Can Your Car Support a Rooftop Tent?

If you love the outdoors, you may have seen images of rooftop tents circulating on social media in recent years. This type of tent offers many advantages, but it’s not always a viable option. Let’s discuss some of the car safety requirements you should know about before deciding if roof tents are right for your vehicle.

Types of cars that can handle a rooftop tent

According to Camping Pro Shop, almost any vehicle can theoretically support a rooftop tent. However, some cars are certainly better suited to it than others. For example, rugged vehicles designed with outdoor adventuring in mind — such as Jeeps and SUVs — can support a rooftop tent much more easily.

Smaller cars, such as sedans and hatchbacks, have the potential to support a roof tent. But due to the weight of these tents, it will be much more challenging to set one up on the roof of a smaller car safely.

Your roof rack system will be a major consideration when determining whether your car will work with a rooftop tent. Off Road Tents explains that you’ll need to take two things into account: Your rack’s dynamic weight capacity (DWC) and its static weight capacity (SWC).

The DWC measures the amount of weight your rack can handle while the vehicle is in motion, while the SWC measures the amount of weight your rack can handle when the vehicle is stopped. The SWC will typically be much higher because the car’s frame can support the tent’s weight and its occupants.

A factory roof rack will generally not be strong enough to support a rooftop tent because it can weigh up to 200 pounds or more. Check your owner’s manual to find out if your rack is compatible with a rooftop tent. If it’s not, you’ll need to purchase a third-party rack.

Advantages of rooftop tents

Perhaps the most obvious advantage of rooftop camping is that it’s a fun experience. REI even notes that many rooftop campers state that “a high vantage point resonates with them on a primal level.” 

Rooftop tents are also quick to set up once you reach your campsite. They tend to be more robust than regular tents, and they allow you to camp just about anywhere. Being off the ground also means you’ll stay away from sticks, uncomfortable rocks, and damp earth. In addition, because rooftop tents often come with a foam mattress, you’ll likely be more comfortable than if you were sleeping on the ground.

What are the downsides?

Though they’re fun and convenient, rooftop tents come with a few cons, too. According to Wirecutter, if you mistakenly install a tent that’s too heavy for your vehicle, you can cause a fair amount of damage. The additional weight and drag could reduce your car’s mileage and create unnecessary stress on your suspension. This makes your vehicle deteriorate much more quickly, and it’s likelier to occur if you install a rooftop tent on a smaller car. A large tent on the roof will also raise your car’s center of gravity, making it more prone to flipping in an accident.

Finally, rooftop tents are much more expensive than most standard camping gear. Wirecutter points out that even on the cheaper side, this type of tent often costs at least $1,500. And if you need to purchase a new roof rack, that’s an additional cost.

However, despite these downsides, the enjoyment and convenience of a rooftop tent might still be worth it to you. If you drive a sedan or hatchback, be sure to do a significant amount of research to ensure you don’t purchase a tent that’s too heavy for your car.

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