Ways to Help Avoid Roof Rack Catastrophes

Last week I did something I have done a thousand times: loaded my surfski and my 9’4” SIC Fish sup surfboard onto the top of my Adventure Toaster (Honda Element) and set off for the water. This time, I was headed back to Fort Pierce, Florida for the Paddle Monster Spring Camp.

A few short hours later, the unthinkable almost happened.

I was following John Beausang down I-95 and it was really gusting. At one point, I felt the wind hit my car and I heard a suspect “thud”. I glanced up and out the corner of my windshield and saw the red nose of my Epic V-8 still peaking out beyond the front v-bar. It looked okay from my vantage point.

About that time, I see John quickly move to the right lane, hazards go on, and then he’s stopping on the side of the interstate.

I knew something had happened on my roof.

While the ski was still on the car, the v-rack was hanging by a thread. Almost literally. The bolts that connect and secure the v-rack to my Yakima cross bars had worked loose. When the cross-wind gust hit the ski, the entire front end of the rack shifted. What I heard, and what John saw in his rear view mirror, was the ski then elevating in a attempt to fly and then slamming back down into the v-rack. The only thing that kept the ski from full lift-off was my over the roof, through the car windows “safety strap” and my Yakima Slim Shady camp awning, which likely stopped the v-rack from sliding off the roof.

A quick tightening of the bolts, plus the addition of more straps and a subsequent check of the sup carrier, and we were back on the road.

I should have tightened these before my trip!!

It was a near miss.

But also a good reminder to always, always, always make sure your rack is tight before heading out, especially for a long distance trip.

So, with that in mind, here’s a friendly reminder check list for making sure your rack and your precious and expensive roof top cargo is safe and secure. (And yes, I am writing this just as much for myself as for anyone else!!)

Rack Do’s and Don’ts

1. Make sure your rack system’s fittings are tight and secure and undamaged. Get into the habit of inspecting your rack system, just like you would inspect your board or boat for damage. Nuts and bolts do loosen over time, so be sure to keep them tight. Replace worn rack pads. Replace anything that looks worn out or broken or just not right.

2. Be sure you are using the correct roof rack for you vehicle. Don’t ever try to jerry-rig a rack system from your old car onto your new one. Most times cross bars can be transferred from one car to another, but very rarely will the tower or clips used to attach the bars to the car work from one model year to the next. Why? Think how many times car designs are modified from year to year. Even small changes in designs can effect roof lines and boom! You will need a new set up.

Pro Tip: In the market for a new car? Before you pull the trigger, use the interactive fit guide on the Yakima or Thule websites to make sure there is a rack fit for your intended new ride. In addition to checking to see if the new car can accomodate racks, make sure the approved rack system will be able to handle the weight of everything you want to carry. Stay within that limit!

3. If you are using a sup carrier with the integrated straps, be sure you are following the instructions COMPLETELY. For instance, the Yakima Sup Dawg has a roller system that not only makes loading the board easier, but it is key to tensioning the straps. If your board is not flush with those rollers, you may not be able to get the straps tight enough, or they may slip.

Yakima Sup Dawg instructions – board must rest against the rollers.

4. If you are using a sup carrier, ALWAYS LOCK it after tightening the straps. That lessens the likelihood the cams will slip causing the straps to loosen. Plus, if you don’t lock the carrier, you board is much easier to steal.

5. Even if you are using a sup carrier, consider using additional tie down straps just as a fail safe, especilally if you are traveling long distance and/or on the highway and especially if you are carrying more than one board.

6. Always run a strap across the roof and then into the car via the windows. This is your safety strap. In the event of a rack failure, ie: your towers and cross bars, or your board/boat carrier fails, the safety strap through the car will help keep everything together. It may not keep your gear on top of the car entirely but it will lessen the likelihood of a yard sale on the interstate, and or damage to other cars. It is what kept me from having a very miserable drive to Florida!!

7. If you are using v-racks, use more than one webbed strap over the hull and around the v-bar.

8. Once your web straps are tight, do a wiggle test. Jiggle your board back and forth. If it moves, the straps are not tight. If the car moves, you’re good to go.

9. Tie a knot with the excess strap material right under the cam buckle. That will prevent the webbing tail from slipping through the cam if the cam is worn out and fails.

10. ALWAYS CHECK YOUR TIE-DOWN STRAPS AND BUNGEES. Replace worn out straps and stretched out bungees.

11. Always keep about a thousand extra straps in the car. Have sets in several lengths. Extra long straps (18 or 20 feet) can come in handy when you are carrying more boards or boats. But NEVER use ratchet tie down straps like truckers use – you will get them too tight and ruin your craft.

12. Keep tools and extra hardware for your system in your car at all times, in case you have to tighten up bolts or do a field repair the side of the road. John and I both had socket wrenches and it was easy to get my rack back into shape.

13. Get in the habit of tying down your board from start to finish in one fell swoop. If you don’t, it’s easy to get distracted and forget that while you put your board on the top of the car, you didn’t tie it down or you didn’t lock it in the sup carrier. Driving off with your boards not tied down is a mistake you will only make once! (Hopefully!!)

And remember: even the best gear wears out over time!!!!! Especially rack systems that are always exposed to the elements and forces of nature. And nuts and bolts do need re-tightening from time to time!!

These are just a few tips to live by. There are several schools of thought on whether boards should be loaded fin or nose first, deck down or up, and some of that depends on the shape of the board and your rack set up. There are also differing schools of thought on whether bow and stern tie downs are a good idea on sups. If you use them, be sure NOT to get them too tight, especially for carbon boards. Board bags definitely help protect your board, but they add weight, and can be an aerodymic nightmare.  Never put a board wet with salt water into a bag or you’ll ruin the board’s finish. Use pads between boards when stacking if you are not using a bag.

If you have a good tie-down tip, or a horror story to share, please do!

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