How to Use Ratchet Straps and Cam Straps to Tie-Down a Kayak, Luggage, and Other Items to Your Car’s Roof and Roof Rack

If you need to strap something to the top of your car’s roof or roof rack, like luggage or a kayak, there are a few different ways you can attach them securely without having to worry about them falling off down the road. Our mechanic Andy in this video and article reviews how to secure luggage and a kayak to the roof of a car with or without roof racks using ratchet straps, cam straps, and a few other methods.

How to Use Ratchet Straps and Cam Tie-Down Straps to Transport Items on Top of Your Car

Transporting a kayak on top of the car with ratchet straps

How to Use Ratchet Tie-Down Straps

How to use ratchet straps

Ratchet tie-down straps are useful for heavier duty gear. They will hold a lot of weight and are easy to use.

How to use, open and close a ratchet strap

The belt slides through the metal clip, and then the clip will tighten and loosen the strap like a ratchet. If you need to put items on your car roof often, the ratchet strap is the best investment.

How to tie and store a ratchet strap

To store them, wrap them up and secure them with a rubber band or a tie-wrap. This keeps the strap from getting into knots and tangling.

Ratchet strap tied in a knot

Knots affect the integrity of the strap, and you don’t want stuff breaking while on the road.

How to Use Cam Tie-Down Straps

Cam strap teeth

Cam straps can’t take as heavy of a load as ratchet straps, but cam tie-down straps are very convenient.

How to use a cam strap

The cam holds the straps together. You wrap use these just like a ratchet strap, but the cam buckle has metal teeth to secure the strap.

Tightening a cam strap

You feed the strap through the buckle and the cam tightens once the belt is pulled in one direction.

How to use a cam strap

To loosen the strap, push down on the cam and slide the belt up. Make sure there are no knots in the cam strap’s belt before using.

Rope or Twine

Rope or twine is not the best option. We recommend only using it as a last resort and only for light-weight items like a pool float or Christmas tree.

How to Attach and Transport Luggage, a Kayak, and More With Ratchet Straps on Your Car

How to Use Ratchet Tie-Down Straps to Mount Items Like a Kayak or Luggage to the Roof of a Car, Truck, SUV

  1. Check the Load Capacity in the Owner’s Manual

    Before mounting to the roof, check the owner’s manual and find the load capacity for your car.

    Different vehicle will have different capacities, whether you have a roof rack system or not. If you don’t find a mention of a roof rack system in the owner’s manual, don’t mount more than a kayak or a mattress to the roof of your vehicle.

  2. If You Have Cross Rails, Place Them Apart as far as Possible

    Some vehicles just have roof rails, which is a rail that runs along the top of each side of the vehicle. Other vehicles have cross rails or crossbars, which are rails that attach across the side rails.

    When mounting something large, you probably want the cross rails adjusted away from each other as far as possible.

  3. Consider Using a Roof Top Bag for Luggage

    You can attach luggage to the roof with a roof top bag. Check the instructions for the roof top bag since they can attach differently depending on their design.

    Mount it in between the two cross rails and adjust the bags accordingly. Most bags need to be adjusted so the zipper is facing the back or the side of the vehicle. The zipper isn’t as waterproof as the rest of the bag and you don’t want water getting inside if there is rain.

    Load the bags so they’re evenly dispersed, then zip the bag. Strap the bag down by following the manufacturer’s directions.

    Generally, you can tie the bag to the side rails. Loop the strap around the side rail once, bring it up to the clip and clip it in, and then pull the strap to tighten it.

    Tie any excess straps to the roof rail after securing bag to it.

  4. Avoid the Sunroof

    Don’t mount any items over the sunroof. If you do, don’t apply a lot of weight to it.

  5. Remove an Antenna If Needed

    Remove the antenna if it’s in the way.

  6. How to Tie Down Items like a Kayak with Roof Straps

    This step explains how to put a kayak on the roof of a car that has a roof rack with a cross rail, roof rack without a cross rail, and a car with no roof rack, and secure it with ratchet straps. Start at 4:30 in the featured video to get a visual of how to tie down a kayak with ratchet straps.

    How to Tie Down a Kayak with a Roof Rack and Cross Rail
    Take the side of the ratchet strap that has the hook and wrap it around the cross bar. Carefully slide it over an item like a kayak. Don’t throw it too far so it doesn’t land over the edge and onto the window. Then toss the rest of the strap to the other side.

    Make sure the cargo is balanced and not tipping too far back or forward before continuing.

    Weave the ratchet strap underneath the cross member bar like you did on the other side. Hook the hook and the end of the ratchet clip together. Slide the strap through the ratchet all the way through to tighten it. Don’t tie too tight, but just tight enough so the luggage is not moving.

    How to Tie Down a Kayak with a Roof Rack and no Cross Rail

    If your vehicle just has roof racks, twist the belt before weaving it under the side rail. This twist will stop noise and not reduce the strength of the strap. Bring it over the outside of the side rail and then under the side rail, and pull it up on the other side. Once the belt is secure on one side, toss it over the luggage carefully, and repeat on the other side.

    Then once it’s tied down down, slide the belt through the ratchet to secure it.

    Items like a pool noodle could protect the kayak from the metal straps, for example.

    Check the steps in the video above around 5:40 for a visual of these steps.

    How to Tie Down a Kayak Without a Roof Rack

    If you need to transport a kayak without a roof rack on your car, use the same methods above with the top of the doors instead of a roof rack. Have the straps positioned as forward and back as possible.

  7. Tie off the Excess Belt or Place It in the Vehicle

    Slide the excess belt inside the door or tie it to a rail but don’t tie it too tight.

    If you’re traveling for a long distance, you want the front of the kayak be over the front of the car and the back of the kayak to be over the back of the car. Consider tying the front of the kayak to the front of the car, and the rear of the kayak to the rear, like to a tow hitch.

  8. Periodically Check the Tightness of the Belt If Traveling Far and for a Long Period

    After driving for some time, check how tight the belt is. If it’s looser, tighten it more. Stop and check the belt periodically throughout the trip.

    To release the ratchet strap, the pull the release piece on the ratchet up, pull the ratchet down, and slide out and loosen the strap.

Learn how to use ratchet straps and tie down items like a kayak to the top of your car yourself with tips and quality auto parts at

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How to Use Ratchet Straps & More to Tie-Down a Kayak & More - 1A Auto
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How to Use Ratchet Straps & More to Tie-Down a Kayak & More - 1A Auto
Learn how to use ratchet straps and cam tie-down straps to transport items like a kayak, luggage, and a mattress to cars with and without roof racks with tips from our experts
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