sea kayak hauling station wagons

This summer I will be buying a single vehicle for kayaking and all the other stuff you have to do off the water.

I would like to please hear from owners of station wagons to learn what your ride of choice is, why you have that make/model/year and how it is racked for getting one or two sea kayaks to and from the water.

If you are passionate about bow and stern lines, feel free to share that too.

Kayak Vehicle
My Explorer is good, a little high for “easy” loading but easy enough for me, plenty of room for two 2.5’ diameter containers for the gear and a place for me to sit while getting into the gear. Since the Explorer has worked well over the past 8 years, >120,000 miles, I’ve considered getting a Tarus wagon as a replacement. I’ve heard the Subaru are not that durable but have no first hand experience.

Had a Nissan Skyline Wagon
when I lived in Okinawa. It had a a nice long roofline and I hauled up to 4 kayaks on the roof. No problems. Not sure if you have those in Australia or not.

I vote for the Subaru Forester
Well…first I think a lot of the SUV/mini-SUV talk is marketing stuff. So…although the Forester is a ‘mini-SUV’…I see it as a 4wd wagon with enough height to ease entry…but low enough to set kayaks up on the roof with ease.

I had a Toyota 4Runner(99) until recently…purchased it because of a bum knee and needed the height for entry. Post knee-replacement I picked up a great used Forester. It has good mileage, handles beautifully, plenty of room for stuff, and a reasonable roof height to hoist kayaks and WRC planks for building kayaks onto. After 15 years with Yakima I decided to go with Thule. They have a specific attachment for the Forester. I can easily hoist my kayak up on the roof, and my swb recumbent as well. Can also carry many kayaks.

I always use bow and stern lines…all the time. The Thule attachments come with lines, although I have always used my owe.

Have had a few Outbacks as well, another good choice…though I much more prefer the extraordinarily better visibility as well as the height of entry with the Forester.

Let us know what you decide…


Volvo 740 Wagons
You will like these wagons. Low tech wonders - large four cylinder engines. You should, if you change the oil and repair things as the drive-train outlives them, get 500k miles out of one. Best of all, they will cost less than your sea kayaks to buy. They’ve got rain-gutters for racking. 1988’s a good year. 14 or 15 inch wheels.

Check the classifieds at


Subaru Legacy

– Last Updated: Apr-27-06 8:32 AM EST –

We have a 1999 Legacy wagon -- not an Outback -- that's worked very well. Nice low roofline, and never had a problem with NH winters. We got it without the factory rack and use a standard Thule setup.

For bow lines I use the under-hood "fender bolt through a webbing loop" technique to give me good attachment points. For stern lines I tied webbing loops to the rear tow points and brought them out on top of the rear bumper.

I've seen a boat come off a roof at highway speeds. I don't want mine in someone else's windshield.

Those were my initial choices but the Subaru showed up.

Solid Outback
I’m going on four years with my Subie Outback - 67,000 miles with no problems. My main complaint is the seat, which does not fit my own wide seat so well. Leg room is a bit shy in the front passenger seat for me at 6’3". Otherwise, roomy and easy to load boats on - a little lower than the Forester. Auto trans shifts a bit slowly, engine rattles when first started under 25 degrees F, but I think it will run forever. The all wheel drive gets you where you want to go with no complaints. Not the room of the Volvo, but plenty for me.


'99 Subaru Outback…
4 cyl. drives great and has a lower roof line than the new ones. It can carry two kayaks at any speed. I don’t drive a whole lot so hoping it will last a long long time.

Real men don’t need tie downs… :wink:

my VW wagon
I’ve driven a 2003 Passat wagon for the last two years. Got a Thule 50" rack on the factory rails. Have carried 3 sea kayaks (plastic)on edge with a stacker with no problems. The car has a V6 and usually gets 26 to 27 mpg on the highway. With boats and at highway speeds, I’m down to 22 mpg. That includes two adults, two kids, and the cargo area (39 sq. ft.) full. I use “under-hood” tie-downs for the bow and the rear bumper tow loop for the stern lines. My only complaint is that the hatch only opens partially with boats on the roof.

Sable wagon
We have two Mercury Sable wagons. Each is rigged with racks, rollers, saddles to haul two kayaks. Previous to the newer Sable wagon we had a Taurus wagon (prior to the Taurus I had a Saab 900)

These cars handle the boats and all our gear very well. The roofs are low enough to make getting boats on and off easy. They are confortable roomy vehicles. They are inexpensive to maintain and can be serviced/repaired in rural America. My Saab was very expensive maintaince/repair [Saab shock]and many mechanics refused to work on it.

The downsides of the Sable wagons include that they are 125,000 mile cars and they are no longer made. Our next car is likely to be a Subaru Outback.

Currently driving an '87 Subaru GL Wagon
Yes, she’s an old car, but just the other day, she hit 222,222.2 miles! (I took a shot of the odometer with my cell phone camera just when it hit all the twos! :-)).

Though I’ll probably be looking for another [used] car before this year is over (salt air rust is the biggest problem here), I’ve been very happy with this old Subaru. For a wagon, it has pretty good ground clearance (compared to most “wagons”), and the extra bit of clearance has come in handy several times on rough unpaved roads and through the snow. It’s also long enough so that my one piece GPs fit nicely inside (they stick out between the front seats a bit, but not enough to get in the way).

Even with the good ground clearance, the roof is low enough so that I only have to use a little “one step” platform thingy to get my boats easily onto the rack. With the 58" Yakima cross bars, I can fit two sea kayaks side by side in TLC cradles, or three boats if I put them on edge with stackers (most of the time I just have it set up to carry one boat and a bike). With one boat on the car, I still get almost 30 mpg on the highway, and about 25 mpg with stop and go driving. This car can be shifted into 4WD (“high” and “low” gears for 4WD), and when it’s not in 4WD mode, it’s front wheel drive.

For my next car, I’m seriously considering another Subaru, but I’m also pretty interested in the great gas mileage that the VW Jetta TDI wagon gets, so I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit lately as I watch the gas prices rise. :slight_smile:


Watch out for used Subarus
from the late 90s especially. LOTS of headgasket problems. Google “Subaru headgasket” and find site where you can learn more.

American iron
My daughters '92 Oldsmobile station wagon is great,it’s a tank but actually gets 24mpg on the highway. Primitive and has presence.

Thanks for the heads up!
I just read a couple of articles about this, and it seems to be a problem with the 1999 Foresters and 2000 Outbacks (both have the problematic “‘Stage II’ 2.5L 4-cylinder” engines.) I’ll certainly avoid those! :slight_smile:


subaru outback
another vote for subaru outback. My 96 outback has 212,000 miles on it and carries 2 kayaks at a time. Gets 25 mpg at interstate speeds with kayaks. The 2.2 liter engines are bombproof in these, but the 2.5 liters did have some issues with the headgasket. is a good resource if you are so inclined.


Honda Element
I downsized from my F150 4x4 SuperCrew to the Honda Element as my kayak carrying vehicle. Gets about 23 miles per gallon. Plenty of room. I have pcitures in my photo album at:

I still have my F150 but just don’t use it much these days.

VW Jetta TDI
I have a three year old VW Jetta diesel wagon. I have put 40K miles on it and have been happy with it. It is a great yak hauler with a very low roof which makes loading and unloading much easier than a SUV. The diesel consistantly gets near 50 mpg and has not had any issues, so far. This is a small high torque motor which is very happy doing 70 or more all day long even up hills. It won’t do very well in a drag race but it will get out of its own way.

I’m waiting on the arrival of the 06 new body style Jetta wagons due in May or June, I may trade for a new one.


Sable, too.
I’ve got a Sable wagon, and agree that it is a very good kayak carrier. The factory roof rack tracks can take the removable Thule racks, so I can take the kayak rack off in a matter of seconds. The Taurus/Sable wagons are/were the largest wagons you could buy, and can carry more than many SUVs.

Saturn SW or LW

– Last Updated: Apr-27-06 8:14 AM EST –

The LW has an excellent roof rack for clamping your load bars to. The SW is a bit more work to set up because of the plastic roof. I had a '01 LW and it was a very comfortable, good handling and reliable auto. I'd still have it but I needed to consolidate into one vehicle (I also had a gas sucking full size Dodge Ram 4X4) So I sold the two and bought an '04 Nissan Frontier (the small one) King-Cab P/U with a 4 banger and 5 speed. If you don't need the passenger capacity that is the way to go IMO.

Tie downs? I never felt the need on the LW. The load bar spacing was large enough and the rails secure enough. I used Thule's J saddles and double strapped on longer trips. Several times I had a 21' Seda Tango Tandem, an 18+' Artisan Millenium, a 14.5' Prion Calabria, and my mountain bike all together on that rack for a 700+ mile trip from MD to NB Canada. No problems at all other than all that drag sucking my fuel economy from about 30 mpg down to about 20 mpg...

Are Saturns available "down under"?