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Subaru Outback roof rack

Discussion in 'Places to Paddle' started by DAVID EDGERLY, Jan 6, 2014.


    DAVID EDGERLY Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Looking to buy smaller vehicle for gas economy was considering the out back, Has anyone ever used the roof rack that comes with car to haul the canoes, looks like the crossbars that come with the car are to close together. I would probably want to buy better rack to put on this car if I buy it. not sure what is available for this.or maybe there is a better vehicle for the commutter/ canoer anybody have any thoughts on this
    Dave Edgerly
  2. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    Volkswagen was making a diesel version of the Passat Wagon a couple years back, was rated at 40+ mpg; with the 6-speed manual trans, it got 50+. Ground clearance was very low -- under 6". But if you never go off road, that's irrelevant. The VW roof rack was rated to 100lbs per cross bar, and distance between crossbars was adequate.

    Since I need the higher ground clearance for certain canoe launches, I ended up with a Subaru Forester. It works.
  3. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    Dave –

    As near as I can see, the factory racks of most manufacturers are just about useless, and Subaru is no different – and now seems even worse than most.

    I’m a big fan of Subaru Outbacks, going back to a ’81 model that I bought used in ’85. I currently drive an ’09 – the last year, I believe, that they came with a reasonable roof rack that could be made useable with Yakima or other aftermarket racks and equipment.

    On the ’09, I can mount Yakima bars about 39” apart, which is sufficient for carrying a 15’ or 16’ canoe at low speeds (40-45 mph , and sufficient at higher speeds with front and rear tie-downs. I tie the front down using the tow-hooks under the front of the car. I also use the gunwale clips on the cross-bars – a great aid in stabilizing the canoes at higher speeds. With wide bars, I have often carried a canoe and a clam-shell carrier together with no problems. I would certainly tie down front and rear of anything longer than 16’.

    101_4730 cropped reduced.jpg
    1999 Outback w/ canoe and clamshell

    sm 100_5383.jpg
    bringing D.B. Neal rowing canoe home -- rear tie-down isn't visible

    ssm 100_1073.JPG
    returning to Maine from Assembly 2013 with unexpectedly wide load (new canoe) -- 2x4's taped to Yakima rack that was not wide enough

    The ’09 factory rack cross bars seem strong enough to carry a canoe, but the side rails are only 33” inches apart – not far enough apart to carry most canoes. The gunwales of the canoe will not simply hang over the rack side rails, because the side rails have enough upward curve to hit the gunwales and not allow a canoe to sit flat on the cross-bars. An after-market rack is necessary.

    However, things changed for the worse in 2010. The factory rack has cross bars that are, I believe, only 32” apart – really inadequate except for low speed hauling, even with front and rear tie-downs. And initially there was no way a Yakima rack could be adapted to the factory rack in a way that improved things. I don’t know what the distance between the side rails of the factory rack is, and so don’t know if there is a problem there, but the side rails do curve upwards going front to back, so there well may be that additional problem.

    I don’t understand why Subaru has persisted with this style of rack, especially since their Forrester and SUV models have what look like reasonable factory racks that will accept aftermarket rack systems. Subaru seems to have become more interested in style than function – the mini mud-flaps on the Outback are worse than a joke, causing an airstream eddy that can cause freezing slush t build up under the front door to an astounding degree, and the roof’s rear “spoiler” is very effective in depositing snow, ice, or mud on the rear window.

    I understand that for 2013, Subaru has made it possible to unscrew the factory racks from their swing-away positions into new, further-apart mounting positions – some 39” apart. In my opinion, that distance would be sufficient for a canoe of 16’ or less, if you tied down the front and rear of the canoe, and if you could use gunwale clamps of some sort (but I am not aware of any that would fit the factory cross-bars). But again, if the distance between the side rails is narrower than the center width of your gunwales, there is likely a problem lurking. I also have read that anyone can simply unscrew the relocated crossbars and walk off with them and anything mounted on them – something to be concerned about where I live.

    It seems that Yakima may now have mounting bars that can be fitted to the factory rack and allow use of aftermarket cross-bars. But the information on the Yakima web site is not very clear to me – I would give Yakima a call, or head to REI or Campmor (consistently has the best prices on Yakima racks, in my experience) and actually see what is involved. If you can actually fit aftermarket cross bars a reasonable distance apart (at least 38-40 inches) then I would recommend the Outback, even with my gripes about mud flaps and spoilers. Power is adequate, and gas mileage isn’t great (and of course, is worse with a canoe or two up top) but the AWD is very good, and the car is comfortable.

    The Outback wagon, even though it has much better ground clearance than most cars, also has a lower roof than almost anything comparable, including the Forrester, making getting that canoe up or loading the clamshell carrier easier than on most anything comparable.

    You might check out the comments at:

    So there’s my 2 cents – part based on experience, and part based on the same concerns that you have. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who has actually used a 2010-2013 factory Outback rack.

  4. JClearwater

    JClearwater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Dave, etal.

    Greg's post above about summed up what I was going to say about Subaru. I drive a 1999 Outback wagon that has 220,000 miles on it. The AWD is great, it's big enough to carry stuff, mileage is ok considering it's AWD and it's not so tall that you can't get canoes up on top. In 2010 Subaru came out with the "roof rack from Hell" and received a serious backlash from dedicated Subaru lovers. Not enough however to change it back to the old rack that actually worked. The new rack was obviously designed by people who never ever needed one. As Greg said the crossbars are too close together to be useful for any boat other than a short poly tub kayak on J cradles. In 2012 it was changed to allow the rear bar to be moved to the rear to increase the bar spread but still not enough to be useful. It took a while for Yakima and Thule to come up with an after market rack to replace the POS factory rack. I'm sure it will work fine but I shutter to think what the price is. I'm thinking it's about time for me to replace my '99 with another but I will opt for a used Subaru no new than 2009 so as to avoid the new factory rack. Good luck with your search.

  5. OP

    DAVID EDGERLY Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Thank you for all the info I may be considering the chevy equinox also it gets better gas mileage and has all wheel drive.I have always liked the subaru outbacks but have never owned one. I am primarily looking for commutter vehicle but would some times want to have canoes on top.
  6. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    Not a fan of the Subaru's...head gaskets, electronics, wicked bad clutches, rough engines...ugh......there have been several in our family (not me!) in recent years and they are all the same, gone once sanity returned.

    I like the Volvo V50 if you need something small but drivable with AWD. I have roof rails on mine and Yakima rails grabbers and cross bars.
    My next small wagon will be a Jetta Sportwagon Diesel. It has a bit more cargo space than the V50 and gets better gas mileage. It is not available with AWD but I run 4 Blizzacks and don't see a problem with this chassis. We had a GTI until recently that was outstanding in snow. Unlike the Subie, both the VW and the Volvo have solid roof rails mounted that you can trust.
    For carrying canoes I am always looking for a wagon with a low roof line. I can't always get my wife to help me load and unload canoes.
    The Passat wagon and the Audi Quatro A4 are also fabulous little cars with great engines and seriously good AWD (Audi is the best from my experience,I have owned several). I would have those on the list as well.
  7. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    Cost, of course, is a factor. The current models of Volvo and Audi are roughly some $10,00 and $20,000 more than a Subaru, and 2 of the 3 current VW wagons cost more, none with AWD. Mercedes also has a nice wagon, for about about the price of 2 Subarus.

    They are all very nice cars, some with advantages over the Subaru, but at a price. Having to park on the street in NYC as I do is an additional reason for a less expensive car.

    Last time I was shopping for a car, no American maker had a small AWD wagon at any price. Now the Chevy Equinox doesn't look like a bad car.

    My 1999 Subaru did have the head gasket problem, repaired under warrantee. Otherwise, no problems, though my last two have had automatics (I like driving a stick, but not in city traffic). My earlier ones had no clutch or transmission problems -- maybe luck of the draw. And as they say, different strokes . . . .

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