If you’re going to spend any amount of time 4WD’ing, chances are you’re a fan of 4X4 accessories. For most people, one thing you’re going to want to invest in is some decent roof racks. Quite simply, most trailers won’t go to the places you’ll want to take them and if you’re planning to be camping for any length of time, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to carry everything you need without roof racks.
There’s a lot of different roof racks available and a lot of information out there about which ones are ‘the best’ but there’s a couple of things very few people stop to think about and they are actually pretty important.
Manufacturers give every vehicle a maximum roof load rating. This means that somewhere in the owner’s manual for your car is the amount that the roof of your vehicle is designed to carry. Many 4WD’s can carry a load of up to 100kgs, some can carry 150kgs and a very few are rated to carry up to 200kgs. It’s vital that you are informed as to what load your vehicles roof can carry before you start loading it up.
Consequences of Overloading
The biggest issue for most people will be that your insurance can be null & void. Every policy states that the vehicle must be roadworthy and if you’ve got more weight on the roof than your car is designed to carry, your vehicle is not roadworthy and your insurance company can refuse to pay a claim.
This is a good thing to keep in mind when purchasing any 4X4 accessories – always check with your insurance if something is covered or if it will void your policy, some insurers are quite strict.
In addition, if your vehicle isn’t roadworthy due to overloading and you have an accident and kill someone, your Compulsory Third Party – which covers other people’s medical expenses if you are liable for injuring or killing someone in an accident – won’t cover you either. This is the most commonly overlooked side effect of overloading, but it shouldn’t be, because it has the potential to change the rest of your life.
For many people, the higher centre of gravity will be the issue the focus on most. Centre of gravity is incredibly important when 4WD’ing. When you’re on rough tracks, side angles can be incredibly dangerous even for experienced drivers. A bump that you would normally sail over with no problems can be a whole other story if your centre of gravity is off due to excessive weight on the roof of your vehicle. If you’re 10kgs over the limit, that’s 10kgs that are working against you staying upright. Even on a normal city street, with the roof racks loaded you’ll notice the difference in handling so multiply that exponentially on a dirt track and the results aren’t pretty.
Over loading your roof racks can also cause excessive strain on your 4WD and roof rack. Next time you’re bouncing up and down in your seat on a track, stop and think about how much worse your roof rack has it. 100kgs loaded up on your roof translates to massive force coming down on the roof every time you bounce up and down. The roof is designed to take this all day, every day – but only if you’re within the rated limits. Go over the limit and expect to see considerable damage to both your roof and your roof racks. And when your racks break in the middle of nowhere, how are you going to get everything home?
Choosing The Right Racks
Roof racks come with specifications for the maximum carrying capacity and conditions they’re designed for. You’re looking for racks specifically designed for off-roading that are as light as possible. After all, if your roof is rated to carry 100kgs and your roof racks weigh 50kgs, you’ve just halved the amount of stuff you can carry up top.
Ideally, look for quality built aluminium racks that are designed specifically for off road. They may cost a bit more, but they’ll repay you in good service for years to come – if you treat them right. Also pay attention to how they clamp down.
If possible, buy racks that have a length of flat bar that runs the entire length of the gutters of the vehicle. This distributes the weight evenly over the length of the gutter, rather than at 4 or six mounting points. If you can’t afford racks that have this arrangement, then racks with several mounting points are still good, just pay extra attention to your clamps – the last thing you want is for the whole lot to slide forward if you come down hard in a ditch and damage your roof.
Tie Down Points
Make sure your racks have a tonne of places to attach ratchet straps, rope or occy straps. You need to be sure that your gear is going to stay there once it’s up and a cage version is a great way to give yourself lots of tie down points to help keep things safe.
Keeping A Low Profile
Remember that the whole idea is to keep weight low, so if your roof racks have 150 – 200 mm of clearance between the racks & roof, that’s not going to help. With roof racks, you really want minimum clearance, this will make it easier to load & unload as well as giving you better fuel economy (less wind resistance), a lower centre of gravity and you’ll find it a lot easier to get in and out of car parks when you’re not off road!
As in so many things, you get what you pay for, so always make sure you’re getting the best quality you can afford. That doesn’t mean to look just at the price – check the paint job, because poorly painted steel will rust and the resulting drips will stain your paint, check the welding (especially on joints) to make sure it looks smooth and doesn’t look like a lump of blu-tac stuck on the metal; welding should have good penetration and look smooth with no holes. 4X4 accessories like roof racks can be bought online, which does tend to be cheaper, but it’s always a good idea to view the product first so you know what quality product you’re getting.
Ultimately the goal is to reduce the weight your vehicle is carrying up top. You don’t have to buy the most expensive roof racks out there, but you do need to make sure that the racks you buy are
the right racks for the job and that when loaded, you don’t exceed the rated weight limit for your vehicle. Use roof racks for carrying bulky but light weight items to reduce the risk of rollover and to put less strain on your roof. The roof is perfect for carrying camp chairs, tables, swags, tents and the like, so take advantage of the extra space in the safest way possible and above all, have fun!