient you might catch them on sale at the end of the year, or Join ACA now and after six month you are eligible for a THREE THOUSAND dollar discount from Subaru. Not a bad cut off the price. We fish from our Sit on Tops and with a T140, A T160 and a Mars on board, plus all the gear, there is still plenty of room; add to that the fact that all the models are AWD and it works… WELL! you have a winning package.


VW Diesel Wagon
Long, very low roof, 50+mpg.


Sidekick 4 Door…

– Last Updated: Sep-05-06 9:21 AM EST –

...does the job nicely. We have a standard Thule rack, just the plain bars padded with foam, on our '97 - and we've carried kayaks and canoes with no problem whatsoever. We use bow and stern lines, in addition to strapping each boat individually to the rack. One thing I like is that the roof is a lot lower than it is on the Toyotas 4Runers we've had, which makes loading and rigging a lot easier. We've had several Sidekicks and Trackers over the years, and while they're a pretty basic 4x4 econobox, they're also tough as a gad.
We've also used a '95 Ford Escort wagon, another good choice; in fact, any small wagon with a reasonably flat roofline can make a good boat hauler.

I have seen Marks VW
and with the gas mileage he gets rate it right up there, but I also like my Ford Escape.

Lots of room, good power, and I can fit two kayaks and a canoe on the roof at one time.

Take the factory cross rails off, and replace them with Yakama Landing pads and bars, and you can get a good long spread between the bars.

We looked at a lot before we bought it, and our specs were based on paddling, plus I wanted a minimum of six cylinders.

It has proven itself well, and if I had to replace it I would do it with the same.



Subaru Legacy
I have wide Yakima bars & stackers on my wagon, went from Boston to Wisconsin & back with a 17’ ICF & 3 21’ unlimited kayaks, everything fit & traveled fine. Pam

Outbacks are hard to beat
as boat haulers.

My 2005 is currently showing 25.5 mpg on the trip computer for the last 8000 miles of mixed commuting, long distance trips on the interstate with boats (both touring kayak and canoe).

A memory serves, my spread for my Yakimas is 41" on a well-anchored set of rails (three pads per rail). Bow tie-down has been accomplished via bolting some web loops under the hood, and stern anchoring is via pvc pipe “dogbones” with web loops. QED,

I would like more cargo room, but I have gotten sloppy in my packing as years have gone by.

All in all, a fine hauler.


they are not manufactured anymore.

Caprice estate wagon
My 1984 Caprice Estate Wagon got 22.3 mpg yesterday.

Sometimes I put the 14 ft or shorter kayaks inside the car - but I can reach the roof if I wanted to!

A friend has a Caprice with a Corvette engine - I don’t know the displacement. He gets about 12 mpg with a very heavy foot.

Boats on the roof really kill mpg. My vehicle (with full-time AWD) can get over 30 mpg with the roof clean, but the added drag of toys really eats into the fuel budget.


I had an 18ft yak on the car when it got the 22.3 mpg. It was a very sleek Kevlar yak though…

I guess I must have a light foot because my weight moved elsewhere :frowning:

Keep the volvo, you aren’t going to get
much for it resale and nothing in trade-in. Use it for transport, the new car for everything else. Nice thing about older vehicles, you can usually leave them at the launch site without too much worry. And, you can’t mess up the paint job.

Toyota Corolla Matrix
Got this 2004 XRS CUV originally because it was a 6 speed w. four disk brakes & the special, gas sipping engine w. VVTI-L (Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence & lift).

Little did I know then that kayaks would enter my world.

But now it is a gem for transporting cuz it it’s got a long low roof… much easier to cartop. Basically a station wagon only driver sits higher, more like an SUV. Plenty of gear room w. two split fold down seats, and the front passenger seat folds down,too, giving a little over 8 feet clearance. All hard plastic on the reverse side of the rear seats and all of the rear cargo hatch: easy to clean off the mud and sand :wink: I use a portable, removable four disk suction system & have traveled about 400 miles on all roads dirt to interstate w. no problems.

popular cars for boat transport
Thanks, everyone, for your comments and suggestions. After some price adjustment and a bit of heavy drinking, I’ve decided to get an '06 Forester. Hell, it’s only 4x as much as I’ve ever spent on a car before.

Seriously though, it seems the best value of vehicles that suit my cargo needs, despite the scary price tag. I wish I had room to store an extra car - I’d definitely keep the old Volvo.