Travel trailers and RVs quickly gained popularity last year amongst drivers with an itch for camping. However, there are still many drivers that don’t want to pay for maintenance on these vehicles. A rooftop tent might seem like a cheaper option, but it’s one of the worst in terms of safety.
Just like truck bed pools, a rooftop tent could potentially put a lot of stress on your vehicle. As the New York Times explains, it could even make your car permanently unsafe.
What is a rooftop tent?
As the name suggests, a rooftop tent is simply a portable tent that attaches to the roof of your vehicle. It’s available with either a hard or soft top, and can even be purchased from major manufacturers like Yakima. However, these rooftops are often just as expensive as travel trailers and campers, if not more so.
However, some people still prefer rooftop tents because they have a smaller footprint and don’t need to be towed. In theory, you could attach any tent to the top of your vehicle with the right equipment. You’ll still need a third-party rack to keep the tent in place, which can also be a pricey accessory.
The long-term damage of a rooftop tent
Obviously, the biggest problem with a rooftop tent is the weight it puts directly on the roof of your car. Even if the tent itself is lightweight, it will probably also have sleeping bags or even a few mattresses inside. The weight of two or three people inside the tent adds even more stress to the roof.
Most commercial roof racks are also rated to only hold 150 pounds. NYT says that’s about the weight of your average rooftop tent with no people or other objects inside. If you overload the tent, you could potentially break your expensive roof rack or dent the roof.
Now imagine actually lifting a 150-pound tent on top of your vehicle in the first place. There would have to be at least two people in your camping party that can lift that weight at all times. Otherwise, people might get hurt trying to lift more than they can handle.
You might also dent or scratch your vehicle with too many failed loading attempts. For that reason, many people bolt the tent to the top of the vehicle for at least a few months. That means the tent will be a constant strain on your vehicle during that time.
Commercial rooftop tents also usually come with support poles and ladders. These components are usually stored inside the tent during travel so that they don’t take up space inside the car. It might not seem like much at first, but the weight can add up and seriously decrease your vehicle’s gas mileage.
NYT points out that the worst detriment caused by rooftop tents is suspension damage, which is highly expensive to repair. The added weight on top of your vehicle can unsettle the ride quality, sink your vehicle’s frame, and cause steering drift. The weight of a rooftop tent can also alter your car’s center of gravity. This makes smaller cars like sedans more likely to flip over during an accident.
Can any car be safely outfitted with one?
You should only install a rooftop tent on your vehicle if the roof rack can handle the weight of the tent. While it can be done, that doesn’t mean you should do it.
Rooftop tents are already quite pricey without the extra equipment you need to install one. Even if you follow the directions exactly, the lasting damage to your vehicle is unavoidable. No matter which way you look at it, rooftop tents for cars are almost always a bad idea.