collapsible roof-top luggage carriers
November 26, 2005 9:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about getting a tiny car, and using a roof-top luggage carrier for trips. Good idea?

I need a new car. I live in DC, where parking is at a premium, and I'd like to economize on gas consumption. So I'm thinking about getting something really small, like a Scion or Mini or something similar.

However, when my family goes on trips, I like to take everything, so I'm worried about how I'm going to fit all that luggage into my tiny car. I'm thinking a roof-top luggage carrier would be the solution.

However (again), we live in a tiny house with very little extra space, so I'd like to get a collapsible carrier (like this one). Is this a basically sound idea? Any suggestions for particular carriers (or even cars)?
posted by MrMoonPie to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
If you're concerned about gas mileage, you may want to look at the EPA's list of cars. I just recently switched to a diesel Jetta wagon, which is regularly getting 45mpg, I've been fantastically pleased; I still have tons of space inside the car, and I don't feel like I'm driving a go-kart.
posted by odinsdream at 10:14 AM on November 26, 2005

I've pondered the question within the context of a convertible - and arrived at the possible solution of a Class 1 receiver hitch & a small fixed luggage platform on the back, or perhaps a rented trailer. Or just renting a larger vehicle when needed, for that matter.
posted by Triode at 10:23 AM on November 26, 2005

Whenever we went on trips when I was a kid, we had one of those rooftop carriers to haul extra gear arount (tents, sleeping bags, luggage etc.) and they worked wonderfully. The one we had was not collapsible, so I can't compare how good that particular one would be, but I'm just chiming in to say that on any sort of trip, these things are great space savers.

Just be a little bit careful about the height of your vehicle afterwards. Some gates that you could fit through before, you won't now.
posted by vernondalhart at 10:28 AM on November 26, 2005

Odinsdream's list of fuel conomies had some surprises for me. Observation 1 is that considering the Mini's small siaze, why is its fuel efficiency so crap, relatively speaking? Observation 2 is that the Elantra scores well in "Midsize", and that the Sonata is best in "Large". I'd thought Hyundai was bad at fuel efficiency, especially, but now I will take a second look.

My other observation is that I managed to bring a week's worth of camping gear, water and supplies for two people to Burning Man, several times, using a roof rack on an old Elantra. I was amazed at how much stuff you could actually fit up there, but it did kill the fuel efficiency!
posted by meehawl at 11:18 AM on November 26, 2005

I highly recommend the Scion xB be part of your consideration set. It's small and easy to park, gets decent gas mileage, and yet, thanks to its boxy shape, has tons of space inside. The flat roof will also offer a ton of usable space once it has a rack. If you even need it.

Some people never get over the boxy shape, esthetically, but I am highly practical about it. It does provide the maximum interior space available for the wheelbase / footprint of the car. Folks generally think it's some kind of fashion statement but it couldn't be more practical.

Length-wise, it's smaller than most Civics but a few inches larger than a Mini. But just the other day I was able to fit my entire mountain bike in the back, just by folding the seats down. I didn't even remove the wheels. You won't do that with a Mini. With the back seats folded down, it has almost as much cargo space as a Ford Explorer (2 cubic feet less, actually).

I get an average of 31mpg. I fit into insanely small parking spaces. The car is really cheap, starting at $14.5K.
posted by scarabic at 11:31 AM on November 26, 2005

Oh, and it's basically a Toyota Echo with a different body. I epxect it to last many hundreds of thousands of miles.
posted by scarabic at 11:31 AM on November 26, 2005

Also consider the safety and comfort a larger car can bring you for those trips. My car is small and I am tired of for a recent trip I rented a plush, large sedan and it really changed the drive from a cumbersome bear to a smooth, luxurious joyride (even at 12 hours! Seattle to Banff). Really, I am not a buick salesman. The diesel mentioned earlier would be great.
posted by uni verse at 11:35 AM on November 26, 2005

Seconding the xB, which is much larger on the inside than it seems from the outside. With the seats down, you still have the back seat footwells for additional storage, which I particularly appreciate.

Just forego the Bazooka subwoofer, which eats nearly a quarter of your storage floor and makes the space much more awkward to fit stuff into. We bought the xB on the lot, which happened to have it (and my husband wasn't heartbroken about that), but it irritates the hell out of me every time I want to put something in the back.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:11 PM on November 26, 2005

The Ford Focus wagon gets amazing mileage (30+ when fully loaded down) and is as small as most compact sedans.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:34 PM on November 26, 2005

Thirding the xB. I drive around DC all the time with mine and don't have parking's great for Adams Morgan on a Saturday night. I can also fit four people, luggage, pillows and stilts in mine with plenty of room to spare.
posted by youcancallmeal at 6:19 PM on November 26, 2005

meehawl has a good point about the fuel efficiency suffering due to a carrier on the roof. I drove a Passat wagon from Louisiana to South Carolina a few months ago, and on one particularly boring stretch in Georgia I realized that my mpg's were maxing out at between 18-20 mpg. I thought the computer was whacked so I started doing the math between fill-ups. This is about 10 below what it would normally burn on the Interstate. Now granted, I did not have the sleekest carrier on the market - it was some sort of plastic turtle looking thing I borrowed from a friend. Nonetheless, I was shocked.
The collapsible carrier you are considering looks to be about the same shape and a little bit limited with the aerodynamics. Perhaps you should look into one of those Yakima things, because besides the whole drag coefficient, another thing to consider is the ability to lock your stuff up. Try sleeping in a shitty motel while you worry about all your gear that you were too tired to unload, and is now resting uneasy under some tarpaulin, just asking to be cut free.
posted by brheavy at 7:44 PM on November 26, 2005

There used to be a trailer hitch modification for the MINI Cooper from a company called Mini-Fini, but it appears they may no longer be around. A quick search on eBay shows this hitch made for the MINI. I don't think it can tow a bunch of weight, but something to look into that won't hurt your effeciency when the trailer is removed.

And MINIs are really fun to drive.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:42 PM on November 26, 2005

Observation 2 is that the Elantra scores well in "Midsize", and that the Sonata is best in "Large"

That's because the Elantra's a compact (Civic-size) and the Sonata's a midsize (Accord-size). Of course Hyundai's cars get better fuel economy than others in their class when you put them in a class larger than they belong in! I don't know what they're smoking at the government.

(I have an Elantra 5-door and like it, but it's definitely no midsize. Ask my aching back after my week-long Utah trip.)
posted by kindall at 11:41 PM on November 26, 2005

Last year I bought a collapsable carrier at KMart for about $30. It is canvas. A more expensive model was made of a tarp-like material. It worked great and somehow felt better secured than the hard-shell ones I remember as a kid. Of course, it works best when you have 4-sided cargo rail on your roof but the instructions indicate it would work if you just had side roof rails. Also, it definitely reduced the gas milage, although I can't say be how much. Lately, I have not needed the carrier, but because it is collapsable I can throw it in the trunk on trips in case we end up getting junk on our trip that I need to get back home. It is nice to know that the extra space is available if I need it.
posted by Tallguy at 2:49 AM on November 27, 2005

Even with an aerodynamic roof carrier like the ones from Yakima or Thule, your highway gas mileage will still take a beating. I can second brheavy's 30% decrease (VW Golf, Thule silver aerodynamic box) for long-distance highway driving.

I have several friends with Jetta TDI wagons who swear by them. A Scion xB or Honda Element would be another good choice. Unfortunately, none of them are small.

Our second car is a Toyota Echo hatchback, which is very similar to the Yaris in Europe and the Scion xA. We're very happy with it.
posted by RecalcitrantYouth at 5:16 PM on November 27, 2005

We bought and used a cargo carrier for our move to VT. Got a good price on a 20 cubic foot one from Sears. Worked well with our Outback. Isn't good to load them up with heavy things though, so we used ours to haul dufflebags of clothes, bedding, etc. I was nervous about driving it because they do give you warnings about how fast you should drive, but I need not have. It felt smooth. We store ours in a storage facility nearby in case we need it.
posted by terrapin at 7:21 PM on November 27, 2005

Carefully consider the economics and payoffs here. Remember, you can rent yourself something huge from a bazillion car rental agencies for a week for well under $600 - about two to three car payments. Additionally, if you drive 12,000 miles a year in a vehicle getting 30mpg you'll consume 400 gallons rather than the 600 a 20mpg car will use, a difference of $400 if you're paying $2 a gallon.

Additionally, the mileage you're going to get on any car with things strapped to the roof will be horrible. Possibly worse than normal consumption in an SUV. The guys on CarTalk took a call from someone recently who discovered that having a bicycle on a rack on the back of his hybrid was enough of an impact on the air drag to keep the engine constantly running rather than ever using the battery-power. And a bike on a rear rack is a LOT less drag than a roof full of luggage.

Since you're in DC we have both ZipCar and FlexCar and one of the two (I forget which) has the Scions for usage when you need some local schleping. If I were you I'd get a cheaper small car and rent/flex for the more rare occassions you need something else. Make sure you check both Flex and Zip's websites - several of our municipalities in VA (alexandria and arlington) offer discounts and deals on their prices and memberships. Your neighborhood in DC might as well.
posted by phearlez at 10:19 AM on November 28, 2005


We bought a Scion xb today! One thing I didn't mention earlier is that I'm 6'5". We went out today and sat in several cars, but the xb fit me the best. It's not quite as powerful as the last car I had, but it'll likely get better mileage, and the xb has great visibility, head and leg room, and a very comfortable back seat. And it's damned cute. Thanks for all the advice, AxMe!
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:06 PM on December 17, 2005

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