David Moir/Reuters

Researchers say roof racks are “responsible for almost 1 percent of national fuel consumption.”

Having a car rack for bikes or kayaks is a good way to show the world that you’re an outdoorsy, planet-loving person. But those contraptions might be taking their own toll on the environment by devastating your vehicle’s fuel consumption.

Last year alone, roof racks ate up some 100 million gallons of gasoline throughout the U.S. due to their aerodynamic drag, according to a new study in Energy Policy. That represents about 0.8 percent of national fuel consumption by light-duty vehicles, say co-authors Yuche Chen of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Alan Meier of Berkeley Lab.

In fact, they say the simple act of putting a rack on your ride can (depending on how it’s attached) cost you up to 25 percent more in fuel consumption. That’s not just a problem for your wallet but possibly for the climate, too, as the use of racks is estimated to jump 200 percent by 2040. Here’s more from a Berkeley press release:

“A national perspective is still needed to justify policy actions,” the authors write. “For comparison, the additional fuel consumption caused by roof racks is about six times larger than anticipated fuel savings from fuel cell vehicles and 40 percent of anticipated fuel savings from battery electric vehicles in 2040.”...

[M]anufacturers have found that it is possible to make roof racks with greatly improved aerodynamics. A policy to require energy labeling of roof racks could spur greater changes, the researchers note.

Even greater energy savings would come from removing roof racks when not in use. Meier notes that they could be designed so as to be easier to remove. The researchers estimated that a government policy to minimize unloaded roof racks (admittedly extreme) in combination with more energy-efficient designs would result in cumulative savings of the equivalent of 1.2 billion gallons of gasoline over the next 26 years.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a full parking lot with a double rainbow over it
    Transportation

    Parking Reform Will Save the City

    Cities that require builders to provide off-street parking trigger more traffic, sprawl, and housing unaffordability. But we can break the vicious cycle.   

  2. A woman looks straight at camera with others people and trees in background.
    Equity

    Why Pittsburgh Is the Worst City for Black Women, in 6 Charts

    Pittsburgh is the worst place for black women to live in for just about every indicator of livability, says the city’s Gender Equity Commission.

  3. a map comparing the sizes of several cities
    Maps

    The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History

    From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

  4. A rendering of Oakland, California, that replaces Interstate 980 with a surface boulevard
    Transportation

    Here Are the Urban Highways That Deserve to Die

    The Congress for New Urbanism once again ranks the most-loathed urban freeways in North America—and makes the case for tearing them down.

  5. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

×