How to Carry Luggage on Top of Your Car

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The safety of both your passengers and other drivers around should be your top priority when traveling across the country or just to the supermarket. However, with a load of things to pack and bring for your travels, it might be hard to store everything safely and securely. So that begs the question, do you know how to carry luggage on top of your car? A recent report from Strategic Safety found that anything not tied or strapped down caused more than 13,000 accidents in injuries nationwide in only 24 months. That means that any items you bring that are not attached to your car can eventually fly off and hit something or someone, which may cause severe damages and not just the financial kind.

But don’t worry! There are ways to be safe as long as you properly strap down those things! Here’s a walk through along with some guidelines to consider.

Check the load capacity

How to carry luggage on top of car

Estimate how much your load weighs and if your vehicle can handle the overall pressure it has to carry. SUVs or minivans can bear a larger weight than a sedan can. However, you should still check your vehicle’s manual to decide you how much you should load. Another thing to keep in mind, if the load has many parts or individual items that must be transported, bundle them together by using adhesive or packaging tapes aside from ropes. Take the heaviest and place it in the center of the bundle. The bottom part of the item, which will carry the rest of the weight of the load, must lay flat or firm on the roof. Consider the things that are fragile and must not be broken in case any sudden movement of the vehicle will happen.

Acquire the correct materials

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The kind of load you will place on top of your vehicle determines the sort of strapping materials you will need. Use a heavy-duty rope to strap the weight firmly down the roof. If your vehicle has a roof-rack then good for you. You can use ratchet straps but do not tighten it too much as it may damage the racks. Straps and ropes can hold down the load with room for flexibility. As for bungee cords, use them only as additional support but do not rely on its use solely for all the load.

Check the placement

Initially line up the objects at the beginning of the roof or as far back as you can. Use the center of the roof to provide optimal support to the most massive load. Proper placement is key to a safe mount. Make sure that the object is centered against the doors of the vehicle so that the bulk of the item is mostly secured and firmly attached against the roof. When an object hangs over the edge, either the windshield or the trunk, it causes an updraft force on the vehicle thus emphasizing the need to assess the placement of the weight of the load accurately.

Tying your load down

tying load to car

To tie down the load, start with the windows down except for the driver’s window. Tightly squeeze the objects together and center the weight in the middle of the roof. Toss the rope across the object and pass them through the open windows and tie them inside the car. For extra safety, tie it once then pass the rope over again twice side to side and front to back and then tie the knot again. Secure the tie firmly both lengthwise and crosswise.

Test the Load

When the car starts moving slowly, the load might remain intact but once you hit the road, a couple of bumps or sudden brakes might cause the objects to start to move or slide either forward or backward. You also wouldn’t want your load to swerve sideways when driving in curbs or sudden shifts. To prevent these, try a test drive to see if there is still any movement in the load, then adjust accordingly until load movement is restricted. But regardless of the load is securely tied to the roof, always be mindful of your driving speed and remember to drive within speed limits. High speed can cause an increase in the risk of loosening or detaching of the ropes and objects. When carrying overhanging items, always take into consideration updrafts and slow down or sudden brakes.

Consider other storage methods

You may also opt to purchase a car rack or storage suitable for your needs. There are many types of car racks and storage methods, some of which are:

Cargo Net

Cargo net storing gear on top of a car

When in doubt, use a cargo net. A cargo net is a specific type of net that comes in either squares or rectangles. Cargo nets are usually made of bungee webbing, so they are extremely durable. They fit on top of a car roof basket and are pretty flexible, so you can use them to fit both small and large loads. These cargo nets are also extremely easy to install because they come with hooks that clamp right onto the bottom side of the cargo basket. Additionally, the tight grids ensure that all your items are secure. By the way, cargo nets can also work for storing items in UTVs, cars, trucks, SUVs, and even boats. Any driver should have total peace of mind during the entire drive so if you feel like you have to cover your entire load and stop rip and mesh, do it. The possibility of having your load stay in place even during acceleration is high with the proper cargo net. If you’re interested in reading more, check out our article on cargo nets!

Cargo Box (aka Roof Boxes)

Thule Car roof box

Roof boxes are ideal for carrying outdoor equipment. They are also the means of storage that most outdoor enthusiasts use. Because they have a strong body and hull, they can protect your items from rain, snow, and other forces of nature. Two of the most well-known brands are Thule and Yakima, both of which we recommend in our Finding the Right Roof Box guide. Plus, roof boxes also have secured locking systems to ensure that nobody steals your items, unlike cargo nets which have no such system. Many roof boxes have a dual-side opening capability for unloading and loading items from both sides of your cars. Cargo boxes come in all different shapes and sizes, so you need to keep in mind what you’re storing, whether it be skis or snowboards.

Bike Carrier (Hitch Mount)

Swagman 2-Bike Carrier Hitch Mount

A bike carrier with a hitch mount gives you the opportunity to store bikes at the back of your vehicle. Some carriers allow you to securely store two bikes at the back. However, you should keep in mind that these carriers have weight limits (usually around 40 lbs per bike), so choose wisely. Many of these carriers also have limits on different bike frames. They are not typically universal like roof boxes or cargo nets, though they can be adjusted for a range of sizes. We also recommend that you purchase a safety strap to secure your bike even more. Also, make sure that the clams are tight and the wheels are in the receptacles to take full advantage of their capabilities. We have an in-depth guide on finding the perfect bike rack for your Jeep Wrangler, so if that sounds like you, take a look.

Roof Basket

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As mentioned before, roof baskets pair well with a cargo net. Most roof baskets are made of steel, so they are unlikely to break under your load. However, as with other means of storage, you should check the carrying capacity of roof baskets to be sure. Roof baskets leave open the possibility of water damage to your items if you are using a cargo net with them. If you will be storing items that are not immune to the rain, then you may be best off choosing another means of storage. A roof box may perform better in this case. Roof baskets also have a front wind protector to make its design aerodynamically sound. They also come in different sizes to fit your vehicle and your needs. Roof baskets are typically cheaper than roof boxes, so if price is a big factor you may want to look into roof baskets. For an affordable, roof basket, you should check out the MaxxHaul Steel Roof Rack, which has a 150 lb capacity.

Ski/Snowboard Racks

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You can use a roof box for storing your skis or snowboards, but the problem is that roof boxes can go up to $1,000. There are other more inexpensive means of storage. These are designed solely to store your skis and snowboards are fit right onto your crossbars. They are also called roof mounted ski/snowboard carriers. They hold your skis and snowboards snugly and securely with soft rubber arms that grip the items without scratching their surface. The largest designs can hold up to 6 Pairs of Skis or 4 Snowboards. Many roof-mounted carriers also have a key-and-lock mechanism to ensure that your items aren’t stolen. The Thule SnowPack Roof Mounted Carrier will fit all your skiing and snowboarding needs and more. Check out our guide reviewing the two of the top ski racks in the market.

Kayak Carrier

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A kayak carrier works best for transporting kayaks, canoes, and other peripherals from place to place. You can mount kayak carriers on the pair of crossbars on your car. You must place them directly across from each other so that your kayak or canoe doesn’t slant. Most kayak carriers are pretty much attachable to all crossbars and load bars. You can mount up to 4 kayak carriers mounted on a truck. In other words, you can mount up to two kayaks on such a vehicle. Most kayak carriers are made of steel and have adjustable padding along their j-bar. Many kayak carriers will have different capabilities of the type of kayaks that they can carry.

We recommend the Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier, which can support one boat for up to 80 lbs or two boats for up to 110 lbs. It also has a minimum crossbar spread of 24 inches. However, these can go for a hefty price.

We also recommend taking a look at inflatable kayak roof racks, which are much more inexpensive. For example, Rakapak’s Inflatable Universal Car Roof Rack can carry up to 180 lbs of cargo at only a fraction of the price of the Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier. We have a guide to learn more about inflatable kayak roof racks. In addition, we have a comprehensive article on the wide variety of kayaks out there in the market and how to choose between them, given your specific needs.

Roof Rack Fishing Rod Holders

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Some roof mounted carriers, aka the ski/snowboard racks, can hold fishing rods. But there are also other kinds of holders that are specifically designed to work with fishing rods. The Rhino-Rack Multi-Purpose Holder is the way to go when looking for a way to store your fishing rods on top of your car. Their holder has a unique rubber strap that makes storing any fishing rod a breeze. There are other fishing rod holders that are hitch mounts, which mean they go at the back of your car. These rod holders can hold up to 6 of your fishing rods! Your friends don’t even need to buy a fishing rod holder because you got their back with this one. We’re looking at StowAway’s Swingaway Hitch Mount Rod Holder for this capability. However, this hitch mount rod holder goes for quite a hefty price. You can even consider making your own DIY Tube Fishing Rod Pod. If you’re looking for more information on all of these fishing rod storage methods, and even how to make a DIY Rod Pod, check out our buyer’s guide.

Car Roof Bag

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So here we are. The car roof bag is for storing luggage on top of your vehicle. It is NOT for your skis, snowboards, kayaks, and other outdoor gear. It also doesn’t need any roof basket on the bottom. Car roof bags simply sit on the top of your roof, secured by your cross bars. Car roof bags are typically waterproof and are made of extremely flexible and durable material. They have a design to ensure that air-resistance isn’t a problem. They have huge storage capabilities. You should look at how much the volume the bag is capable of storing. That’s what’s important for this car storage method. Most car roof bags come with up to 8 safety straps that attach to your crossbars, so you don’t have to worry about your luggage falling into traffic. We highly recommend the BougeRV Roof Top Cargo Bag for your luggage storing needs. Also, check out our guide on car roof bags to get other recommended products!


Now, we go back to using a rope to store all your luggage on top of your car. During the transport, if you hear any rattling sound or any sign that the tie has been loosened, promptly find a place to make a stopover and check the load. It may not have been properly secured and might need a do-over of the whole process. An additional tip can be placing a thick disposable cloth in areas which might cause an excess space and free area of the ropes. The goal is to eliminate any space for the ropes to wiggle and loosen up. And most of all, drive safely and with caution.

However, if you’re willing to spend the extra money, we recommend choosing one of the several options of car storage we just mentioned.

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