How To: Tie Down Roof Cargo

Note: This page is currently mostly about the aerodynamics that must be taken into account when securing cargo to your roof. Please see our page on how to tie down a kayak to a vehicle for assistance in tie-down procedures.



The aerodynamic shape of most vehicles is designed to direct air flow from the front of the car to the sides and up over the hood and windshield in a streamline fashion. Cargo items placed on a vehicle roof are affected by front-end air flow when they overlap the upward streamline. Larger cargo is affected by both the direct force of air as the vehicle moves forward and the updraft. As cargo larger than the vehicle roof length is subjected to upward air flow, the force has a natural tendency to try and push the extending cargo upward, causing an imbalance on the roof rack. Horizontal airflow as the vehicle moves forward will want to push the cargo toward the back of the vehicle. If either force becomes too strong, cargo may be pushed completely vertical or directly off the roof.


Air Flow Diagrams:

To prevent damage to the vehicle and/or cargo, as well as overcome updraft concerns, it is absolutely imperative to tie down the cargo extending past the vehicle windshield and rear window. A bow tie down strap is designed to properly secure cargo to the front vehicle bumper undercarriage. The front strap counteracts air updraft forces preventing cargo from flying upward or off the vehicle during travel. To balance the roof cargo load a stern tie down strap is also required which connects the cargo to the rear bumper undercarriage.


Important Safety Precautions:

  • Ensure cargo stored on a vehicle roof does not obstruct driver viewing through the windshield or rearview mirror
  • Do not transport any cargo wider than the vehicle roof
  • Tie down longer cargo with a bow and stern strap
  • Attach bow and stern straps to a solid tie down point, do not hook to plastic or flimsy bumpers
  • Secure roof cargo to the roof rack and side rails
  • Check all tie down connections periodically on travel stops
  • Use a cargo net to tie down all small or loose articles stored in a roof rack basket

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