Most people that have been around the outdoor sports arena have seen their share of a corroded, rusty and worn roof rack. This results from lack of maintenance and leaving the wrong seasonal attachments on top throughout the change of seasons.   Who hasn’t seen a bike rack at a ski area in the winter or a ski rack at the trailhead in the summer.  Let’s take a look at some best practices to keep your roof racks performing optimally while prolonging the useful life.

Roof rack maintenance

Roof racks are ruggedly designed and built to stand up to the harsh environment that is the top of your vehicle.  Still, the elements can take atoll if regular maintenance isn’t performed and attachments are left in place during inappropriate seasons.

In the Spring and Fall remove the roof racks from your vehicle and wash the entire rack using soapy warm water.  Rinse with clean water and dry it off.  Next, inspect all of the components for any cracks.  If you have round or square cross bars, these are made of steel.  Although they may appear fine and in good condition, you’ll want to remove the end caps to inspect for internal rust.  If they are badly rusted, it is a modest investment for a new set of cross bars to give you peace of mind they will not fail while driving at high speed.  Replace the end caps if they are worn or fallen off altogether.

Inspect all of the hardware next.  Many racks come with galvanized bolts that can become corroded over time. If you live in a geography where a lot of road salt is used during the winter, you may want to invest in stainless steel hardware to minimize this corrosion. Be careful about using stainless bolts and nuts together; these “stainless-to-stainless” connections are subject to galling.  If you can’t avoid these “stainless-to-stainless” contacts, then you’ll need to use an anti-seizing agent before putting them together.

Make sure to clean your vehicle roof to remove any dirt or dust before reinstalling the dry system.  Tighten and adjust all the bolts in the assemblies when you reinstall the roof racks.

Attachments maintenance

It’s recommended that you remove any attachments you won’t be using for an extended period of time.  This will prevent unnecessary wear-and-tear, improve gas mileage and cut down wind noise. Like the roof racks, clean with warm soapy water, inspect for cracks and look over the hardware.  Replace anything that is corroded and consider stainless steel fasteners.

If you have a cargo box, you should use a vacuum to clean out dirt and grime.  Pay particular attention to the areas around the locking mechanism(s) because the dirt can foul their operation.  If your attachments have lock cores in them, you can remove them using the removal tool provided by the manufacturer when you purchased them. Clean them and apply a silicone lubricant such as TriFlow.


Although it will take sometime to remove, clean, inspect, repair and reassemble your roof racks, it's easier than those exercises to lose belly fat you've been trying.  You’ve undoubtedly invested a substantial amount of money on your roof racks, so keeping them in good operating condition is paramount for a long useful life.  The hassle of corroded mechanisms and the potential danger from a high-speed failure mean the effort is well worth it.