Surfboards Roof Racks 101

One of the most underrated accessories for a passenger car these days – the roof racks.

Especially if you are the type of person, who likes to get the most out of something they do. Car roof racks are incredibly versatile – easy to set up and save a ton of room inside the vehicle. A choice for the practical bunch.




Table of Contents

Roof Racks Bias

Common Mistakes

Tips For Setting Up The Crossbars

Types of Rails

Types of Roof Racks

Alternatives To Roof Racks

Best Roof Rack Set-up For Surfing

hippy van with surfboards on the roof

Roof Racks = A full setup that includes the foot pack and diagonal crossbars and the KIT (If needed).
Cross Bars =
Horizontal rails.
Load Bars =
A slang word to roof racks/crossbars mostly referred to as diagonal crossbars.


Most misunderstood opinions on car’s roof racks

Here’s why many people don’t know what has stopped them from getting the roof racks

  • My car has no rails on the roof – therefore I can’t get the roof racks fitted.
    – 90% of modern vehicles can be fitted with roof racks. Even the two-door coupes and pick-up trucks can be equipped with roof racks. Wagons with integrated rails have slightly more convenient and universal fastening while the rest of cars have certain fixpoints in the doorway, or on the roof.
  • Are there universal roof racks that fit all vehicles?
    – Yes, but that’s most likely NOT the best way to skip corners. By choosing a great brand of roof racks that are especially model-based, you save money in the long term and can drive without thinking of the consequences and insurance policies! There are soft roof racks for surfboards that lay directly onto the roof and even some suction-cup fastening models, but getting solid construction roof racks is a better choice in the long term for sure.
  • Roof racks are difficult to install
    Unknown brand roof racks that come with the non-English manual are probably hard to fix. Therefore, roof racks manufactured by well-known brands are very easy to install. In most cases, when getting premium brand roof racks, all the necessary tools are included. Generally, once the racks have adequately been set up to fit the roof, it takes only a few minutes to uninstall or re-install the set-up later on.
  • Roof racks are noisy
    – Only unproperly installed, or roof racks that have missing end-caps whistle. Aerodynamical roof racks won’t whistle if they are from a known brand and correctly fitted. See more down below on how to make your roof-racks less noisy!
  • Roof racks increase fuel consumption
    – After years working for Thule as a consultant – Selling, installing, and renting roof racks, one of the most frequent questions was about fuel consumption with roof racks and cargo boxes. Yes, anything added outside the car that blocks the aerodynamics creates more drag, but GENERALLY, it is the extra load the car has to carry that increases fuel consumption.
  • It’s a hustle to tie down equipment
    – Would you like to spend an extra 5 minutes attaching the gear on the roof properly or lose the extra room inside the car? Depending on what you will be carrying on the roof racks, it’s most definitely worth spending extra time on correct tightening and using the free space on your roof. Attaching the equipment takes time to get used to it in the beginning, but generally, everyone understands it in a while and appreciates the practical choice they’ve made!
  • Are roof rails roof racks?
    – Roof rails or rails run along horizontally on each side of the roof (driver, passenger side) while the roof racks are the bars set up that connects on the rails, making a diagonal carrying space.
  • Are roof racks safe?
    – Crossbars that are installed correctly are safe indeed – if you are using them by the roof rack’s and owner’s manual. Well, known brands like Thule, Rhino Racks, etc have been in the racks market for ages, so yes, you can count on them!
  • Does insurance cover my expenses in an accident when I have the roof racks installed?
    Depending on your insurance provider, most likely yes. If the racks are suitable for the car (Most cars can get fitted with the factory and other brand roof racks), then you are fine. A regular policy, therefore, won’t cover that’s on top of the frames, but you can get extra insurance for that. You don’t need to worry too much about it when getting suitable quality brand roof racks.
  • Roof racks scratch my car
    Premium brand roof racks will not scratch your car’s roof or rails.

Common mistakes people make when using cross-bars

Hopefully, this guide will give you a rough idea of what NOT TO DO when using crossbars

safety tips roof racks

  • Overload

Loading too much load unevenly. Crossbars can easily hold up to two-three times over the recommended loading capacity. If the roof racks manual and the car’s owner’s manual says that the maximum weight capacity of the moving vehicle is 75 kg/ 165 pounds, then this is the safe loading capacity WHEN DRIVING. You can still use a roof-top tent on the roof if the car’s roof holds onto it.

  • Unproperly fitted racks

Most people install the racks first time in their life or lack the necessary experience on tools can adjust the racks unproperly – which could lead to the racks coming undone.

  • Unproperly fastened equipment

Two hundred pounds on the roof that’s not attached correctly could leave to a serious safety hazard to you and other drivers around you. Always make sure that everything’s fitted correctly.

  • Forget the increased height

Driving through the garage doors by merely forgetting the racks or don’t wait for the garage door to fully open. Note, that some ferries and many other drive-throughs’s have height limitations

  • Forget the increased length

Especially when carrying something long – a ladder, a SUP, canoe, or kayak that overhangs on each side.

  • Wrong set-up from another car

Unfortunately, no such thing as one roof rack system for all the vehicles. People change their cars every 2-5 years and would like to use their racks on their next vehicle as well. Or perhaps on their partner’s car. It’s a 30% chance that everything fits unless both of the cars have roof rails with the same width rack (+/- 5 cm difference can do the trick sometimes)

  • Choose too long bars

That is another thing you see quite often that people have chosen racks that overhang way too much over the side of the car. Although it is legal to use the crossbars that are in the car’s width, it’s a matter of aesthetics.

  • Open the rear boot when something is overhanging over to the hatch

Take extra precautions when opening the boot if you don’t want to smash your equipment or the rear lid!


Tips for setting up crossbars

  • The optimal distance between the bars; When loading a cargo box on the roof – 70 cm / 27 inches apart is the best ratio to place the bars. Also, most cars that have fixed attachment points have those points around this area as well. A typical cargo box is around 2 meters tall (6’6″).

This way, the load has appropriately spread. Please note: when carrying longer equipment like the sea kayak – you can place the load bars wider, as the kayak itself is generally not that heavy to go out of the recommended boundaries.

  • Use extra straps when carrying extra-long equipment. Especially when you have a sedan, extra straps can be generally attached to the towing hooks in the front and rear bumper. Those hatches are usually inside the bumper, the screw-in hook (The screw-in bolt is generally inside the boot), and the opening clips located at the passenger side of the vehicle
  • Mark the overhanging objects. It is mandatory for safety reasons, as well. Using a bright color tape or a shirt on the tip of the overhanging objects is pretty much everything you have to do.
  • How to stop the tension straps from flapping? It’s a great move not to keep the tension-straps running utterly flat over the surfboard. If you tie the board on the racks, so there are a few twists in the line, there will be no flapping!
    Don’t forget about the excessive straps – tie them somewhere so they wouldn’t start flapping against the roof or windows!
  • How to keep the cross bars silent? Most roof racks make an annoying whistling noise when the rack’s gaps aren’t closed. Whether it will be the end caps or the seals that should cover the T-profile, you can also use any rubber seal to close the gaps on the rails where the foot attaches to the bars. Most new aerodynamic bars come with all the seals, if not – get extra or use a strong duck-tape.

There’s nothing much to do against the wind noise coming from the gear that’s loaded on the roofs though. If you turn the surfboard upside-down, this will create a more aerodynamical wind-line.

Generally, the lower the bars and equipment – the quieter the set-up will be. If you load the gear as back as possible the better, but this won’t work with surfboards if you still want to open the boot.

Types of cars roofs

And the roof-rack systems that can be attached. Note, there’s no rain-gutter attachment noted here that you’d see on the first photo. Here you’ll find the most used racks available today.

Different types of car roof

Flat (standard) roof racks consist of:

  1. KIT – Model-based KIT that includes four rubber-feet, and metal clips that attach to the foot and go to certain spots inside the door panel (On most cars you can see the flat part in the middle of the doorway) If there are no marked points inside the doorway – refer to the owner’s manual to get the distance from the windscreen for the first rack placement, and the gap between the first rack for the rear bar.
  2. Foot Pack – 4 x adjustable foot, where the parts from the kit attach to
  3. Bars – Available for multiple sizes.

That kind of roof has certain fixpoints.

See the installation video on YOUTUBE (duration 1m25sec)

flat roof thule kit consist of

Raised rails roof racks consist of:

  1. KIT – Model-based kit that includes four rubber and four metal fitments that can be tightened with a hexagon tool. It is crucially important to get the right KIT that suits your car integrated roof rails.
  2. Foot Pack – Consists of a pack of four feet that attaches to the crossbars and the KIT. All Thule foot packs come with locks.
  3. Bars – That attach to the foot.

NOTE: The distance of the placement can be changed on some integrated rails. Useful, when carrying oversized gear on the roof. Many rails have certain spots where to attach the kit, and can’t be moved!

See the installation video from YOUTUBE (duration: 1m1sec)

roof rack guide
Integrated Roof Rails KIT parts

Raised rails crossbars consist of:

  1. Foot Pack of four that go over the rails. Make sure to check which type of foot-pack does the catalog recommends for your car’s rails. There are a few similar models available.
  2. Bars

Most likely, the most universal way is where you can adjust the distance between the bars to a high degree.

See the installation video on YOUTUBE (duration: 58sec)


Types Of Crossbars

crossbars edge or standard
Edge & Standard

There are THREE main types of roof racks available, and most accessories are made for either designed both or for a specific type of roof

  1. Squarebar – Load bars where all the attachments attach around the bar
  2. T-Profile racks – Load bars where the accessories can be fitted inside the T-profile or around the bar. Generally, the T-profile load bars are aerodynamical as well.
  3. Edge racks – Aerodynamical racks here the ends don’t overhang but instead go straight inside the foot. Edge racks come in either T-profile or flat.

types of roof racks


Alternatives to solid roof racks

Getting a pick-up track bed or a large van where there’s plenty of room. Or get a trailer?

wrap rax surfing
Softened pads that attach inside the car
wrap rax roof racks review
Universal straps that attach any car’s roof

thule tailgate surf pad


Best roof rack set-up for surfing

best racks by thule

Once you got your racks sorted, check out the best solutions to carry surfboards on your roof racks.

1.) Soft Pads – The cheapest and easiest way that does a great job protecting your board getting from dings and the UV rays.

Thule – Regular pads for standard/square bar – Check Price at
Thule – For Aerobars – Check Price at
Dakine – Aero pads – Check Price at

2.) Surfboard carriers for roof racks

Thule (811) Board Shuttle – Check Price at
Thule (810) SUP TAXI XT – Check Price at

3.) Universal surfboard carriers

Creatures of Leisure Single Wrap Rax – Check Price at
Double Wrap Rax – Check Price at

4.) Tailgate surfboard pads for pick-up trucks

Thule Tailgate Pad – Check Price at


Roof Racks Buying Guide

thule roof racks buying guide

How to buy roof racks?

  1. First, SELECT the exact model and roof type of your car from HERE (
  2. CHOOSE suitable bars
  3. Check out the Length of the Bars (118 = 118 cm), Check out which foot pack is suitable, Check out the KIT needed for your car. Order from Amazon or buy from there.

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I created Nulltuul to share my experience, research and analysis with other surf enthusiasts out there. If I'm not surfing on my travels - I like to photograph waves, surfers, and the surf lifestyle in general.

1 thought on “Surfboards Roof Racks 101”

  1. I’m glad you mentioned using more straps for the towing hooks if the equipment is longer. I want to install roof racks on my truck so I can put my surfboards up on there to go surfing. Seems like a smart idea to get the right length since my surfboard is pretty long.

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