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Will Installing a Roof Rack Affect Your Car Insurance?

June 2, 2021
5 mins
A white SUV with a roof rack

Modifying your vehicle could mean changes to your car insurance. If you’re thinking of installing a roof rack on your car for a summer of road tripping to the cottage or a campsite, you need to let your provider know — it may impact on your coverage, eligibility, and premium.

Adding something as simple as a roof rack, bike rack, or ski rack may seem like a minor modification, but it could potentially affect the value of your vehicle as well as its safety. Beyond what it means for your insurance policy, you’ll also want to give some thought as to the quality of the rack you choose, what it’s for, and how it’s installed.

How a roof rack affects your auto insurance

Adding a roof rack is considered a vehicle modification by your insurance provider. Some modifications have an impact on your vehicle that influence your insurance premium, while others don’t.

Your insurer may cover some types of modifications, but for others, you may need to add special coverage to your policy because the modification raises risk when driving. Your provider will likely have a list of modifications it will cover and what ones it doesn’t.

If you decide to paint your van to make it look like the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine, you’ll raise some eyebrows but not your insurance rate. However, more functional things like a roof rack may affect your policy.

A modification installed for accessibility purposes such as wheelchair lifts, hand controls, and customized seat systems to accommodate people with disabilities won’t change your eligible coverage, but it will increase the value of your vehicle. That could lead to a higher premium. You’ll also want to keep your receipts as proof of how much you paid for the modifications in the event you have to file a claim.

By comparison, a roof rack is a much simpler modification, but it’s still a functional one that could affect your eligibility for coverage or change the coverage you have.

Like insurance policies, not all roof racks are the same. Research the make and installation process before making a decision.

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Finding the right roof rack

Roof racks vary in size and function. Some are specifically for carrying skis or bicycles, while others accommodate overhead storage containers. Depending on the function and shape of items attached to the rack, your vehicle's performance can be affected. It could influence the outcome of a collision differently than if you didn’t have the additional weight and height on your car.

If it’s to accommodate a storage compartment, adding a rack will change the shape of your vehicle, making it boxier on top. A bicycle will have a different effect because it’s a narrow shape in one direction. No matter what, the added weight and height will affect the aerodynamics of your vehicle, which in turn affects how air flows over the car — you can expect your fuel efficiency to decrease by at least 10%.

You need to be prepared to drive a little differently, too. Like when your car is longer and pulling more weight with a trailer hitched to the back, your vehicle is going to be more top-heavy if you add a roof rack on top — you’ll notice it more on a windy day, for example.

If you’re going to go to the trouble of adding a roof rack and accommodate for the lower gas mileage and potential impact on your insurance premium, you want the right rack for the job — there’s one for every need and budget. If you’re camping a lot in the summer, you’ll want one designed for a storage compartment — a universal cargo carrier might be the best choice. But you’ll need to choose between a cheaper soft-shell option or a more rigid and durable yet pricier model. Cyclists and skiers will require something different. You should think ahead to the type of trips you might be making.

Research different makes and models of racks online. Your vehicle manufacturer may be a source of recommendations for which racks will best attach to your car. Consumer reviews can also be a source of tips and even warnings about the quality of certain racks and how they affect your vehicle.

Once you decide on the best rack for you, it must be installed correctly to not put you in danger of having an accident. Your rack needs to stay on your car and not end up on someone else’s.

Proper installation increases your safety on the road

If you’re a do-it-yourself enthusiast, there are a few things to think about before you install a roof rack, including the tools you’ll need.

First off, you need to decide where on the vehicle you want to install it. Not all products will give you a choice, but some may give you the option of putting it closer to one side of the car for easier access, rather than right down the middle.

You’ll need a tape measure or ruler to determine where you can attach your crossbars and where on the rack your container, bikes, or skies may rest. You want to make sure nothing’s crooked either. Make sure you use the correct fasteners so that everything is sufficiently secured, whether it’s the crossbars themselves or what you’re putting in the rack. The instructions that come with the rack should provide clear guidance on how to attach it and do's and don'ts to ensure utmost safety.

If you’re not comfortable with this kind of project, have it installed by a professional so you can have peace of mind that it’s been done safely and correctly, as well as enjoy the convenience of the extra storage.

Ultimately, no matter what you buy and install, it's important to remember that a roof rack is a vehicle modification that can affect your auto policy. Failing to let your insurer know you’ve added a rack can lead to a denied claim or your policy being cancelled. If your existing provider cannot provide coverage for this type of modification, or you’re unhappy with the higher premium if they do, you can always shop around for the right car insurance policy to get the coverage you need.

Gary Hilson

Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has produced thousands of words for print and pixel about business and technology for a variety of publications and corporate clients. When he’s not tapping on the keyboard, Gary collects comic books, attends live theater, constructs Lego, and buys books he always intends to read.

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