Roof racks and gas mileage

Given gas prices and our desire for optimum mileage per gallon, I was curious if people are leaving your roof racks/crossbars/kayak saddles on all the time or now tempted to re-mount everything for each paddle? (While I would be tempted to take them on and off, the bolts of my factory Suburu Forester crossbars seem cheap and suceptable to easily getting stripped.)

Rack off.
We never leave our Thule rack on our vehicle unless we will be using it right away. It does effect our gas mileage and we don’t want to have it stolen as well.


Off with the rack
Subaru Impreza Wagon factory ovals, takes 5 mins on/off.

Much, much quieter inside without racks.

Off with the Rack
Shortly after rotator cuff surgery this past December I decided to take the roof racks off 'cause I wouldn’t be paddled for a while. Found that (1) I had less wind resistance and (2) gas mileage went up 3 MPG.

Given the price of gas these days, the racks are only on the roof when I’m going paddling.

Any day on the water is a great day,


Off with the Rack
Not sure about the gas milage, but it generates a lot of wind noise…(Toyota 4Runner)

I’ll take all my paddling accessories off in the winter of my Subaru Outback but I generally leave the crossbars on. Surely it’s much quieter with them off, but I just turn the music louder. :slight_smile: I have bike carriers but lately, I just toss the bike in the wagon and my skis have always simply ridden inside.


I leave the foot packs on and remove the bars. I’ve got two sets of bars (saddles etc…) one for the kayaks and another for the canoe. I park at a train station when going into the office and two or three times a month at the airport so the main reason I remove them is the locations where I park, even with the locks it just seems like the thing to do.

Thule Tracker II
That’s what I love about the Tracker II rack system. Takes less than 30 seconds to put on and off, so no reason to leave it on. I’ve found that my Honda Element gets 23-24 mpg WITHOUT rack and canoe and 19-20 mpg WITH rack and canoe. WW

My Tacoma could care less what
is on the roof or the weight I carry or the speed I travel. It gets 15 mpg period.

On a Suby Tribeca

– Last Updated: Apr-03-08 12:00 PM EST –

leaving bare racks steals about 1-2 MPG. I have the old Yak Rail Riders, so they come off easily.


Leave my Thule on all year.
Around town it probably doesn’t have much effect on my wind resistance and gas mileage.

When we drive very far, we take my wife’s rackless car.

The clamp brackets deform my door gasket, so my door leaks water when it rains if I remove the rack.

My rack is locked on the car.

Rack off
mainly for parking garage clearance. I have a Trailex trailer that is seeing more and more use. Not so much for gas mileage but I am getting a bit lazy and don’t feel like lifting kayaks that high.

I don’t take mine off.
'Course, I paddle every month of the year so it’s just not worth messing with. Don’t know how much, if anything, I’d save in gas $. No matter what it is, it ain’t worth the time I save being able to just throw the boat on top with a couple of tie downs. Keep all my gear packed and near the door 24/7, as well. :slight_smile:

better with off
I did a long trip last winter, and took the cross bars and bike/boat adapters totally off my Outback. Car was getting 26-27 mpg. With the racks on and bikes on the roof, it is 24-25. Didn’t track that closely last time I did a long drive with boats on the roof, but I think it was a slightly worse than with bikes.

I now drive around with just the cross bars on, and add adapters as needed for bikes or boats.

About ten percent
The Yakima rack setup on my Toyota Matrix cuts my mileage down from 33 HWY to about 30. Surprisingly, adding boats, gear and passengers doesn’t seem to hurt it beyond that.

I only paddle once a month or so during the winter, so when gas jumped to $3.50, I started removing the rack between paddles to save the 10% mileage reduction. That’s only about $12-15 per month for me, but $144-180 per year–about HALF the cost of the rack itself!

In a few weeks, when there is no longer 6" of ice atop our inland lakes, I’ll probably put the rack back on until December.

Never take my Yakima
racks and saddles off; too much trouble since I paddle two or three times a week. Also leave paddle, PFD, and wheels in the trunk all the time. Saturn sedan gets 34 mpg with all that.

Sweet little car gets about 31 mpg with kayak, bicycle, and camping gear aboard.

Racks Stay on Full-Time
I sometimes think about saving a little gas on longer trips by removing the racks, but it would have to be a pretty long trip to make it worth it, since removing them and re-installing them would be pretty time-consuming. That’s mainly because the carpet on the bars has to come off first (I use carpet since I don’t have those “gunwale feet” that most people use), and because the auxilliary side rails take a few minutes to install at exactly the right width for attaching my two-boat-width adapter. I’m lucky though, in that I can drive my company truck for about the same cost as my own car (it works out about even by the time I consider that I’m not adding to the deprecation and wear-and-tear of my personal car in the process), so I only use my personal car for recreational trips, and in spring through fall, three-quarters or more of that driving is with a boat on top. All season long I put a boat on top of my car anywhere from one to four times per week, which would be reason enough to leave the rack where it is.

Significant gas savings?
If you want to save gas, you might be looking at the wrong thing.

Last weekend we drove 300 ‘interstate’ miles with two canoes on the Yakima rack. Instead of my usual 75ish, I held the car to 60 mph the whole way. Interestingly, we got significantly better mileage with the rack/canoes at 60 than we typically get without canoes at 70+. Normally, we have to stop for gas on this trip to make it home. This time, we made it with gas to spare

Leads me to think that high speeds are bigger factor in gasoline inefficiency than wind resistant rack loads.

Very True
When I drive the speeds most people do, I get 3 to 4 mpg less than if I drive the speed I prefer. If the speed limit is 55, I go 55. If the speed limit is 65 and traffic isn’t heavy and if I don’t have a really long way to go, I drive 60. On those rare cases where I’m driving far enough to save a lot of time by doing so, I’ll go as fast as 70 if the speed limit allows, but in those cases I only get 21 mpg, instead of my usual highway mpg of 24 to 25.

Crossbars stay on
I only use the roof for carrying a Prijon Twister, which does not need saddles (I put pipe insulation around the crossbars for padding). The towers are locked on.

The crossbars don’t seem to affect gas mileage. I’m sure a wind tunnel test would find a slight reduction, but whatever it is gets lost in the other variables such as windiness, terrain, speed, and traffic congestion.

Now, WITH the kayak on top, there is definitely a mileage reduction, though it’s not noticeable except on freeway driving.