Why I’ll never buy a full size steel roof rack

If you’ve spent your hard earned on a nice, shiny steel full length roof rack, please don’t be offended by this post. It’s written with the best intentions, to hopefully avoid anyone else the pain of buying gear they might look back on and regret having bought.

I will never, ever buy a full size steel roof rack. The reason is real simple; full length steel roof racks are too heavy to be functional, and they will eventually rust. You know the style I’m talking about – lots of supports across the roof racks, often with a cage on top and a number of attachments to the 4WD’s roof.

A big, heavy, steel roof rack on a GU Patrol
A big, heavy steel roof rack weighing a whopping 66kg

Do you know what they weigh? Usually its anywhere from 40 – 75kg. Do you know what the maximum roof loading is for your 4WD? Pretty much everything, except the 200 series land cruiser is capped at 100kg. Keen to know more? Check out Roof rack weight limit.

Even if you do manage to get a vehicle with a higher roof loading capacity, you don’t want that much weight up top. It’s bad for fuel economy, handling and increases your chance of a roll over dramatically.

Too much weight on roof racks is seriously dangerous
Lots of weight up top contributed to this nasty roll over of a good friends’ 4WD

If you fit a full length steel roof rack, you can only add about 50 – 30kg of weight before your vehicle is overloaded on the roof, and thus illegal. This voids or reduces your 4WD insurance, gives you a whopping centre of gravity and makes the vehicle handle poorly.

If you’ve never looked before, your payload is precious, and should be used up very wisely or you’ll end up with an overweight, and illegal 4WD. What does your 4WD weigh?

If you don’t know the answer to this, you really need to find out, ASAP. Weight is one of the more common ways to make your 4WD unroadworthy, and the consequences are not good at all. It’s just one of many ways to make your 4WD illegal!

Heavy steel roof racks
You can’t add much weight to a heavy roof rack without being overweight

If you want a full length, big roof rack, there’s only one way to do it properly; get an aluminium one. I had one on my 80 Series Land Cruiser, and it wouldn’t have weighed more than 20kg. It was light, strong and really functional. I walked on it hundreds of times, with a heap of gear up there and never once had a problem with it.

A quality aluminium roof rack has been proven to handle the abuse of even nasty tracks in Australia with lots of weight up top.  They might not be as strong as steel, but they are plenty strong enough.

When comparing aluminium vs steel roof racks, as long as you can cop the price difference (which is worth it), there’s literally no reason to get a steel one, unless its small, light and compact. There’s a reason so many aluminium roof racks are now on the market.

Even Kings Roof Racks have gone down that path, after only doing steel for such a long time (no, I’m not recommending you get one; I haven’t seen their quality).

Spare wheel carrier
The light weight, strong aluminium roof rack on our 80 series

Look on Gumtree and Facebook, and pick yourself up a second hand one if possible, and you’ll save a fortune in money and weight.

Shovel mount on roof racks
Full length flat bar, shovel mount and nice and light

Steel rusts

A lot of the cheaper steel roof racks these days are a recipe for disaster. Poor quality paint means they start to rust in spots very quickly, and that ends up on your nice paint work. One of my good mates Patrol is covered in rust spots from where a decent quality steel roof rack has dropped rusty gunk all over it.

Seriously, don’t fit a full length steel roof rack. If you must go with something steel, get the lightest option you can and make sure you keep a keen eye out for rust spots!

What do we run?

On our Dmax for touring Australia, we’ve gone almost completely away from having a roof rack all together. The only reason we run two small, light bars is to have a solar panel permanently fixed, and our Stedi ST4K LED light bar. You can read our Stedi Light Bar Review here.

4WD Roof racks are good if you need the space, but if you don’t, get rid of it!

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