What Is A Good Canoe Car?

My 1992 Ford Explorer just died. Great river car; had real rain gutters and extended bumpers which made tying off super easy.

I want to replace it with a small suv/crossover/wagon and would like some recommendations for cars that are roof rack friendly.


Personally, I think a minivan makes a great vehicle as long as you don’t require 4 wheel drive.

With sliding doors on both sides you can stand on the sill without having a door ajar which allows easy access to the roof from both sides of the vehicle.

Most have factory rails that can easily be adapted to use Yakima or Thule crossbars.

Those with removable seats allow you to create a flat surface to sleep on if you wish, and they have tons of interior locked storage space.

The tie down issue is a non-issue. It is very easy to attach nylon webbing loop anchors under the hood.

1985 Dodge Omni
Or the Plymouth Horizon, its sister.

That was one tremendously tough automobile.

If you can mount a rack
If you can mount a Yakima, Thule, etc rack, the rack is all the same. If you really want to get practical, it would be the vehicle with the roof lowest to the ground, and that got the best gas mileage overall, that was suitable to where you honestly needed to drive the vehicle.

Minivan, Pete?
Here’s one for you from the Austin Lounge Lizards:

"On Deadman’s Curve I used to shut ‘em down

I had the hottest muscle car in my hometown

I could burn rubber in all four gears

But I haven’t done that in a million years

"Hey, little minivan, we’re goin’ to the grocery store

“She’s got an automatic tranny with overdrive

And the radio’s tuned to Magic 95

She gets 30 miles on a gallon of gas

And I can schlep all the girls to gymnastics class

She’s got her headlights on both night and day

She’s the most practical value in the USA

She’s got cruise control, ABS and EFI

I keep her Michelins at 32 PSI”

Mini Van
I actually took a brief look at the Mazda 5 Mini Van and was surprised to see that it doesn’t come with factory roof rails. Can you use Yakima or Thule racks with a sliding door?

As a long-time Subaru owner,
I feel a bit of a traitor for looking elsewhere, but Subaru thumbed its nose at boaters with the 2010.

So I am seriously looking at a Honda Element. AWD for those of us who want/need it, provision for crossbars, an adaptable interior. And check Edmunds.com for their calculated “True Cost of Ownership” over five years - one of the thriftiest vehicles out there. Sure, its fugly, but so useful.


OK, I’ve seen people who use the under the hood tie-downs. What do you do about the rear of the vehicle? Maybe I’m super cautious but I tie off front and back.

I have a 2009 Forester and its wonderful with boats.

Don’t know what changed for 2010.

Subaru was on my list to check out; they seem to have a lot of kayaks on the cars in the showroom. What did they change for the worse?

The new Countryman comes with AWD and four doors, good mileage, racks are nice and beefy. A bit pricey, but a Mini sure is fun to drive…

Gotta second the minivan
have driven one for 20 years and used for canoes all that time. Currently a Toyota Sienna and it’s great. Even my 15 year old yak rack fits it. Mine is 2009 and the 2010 factory rack is shorter, but still looks as though it would leave a workable front to back spread.

All pblanc’s comments are correct. Very easy to stand on to reach boats, etc.

honda element
better hurry if you are buying a new element - it is being discontinued this year I believe.

The Sienna never would make my list
My daughter has one… It doesn’t make the grade for traction or ground clearance on canoe access logging roads.

LOL. Its sitting in the street. Because we couldnt get the Sienna up the driveway in the latest snow…it sports a ticket from the police too!

Sienna does make for a nice minibar and bed though if winter paddle travel is not in your future.

Subaru really f@#$%d up the roof racks on the Outback for 2010. The max distance between the front and rear cross bars is about 20 inches or so. Not enough spread for me to feel comfortable hauling a fifteen foot canoe at highway speeds even with front and rear tie downs.

They haven’t f@#$%d the roof racks on the 2010 Forester so I bought one of those. Don’t know about the 2011 Forester or how much longer it will be until the Forester too becomes useless for hauling canoes.

Note to kayakers: the only kayaks I saw on Outback roofs at dealers were small play boats - no rec kayaks let alone longer sea kayaks.

Can you
get a Suby without roof rails, and install your own mounts? I know Thule makes mounts that can be bolted through the roof, and the crossbar mounts attach to them.

Of course, I’d have them professionally installed so there would be someone to blame if they leaked or were drilled in the wrong place in the roof…

Station Wagons…
…are the bee’s knees for carrying canoes and kayaks. Long, low rooflines, lots of interior space for gear. We had a '95 Escort that did yoeman service for about 4 years - when that finally rusted beyond redemption, we bought a '99 Saturn SW1 for $1000, put $500 into it, and have driven the heck out of it for over two years now. Has done several trips across Newfoundland, and handled a 6,000 km. Atlantic Canada run this past summer, fully loaded with two sea kayaks and all our camping gear, with aplomb while just sipping fuel. Not a lot of new wagons out there right now, but you can often find really good deals on used machines, just 'cause wagons aren’t ‘cool’…

My Forester didn’t even come with roof

– Last Updated: Jan-18-11 8:52 PM EST –

racks..2009. Don't know about the Outback but the roof rack was just an option that I left off.

And got the appropriate Yakima towers and fasteners on sale. Used existing cross bars. Total investment far less than a factory rack and far more versatile.

Nothing needed to be drilled in the roof.

the fate of wagons
Yup. that’s a huge problem with modern marketing: the demonization of the “station wagon.” Actually, demonization might have rendered it cool – instead it was linked to drab suburban nerdiness, even though wagons are by far the most practical vehicle for just about anything. The Mad Men had to brainwash consumers by “inventing” the “Sport Utility Vehicle” (hey,folks, it’s actually a station wagon!) and pimping them out with oversized tires, overcomplicated drivetrains and inefficient engines.

I learned to drive in a 1955 Chevy Nomad wagon. You could haul a refrigerator in the back and my entire family could camp in the car (being the oldest kid, I slept on the front bench seat with my legs under the steering wheel and the glove compartment for a nightstand.)

Being as I lug 14’ to 18’ kayaks around, as well as 8’ ladders and 10’ bundles of electrical conduit on occasion, and am only 5’ 5", I have relied on vintage Volvo station wagons as my transport of choice. Since Ford took them over they have shrunk in size and bloated in price so I view the declining stock of existing pre-1997 “Swedish bricks” from which I can choose with growing dismay. I love Subarus too, but they just aren’t as great for really long and big stuff and the inside cargo space seems to shrink every year. Also had two minivans but didn’t care for the height factor.

I keep hoping the car makers will get back to building a basic big wagon, boxy and low profile enough for us shrimps to angle stuff onto the roof, without them feeling compelled to tart it out as a “crossover”. Give me the pig without lipstick, if you please!

I’ll probably have to resort to a mid-sized pickup truck with a cap once the old Volvo pool peters out.

(a bit of interesting loading trivia: I have yet to transport any item from IKEA that does not fit precisely within millimeters inside the closed back of a Volvo 240, 740, 850 or 960 wagon – it’s almost like the Swedes planned it that way.)

Any car you like is rack ready.
Forget the gutters. Go to a salvage yard and purchase a well designed, nice looking set of roof rails off of a wreck. $25.00. Lay it out on your roof, mark the holes and drill. I did this on a Jeep Wrangler’s fiberglass top and a Ranger Pickup’s fiberglass shell and it worked great for many thousands of miles. I have a pair of Thule Crossroads mounts. They clamp onto any roof rail system. The salvaged rails I used were from a 1994 Chevy Blazer. If your gonna drive it into the dirt, a few well sealed holes in the roof aren’t gonna hurt a thing.