Roof Racks, Luggage Trays & Boxes

In this article we look at the pros and cons of using the roof of your vehicle for storage when travelling; discuss what not to carry on your roof; provide some helpful packing hints and finally some useful buying tips.
Created: June 2008
Revised: December 2006
Latest Feedback: April 2016

Roof Storage

For people who undertake an offroad camping trip, a major consideration is how to fit enough camping gear, recovery gear, spares, clothing, food and water into your truck. Even in the largest model 4WDs, packing space is at a premium so roof storage becomes the obvious place for storage of additional items that do not fit into the cabin of your vehicle.

But there are some important safety issues to be aware of first, and this will affect what items you can realistically store on your roof, and hence affect your choice of a roof storage system.

Pros & Cons of Roof Storage

Roof Rack luggage systems are great for getting the bulky items out of the cabin of the vehicle. With additional accessories such as weather-proof bags and boxes you don't have to worry about exposing items to the elements so you can even store your tent and pillows up on the roof for a quick camping setup.

The obvious disadvantage is the added height a set of roof racks or luggage tray will add to your vehicle. While this may not pose an obvious problem in the bush you will certainly have to check clearance into the home garage and underground carparks.

However, most importantly, is the safety and handling aspect of increasing the height of a weight load to your vehicle. The vehicle's centre of gravity will be increased by adding a loaded roof rack, which can increase vehicle sway and degrade offroad handling and performance.

In comparison to towing a trailer however, a roof rack system is much cheaper and probably a lot less hassle. In the end, the choice is personal and you will have to consider all the pros and cons yourself.

Roof Rack Limitations

  • Always check the load rating on your roof rack and never exceed this. Ideally, pack light items on the roof only. Tip - create a "weight list" of everything you intend to load onto the roof rack and check the total.

  • Use your "weight list" to pack items so that the weight load is evenly distributed across both the length and width of the roof rack.

  • Minimise the storage of liquids, such as fuel and water since the weight load will shift as the vehicle moves, causing an undesirable lurching of the vehicle when cornering and possibly a delayed but sudden lurch in an emergency situation which could be very difficult for the driver to handle safely.

  • If fuel must be carried on the luggage rack to increase fuel carrying capacity for extended driving, ensure that it is transferred at the earliest opportunity to the vehicle's main fuel tank to reduce the above complications.

Handy Hints for Packing

  • Consider your ability to pack/unpack items from the roof based on your height and strength and the vehicle's height. You might find it easier to pack only items that you anticipate will be rarely used, rather than used daily or vice versa. This is a personal decision, but over a long trip, many people complain about the time it takes to pack a large load on the luggage rack daily to get everything back in its exact spot.

  • Leave some space for packing firewood that you might collect along your way on an outback camping trip.

  • Invest in a roof rack storage bag to minimise the effects of weather and to keep everything neatly tied down together. Consider the effects of dust and rain on whatever you pack on the roof but don't rely on the roof bag itself for weather protection, always store items such as pillows, sleeping bags etc in separate bags.

  • The roof is an ideal place to store your long-term outback rubbish bag - something sealed like a vinyl-lined laundry bag with drawstrings is ideal and you can simply add individual day's worth of rubbish in smaller, well-tied plastic bags first. We have achieved up to 2 weeks rubbish storage for 2 adults plus one baby in nappies using this rubbish storage system and have not had problems with vermin attacking the bag as no smell can be detected from outside the bag.

Buying Tips

Steel construction is obviously the strongest, but also the heaviest. Ask yourself if you can afford the added weight of steel before adding your load. Also, do you intend to remove the luggage rack from the vehicle when not travelling - remember the height of many 4WD vehicles exceeds the height of many underground carparks. If height is an issue, how easily can you remove the luggage rack?

Some luggage racks come as one complete unit, yet others come as separate roof rack bars with the luggage tray added separately. This feature is obviously of great advantage as you can still benefit from having roof bars for everyday transportation situations, eg. carrying sporting equipment, or large/long items, when the luggage rack is disconnected.

Aluminium construction is lighter than steel and may not be capable of carrying such a heavy load as can be carried by a steel luggage tray.

Either way, check out the roof/gutter anchor point - a luggage rack is only as strong as its anchor points. Also, aluminium will not corrode like steel.

Finally, does the luggage rack have tie-off points, and/or side rails for securing loose items?

Is a luggage storage bag available in the right size to fit inside your luggage rack if desired?

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