Roof Rack for Toyota Highlander

We’re buying a 2020 Toyota Highlander. Trying to decide whether to get the Toyota roof rails installed or not. We most commonly use a roof rack for 1 canoe or 1 canoe with 1 kayak. In the future I may want to add longer bars for carrying 2 canoes. Can I do this with Toyota’s rails? (I ask because I’m coming from a Subaru Outback that couldn’t do this.) Thanks!

FWIW I have always gone with the roof rails because it is usually a lot less fussy when it comes time to try and move that rack onto another car. The feet/towers that mount on roof rails are often fairly flexible in what they will fit. The ones that have to go into a gutter are not, can change by model year.

I was able to move my racks from a pre-2010 Subie Outback to a Toyota Rav4 w/o much fuss because of this. Subsequently I got a new Thule setup to support a Hullivator, but looking at this setup it would go onto most SUV rails.

I am not sure what the boat weights are, but if they are of a scale that you don’t mind hiking onto the roof to start with I suspect they are within the weight bearing capacity of the factory rails. The third party crossbars sometimes can actually support more weight than what they are on so they are rarely a concern.

Probably the absolute most secure thing you could do is something that the Subarus used to enable, which is to bolt a foot directly into the roof using bolt holes that were well placed for that use. But I suspect Toyota does not make this as easy, and my husband and I and now just me have been sticking third party racks on original factor rails for 20 years. Haven’t lost a boat yet including in a fender bender. Nothing even budged.

I think we went through this with our CRV a few years ago. I think you are asking about whether you should get the factory installed flush mounted roof rails right? We ended up getting them for our CRV and they also gave us factory crossbars. The crossbars hold one solo canoe and cannot be widened and yours would be same. But we could order a Yakima or Thule rack that mounts to the same mounting points as the flush rails and then one can put on wider bars. I looked at rack-it.com for your vehicle and Thule doesn’t offer anything yet for your new model but they will. Yakima offers a traditional rack with clips that hold your roof but I preferred to avoid having anything that might interfere with the door seals. I think the Yakima site said they are working on a rack that fits your 2020 with flush mounted roof rails.

It’s surprising to me how many new SUV’s have marginal rack attachments. With the flush mounted roof rails the rack attachment points are usually quite close together so the front to rear span is short and not as stable for the boats as something with a longer span. Sometimes the racks that mount directly to the roof offer a slightly longer front to ear span. For the CRV I could get a 31 inch F-R span with a roof mounted rack while the flush rails give only 27 inches…both much shorter than your Subaru and much shorter than the 40 inches I get with my 4-Runner with old fashioned straight roof rails.

Just FYI if you get Toyota crossbars you can probably use accessories designed for Thule or Yakima aero bars…the Yakima load stops work perfectly on the Honda factory crossbars on our CRV.

Get a Nissan Pathfinder. It’s one of the few SUVs that has raised roof rails. Yakima and Thule bars mount great.

We love our Subaru Ascent, it is as if it was made for kayak trips. We put Thule HD bar on and can actually get a span of greater than 4 feet. I’ve set it to 4 feet so I can reach both bars of the Hullavator.

Extremely comfortable car also.

What did you end up with for a rack for your 2020 Highlander? I’m thinking about buying a 2021 Highlander, and would like to install a Hullavator with Thule bars, but it appears there is no “fit kit” as of yet. Thoughts?

@Phil63

Sorry! I ditzed out and replied for the Rav4. Just came up empty on the redesigned Highlander which I was not expecting, from the ground it looks similar to the Rav4.

Just found OEM cross bars, and the basic mechanism may not be a match for how Thule is currently operating with the Fit Kits and Podiums. Here is what it says -

" Roof Rack Cross Bars (XLE/ Limited/Platinum)
Mount directly to the roof rails to help carry additional cargo.

  • Includes mounting screws that easily attach to fittings located inside the roof
  • Compatible with optional panoramic roof
  • Aerodynamic styling to help minimize wind noise
  • Footings are contoured to fit to the roof rack moldings
  • Available on XLE, Limited and Platinum models

Do flush mount rails have some kind of pop-out insert that exposes threaded holes for attaching things? Since gutters went extinct I’ve always built my own racks out of wood, but I’m at a loss as to how to add one to this year’s rails.

Yes, at least in the Rav4 and the Honda CRV and I expect the others.
Feel along the top of the low plastic topper. You will feel four spots where you find an oval indentation.
Or get on a stepstool and look down, you will see them.

Those pop out and expose the screw holes in in the rail into which you bolt the fit kit. Podium goes on over the fit kit and rails onto the podium.

That said I just went looking for the Highlander and it appears that Toyota did something different, that is incompatible with Thule products, in 2020. See above.

1 Like

@Kevburg - Celia is exactly right. Every vehicle that we looked at with flush roof rails has tabs on the inboard side of the rails that can be popped out to expose a threaded attachment. And they all seem to have a short front to rear span (27-31 inches) even though the rails are much longer. Grrr.

1 Like

All SUVs should have raised roof rails (Nissan Rogue , Pathfinder, etc), dont buy the others that make it difficult to attach racks.

That’s what I used to say about cars without gutters. :slight_smile:

I agree with the theory re raised rails. But I also wanted to move to a hybrid car that could be reliable for a lot of miles, and really cannot do my big summer trip in anything smaller than the Rav4. In fact since the rear seat does not fold fully flat in the redesign I was already increasing my colorful language since I had to bring up to 2 weeks of food last year due to CoVid. I was noticing the loss of 3 and change cu ft.

There is not a lot of inventory out there that met all these criteria, none with raised rails. Subaru Forester has all the stuff except no hybrid in this country. Only elsewhere. None of what is mentioned 2nd above has the kind of hybrid experience and maturity that Toyota does.

At least the Rav4 has systems available from Thule… they obviously made things more challenging for 3rd party rack systems w the Highlander and I have no idea why.

@Phil63. The only Yakima rack I’ve found that fits the 2020 Highlander with inline mounts is the Skyline system. Thule doesn’t have racks for this car yet, amazingly. I have found no other rack that works with this car. I bought this car hoping to install a Hullinator. But now I don’t know if that’s even possible. Does anyone know if the Yakima Skyline racks work with the Hullinator?

@jamesafoster,

Yes, Thule still has not released a fit kit (as of March 2021), but I believe that 60” Yakima JetStream bars on SkyLine feet will probably work with my older Hullavator 897. Will wait a bit longer for Thule and then will try the Yakima solution.

Thanks! Please do post it here if end up losing patience.

Any update? Thule still doesn’t have racks for the 2020 Highlander. Do any non-Thule racks work on this car for the Hullinator?

@jamesafoster,

The Yakima bars (60”) and mounting kit have been ordered and should arrive by the weekend. Will advise next week if the Hullavator 897 is compatible.

Jetstream bars work fine with the Hullavator using the T-slot bar mount clamps rather Than the wrap around-the-bar of old square bars/yakima bars. The parts are included in the parts bag of the Hullavator or order able directly from Thule.

See you on the water,
Marshall Seddon
The River Connection, Inc.
9 W. Market St.
Hyde Park, NY. 12538
845-229-0595 main
845-242-4731 mobile
Main: www.the-river-connection.com
Store: www.the-river-connection.us
Facebook: fb.me/theriverconnection
Instagram: www.instagram.com/marshall.seddon

Just a quick recollection, if the the old 897 bar mount is being used you may need to notch the plastic end cap on the Jetstream bar. The old bar mount has rounded flanges on the end which protrude downward. The newer 898 bar mount does not have the extra metal flanges.

See you on the water,
Marshall Seddon
The River Connection, Inc.
9 W. Market St.
Hyde Park, NY. 12538
845-229-0595 main
845-242-4731 mobile
Main: www.the-river-connection.com
Store: www.the-river-connection.us
Facebook: fb.me/theriverconnection
Instagram: www.instagram.com/marshall.seddon