Roof racks and gas mileage

Always on
I try to paddle all year round. Didn’t quite work out that way this year.

With gas prices high, I drive conservativly and have been getting better than usual mileage.

Always on
I leave them on, because it’s a PITA to keep putting them back on two or three times a week. I’ve driven without them on and have gotten 49 MPG, and driven with two kayaks on the roof on a long highway trip and gotten 52 MPG, which seems to make no sense.

I’m sure I’d do better without them over the long haul, but how I drive and what brand fuel I use seem to have a bigger effect than racks do. YMMV.

You got that right
Which is why I’d like 75 mph speed limits to be lowered to 65 mph, and 65 mph limits to drop to 60 or 55. It’s the simplest and most universal way to cut the U.S.'s gas consumption.

Coifficient Drag
Coifficient drag is a term used in determining how aerodynamic your car is. You want the number to be low if you’re shopping for a car and also as previously stated by not always having the kayak holders on your vehicle, it will decrease the C/D.


At low speed drag goes way down
In city driving it probably does not make a hill of beans difference. Wind drag is not much of a factor. It’s all stop and go where you waste your fuel economy.

At highway speeds it will make a difference becasue the majority of fuel efficiency loss is due to wind at high speeds.

I keep mine on around town for everyday driving. When I go on long distance trips I’ll take them off if I don’t need them.

My setup stays on all the time. I don’t get stellar gas mileage, anyway (Toyota Tundra - about 17-20), but I don’t notice any perceptible change whether the rack is on or off. I also paddle enough that it’s easier to leave on there than fiddle with.

Not sure if it makes any other difference in mileage, but I use a fairing in front of the bars/saddles, which DOES eliminate almost all wind noise - at least on my vehicle.

leaving crossbars on because
in my case, the Kargo Master cage itself is what will cut my mileage. Plus putting the crossbars on it is just too much work to do it more than once! I did take the Thule J racks off because snow is coming tomorrow but I expect that once I start getting out on the water, the J racks will stay up there all season.

I work from home anyway so my biggest gas expense is when I go kayaking.

Repeat warning: Don’t lose Yakima
tower pads if you demount a Yakima Q-tower system. They often stick to the car, or fall off on the way to your rack storage site.

The Yakima Q-towers cannot be remounted without the pads, and if you discover the problem the same day you planned to go paddling, you are screwed. Most Yakima dealers DO NOT have spare pads, and the only way to get those pads locally is to buy a whole new set of clips.

I finally got a response from Yakima on this issue, and they said the pads come off the towers fairly easily so YOU can replace them if they wear out. It seems not to have occurred to them that the pads can fall off and get lost, or that a more secure attachment is needed. This problem with fall-off pads has been present for almost 20 years of Yakima production.

Passat wagon w/Thule 1500 box
nets an honest 3mpg less fuel economy driven at highway speeds averaging 80mph, with a 1.8lt turbo 4 cyl engine, dropping from 30-31mpg average to 27-28mpg. With only the bare bars, difference is negligible.

"…'cause I wouldn’t be paddled for a while."

Do you usually get paddled? :wink:

yes they have won, finally
I love having the racks on the Jetta, seems at least every other week I’m hauling a kayak here or there. At 44-45 mpg I didn’t worry too much about the 2mpg loss. But now that I’m paying 3.85/gallon for diesel its time to get that extra by removing the j-cradles and racks.

THANK YOU for the info
My pads are sticky and warped. They really should fix this issue. They appear to be decomposing. ; ) I had never heard anyone mention this.

I leave my racks on all the time, since I try to paddle regularly. If I leave them on, it is much easier to throw the boat on and go.

I will take them off if I am driving long trips for work, because of the noise factor. A couple of times this winter when it was bitterly cold and water was frozen for weeks, I took them off.

Used to leave them on all the time
When it came time to replace them, though, I just about needed a hacksaw to remove them.

Now, with 58" bars, that is a lot of crossbar to catch the wind. They’ve been on for the last month because I’ve been paddling a lot, but they’ll probably come off a lot more frequently now so I don’t waste gas.


…Thules stay on…
Nothing on the Accord, always on the Xterra. Am almost always ready to ski or paddle.

Take it off, if you can
I switched from a Thule rack to a Saris for exactly that reason, the Saris goes on and off so quickly that there’s no point in keeping it on the car for the 95% + of my driving where I don’t need it. A rack alone will cost you ~10% in gas mileage and a pair of kayaks will cost about that much again, perhaps a bit more.

they come off?
who knew?

Actually, since I try to go out every day and succeeed 95 % of the time, it would take a lot more of my paddling time to have to take the racks off and put them back on, not to mention the expense of possibly stripping something with that much usage. Probably a whole lot more than the gas involved.


When I first bought my Thule Rack, I noticed immediately that I lost on average about 3 to 4 MPG. The addition of the fairing dropped this to about a 2 MPG loss, however, with current gas prices, and the amount of driving I have to do, I have leave the rack off unless I plan to use it. I’ve seen a slight decrease in gas usage, but agree that lower speeds would do more to increase my gas milage. I’m currently searching for a four cylinder/higher milage car for my own use to replace the V6 buick I currently drive. My job requires about 500 - 1000 miles per month, where as a year ago I was at about 100 -300 per month.

No Doubt Slower Driving Saves Gas
Since I drive about 1000 miles a week, I try to take the back roads and notice keeping RPM’s at 2K or less typically gives me 1-2 mpg more than taking the interstate and driving 65-70.

But I’m really happy I have the Thule Tracker II system that so taking the rack off is no big deal. Push a button and lift off, no fuss, no time lost.


Always off…
if I’m not paddling.

Ours is Yakima, and my opinion is that the bars and saddles look just butt ugly riding naked.

S’ok if it’s staging for a shuttle, but why would I want all that hardware up there otherwise?

As far as milage goes, my six cylinder sedan gets around 29 at 75-80 mph on the hiway. Stack a couple of yaks, and it drops to 24-25.

The big bear don’t roll for just two kayaks, but someday I may see what it will do. The Tahoe gets 18-19 running naked, and about 12.5 pulling a 26’ camping trailer with two boats on the roof of the truck.



Subie OE Crossbar Drag
The factory crossbars on Subies have essentially no drag penalty. I find that adding minimal windage Thule Set-N-Go’s doesn’t add significant noise nor affect fuel eco. Larger Thule/Yak systems on their longer bars will clearly be noisier, and thus probably exact a penalty. Note that the extra drag of the boxy Forester body compared to the sleeker Legacy OB is FAR more important in fuel-robbing drag at higher speeds than the roof appendages. Keep your tires up to 35F/33R psi too. Cheers.