Your Roof Rack Hates the Environment and Your Wallet

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
your roof rack hates the environment and your wallet

Yeah, yeah, one day you’re going to put skis up there.

Automakers go to great lengths to make vehicles aerodynamic, adding grille shutters and painstakingly shaving off excess weight, but drivers are just blowing away the hard work with their roof racks, a new study reports (via CNET).

The effect of roof racks on fuel consumption was studied by researchers from Berkeley Lab and the National Renewable Energy Lab, who published their findings in the journal Energy Policy.

It turns out that showing off what an active lifestyle you have via a sporty roof rack (or just being too lazy to remove it after that one trip) accounts for nearly one percent of all annual domestic fuel consumption.

The study finds that 0.8 percent of light-duty vehicle fuel consumption in 2015 can be tied to the aerodynamic drag these racks asserted on the cars carrying them. That translates into 100 million gallons of gas burned needlessly every year.

Most factory roof racks are carefully streamlined due to fuel economy worries — hell, some are downright sensuous — but the trouble comes from chunky, do-it-yourself units, the kind you see on almost every Subaru sedan (usually missing the high-end mountain bikes they were meant to carry).

Roof rack ranks are expected to grow 200 percent between now and 2040.

The report’s authors, Alan Meier and Yuche Chen, want the federal government to craft policy around the practice. They claim that the extra gasoline consumed due to roof racks is equal to 40 percent of the gasoline expected to be saved by electric vehicles in 2040.

Will your future include being pulled over and ticketed for having an empty roof rack? If these guys have their way, you’re damn right it will.

[Image: keone/ Flickr ( CC BY-SA 2.0)]

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4 of 99 comments
  • Dave W Dave W on Apr 29, 2016

    Reason 3 for loving hatch backs. Most of my stuff is easier to get in the car. I hate external racks for skis as the road salt does a number on the edges and can't help the bindings. I have noticed over the years that an empty rack has a ~5% decrease in mileage. Skis in rack make that 5-10%. If you really want to do it however my 19' canoe can be an over 25% drop on a windy day.

  • King of Eldorado King of Eldorado on Apr 29, 2016

    I have a Yakima rack on my 2011 Fit that I use a few times every summer to carry a kayak. This type of rack is held in place by model-specific precisely measured placement of the "Q-tower" brackets in the gap between the roof and the doors, held in place by tensioning the brackets on the rigid crossbars. Once properly mounted, it's very solid. Repeated removal and reinstallation, in addition to being very time-consuming, would introduce a risk of incorrect reinstallation and possible failure on the road.

  • Jbigda Jbigda on Apr 29, 2016

    I think that fining people for not removing their roof racks might be a little extreme. That would be just like fining people for modifying their car in any way. Change your wheels fined, change your grill fined, add some truck nuts.. okay you should be fined for that but that's not the point. I understand them wanting to help the environment, but I don't think punishing people for forgetting to remove their racks is the answer.

  • Mcnabb100 Mcnabb100 on Apr 30, 2016

    The 95 grand prix we used have still got 28-30mpg with a yakima bike rack. We never had a reason to take it off.