Roof Rack Reviews
August 28, 2010 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Tell me your experiences with car roof racks.

So I'm in the market for a roof rack for my 2009 Subaru Legacy sedan. The main use will be to get a small 14ft, 75lb canoe to and from the local lakes and rivers. I may take a longer trip or two on the interstate as well.

Of course I know about Thule and Yakima, but I'm pretty "meh" on the look of them, as they seem to sit very high on the car. I'm wondering about some of the newer brands. I know nothing of Rhino Rack, but they look just like any other, but a little neater. I think I'm most interested in the Prorack Whispbars. I have seen photos of my model car with them installed, and they look very sleek and very low profile. Any reviews on these?

I'm also wondering about installing a removable rack at all, or if I should go with a more permanent install. My Subaru has no window frames, so the rack would have to install underneath the window seal on the car. It seems like this could make a lot of noise. Anyone have experience with a removable rack on a frameless window?
posted by sanka to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For what you are looking to carry, a set of factory cross bars and some good straps should suffice. That said I've always used Yakima racks
posted by HuronBob at 7:34 PM on August 28, 2010

Mr. Bluedaisy and I have each spent numerous hours strapping boats and bikes to car and van racks, for both personal and professional reasons.

I'm a big fan of Yakima racks and have had three different sets with various accessories. Now we have Thule racks and they are removable. I like them less because they are square but I can't give you any real good reason for that.

The noise typically comes from the bars, not so much from where the racks attach to the roof/windows.

Sorry I don't have more input to offer. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:40 PM on August 28, 2010

Noise ... My experiance is that the noice comes from the straps.
posted by HuronBob at 7:51 PM on August 28, 2010

I have a Yakima rack on top of my Toyota Matrix and it's rock solid. It's theoretically easy to remove, but I lost the key that locks the towers on the it's more or less permanent.

Sound was dramatically improved with the addition of a fairing.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:18 PM on August 28, 2010

Sadly, my only advice is: Don't cheap out.
I once lost the front bar of a removable rack while going 65ish on the highway. I knew it was a flimsy system, but, well, seemed like a good idea at the time.
posted by Adridne at 8:18 PM on August 28, 2010

Too bad you can't get a factory rack installed on the sedan (or can you?). I've been using Yakima racks for > 10 years. Never noticed a noise problem but I could see where that might be an issue if you don't have a window frame (those frameless windows on my Outback are noisy even without the clips from a roof rack). We used the Yakima system with the clip-on towers on two of our previous cars and it was super stable, you could hang off it with all your weight and it wouldn't budge.

In general, a good solid roof rack is a really convenient thing to have -- in addition to bikes, skis, and a cargo box, if you get a pair of good locking straps (the kind they use to secure motorcycles in the back of a pick up), you can haul furniture, lumbar, or whatever without much fear of losing anything on the freeway.

The problem is that without factory mounts, attaching those towers/clips to the door jamb will wear the paint off over time and I got rust underneath the rack on both of our older cars. With our most recent car, we made sure to get a factory rack and attached the Yakima to that and it's been great.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:41 PM on August 28, 2010

Your best bet is probably the Subaru OEM crossbars from a Subaru dealer. Yes, they will probably run more than the aftermarket ones, but they're designed for your car and they will fit without any problems. The major issue with noise can be fixed with a fairing if you go with Thule or Yakima system... I have the OEM crossbars for my Impreza and they do the trick incredibly well.
posted by ganzhimself at 8:44 PM on August 28, 2010

I was of the understanding that the 2004-2009 Subaru Legacy did not come with the option of an OEM roof rack. I was surely going to ask about it the next time I go in for an oil change, but that's why I'm looking for aftermarket racks.

Also I am worried about noise from the window seals. I understand the noise from the bars and straps, but I'm wondering more about the frameless window design and noise
posted by sanka at 8:52 PM on August 28, 2010

AFAIK, the cross bars usually come from the factory, while the other stuff gets made by Thule, Yakima, et. al.

My dad had a set of four Thule bike carriers that he used quite regularly with his Saab. Eventually one broke, followed by another. We called Thule, in search of the broken part, only to find that that particular model had been out of production for 15 years -- the guy on the phone told us to take them to one of their authorized dealers, where the technician took one look at them, said "Yep. These look like they've been used to death," and exchanged them for a newer (much nicer!) model, free of charge. No questions asked.

You could say I'm a bit biased, but this level of service appears to be worth a considerable price premium.
posted by schmod at 10:48 PM on August 28, 2010

I don't have much to add to the above except to say that you can now buy an inflatable roof rack. It's quite well regarded, and can carry 80kgs.

I'm not sure you'd want to take it on the interstate and it's most likely not exactly what you're looking for. But for occasional, local use it seems to be pretty good. One of the reviews actually mentions transporting a kayak, funnily enough.

Apologies for UK-centric links. It appears to be a British product.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:42 AM on August 29, 2010

The main use will be to get a small 14ft, 75lb canoe to and from the local lakes and rivers [...] I know about Thule and Yakima, but I'm pretty "meh" on the look of them, as they seem to sit very high on the car.

Many canoes and kayaks are bigger in the middle than at the ends, and the roof bars will support it at the ends - so if the rack sits too low on the car, your canoe might end up directly on your roof.

I'm also wondering about installing a removable rack at all, or if I should go with a more permanent install.

An empty ski rack can add 7 to 8% to your fuel consumption. That could easily cost you $120 a year - more if gas prices go up.

That's why most cars with permanent racks have the bars running the length of the vehicle, rather than side-to-side.
posted by Mike1024 at 2:59 AM on August 29, 2010

We have a factory rack on our Forester and a Thule carrier. The rack is utterly quiet - it's the straps that make noise. No rust issues with our factory rack. Had a canvas bag carrier with detachable rack when I was a kid - that thing was crazy loud.

Before we got our current car we used a set of canoe blocks - made of some sort of synthetic that the edge of the canoe sat in and tie-downs. Worked ok although better on surface roads than the highway.
posted by leslies at 7:50 AM on August 29, 2010

If you are just planning on transporting a canoe on occasion, have you considered foam blocks? All you do is put 4 on the gunwales, drop it on your roof and then secure your canoe on the bow and sterm with V lines. The even make nice fancy straps that go on in a hurry. The whole set up should set you back less than 50 bucks and will work great. Just make sure you have hold down points you can attach to on your corners (its a Japanese car so it should have some pretty beefy points on the frame)

With that said, I have a Thule rack on my '00 acura tl and I love the thing. It does sit a bit high on the roof yes, but that height makes it easier to pass straps under the bars and keeps you from scratching your roof in the process. It also allows you to transport weird things, like wheel barrows, ikea furniture, an 8 piece patio set and table (that trip got some weird looks). I have loaded it with 2 kayaks and a massive load of lumber and driven down the highway in high winds with no problems. I am pretty sure I would have to rip the roof off the car for the rack to fail (technically its rated at 190lbs)

The nice thing about removable racks is that it takes about 5 minutes to install/remove the thing. (the clips basically hook into the top of the door frames and get screwed in with a single bolt) so if I am running long distances on the highway with nothing on it I just take it off and shove it in the trunk to save some gas.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 11:29 AM on August 29, 2010

Canoes and boats weigh a lot - the Whispbars only support up to 65kg according to their web site. I have Yakima bars (on factory roof rails) and a Thule carrier and have carried a lot on the Yakima bars. I suppose that would be enough for you if it was just the canoe but you never know if you might want more in the future.

As for the aerodynamics of the round bars when on the roof, it's always been fine for me. No noise or noticeable fuel economy loss with a bare rack.
posted by GuyZero at 11:34 AM on August 29, 2010

Mike1024 writes "An empty ski rack can add 7 to 8% to your fuel consumption. That could easily cost you $120 a year - more if gas prices go up."

Ski racks have an extremely dirty profile with all the crap attached to the bar to hold the skis. A single bar is much better especially if it has a flattish profile horizontally. On two vehicles for which I had good number pre and post rack install (both with 4'6" 3/4" round bars on gutter mounts) rack install resulted in an unmeasurable fuel economy hit; for sure less than 1%.
posted by Mitheral at 4:14 PM on August 29, 2010

I recently purchase the Prorack Whispbars for my GTI and so far I've been quite pleased. While not silent, or as quiet as advertised they are noticeably quieter than the the Thule racks I've owned in the past. They are more expensive than then comparable Thule or Yakima setups. They have a great profile on the car and they are compatible with most attachments (assuming you get the correct adaptor kit).
posted by mhaw at 9:48 PM on August 29, 2010

*recently purchased
posted by mhaw at 9:49 PM on August 29, 2010

We used a set of those foam blocks and ties that Pink Fuzzy Bunny mentioned for a lot of years and they worked great. This was with a 17' Grumman Royalex canoe that weighted considerably more than yours.

They worked great.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:57 AM on August 30, 2010

The PERMANENT INSTALLATION (previously) is the best way to. An additional benefit is that you can achieve a greater range of span between the crossbars, which is more suitable for watercraft. As for An empty ski rack can add 7 to 8% to your fuel consumption, if you have the room on your roof, mount the forward crossbar as far back as you can from the windshield, and trim your crossbars so that they don't stick over the sides of the vehicle. This lets the rack assembly sit inside the vehicle's aerodynamic slipstream, keeping the fuel economy lost lower and also eliminating wind noise.
posted by No Shmoobles at 8:05 AM on August 30, 2010

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