Car's luggage rack can drive you to aggravation

September 23, 2006|By ROB KASPER

Until last weekend, I was not the kind of guy who went around staring at car luggage racks. Until then, I was content to let luggage racks lie, hibernate or whatever they do when they are not in use.

I have since learned that if you want to improve your gas mileage, get rid of annoying wind noise and feel frustrated, you should attempt to adjust your car's luggage rack.

My car-rack awareness heightened when I had to transport a large object, a kayak, on the roof of my car. Some months ago, my wife purchased two used kayaks in the belief that kayaking was an activity we could enjoy together, blissfully paddling into the sunset. Kayaking has since delivered moments of enjoyment, but it also has been responsible for some tensions.

Most of the tense times occur when we try to lift the kayaks onto the roof of the car. There are, I am told, kayaks made of magical lightweight material. Ours are made of lead or something very heavy, perhaps fiberglass. They are tough. You can ram them into almost anything on the water, and believe me, we have, and you still stay afloat.

Usually we haul the kayaks around on the roof of "the tank." That is our 13-year-old Ford Taurus station wagon. It has 160,000 miles on it and about the same number of dents. It has a luggage rack large enough to carry two kayaks if you position them correctly and secure them with enough bungee cords so the kayaks don't slide off the roof. One kayak tried that once. I unknowingly drove down the road with a kayak hanging off the roof, like a teenager's cockeyed baseball cap. But that is another story, one in which my wife was right about the luggage rack and I was wrong. So we'll skip over that.

Last weekend, instead of "the tank" we drove the "good car," the 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser, to Chincoteague, Va. That is where the kayaks reside, under our house there, which, thanks to Tropical Storm Ernesto, recently had large trees resting on its roof. After ascertaining that the trees were off the roof of the house and that the roof did not have holes, we decided to go kayaking.

This meant I had to adjust the luggage rack of the Cruiser. I had never done this. A man is supposed to know all the ins and outs of his machine, but I knew squat about the Cruiser's luggage rack. As the kayak sat next to the car waiting, along with my wife, for transport to the water, I was reduced to reading the car owner's manual. Not only was this a blow to my manly pride, it was also physically painful. Swarms of mosquitoes, which had been relatively quiet during the dry summer, had been roused by recent rains and feasted on me like hungry football players presented with free pizza.

I slapped mosquitoes, read the manual, then tried to free the luggage rack locks. One lock loosened; the other would not budge. I reread the manual, slapped more mosquitoes, then accidentally popped the plastic cover off one lock. The exposed lock parts, a spring and lever, looked dry, so I gave them a shot of household oil. They loosened. The roof rack slid forward. The kayaks, one at a time, were transported to Assateague Bay.

The water was like glass, "calm as a dish" as they say on the Shore. We paddled into a glorious sunset.

Driving on U.S. 50 the next day, I heard an annoying hum. It was the wind, hitting the recently moved luggage rack. When not in use, the luggage rack should be pushed to the rear of the car, the manual said. This improves the aerodynamics of the car, which can increase its fuel efficiency and give the rear end a cool "spoiler" look.

When I got to Baltimore, I pushed the Cruiser's rack back to its aerodynamically correct position. Then, just to make its rear end look a little cooler, I repositioned the rack on "the tank" as well.

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