4 Different Scenarios Considered – Does a Roof Rack Fit Into A Car Wash?

Roof racks are a popular choice for people who want extra storage capabilities for their cars. There are a variety of uses for these, and they are great additions to most vehicles. But if you get a roof rack for your car, can you get your vehicle through a car wash with no issues?

It’s possible to go through a car wash with a roof rack, but it won’t necessarily work with every vehicle. Most small and medium-size cars can go through a car wash, but the same isn’t true for larger vehicles. The best way to clean a roof rack for a car is to hand wash it instead.

This article further expands on the question of whether your car can go through a car wash with a roof rack. I’ll also break down the average heights of roof racks, car washes, and vehicles. Finally, I’ll address the safety issues surrounding roof racks, which car washes work best for vehicles with roof racks, and how to clean a vehicle with a roof rack.

Can You Go Through a Car Wash With a Roof Rack?

Going through a car wash with a roof rack is possible, as long as the car wash company allows it and the car plus the roof rack do not exceed the height limit from the car wash. Not all car washes allow roof racks because noticeable damage can happen to the vehicle and the car washing equipment. It is best to talk to the car wash personnel before using a car wash with a roof rack.

Granted, it can be difficult to find car wash company policies online. It’s safe to assume, however, that car washes generally don’t allow vehicles with roof racks for the reasons I already mentioned before. 

That said, it won’t hurt to check with the car wash regarding their policies on roof racks. You can call ahead if you want to bring a car with a roof rack to their establishment. You can also find another way to wash your vehicle besides automatic car washes if you want to leave the roof rack on. (I will talk about how to clean a car with a roof rack later.)

As for the other factors that affect whether you can bring your roof racked car to a car wash (i.e., heights of the vehicle, roof rack, and car wash), I’ll talk about them in more detail below.

What Is the Average Height of a Car?

The average height of a car is around 67 inches (170.18 cm). Small vehicles average 55.7 inches (141.47 cm), while large cars usually fall in the 58.2 inch (147.82 cm) range. Further, trucks and cargo vans clock in at 75 inches (190.5 cm) and 82 inches (208.28 cm), respectively.

How Tall Is the Average Roof Rack?

The average roof rack is about 5 inches (12.7 cm). A typical roof rack’s components include the car’s support bars, crossbars, and the towers holding up the crossbars. From the top of your car to the top of an empty roof rack, there should be about 5 inches (12.7 cm) of height. 

It’s worth noting that roof rack heights vary depending on the make and model of your car and the added height from the roof rack’s components. Most unloaded roof racks sit under 5 inches (12.7 cm). 

The crossbars and bars that fall lengthwise on your vehicle usually fall between one and two inches (2.54 and 5.08 cm) tall. The attaching towers or feet are also generally less than two inches tall. 

Together, these components make up your roof rack. You may need a “fit kit” to attach the rack to your car’s support bars.

Here’s what you need to know about roof racks for cars. 

  • Roof racks have multiple components.
  • When purchasing a roof rack, consider the size of the towers, crossbars, and existing bars installed lengthwise on the car.
  • Remember to account for the roof rack’s load capacity as well.

What Is the Average Height of a Car Wash?

The average height of a car wash is 84 inches (213.36 cm) or seven feet. The height may differ depending on where you are, but most automatic car washes follow the above mentioned height. In any case, your car should be able to easily slide into a car wash whether it has a roof rack or not.

I’ve covered the average heights of cars, roof racks, and car washes. Given that information, can you go through a car wash with a roof rack? That mostly depends on the height of the car, as you’ll see in the table below. 

Type of carAverage height of the car Average height of roof rack from the car topWould it fit into a car wash?
Small car (Mini, etc)55.7 inches (141.47 cm)5 inches (12.7 cm)Yes
Large car (BMW 5 series)58.2 inches (147.82 cm)5 Inches (12.7 cm)Yes
Truck (Ford F150)75 inches (190.5 cm)5 Inches (12.7 cm)Yes
Cargo Van (9 Foot)82 inches (208.28 cm)5 inches (12.7 cm)No

Safety Issues of Cars With Roof Racks

As I mentioned, many automatic car washes don’t allow cars with roof racks. Despite the fact that most vehicles with roof racks can fit into the average car wash, car wash companies have good reasons to be wary of them nonetheless. These reasons are as follows.

  • Car wash equipment is designed for cars that don’t have extra attachments on top. For example, the car wash brush can get caught in the roof rack, causing damage to the car and the roof rack.
  • If debris or water gets stuck underneath the roof rack or its components, this can damage your car’s paint and finish.
  • If the car wash doesn’t have a good drying cycle or the water somehow gets trapped under the roof rack, this could cause rust on your car.
  • Car racks that have been loosened present a potential safety issue for other cars on the road. A loose car rack could potentially pose a threat to nearby cars.
  • If you try to get a vehicle with a roof rack through a car wash area that’s too small for it, you can damage both your car and its surroundings.

Roof racks are known to have safety issues and concerns. There’s a chance that car wash equipment can get caught in the roof rack and potentially damage it. 

What Car Washes Work Best for Vehicles With Roof Racks?

Self-service car washes work best for vehicles with roof racks. That’s because they involve humans hand-washing your car, meaning they’ll take more care not to damage your vehicle and its roof rack than an automatic car wash.

How To Clean Cars With Roof Racks

As I’ve discussed, there are several ways to clean cars with roof racks. You can bring a car through a car wash or wash the car by hand. It’s best to take the utmost caution to make sure the car rack is handled gently and dried properly after cleaning. These are some tips for cleaning cars with roof racks (if you choose to do that on your own).

  • Take your roof rack off regularly whenever you wash your car. Taking your roof rack off will ensure that the roof of your vehicle stays clean and that the rack isn’t trapping any water or unwanted debris to the hood of your car. 
  • Wash your car by hand when leaving the roof rack on. Use soap and water and choose rags that won’t scratch or damage your car or roof rack.
  • Ensure your car and roof rack are completely dry before reattaching the roof rack (or before washing if you decide to leave the roof rack on). Ensuring that your roof rack and car are completely dry will prevent any rust from forming and causing additional safety or aesthetic issues.
  • If you’re storing your roof rack away for a long time after cleaning your car, make sure you get any dust or debris off the roof rack before reattaching it to the vehicle. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to clean your roof rack separately from your vehicle, rather than clean your roof rack along with your vehicle. 

These tips will help you keep your car and your roof rack clean. Cleaning both the car and the roof rack should prolong the life of both your roof rack and your automobile’s roof. Most importantly, you minimize safety issues.

Key Takeaways

  • You can theoretically bring your car with a roof rack to a car wash.
  • However, cars with roof racks can pose risks to your vehicle, the car wash, and the roof rack itself. 
  • Ask your car wash if they’re okay with you bringing a car with a roof rack to their establishment. If yes, double-check any rules they have on the matter.
  • If your car wash doesn’t allow it or you’re not sure, you can choose a safer alternative like washing the car yourself.


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Columbia Tire Auto: Everything You Need To Know About Automatic Car Washes

Tundra Talk: Max Height In Touchless Car Wash

Measuring Stuff: Average Dimensions Of A Pick Up Truck

carsguide: bmw 5 series dimensions

JD Power: What Can You Fit In A 9 Ft Van

Prime Car Wash

Mr Clean Wash

Roof Top Overland: Car Washes Afffect Overland Equipment

Reddit: Safe To Go Through A Car Wash With Roof Basket?

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Google Scholar: Calspan: Roof Rack Safety

Auto Anything: How To Clean A Roof Rack


Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge