Roof boxes & roof racks – save space when travelling with skis and the like in winter

02/07/2024 - SnowTrex

Whether it’s clothing, equipment or boots. Every winter sports enthusiast knows that you need a lot of space to transport your own ski equipment. But this is precisely what is precious in the car on the way to the ski resort in winter. And if you have family or friends travelling with you, the boot can quickly become cramped. When looking for extra storage space in such cases, the choice quickly falls on roof boxes and roof racks. SnowTrex explains what to look out for when buying a roof box, how best to stow skis and the like and what other rules car drivers need to follow.

Roof boxes offer sufficient space for ski equipment on the way to the ski resort in winter

Roof boxes: buy or hire?

The big question for car drivers before almost every winter season is: roof boxes and roof racks – buy or hire? The former is mainly suitable for winter sports enthusiasts who travel to the mountains in their own car once or twice a year with their family or friends. However, you should bear in mind that in order to comfortably store skis of 1.60 metres or more on the car, the roof box should be around 15 to 20 cm longer on the outside. This means that in addition to the ski equipment, other luggage will also fit comfortably in the transport box. In this case, with a length of almost 1.80 m, a width of over 60 cm and a height of just under 45 cm, the equipment naturally takes up a lot of space when stored in the cellar.

The same applies to garage owners, who should plan some storage space for their own roof box between ski seasons. After all, year-round installation on the car is not really an alternative in terms of material wear and tear and rising petrol costs. In addition, as with other winter equipment for the car, there are the purchase costs for the roof box itself. For example, the price for the cheapest model (with a capacity of 400 litres) in the ADAC roof box test, which received a “good” rating, averaged 300 euros. The most expensive roof box, which received a similar rating and only offered just under 50 litres more capacity, even cost an average of 630 euros. For drivers who go skiing several times a year or who often need it for work, for example as a tradesman, buying a roof box definitely pays off over time.

If, on the other hand, you only take your car and skis to the mountains once a winter season or perhaps sporadically every few years, renting a roof box is a good option for both cost and space reasons. If you don’t have a trusted garage, you can usually quickly find a local car accessory shop that rents out roof boxes after a quick search on the internet. Depending on the size of the material or the rental period, the rental prices can vary greatly. For example, the average rental price for a small roof box from Thule (310 litre capacity) for seven days is around 30 euros. A large roof box (610 litres) costs just under 70 euros to rent for a week. The carrier system, which all car owners whose car does not have roof rails should book in addition, costs a further 25 euros.

Another important point that car drivers should bear in mind: Roof boxes can of course not only be used in winter. They also offer additional storage space for luggage for families travelling to the seaside or the mountains in their own car in summer. This versatility also makes these systems extremely popular when travelling by car in all seasons.

Rules for travelling with roof boxes

The German Road Traffic Act (StVO) initially categorises a roof box, which is sometimes also referred to as a jetbag or roof box, as a load. This means that, as with luggage in the boot, the roof box must be attached or secured in such a way. And in such a way that it does not slip or even fall off in the event of emergency braking. To prevent this from happening, it is essential that the entire procedure is carried out exactly according to the operating instructions, both when installing the roof box and when installing a carrier system on cars without roof rails. If you are unsure about this and hire the roof box from a car accessory shop, you can usually also take advantage of an installation service there.

When packing, it is important to ensure that the maximum load weight of the roof box is not exceeded. Just like the authorised roof load of the car. The relevant values can be found in the operating instructions for the luggage system and the vehicle. Drivers who do not adhere to this and are caught with an overloaded vehicle must expect a fine in Germany. In this case, a fine of 60 euros is due. In Switzerland and Austria, a fine of 85 euros is imposed for 100 kg overweight. The catalogue of fines in France is even stricter and stipulates a fine of between 135 and 750 euros for overloading. In Italy, the maximum fine in such cases is even 1,697 euros!

The StVO does not directly answer the question of how fast drivers are allowed to drive with a roof box. Theoretically, there is no speed limit per se, at least on motorways in Germany where there is no speed limit. However, one paragraph of the road traffic regulations also states the following: “A vehicle driver must adapt his speed in particular to the road, traffic, visibility and weather conditions as well as his personal abilities and the characteristics of the vehicle and load.” The latter is particularly important, as the roof box is considered a load. And this can affect the driving characteristics of the car, especially in winter weather conditions.

Traffic experts therefore advise driving much slower with a roof box on the roof than without one. The operating instructions, in which some manufacturers specify a maximum speed for travelling with one of their roof boxes, can also provide a good indication of this. However, this is only a recommendation and not a legal requirement. The ADAC also repeatedly points this out. The traffic club also advises drivers not to drive faster than 130 km/h if they have a roof box fitted. On the one hand, because the load and the increased centre of gravity can change the driving characteristics of the car considerably. And secondly, because the large roof boxes increase air resistance and therefore also significantly increase fuel consumption.

Transporting ski equipment in the roof box

Traditional, fixed roof boxes have several advantages, especially in winter. They are waterproof, lockable and, depending on their size, offer a lot of additional storage space. However, to ensure that this can be used effectively and, above all, safely, there are a few important points for drivers to consider when loading. One of the biggest reasons for buying a roof box is the fact that there is actually no better place to transport skis or snowboards. Due to their length alone, they are difficult or impossible to store in the interior of a car. The situation is different on the roof.

When choosing a roof box, it is of course crucial that the winter sports enthusiast knows the exact length of their own skis or those of other passengers so that the ski equipment also fits in the roof box. Incidentally, the roof box must not be too long, i.e. it must not protrude over the rear or the windscreen. If this is the case, either visibility can be restricted or the tailgate can no longer be opened properly.

As soon as a suitable roof box has been selected and properly installed on the car, it’s time to load it. This is made easier if the roof box can be opened from both sides. In the event of emergency braking or an accident, it is possible for the contents to shift in the roof box. Despite being secured with retaining straps. For this reason, the material must be prevented as far as possible from being torn open by heavy objects. It is therefore advisable to “pad” the roof box with soft luggage at the front and rear. Sports bags with clothing, large towels, cushions, ski jackets or blankets can serve as a buffer.

Skis and snowboards, on the other hand, are best stored in the centre of the roof box due to their length and weight. The same applies to other heavy items such as snow chains, while pushchairs or baby cots, for example, should always be placed in the boot instead of the roof box due to their size. Meanwhile, skis with their metal edges should also not be stacked if possible. Instead, they should be placed next to each other in the lower shell and thus in the most stable part of the roof box. The lower weight also lowers the overall centre of gravity of the car, which means that the driving characteristics are not affected as much.

Tests with incorrectly loaded roof boxes show just how much the driving behaviour of a car can change. If a weight of around 75 kg, as permitted in the operating instructions, is placed on the roof, the car handles as intended and stays on track during an abrupt evasive manoeuvre at 60 km/h. With 25 kg of “excess weight”, on the other hand, the vehicle is difficult to keep under control during the same manoeuvre. However, the biggest difference becomes clear during emergency braking at 100 km/h. With 75 kg in the roof box, an estate car stops after around 43 m on damp tarmac. Depending on the weight and tyres of the car, between 35 and 40 m is normal in the same external conditions. With 100 instead of 75 kg on the roof, the braking distance increases by 6 metres to a full 49 metres.

Alternatives to roof boxes

To create additional storage space for luggage and ski equipment on the way to the ski resort, roof boxes are the means of choice for most car drivers. But there is another way. Vehicle owners who either need to carry less luggage or only have skis and snowboards with them can also use alternatives. First and foremost, of course, is the classic roof rack. Several pairs of skis can be quickly clamped next to each other on the roof rack. And it should stay that way. After all, the luggage lies open on the roof and is therefore exposed to the elements, especially in winter. Snow or rain, for example. Roof racks are therefore only suitable for transporting weatherproof sports equipment.

However, the advantages over roof boxes are also obvious. On the one hand, roof racks do not take up so much space in the cellar or garage when stored between winter tyres and other items. Secondly, they are also cheaper to buy. Inexpensive new models are available for as little as 30 euros, while branded products from well-known manufacturers can cost up to 300 euros.

Roof racks are ideal for transporting skis and snowboards in all weathers

Another alternative to a fixed roof box are actually foldable roof boxes. As the name suggests, unlike their big brothers, these transport boxes can be folded down after use. In this state, they end up taking up less space in the cellar, garage or attic. A bag made of plastic fibres or nylon is glued onto a foldable base consisting of several hard plastic panels. The fabric itself is connected by waterproof seams and zips. In terms of size, buyers hardly have to make any compromises compared to a normal roof box. Foldable roof boxes come with a volume of 250 to 600 litres, depending on the model. This means that they can be filled with a similar amount of weight as their solid material counterparts. This also means that they can be loaded with skis or snowboards.

Of course, the design of the foldable roof box must be taken into account when purchasing, as they are also available in a compact square shape. And long, narrow ski equipment does not fit into these. It should also be noted that not all foldable roof boxes are classified as waterproof. There are also models that cannot be locked or have unfavourable aerodynamics due to their wide front. And this can lead to higher fuel consumption. In terms of cost, some foldable roof box models, which have received good ratings in consumer tests and offer a large capacity of up to 450 litres, are available for as little as 70 euros. The upper end of the price spiral is then reached at around 450 euros.

Installation on the car roof

It is a misconception that a car with roof rails is essential for attaching a roof box or a roof rack. Nowadays, both can be safely and easily installed on all cars with the exception of convertibles with a soft top.

Roof racks and roof boxes can now be installed quickly and easily on almost any car roof

SnowTrex has listed the different types of attachment for roof boxes and roof racks on a car in the following table:

Type of attachmentSuitable vehicles
Fixed carrierFor cars that are not equipped with a rain gutter or roof rails
Magnetic carrierFor cars that have a magnetic metal roof
Rain gutter supportFor cars equipped with a rain gutter on the roof
Railing carrierFor cars equipped with roof rails

Vehicle owners who drive to the mountains in winter to go skiing in a car with factory-fitted roof rails have one of the easiest lives. For these cars, which are usually estate cars or vans, no additional roof racks are required. Here, the fastening clips of the roof box or roof rack, which should be made of metal and not plastic for safety reasons, simply need to be fixed to the roof rails on the left and right side of the vehicle roof at the correct distance from each other.

The situation is different for cars that do not have roof rails but only a rain gutter. Or neither. However, both car manufacturers and manufacturers of vehicle accessories are now prepared to make the installation of roof boxes and roof racks possible here too. However, this requires two roof racks, which must be purchased in addition to the transport boxes. Before purchasing most products, drivers need to check carefully whether the roof racks are suitable for mounting on their car. However, you can make things easier for yourself by choosing a universal roof rack. As the name suggests, these can be installed on the majority of car roofs, in the rain gutters or on the fixed points.

You can find out exactly where this is possible on the vehicle either in the car’s operating instructions or by looking at the roof bars themselves, where the manufacturer has stamped the attachment points for the roof bars into the metal. The price range for the various carrier systems is also very wide. Inexpensive roof racks are available from as little as 40 euros. While products from well-known brands such as Thule or from the car manufacturers themselves can cost up to 350 euros.

And for those who want to do without additional carrier systems completely, magnetic roof racks have been available for some years now. Thanks to strong magnets, which have been subjected to intensive testing by TÜV and other institutes and have proven their stability in accidents and at speeds of up to 140 km/h, the roof racks adhere to almost all metal car roofs. The systems, which usually weigh between 3 and 8 kg, are quick and easy for drivers to install. They also offer impressive value for money. A magnetic roof rack with integrated anti-theft protection, which offers space for three pairs of skis or two snowboards and has scored highly in consumer tests, is available for as little as 150 euros. Some models are also available for as little as 80 euros, while the most expensive systems can cost up to 300 euros.

FAQs on roof boxes & roof racks

Can roof racks be fitted to any car?

Yes, nowadays roof racks and roof boxes can be fitted to all cars. The only exceptions are convertibles with a soft top, i.e. a fabric roof. The easiest way to mount them is on cars that are fitted with roof rails by the manufacturer. Vehicles that only have a rain gutter or fixed points on the inside of the roof rail instead of roof rails can be fitted with retrofittable carrier systems.

Is it worth buying or hiring a roof box?

Whether car owners should buy or hire a roof box depends mainly on how often they use it. For winter sports enthusiasts who go skiing in the mountains several times a season or tradesmen who need such a load box for work, a purchase is definitely worthwhile. Drivers who only go skiing once a year or even less often, on the other hand, should consider renting a roof box for one or two weeks from a local car accessories shop and thus save money.

What rules must drivers with a roof box observe on the road?

The German Road Traffic Act (StVO) defines a roof box as a load. Therefore, it is not only the transport box itself that must be installed on the car in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions so that it does not slip in the event of emergency braking or an accident. The same applies to the luggage in the roof box, which must be secured with straps. When loading the roof box, winter sports enthusiasts must also pay attention to the maximum load weight. This is printed in the operating instructions and must not be exceeded for reasons of road safety. The same applies to the maximum roof load of the car. If the police notice during a traffic check that the roof box or car is overloaded, you could be fined 60 euros in Germany. In other European countries, the fine for the same offence can be much heftier. In Italy, drivers would even have to pay up to 1,697 euros in this case!

How fast are drivers allowed to drive with a roof box?

In Germany, the Road Traffic Act (StVO) does not specify a maximum speed for cars with a roof box. However, the StVO states that drivers who have a transport box installed on the roof must adjust their speed accordingly. This is because the load of up to 100 kg shifts the centre of gravity of the car and the driving characteristics change accordingly. Unlike the law, however, the manufacturer of the roof box may have printed a recommended maximum speed in the operating instructions. The traffic experts at the ADAC also recommend driving at a maximum speed of 130 km/h with a transport box on the roof.

How much ski equipment can be packed in a roof box?

The answer to the question of how much ski equipment can be packed in a roof box can be found in the operating instructions. Depending on the model and size of the transport box, manufacturers must always specify a maximum load weight. This is a value that every driver should adhere to for road safety reasons. If more weight than is actually permitted is packed into the roof box and this is discovered during a road traffic check, the vehicle owner may be fined.

How is a roof rack attached to the car?

Roof racks are attached to the car’s roof rails installed by the manufacturer using fastening clips, which should ideally be made of metal for stability reasons. For vehicles without roof rails, there are now retrofittable carrier systems that can instead be installed in the rain gutter on the roof of the car or on fixed points on the inside of the roof bars.

What can be transported on a roof rack?

As the items secured on an open roof rack are exposed to the elements, such as rain and snow, or even splash water mixed with road salt, especially in winter, it is advisable to only take certain luggage with you. In this case, skis, snowboards or ski poles, as they are also exposed to moisture and cold on the piste and are therefore correspondingly weatherproof.

  • Tuesday, 02. July 2024
  • Author: SnowTrex
  • Category: Equipment
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