Aluminium Roof Racks; so much better than steel!
If you are finding that it’s getting too hard to cram all of your gear into your four wheel drive, good quality Aluminium roof racks are well worth getting.
Roof rack benefits
No matter how big your four wheel drive is, it always seems to be packed to the brim when you go away. Roof racks allow for additional storage space, for those things that are bulky and light weight.
They allow you to store items outside your vehicle that are not susceptible to weather, thus increasing the room you have inside the four wheel drive. Things like swags, tents, kayaks, boats, fishing rods, Maxtrax and storage boxes work very well on roof racks.
Roof racks provide a spot for you to mount various accessories too; high lift jacks, shovels, spotlights and work lights. They are also an excellent platform for taking photos, if you take the time to climb up!
Roof rack disadvantages
There aren’t too many disadvantages of roof racks. The main one in my books is the increased fuel consumption because your vehicle is now even less aerodynamic. However, they do increase the height of your vehicle too, which may cause issues depending on where you park it. Roof racks also cause a marginal amount of extra noise, due to the wind rushing around them at higher speeds.
Roof rack styles
Roof racks come in many different styles. You can get roof bars which run lengthways, or widthways along your vehicle. These are great if you just want to carry a kayak or something long, but are no good for attaching smaller bits and pieces, like swags and Maxtrax.
The next step up is roof cages, or roof baskets. These have mesh along the bottom of the rack, and are much more versatile. Some have rails all around the side, whilst the tradesman style racks tend to be open at the front and the rear.
Aluminium vs steel roof racks
I’d never buy a full length steel roof cage. They are far too heavy. Most vehicles are only designed from the OEM to carry 100kg’s on the roof. A lot of well made steel roof racks weigh around 50kg, which gives you another 50kg to load up before you are pushing your luck.
At the end of the day, the less weight on the roof the better; a lower centre of gravity is best! Aluminium roof racks weigh about half of that, giving you much more room to play with.
Aluminium is also marginally weaker than steel, but for what you should be carrying on the roof it isn’t something to worry about! Aluminium won’t rust either, so you don’t need to worry about checking the paintwork for rust spots, or the top of your roof for rust stains.
I am not totally against steel roof racks; just the big, bulky and heavy ones. If you are getting a light weight cage, or roof rails then you don’t need to be too concerned about the weight.
Things to look for on a roof rack
The design of your roof rack is critical to being able to comfortably use it. Roof racks with tie down points are very useful. The strength gained by mounting designs varies considerably too; how does the rack spread the weight? How hard is it to remove the rack if you decide to take it off in between trips? Is there any wind deflection already built in?
Think about what you put on your roof rack
I cringe every time I see a four wheel drive go passed me with 4 jerry cans of water or fuel on the roof, plus tents, storage boxes, gas bottles and anything else that didn’t quite fit in the car. Anything weight on your roof seriously affects your fuel economy (if it is bulky) and vehicles handling.
If you are doing serious 4WDing your chances of rolling increase dramatically, and even for general gravel driving your safety is reduced. Keep the stuff on your racks light weight and you won’t have any issues!
Buying an aluminium roof rack
Over the years, its become very obvious to me that quality trumps price. If you have to pay a little more for a well designed and made roof rack, do it! A rack that is $200 cheaper and looks a bit suss will bite you in the long run! My suggestion is to look for second hand roof racks that come up in the local newspaper, Facebook or gumtree. You can pick them up for a steal, and they are very common too.
I’m very thankful for my aluminium roof rack. Our trip up north wouldn’t have been possible without it. If you want some more storage space, these are a great idea!
If you don’t use them properly, then yep, they are a waste of space. Many people do use them, and I know we wouldn’t be able to travel as we do without our roof racks. We store our Oztent RV5, poles, fishing rods, maxtrax, solar panel, gas bottle, kayak and a few other light weight things.
If you can do away without racks then you are better off, as you point out – better fuel economy, less noise, less center of gravity.
So many cars you see out on the trails have nothing on their racks, or just a shovel and some maxtrax. A waste of weight and fuel and centre of gravity. I say, get a 4man split handle shovel and squeeze it in your car, and find somewhere else to mount the maxtrax and/or get the mini clone ones and squeeze them in the car. Racks are less useful than people suppose.