Will My Car Work for a Roof Top Tent?

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The rising popularity of rooftop tents has many outdoor camp hobbyists asking whether or not their car will work with one of these intuitive pieces of outdoor camping equipment. Because this trend in outdoor car camping shelters is relatively new, it makes finding any sort of comprehensive answer to this question a somewhat tricky task.

Scarcity of Info

used with a rooftop tent

Information regarding this topic is merely hard to find. Though there are a few online resources that get into the rules and specifications regarding a vehicle’s ability to be used with a rooftop tent, the information found on these sites is often presented misleadingly and confusingly. The use of vague terminology in most, if not all, of the essential statements regarding whether or not a particular type of vehicle will fit a rooftop tent, is confusing for some folks.

Also, a hearty amount of comments and statements instead shamelessly promoting brands like Thule, Yakima, or Tepui are peppered throughout to get potential customers to purchase their products. This causes information regarding installation or a certain weight and carries capacity limits to be left out. And, due to the easily identifiable promotional frame these so-called expert resources employ, the average person reading likely has a hard time determining if the statements are correct or merely another tactic used to fit another brand name in.

Thankfully, this article will remedy that as well as shorten the search time for a guide to help solve these problems. Not only will ordinary people interested in purchasing and enjoying a rooftop tent benefit from this guide, but so will current tent owners who aren’t sure if the new car or truck they plan to upgrade to will still function with their current tent. This guide is meant to help those lost in their search for answers to these essential compatibility questions.

An excellent place to start answering questions of whether or not your car will work with a rooftop tent is first to establish an understanding of the necessary equipment your car, truck, or SUV must be outfitted with for even the most basic roof tents to work.

Pretty much any vehicle you see out on the road today can be used with tents designed to sit on the roof of your car. It’s just a matter of whether or not installation is going to be a simple task or require a bit more effort.

A Jeep or similar type of vehicle designed explicitly with outdoor road trip ventures in mind is going to require a lot less work and money to set up than your typical sedan. The main reason is that vehicles designed with outdoor use in mind have the necessary components for hauling a mattress, ladder, or other camp items already installed.

The Crux

Car Work for a Roof Top

This main supplemental feature that enables a person’s car, truck, or SUV to carry a rooftop tent is a vehicle’s mounted rack system. These are designed with the weight capacity necessary to take your tents and other sleeping gear comfortably while you are free to navigate the road.t These are necessary to correctly manage and hold the weight capacity requirements of a rooftop tent.

The tricky part and what baffles a lot of my friends that don’t camp is that there are different varieties of vehicle rack systems, and each of these is only compatible with specific vehicles.


Let’s say my 1999 Honda CRV is the preferred car that I want to use to carry my tents on a road trip to camp somewhere. To make this happen, my first step is to search for one that is compatible with my 1999 Honda CRV. Since I know that the no-cost factory-style raised side rails installed on the roof of my CRV are the correct type and size for a variety of Smittybilt, Yakima, or Tepui rack systems to be attached to, I’m in luck. Already have the right size and type of raised side rails allows me to simply find, pay for, and install the new Tepui or Yakima roof rack onto my car. Once that is accomplished, my CRV can hold the weight capacity of my choice of tents so I can decide which will be most comfortable to sleep in.

Unfortunately, due to the vast array of different vehicle brands and models, each tends to have different devices used for the attachment of roof racks. To make things more complicated, some vehicles don’t come with any sort of roof rack attachment components at all.

Finding a Way

To navigate this issue from the ground up, you should know that there are about five or so types of vehicle roof components used to install a roof rack tent. The raised side rail variety mentioned above, flush side rails, gutters, fixed points, tracks, and naked. Naked meaning that your vehicle currently provides none of the components needed for the attachment of a roof rack.

find a roof rack that fits nicely onto whatever system your vehicle

Each of these different mounting styles is relatively easy to identify. Still, most people are simply not aware of the fact that these steps need to be taken care of before they can adequately set up a Thule or Tepui tent to the roof of their car, truck, or SUV.

I’m sure there are ways to accomplish setting up a rooftop tent without the use of a roof rack, but it will be neither a safe way to hold the 100 pounds, or so of weight, some tents carry, nor very pleasant to look at or sleep in at night. I say this because these tents weigh 100 pounds or more and, even when closed up in a case, are simply not made to be set up, transported—or used in a haphazard or improvised manner.

Once you find a roof rack that fits nicely onto whatever system your vehicle uses, you’re in for smooth sailing the rest of the way. Rooftop tent companies have made it unbelievably easy to attach their products to all types of roof racks. The ease with which they are correctly mounted from the ground up and transported can vary in difficulty, however. So, although ninety-nine percent of these tents can be easily installed and carted to your destination, some may need additional components to accomplish this depending on the style weight and brand of tent.

The need for additional interior or exterior straps, crossbars, or whatever else is necessary to get your tent transported and set up correctly usually isn’t that big a deal. The extra bit of work and steps are very time consuming, but most people find it better to choose a tent that’s ready out of the box with all the necessary pieces to be mounted and used right away.

So, ask your contact at the tent store if the rooftop tent you’re thinking about buying will work on your vehicle, they will always say yes because it’s true. What they don’t mention, however, is the rather significant amount of extra time, money, and effort that may be required for your vehicle to work with these types of tents. Therefore, it’s essential to follow and know the various details laid out in this article.

Other Considerations

Besides the whole roof rack compatibility issue

Besides the whole roof rack compatibility issue, there are a few other considerations you’ll want to be aware of to be sure that your car can use a rooftop tent. First, it’s essential to know that, as a general rule of thumb and perhaps a bit of common sense, an SUV or pickup truck is the best type of vehicle for rooftop tent use. While cars, sedans, and hatchbacks can usually manage to accommodate a rooftop tent, it’s not a very appealing choice. I say this because not only will you be pushing the limits in regards to the weight and certain aerodynamical specification limits these cars have, but the overall aesthetic of this sort of dry setup is simply not one you would want to parade around with.

While we’re on the subject of weight limits, another vital guideline to follow is to never use a rooftop tent with any vehicle whose rooftop weight load limit is less than 165 pounds. Though this rule seems easy enough to follow, it’s important to remember that you will also need to consider the restrictions in regards to your vehicle’s maximum dynamic weight. This critical bit of information tells you how much weight your rack system can handle safely by your car while it is in motion.

As an example, if your car roof is rated at 165 pounds and your roof rack weighs 30 pounds, you can only safely load another 135 pounds of camping gear on top. Most rooftop tents only weigh around 120 pounds, so there shouldn’t be much of an issue. If you are planning to push the limits of these weight restrictions, you can usually add some extra components to your rack to increase the weight allowances numbers.

  1. I liked what you said about how the limit of the weight on the roof shouldn’t be less than 165, and track the weight restrictions. My aunt has been thinking about getting a rooftop tent for her car when she goes camping in order to have more fun. Making sure that she can get some help from a professional could help her to have a lot more fun.

  2. Very informative article. I wish I read this when I was researching RTT’s a few years back. I’ve been running a Front Runner Roof Top Tent on my 2010 Forester for about the last 3 years. The good thing about Front Runner is they also make the roof rack system to attach it to and they have a long list of vehicle specific mounting systems.

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