Are your roof racks overloaded?

The internet has blown up recently with influencers overloading their roof racks and then blaming other people. So, are your roof racks overloaded?

UPDATE: Wanted to let you all know that I’ve started reaching out to car makers and roof rack makers to get as much information as possible on roof loading limits and more. Hoping to get the yarn up and running next week with the intention of constantly updating it with new information. It will hopefully become a resource for all of you when buying a new roof rack, and ensuring you’re not caught out. – Isaac.

Across the last couple of weeks there’ve been a couple of videos lob onto YouTube and a bunch of forums talking about roof racks and how they just happened to unexpectedly fail.

And this has baffled me because the excuse given by these bearded influencers is that they should have been told there was something called static and dynamic load limit and that roof racks and vehicles, at least those designed for off-roading should reduce the dynamic load limit by around a third. This is something that I’ve known about for years. It’s something that’s been inside owner’s manuals for 4x4s for as long as I can remember and I’ve been doing this for 20 years. And, for good measure, it’s something that off-road writers have been communicating for years.

So, how is it that a group of influencers making a lot of money from brands and the public don’t know this. Well, I just sat through a video more than 20 minutes long where an explanation was given and it started out with: ‘I should have been made aware of this when I bought my roof racks’. Maybe. But that ain’t no excuse.

Back to the topic. Sure, a lot of roof rack makers bury this off-road limit information and it should be easier to find but it’s not as if it’s not something we don’t already know about. Yet, the amount of people I see driving past my joint in the Blue Mountains on the weekend with their fourbys piled so high with stuff, well, it’s a wonder the road isn’t littered with roof racks shearing off their mounts.

Yep, while your 4×4’s roof space might look like the perfect place to stash all the crap you can’t fit inside your rig, all you’re really doing is turning your rig into a death trap or, at the very least, a GIF for a Facebook page somewhere. Or, if you’ve got a beard, an opportunity to become and influencer.

But let’s walk things back a bit. You need to think about exactly what you’ll be wanting to carry on the roof as this will help you work out what sort of rack you need, whether it’s a two bar and basket or a full platform style rack. And you need to know the weight of the rack itself as this always needs to be subtracted from the roof load limit before you add anything to the rack itself.

But before you do any of that, you need to look at the vehicle you own and look up its roof load rating. This will be in your owner’s manual. And don’t come at me with the excuse that it should be printed on the cover or the dealer should tell you about it because you’re not 10-years old. Take some responsibility.

Every vehicle will list a static and dynamic load (and in some cases a recommended reduction for off-roading too). So, the static limit is the weight you can hold on the roof when the vehicle is static, so, say you’ve got a roof top tent and you’re sleeping in it. The dynamic weight is what your roof can carry when you’re driving around…and don’t be one of those fools who jumps onto a forum and says that that’s just car companies being conservative. It isn’t. The dynamic load limit is usually around a third less than the static limit, sometimes more. And then the off-road limit is usually around a third less than that; a good rule of thumb is to divide your dynamic load limit by around 1.5.

The reason being that driving across corrugations or inching up or down rocks, etc is putting a lot more pressure and dynamic loading on your vehicle than just driving around town. So, the more weight on the roof, the greater the pressure and if you’ve overloaded the roof, well, something’s gotta give. And that’ll either be your roof rack shearing its bolts and falling off, or your rolling your rig because you’ve raised the centre of gravity so much. And, again, don’t try and claim that the street in your town is as rough as an off-road track…yep, that was in the video I watched.

And this off-road load rating isn’t some magical piece of information you can only find when you, shock, go looking for it, you see roof rack makers list these limits on their websites and on their fitting instructions for their roof racks.

Now, let’s not beat around the bush, Rhino-Rack was pulled across the coals by a bearded influencer for not being more explicit with its weight limits. Hmmm. The below is from the front page of a Rhino-Rack instruction manual. Pretty clear to me. But, given the furore these bearded influencers have caused, Rhino-Rack has said it will ensure its roof rack calculator now spits out an off-road weight limit too. Great idea and I can tell you now, Rhino-Rack won’t be the only rack maker making sure this information is now more prominent but the information was already available.

So, let’s think about weights. If your vehicle has a dynamic load limit of 100kg, you need to subtract the weight of the roof rack from that, so, if it weighs 30kg, then you’ve got 70kg of load limit left. If you’re on-road. Remember that. Say you throw a full Jerry can (20kg) or maybe two (40kg) onto the roof, now you’ve got 30kg left. That’s not enough leftover for a roof top tent…or maybe you’ve got a spare wheel up there, see how it all adds up. Then, even if you stick to that 100kg dynamic load limit, that’s as I’ve said, a recommendation for bitumen. Off-roading will mean you’ll need to reduce that limit by around a third…all of this will be in your owner’s manual. Some makes but maybe not all. But, generally speaking, you should look to reduce (divide) your on-road dynamic load limit by 1.5 to get the off-road limit. So, for example, 100kg divided by 1.5 equals 66kg. That would be the off-road dynamic load limit.

Now, some brands don’t de-rate their racks for off-road work and I’d suggest that’s irresponsible. Sure, they can have the strongest bolts and latches known to man, but be sensible, carrying less weight on top of your 4×4 when it’s rolling around off-road is always a good idea.

So, let’s all start taking more responsibility for our own actions and paying a little more attention to things like weight and four-wheel drives. Do your research, read your owner’s manual, read advice articles from reputable sources and not just blokes with beards who sit next to a 4×4 in the bush in front of a camera and talk about stuff they might not know too much about. More importantly, let’s all stop overloading our 4x4s.

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Isaac Bober has been writing about cars and 4x4s for more than 20 years, has worked on some of the country's biggest motoring magazines (remember what they were?), and launched Practical Motoring. Now he's back, back again... to share dad jokes and much more.