With fuel efficiency and maximum aerodynamics becoming more of a priority these days. It’s easy to forget that in addition to the usual suspects, other efficiency robbing culprits also come into play behind the scenes.
One of these is the humble roof rack, a staple accessory for many automobiles.
While roof racks have been around for virtually all of automotive history and look innocent, they actually play a key role in wasting gas. This is according to a new study that reveals that roof racks are responsible for nearly one percent of all fuel that is consumed by light duty vehicles in the U.S. That translates to roughly 100 million gallons of gasoline last year that was used solely for the purpose of moving roof racks through the air. This is mainly due to the high levels of drag that the rack generates, with certain configurations hurting fuel economy by as much as 25 percent.
These figures are surprisingly lofty, and they are about to get worse in the near future. Yuche Chen from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Alan Meier from the Berkley Lab revealed in their study (published in Energy Policy) that the use of roof racks is expected to jump by 200 percent before 2040. Their negative impact even hits green vehicles with roof racks (both loaded and unloaded) being responsible for fuel cell vehicles using six times the amount of energy that they are expected to save. Meanwhile EVs have to give up 40 percent of their gas savings to accommodate them.
So what can be done to help reduce their impact? Chen and Meier offered their thoughts on the subject stating “These results suggest that some fuel saving policies should focus on reducing the number of vehicles that are driving with empty roof racks.” While manufacturers can design more aerodynamic racks, requiring energy labels on roof racks could effect more change.
A good short term solution is to make them easier to remove and store when not in use (two obstacles that define current racks). While the pair admitted that having the government mandate rules on usage of empty roof racks would be “extreme,” they say that these rules (along with design changes) can help drivers save 1.2 billion gallons of gasoline between now and 2040.
In addition to these savings the EPA estimates that it would also help cleave almost 11.8 billion tons of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere which is a lofty amount. But are these savings worth increased government intervention that would come as a result?