Do Hitch Racks Increase Fuel Consumption?

Consumers seeking to transport their gear for weekend escapades often opt for the convenience of roof and trailer-hitch racks. However, while these racks may prove invaluable for hauling purposes, they also inadvertently bring about changes in both the aerodynamics and weight of vehicles, imposing an unexpected burden on individuals' fuel consumption. Recognizing the significance of this issue, Consumer Reports has undertaken a series of comprehensive tests aimed at quantifying the impact that these racks have on mileage, thereby shedding light on the additional gas money required to support these popular automotive accessories.

Does a Bike Rack Affect Gas Mileage?

When it comes to fuel efficiency, every factor counts, even the seemingly insignificant ones like bike racks. Surprisingly, accessories like bike racks can have a noticeable impact on a cars gas mileage. This is because when a bike rack is loaded and attached to the outside of a car, it alters the vehicles weight, dimensions, shape, and subsequently it’s aerodynamic properties.

This increased drag force requires the engine to work harder, resulting in higher fuel consumption. Studies have shown that this drag can lead to fuel efficiency reductions ranging from 5% to a staggering 28%.

Furthermore, the added weight of a loaded bike rack can further contribute to increased fuel consumption. The additional weight places a greater load on the engine, forcing it to exert more energy to overcome the added resistance.

The extended length and protrusions of the rack can disrupt the natural flow of air around the vehicle, resulting in increased drag and turbulence. This disturbance of the airflow creates additional resistance, requiring the engine to work harder and consume more fuel.

While roof racks are convenient for carrying extra equipment or luggage, they come at a cost when it comes to fuel efficiency. The added drag caused by roof racks can lead to a noticeable decrease in fuel mileage. In fact, poorly designed roof racks have been found to lower gas mileage by up to 25%. This significant reduction underscores the importance of choosing aerodynamic and efficient roof rack systems.

How Much More Fuel Does a Roof Rack Use?

When it comes to fuel efficiency, even small changes can make a significant difference. Thats why the addition of a roof rack to your vehicle can impact your fuel consumption. The aerodynamic properties of a car are carefully engineered to minimize drag and maximize efficiency. Unfortunately, roof racks disrupt this delicate balance.

This is because as your vehicle moves through the air, the roof rack causes turbulence, which requires more energy to push through. The increased resistance translates to more fuel being consumed in order to maintain the same speed and performance.

Tips for Reducing Drag and Improving Fuel Efficiency With a Roof Rack

  • Remove the roof rack when it isn’t in use.
  • Ensure that the roof rack is properly installed and secure.
  • Use streamlined roof rack designs, such as low-profile options.
  • Store items in the vehicle or trunk instead of the roof rack.
  • Position the items on the roof rack in a way that minimizes wind resistance.
  • Avoid exceeding the maximum weight capacity of the roof rack.
  • Use fairings or wind deflectors to redirect airflow and reduce drag.
  • Regularly clean the roof rack to maintain it’s aerodynamic efficiency.
  • Avoid driving at high speeds with the roof rack installed.
  • Consider alternative cargo-carrying options, such as hitch-mounted bike racks

Source: Does A Roof Rack Affect A Car’s Perfomance? | Calgary Hitch …

According to our experts, it’s advisable for consumers to remove their roof racks and rooftop carriers when not in use, as they can have a significant negative impact on fuel efficiency. This especially applies to sedan owners, who experience a considerable decrease in fuel economy just by having a roof rack installed. However, SUV owners also shouldn’t overlook this issue, as driving around with an empty pod and rack can still have a detrimental effect on their fuel efficiency.

Does a Roof Rack Waste Fuel?

According to our experts, having a roof rack installed on your vehicle can indeed waste fuel. In fact, sedan owners are particularly affected by this issue, experiencing a significant impact on their fuel economy just by having the rack in place. However, SUV owners should also take note, as driving around with an empty rooftop carrier on the rack can still negatively affect their fuel efficiency.

To avoid wasting fuel and maximizing your vehicles efficiency, our recommendation is to remove the roof rack and rooftop carrier when they aren’t in use. By doing so, you can alleviate the burden on your vehicle and improve your overall fuel economy. This simple step can make a noticeable difference in the long run, especially for those who frequently drive long distances or have a heavy reliance on their vehicles for daily commuting.

With extra weight on the rooftop, the center of gravity is altered, potentially compromising the vehicles performance in certain driving conditions. Removing the rack when not in use not only saves fuel, but also contributes to safer driving.

Whether you drive a sedan or an SUV, the impact on fuel economy is significant enough to warrant this simple action.

Tips for Safely Removing and Storing a Roof Rack and Rooftop Carrier

Removing and storing a roof rack and rooftop carrier is a task often carried out by individuals to free up space or maintain their vehicle. As roof racks and carriers can be heavy and cumbersome, these tips offer guidance on doing so safely. Firstly, ensure the area is clear and free from any potential hazards. Next, carefully remove the carrier by following the manufacturer’s instructions, avoiding any sudden movements to prevent injury. When storing, choose a secure location to avoid damage or theft, and keep the carrier protected from elements that could cause deterioration.


While they provide convenience and utility, it’s important for consumers to weigh the benefits against the potential additional expense of fuel consumption when deciding whether to use these racks.

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