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Francois Rossouw: Don’t Overload





20 October 2014


A roof rack seems like a great piece of kit, as it allows you to free up space on the inside of your vehicle. But using a roof rack can be dangerous, says Francois Rossouw, as it often leads to overloading. And a 4×4 with too much weight strapped to its roof can easily land on its side . 

The basic layout of an SUV or double cab is simple. There are seats for the occupants, a storage space for luggage and a roof to protect one from the elements. So why do so many people mistake the roof for the luggage area?

If you need more storage space, you should purchase a bigger vehicle. What you shouldn’t do, is load a ton of stuff on your 4×4’s roof.

I have to be honest, I was once guilty of the same mistake. That is, until I traversed a steep slope during one particular trip to the Namib and my vehicle landed on its side. My 4×4 – with a heavily-loaded roof rack – was travelling at a precarious angle in deep sand, which put too much pressure on an under-inflated rear tyre and caused it to pop off the rim. The front tyre quickly followed and the vehicle keeled over.

From that day onwards, I have stuck closely to the loading specifications of manufacturers and insurance companies. If you read your owner’s manual carefully, you’ll see that the total weight allowed on your roof (including the weight of the roof rack) is probably around 300kg. And this is true only if you use an approved rack that has been fitted properly. If it hasn’t been installed correctly, the maximum weight it can handle is far less.

I recently came across a Toyota Fortuner with a roof rack attached to its cosmetic roof rails. These rails were not intended to withstand the bulk of a loaded roof rack. In fact, the vehicle’s manual stated that a mere 67kg were allowed. This vehicle, however, carried a roof rack with four jerry cans and a spare wheel, so the combined weight on the bars was 140kg. Needless to say, the roof bars gave way and caused a lot of damage.

I once also purchased a Lada that had travelled overland from Europe to South Africa. The poor vehicle had been forced to carry an overloaded roof rack across the entire African continent and the deed had damaged it badly. The roof’s pillars had been forced into the body to such an extent that the roof had been lowered and the window frames warped. It wasn’t worth the cost of getting it repaired, so we used the vehicle for rallying only.

Overloading of overland vehicles is a growing problem and authorities appear to be catching on to this. There are quite a number of weigh bridges in southern Africa now and more will be in operation soon. And they aren’t simply used to way trucks anymore, passenger vehicles – especially large 4x4s – are also being checked.

I know of one specific incident where the driver of a bakkie was asked to have his vehicle weighed while attempting to enter Mozambique at the Pongola border post. The bakkie had all sorts of accessories such as a 100-litre fuel tank, a water tank, steel canopy and roof rack. Needless to say, it also carried all the food, clothing and camping gear needed for a holiday, but to make matters worse, it was towing a heavy fishing boat.

With all that weight taken into account, the bakkie was nearly three times over the legal limit and it was not allowed to enter Mozambique. The only option was to transfer some of the weight to another vehicle.

Apart from the issue of overloading, there is also another problem with roof racks that I would like to quickly mention. Even an empty roof rack increases wind resistance fairly substantially. And if you carry something bulky on your roof, such as a roof-top tent, your vehicle’s fuel consumption can easily be increased by as much as 15%.

I see so many people driving around town in fully-kitted overland vehicles. Sure, accessories such as a high-lift jack, jerry cans, a shovel and a tent are very handy when heading into the bundu, but all these items do during daily commuting is add unnecessary weight to a 4×4. I suppose people like the image that it creates, but they pay very dearly for that image. Not only do they use more fuel, but those items can be stolen.

Whenever I return from a trip, the first thing I do is strip my overlander of all its accessories. I also use it as my city runabout and I want it to be as efficient as possible.