used car for hauling kayak, canoe?

I’m shopping for a used car to replace my ancient truck. Looking at Ford Focus wagon pre-2007 because it has a long flat roof and a pretty strong-looking roof rack. (This vehicle kind of looks like a baby Volvo wagon in shape.)

I’m also going to check out the Toyota Matrix, about 2006 or so. No roof rack and roofline is curved. However, the local outdoor shop says no problem putting a Yakima rack on the Matrix with Q-towers/clips.

Y’all have any comments on these two vehicles? Any suggestions for other wagons I should check out?

I can’t go over $10,000, I’d like good reliability and decent fuel economy. I was attracted to these vehicles because they’re low enough for me to easily load my boats from the side – as opposed to SUVs, which are more expensive anyway. (No problem loading my truck with ladder rack – I could safely push kayaks on from the rear.) I would consider another truck like a Ford Ranger or Toyota Tacoma, but I’d kind of like something more comfortable to sit in. I’m short: 5’3".

Thanks for any advice. I appreciate it!

G in NC

Subie Outback
You might look at Subaru Outbacks - they have a good rep for the all-wheel drive system holding up. If one is in the range of my 2002, ask if the head gaskets have been replaced - that’s a $2000 job, but otherwise the car will go for 200K miles with minimal problems. The Outback is lower than the Forester for loading boats. The drive is handy for getting in and out of rough launching spots (not to mention the snow and ice we now have in the NE).

Older Volvo’s are another choice - ask Wetzool.


Ginger you know what I like.
What you don’t know is a Buick road master station wagon can get 24mpg hwy with two boats on top. Regular combined mileage for me is 18 to 21 mpg.

They are available with an LT1 drive train that is repairable forever. For my type of driving it averages about the same milage as my ranger but the ranger giver better city while the buick gives better hwy. If you want to trade and compare for a week I’d be willing, but if you like the buick more it make take a little time to find on for sale locally.


I would also recommend a Subaru wagon but as the other user pointed out check to find out if they replaced the head gaskets first. I just traded in my 2000 Subaru wagon with 171k, it still ran great and didn’t burn any oil. But the head gaskets were replaced.

I use a 10 year old Camry sedan.
Hauls a canoe and a kayak in J-racks and I can’t tell the boats are there handling-wise. It takes the mileage down to the mi-20’s.

Remember the Camry Station Wagons?
Those were great carts with a long and low roof line. The Ford Focus was almost the same shape and size, but not as reliable as the Camry. Now it is either Sedans on big tall SUV’s.

Hi …anything that you can put a roof rack on will work for hauling boats. some cars have roofs with too thin sheet metal to support any weight, check with a new car dealer or consult the Thule or Yakima catalogs first.(case in point…chevy truck cabs, no racks for them, dealer recommends no rack, sheet metal too thin !!!) If you have to transport a long distance or travel long distances,…mileage would be a concern, or traveling down back country dirt roads or sandy areas where AWD or 4-wheel drive is prudent.

Taurus/Sable wagon
w/ adjustable pedals. Only slightly better than a mediocre car, but relatively inexpensive, safe and a great roof-top boat/gear/stuff hauler.

For only a few $
you can make a rack extension even if you have a car with narrow spread. Or for a few hundreds - buy one (like the KayakPro). With front/rear tie downs there is no problem carrying long boats this way and you do not need to have a wagon with a long roof line. That gives you a lot more options to choose from for fuel efficient cars…

IMO a good reliable car plus a couple of hundred bucks for a quality Yakima/Thule or equivalent rack system (plus may be an extension if your boats feel better with one) is a better choice than a lowsy car with a great roof-line (not implying any cars in particular eitherway).

The next time I need to install a roof rack I would opt for an easily removable system such as the ones sold from Yakima where there are low-key mounts permanently installed on the roof and everything else clicks on and off them. The one I have now has the regular mounts that hook at the door frame and there are some drawbacks to that, which a permanent mount eliminates. That is if the next car I get allows this mounting option - some have flimsy roofs or otherwise impede drilling the roof to install the mounts/rails…

Here ya go Ginger

and it’s great for the vertically challenged :slight_smile:

Seems to me a nice 2000 - 02 Camry or Honda wagon would be the ticket for you.

agree with taurus wagon
I race with a man who uses foam blocks over factory racks to haul a boat that costs 3 grand. Buy canoe starps that are color coordianted for length. Kayak starps are shorter. I use 2in wood blocks clamped unto rack with hose clamp for canoe. Center the canoe. At each corner have the 2in wood block to keep it forom moving sideways. Ask the delaer and they always hate factory racks. Trying to sell you $400 rack system for a cheap car. Still though have had good luck with yakima. I had to drill up thru doorframe to keep rack on 2002 taurus. Many new cars only give 30in of span. Matrix has low back roof and factory span is fine for ww boat.

Thanks, you guys!
I’m smiling right now picturing myself in a Buick Roadmaster wagon (Frank’s ride) and a Chevy Caprice wagon (neon-teal)suggested by Dan, both my local paddling buddies. Wow. Very retro!

I appreciate all the cautions about roof racks, about replaced head gaskets, and the suggestion to get a Camry. (I had a Toyota Corolla once that I drove for 11 years and 217,000 miles. Great car.)

A funny thing happened to me yesterday after some test-drives – my emotions reared up and bit me. I test-drove a very clean, very nice 2005 Ford Focus wagon, very low mileage, and afterward got really depressed thinking of myself owning it for years and years. It felt underpowered and it was kind of a champagne color, and I imagined it as the kind of car in a big parking lot where you wonder which of the 250 champagne-colored cars is yours! But beggars can’t be choosers. Nevertheless, I’ve started researching used Subarus and scheming about how to dig up some more $$$$$$.

(Also, my significant other threw me a curve after I drove a peppy little Toyota Matrix: “We can’t get all our stuff in that!” “We”? “WE”??? I thought I was just buying a boatmobile to drive to the coast and back with my kayak and gear – so this is supposed to be a 3-week-drive-to-Maine vacation car too? Who knew?! I guess I do, now.)

Thanks again, guys, for the advice. I know that almost any question can be answered here authoritatively, imaginatively, unpredictably and usually even sensibly – you’re a great resource and I always learn something worthwhile.

G in NC


– Last Updated: Jan-05-10 4:26 PM EST –

Outback is a great choice for hauling just about anything inside or on top. For 10K you should be able to get a nice one in the 03 to 05 range. Stay away from 99-02 those are the years that they had the head gasket problem. Having said that, mine is an 01 with 194,000 miles still going strong (knock on wood). The roof was low in those years (higher now) very easy to load and unload boats plus you'll still make it through drive thrus with boats and bikes on top. The AWD is second to none, you notice the solid feel and handling even on dry roads. High quality build, they almost always go longer than 200K (with the exception of the head gasket years). Gas milage should be around 25mph. That price should get you one with some nice bells and whistles like heated seats and mirrors. This is my third and when it is time to replace it I'm getting another one.

The perfect color for a car, IMO, is
somewhere between coffee and dirt. Inside and out.

We, as a society, have been trained to “connect” with our cars, and look where it’s gotten us. You’d do better to identify with the boat on the roof than the wheels that got you to the put-in. To me, the sixty-plus year-old guy in the shiny new $95K German roadster looks more like a dork than a thirty-something driving a twelve year-old Camry with a rec boat on the roof.

i use a camry.

a friend drives an old vw golf (1993) and a jetta (2006) his are diesels.

i like my toyota but the vw’s get much better mileage.

the old vw’s have poor roof rack systems.

i went looking for a yaris a few years ago and they did not have a roof rack available then.

i bought a camry.

Saab 95 Wagon
Lots of room, lots of power when needed, but very economical. With regular maintenance, good long termer. My 2000 has 160k, several trips to florida and all over the Northeast.

160,000 miles is WAY too early…
… to start using miles driven as in indicator of vehicle quality. Except for vehicles with “expected problems” (like those with habitually bad head gaskets), it is very rare to need more than minor repairs at that level of mileage. There aren’t any vehicles made nowadays that aren’t good for 200,000 plus, and ANY rear-wheel-drive vehicle (like small pickups) are easily good for 300,000 with reasonable care, and they don’t have Saab’s famously-high repair costs when repairs are actually needed.

I think “very rare” is a bit of a strong
statement. Especially given that the OP is shopping used cars several years old.

Just basing that on cars I’ve driven…

– Last Updated: Jan-07-10 8:43 PM EST –

...and cars owned by people I know. I can't think of a single car (made in the last 20 years) I've had direct contact with that needed any serious repair work prior to 160,000 miles. Some might need minor work at or before such mileage, but I can't think of anything that would make you think twice about reliability or value. Maybe I and my friends are just lucky, or we don't buy the wrong models in the first place, but that's my experience.

I'm sure you are correct that when buying a used car, one can't be so sure of the reliability once the miles get that high (you have no idea how the car was driven or cared for), but that's a totally different issue than the point being made in the post that I replied to. I still think that owning and driving a car for 160,000 miles and not having any significant problems should be expected, rather than being used as evidence that the car is a good one.

Okay, I thought of an exception. A friend of mine used to manage a pizza restaurant that was part of a local chain. For a brief period they had a bunch of Geo Metros for delivery service, and they didn't hold up too well. Many of the other models they had (particularly the old Chevy Chevette) were darned near indestructible, and that's saying a lot when you consider how badly those poor cars were abused by the delivery drivers!.

Ever seen…
a Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe, or a 2000+ Subaru burning oil? Ever seen a Ford Focus or Chevy Cavalier or Dodge Neon of similar years burning oil?

Me? the answer is No, and YES. The former cars will run to 200K and beyond. The latter vehicles are what I call “disposables”. In that 1) they don’t make it past 150K miles and 2) they aren’t worth fixing when they do blow up.

I drive a 2003 Subaru Outback…funny that I’m a huntin/fishin pickup driving type…only recently did I get a couple canoes, and just a couple months ago I got the Subie when my wife got a new minivan. Funny that I ended up with probably the popular paddler-owned car there is. I leave the pickup parked if I can use the Subie I get 21 around town and 27 on the highway. Newer models reportedly do better. I have 91K on the car and have replaced spark plugs, filters, brake pads, and one tie rod end in the entire time. The original tires had legal tread on them after 80K miles.

No question, I recommend a Matrix/Vibe or an 2003 or newer Outback. I have Lowrider towers and 48" Yakima bars attached to the factory rack. Factory crossbars have been removed. But I think Yakima makes attachments to carry kayaks on the factory crossbars.