How to lug just about anything in or on your car

By Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®

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By: Lauren Fix
May 13, 2015

How to lug just about anything in or on your car

When you can’t…quite…squeeze…one…more…thing into your vehicle — and you don’t want to ditch your college stuff  — it’s time to start thinking “outside the car.”

That’s what college students think when they tie all their gear to the roof of their cars and head home for the summer.  If done improperly it can be unsafe to you and others on the road as well as a great way to lose your valuables along the roadway. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 11,000 accidents occur from falling cargo or debris on the road. 

You can carry just about anything on your car that you can lift over your head, but to be safe and effective you need to do it right. Whether your cargo is a clutch of bicycles, a pile of camping gear, or the kitchen sink, there’s probably a rack out there designed to carry your load safely.

Ropes and bags


Sometimes you don’t need a rack at all — such as when you need to carry something light and relatively flat (such as an inner tube, a flat box or a Christmas tree) and you’re only driving a short distance. In these cases, what you will need is two 20-foot lengths of quarter-inch nylon rope, a blanket or piece of carpet liner to protect the roof, and the know-how to tie bowline and two-half-hitch knots (refer to Boy Scout manual). If you’re knot challenged, pick up two tie-down straps with cinch buckles (about $20) instead of rope.

If you want to carry stuff on your car, but don’t want to invest in an aftermarket roof rack, a weatherproof luggage bag is a great deal. Lightweight, inexpensive ($75 to $160), and easy to store, these bags are easily mounted with hooks that grip your car’s factory racks or door frames. They can hold from 7 to 15 cubic feet of stuff.

Rack time

Many vehicles come with “factory” roof racks, but in general these racks are designed more for cosmetic appeal than function. Factory racks are fine for carrying a suitcase or two, but they’re usually only capable of handling stable loads of up to 100 pounds. (Weight restrictions for factory racks are printed in the owner’s manual or on the rack itself.)

If you’re hauling heavy or irregularly shaped loads, you’ll probably need an aftermarket rack. Aftermarket racks fall into two categories: roof racks and rear-hitch racks. For hauling long objects like canoes, kayaks and surfboards, a heavy-duty roof rack is the only way to go. On the other hand, skis, bikes, snowboards and cargo boxes can be carried either on a roof rack or rear-hitch rack. Both offer racks, baskets, cargo boxes and bags for most car makes and models, and their products are comparable in quality and selection.

Roof rack basics

A standard roof rack consists of two crossbars and four “foot” mounts, which attach to the car’s factory side-rail rack, roof or rain gutters. You can find standard roof racks (for about $250) at most outdoor-sporting goods stores, or check online. 

Once you’ve outfitted your car with a standard roof rack, you can customize it to carry almost any combination of gear, such as a kayak, camping equipment and a bicycle, all at the same time.

Everything is held snug in the basket with stretch nets ($25 to $35). Cargo boxes are great for carrying expensive loot that needs to be locked. These hard-shell, bullet-shaped, waterproof boxes come in a variety of colors and sizes (the largest holds 30 cubic feet of gear), and range in price from $250 to $1000.

You can always rent a trailer to haul behind your vehcile.  Contact you local UHaul, rent the hitch and the trailer.  They can guide your through the process.

Good to go

Don’t forget to check your tire pressures and have a certified technician look the vehicle over before your long trip.

With a special rack, a spirit of adventure, and a little bit of knowledge, you can drive your home for the summer, to the beach and back to school in the fall.