There is a long history of the use of roof racks and their designs. They allow users of an automobile to transport objects on the roof of the vehicle without reducing interior space for occupants, or the cargo area volume limits such as in the typical car's trunk design.
The most common components of a roof rack system are: towers, fitting pieces (for attaching towers to a specific vehicle), crossbars, and gear mounts.
Automobile roof racks are split into different types, depending on the vehicle roof:
- Rain Gutter - older roof racks were usually mounted directly to the gutter surrounding the roof line.
- Bare Roof - many modern vehicles, which do not have gutters, can have a roof rack installed by attaching hooks to the top of the door frames.
- Fixed Point - some automobiles have fittings for proprietary racks which mate with reinforced lugs in the roof, or have pre-threaded screwholes.
- Side Rails - vehicles with factory-installed rails, which may be flush against the roof or raised off of the roof, running front-to-back on the roof
- Factory Bars - other vehicles have a factory-installed permanent roof rack.
Roof racks increase air resistance and in the US, roof racks increased overall fuel consumption by approximately 1%. Besides, due increased wind resistance, roof racks may add sound on the highway. When installing roof racks, it is important to load the bars properly, in accordance with the owner’s manual. When driving on road, one needs to load the allowed weight minus the weight of the roof rack kit. If one plans using the roof racks for off-road drive, the allowed weight should be divided by 2, and this will be the amount, allowed to carry on the roof racks in such driving conditions.
Truck bed rack is a derivation of a roof rack designed to be installed over the bed of a pickup truck. The construction of a bed rack is very similar to a roof rack, but features tall tubes (legs) that allow to lift the rack platform higher above the bed surface and leave space for cargo inside of the bed. Truck bed racks are often used in a combination with roof racks and form a long cargo platform that allows transportation of oversized items. They are commonly used in constructions and recreation as a base for various gear and tents just like the roof racks. One innovative design is the Specialized Racks truck rack system that is specifically designed to be removed when not in use. The rack can easily be installed or removed in under 1 minute.
Until the late 1970s, almost all regular passenger automobiles had rain gutters. These gutters are formed by the welded flange (raised rim or lip) on the left and right sides of the car's metal roof panel. This made attaching an accessory or aftermarket roof rack a relatively simple process.
The first mass production cars without any visible rain gutters were the 1975 AMC Pacer and Chevrolet Monza. Other vehicles were introduced on the market with hidden rain gutters during the 1980s, and by 1990, vehicles with external rain gutters were becoming rare.
Roof rack suppliers started to developed new products in the late 1970s, designed to securely attach to various types of automobile roofs.
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