If you’re asking yourself this question then it means you probably own a sedan and are keen to fit a roof top tent in order to enjoy the magic of camping holidays high up out of the mud and closer to the stars, well just a little closer…
So can you set up a rooftop tent on your car? Yes, it’s possible, but there are a few factors to bear in mind. It all depends on the type of car you own and the type of tent you choose, as well as whether adequate roof racks can be fitted to your car. Most roof top tents are fitted for SUVs and trucks, but it is possible to put one on your sedan.
Fitting Racks To Support the RTT
The racks that are retro fitted to cars are nowadays pretty solidly made, and will be able to support the weight. However, the design will depend on the car’s support struts and the curve of the roof.
The average roof top tent weighs between 100 to 130 lbs. Therefore, your roof racks should have a dynamic weight rating of at least the weight of the rooftop tent together with any bedding or camping items you store inside it when travelling.
Roof racks have a minimum dynamic rating of 165 lbs, which allows for a safety margin when coming to a sudden stop.
Factors When Considering a RTT
1. When setting up (opening out) the tent you will have to climb onto some part of your vehicle to do this.
The average car doesn’t have a front bull-bar or a rear step like most trucks and SUVs, so you will need to take along an extendable ladder to reach up to set up the tent and to climb in.
Most RTTs come with a ladder for entering and exiting the tent – you just have to check whether this can also be used safely, and whether it can hook on safely at various points.
2. There will also be extras which may take space in the car like tools, an extra add-on tent for changing in, or an awning to enable you to sit next to your vehicle and enjoy a barbecue before climbing up into your RTT for the night.
3. Check whether the place you are going has barbecue facilities, otherwise you have to factor in the space needed to take one along.
4. A fairly small car with the extra load on top may result in swaying. For vehicles with smaller tires – from 12 inch to 14 inch there may be premature tire failure due to the increased weight carried by the vehicle once the rooftop tent is on and is loaded with camping gear, as well as the driver and passengers.
5. Leaving the RTT on the roof of the vehicle permanently will lead to increased fuel bills, as well as wear and tear on the tires and breaking system.
6. A car has limited packing space compared to an SUV or truck which can be something of a drawback for a family going camping, as passengers in the rear are wedged in with various items of camping gear, so you may want to consider towing a small trailer.
7. Correctly packing the trailer so there is not too much weight on the nose or the rear, but is evenly distributed will help with car towing performance.
8. Should you decide to pull a trailer, that will add an extra load to the vehicle over and above the factors already mentioned, affecting braking ability, as well as general stability and performance. Generally, the smaller the car the more it will be affected, whereas the larger sedans should be OK.
Check your Engine Capacity
Generally, a vehicle that is has less than a 2-liter engine capacity will be affected by the weight of a RTT.
Check Clearance on Your Vehicle
The load of the vehicle will limit you to certain areas as cars generally are lower to the ground than SUVs and trucks – meaning you won’t have much clearance, and risk damaging the undercarriage of the vehicle should you encounter sand or gravel roads that are uneven, or where a ridge in the middle has been created by vehicles with a high clearance.
Adaptations To Help Your Car Cope
When loading for a weekend away increase the pressure on the tyres to just below the maximum recommended as this will help with height clearance and control swaying.
However, if you encounter sand roads hard tires will make the going more difficult. People with off-road vehicles reduce their tire pressure for soft sand to just on 1 bar of pressure, but this won’t be possible with a heavily loaded car, so avoid soft sand roads.
Loading and Removing the RTT From a Car
Removing the RTT from the roof of the car will take at least two strong adults to lift it off the car after a weekend away, and some tents need four people to maneuver them off the vehicle without damaging it.
After the RTT has been removed from your car then remember to reduce the tire pressure to how you normally run your tires otherwise the over-inflated tires will wear in the middle section.
Cleaning the RTT is also a lot easier if the tent is on the ground instead of having to climb a ladder to clean it while still attached to the roof.
Cleaning the roof of the car can also be a problem should the RTT be left on it till the next weekend away in a month or two.
Rooftop Tent Guidelines
No matter what car you drive you need to be safe when traveling with a RTT, so it is best to consult your vehicle owner manual to find out the recommended dynamic and static weight ratings.
Dynamic weight refers to the load you can safely carry when the car is moving, and static weight refers to what it can bear when the car is stopped and the tent folded out and includes the weight of the people sleeping inside the tent.
You can get advice from the roof rack fitment centers as to what they recommend, as they deal with this every day. They will also be able to tell you which roof racks are best for your vehicle.
If they are unsure because you have an unusual vehicle, and you don’t have access to your vehicle manual, then rather contact the vehicle manufacturer to get their recommendations and options for carrying rooftop tents.
Do not install a rack to carry the RTT on weak raised side rails of the vehicle – i.e. if they are damaged or rusted.
There are many different RTT designs and some are more aerodynamic when closed than others – so pick the best shape for your car – you don’t want huge wind resistance when you travel, or the risk of it being blown off the car.
It is best to have the rack fitted by an approved fitment centre which will provide you with a proof-of-fitting and a warranty. Send a copy to your insurance company to make sure that you are covered should something go wrong.
To get an idea of what is on the market watch this video to see some examples of RTTs fitted to cars:
The Tepui Baja series are pretty good for fitting to sedans as they are quite light:
Traveler, photographer, writer. I’m eternally curious, in love with the natural world. How people can survive in harmony with nature has fueled my food safety and survival gardening practices.
At the age of 12, I found a newspaper advertisement for a 155-acre farm at a really good price and showed my parents one Sunday morning. They bought it and I happily started planting vegetables, peanuts, maize and keeping bees with the help of the local labor.
Once I married wherever we moved it was all about planting food, keeping chickens and ducks, permaculture and creating micro-climates. I learned how to build wooden cabins and outdoor furniture from pallets, and baked and cooked home-grown produce, developing recipes as I went along.