How To: Use Roof Racks and Tie Downs

Hey everyone! Before starting this how-to I’d like to preface:

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a professional mover.

I’m positive there are people out there who have cunning engineering knowledge about the time-honored tradition of tying stuff to one’s roof and taking it someplace other than it previously was, and could bore you on its perfect practices and rules for hours– I am not one of those people. I am just guy, who’s been tying stuff to the roofs of his particular cars for a long time, and has a couple pointers for anyone staring down the barrel of a surfboard, christmas tree, or just-to-good-to-pass-up-curb-couch (did it) and has no FRICKIN’ idea how they’re going to get it home.


VERSION 1: Rough and Rowdy With (Almost) No Equipment.

Before you can tie ANYTHING to the outer ceiling of that beautiful, beautiful vehicle of yours, you need to get something— ANYTHING, between the object you’re transporting and the nice paint job on your roof. If you’re in a bind and moving something light, like a surfboard or christmas tee, a regular old towel should do the trick– just something to prevent scuffs and scratches. Spread the towel across your roof, lay the object on the towel, and secure the object to your car. Now, if you don’t have a roof rack, I’m going to assume you don’t have Tie-Downs or Ratchet Straps (I’ll get into both of those later), in which case, you are going to need some rope:


Thin rope (not like ship captain’s rope… though that’d be sweet) is always good to keep in your car for general emergencies.

Step 1) Open all your car doors (do you know how many times I’ve tied all the doors of my car shut? No you do not and I will never tell you because it’s embarrassing. Your car doors should close over the rope no problem)

Step 2) Secure your rope to the object (which is already on your roof and hopefully on a towel)

Step 3) Loop your rope around the object, through the inside of your car, and back up over the other side– tie a knot when you complete the loop.

Step 4) Run the rope about a foot towards the back of your car and repeat, then move it another foot or so (maybe getting to the rear doors now.. which are, again, OPEN so you…you get it…) and repeat and repeat.

Now you should have 3-5 loops that are each individually tight and secure from your long piece of rope. Give the object a little tug, if it wiggles and moves, you need to go tighter. I’m very serious about this, don’t get on the road with something sliding around on your roof, don’t. do. it. BUT, if it feels secure you’re pretty good to go! Try not to go over 45mph.



VERSION 2: Doin’ It Right w/ Roof Racks and Tie-Downs

So, let me start this section off by saying: roof racks are expensive. Annoyingly so, unfairly so. A new roof rack from the manufacturer can cost upwards or $600. And when looking into roof racks, you really want to stick with brand names. Reliable companies like Inno, Thule, Yakima, Rhino-Rack, etc.– if you try and cheat it with the $20 dollar “universal” racks you can find on Amazon, you’re taking your stuff and your insurance into your own hands. My advice: patrol Ebay and Craigslist for a couple weeks and find a used set for $200-300.

Important Note: A good roof rack will either directly attach to the roof of your car (if your car is equipped) or will have clamps specifically designed for your model of vehicle; make sure to check the manufacturer’s guidelines to ensure you get the right ones.



SO, now that you have your rack, let’s get you some sweet, sweet tie-downs! There are a two types, both great, the only difference being the piece used to tighten. On a ratchet strap, the tightener is a lever that you click in out and out of place to tighten, while on a conventional tie-die, there is simply a tab you lock after pulling the rope tight yourself.


                      Ratchet Straps                                                Tie Downs


Tie-Downs and Ratchet Straps are cheap (about $20 for a set) and findable at most department stores.


OK GREAT! Now that you have everything you need, let’s put some stuff on your car for real real! (not for play play…)


Step 1) Put on your roof racks. Each brands have a different process, but will come with instructions.
Step 2) Place your item in the bagging area….I mean on your roof rack… In the photo below, I’ll be tying down a camera tripod.

(btw this is my car, Elephant. She’s a good car and I love her very much. Ok, back to the show.)


Step 3) Grab your ratchet strap or tie-down and loop the longer-ribboned end through the center of the tightening piece (running the ribbon from outside in).


Step 4) Adjust your slack; since I’m mounting a small object, I don’t need much slack. If you give yourself too much slack, the tightening ratchet might run out of room before it’s totally tight.


Step 5) Loop your ratchet strap under the bar of your roof rack and then wrap them over the top of your “haul” (Do I sound cool? I really want to sound cool).


Step 6) Bring one strap hook underneath your roof rack and hook it to the other strap hook.


Step 7) Move the ratchet handle in and out to tighten the slack around your object- it will make it clicking sound (like a ratchet) as it tightens. Then tie off your excess ribbon and secure it to the rack bar.



FINAL STEP) Repeat with second strap on your rear roof rack bar. Ok, ok, I lied– it’s more like final 8 steps, but you have to do both bars. Super important. I’m being lazy in my kitchen eating guacamole though, so I’m…not….gonna do that….

Alright everyone, that’s it for me– be safe, have fun, move stuff around. Big thanks to TWIGG for hosting this; AND, added bonus, remember that to-good-to-pass-up-curb-couch I mentioned at the beginning of this How-To? Gotta love your roof rack.

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