Can Car Bike Racks Damage Your Car?

Car bike racks can definitely damage your car. The main reasons why it might happen are an improper installation of racks and improper transportation of bikes on it. However, different bike rack types (there are trunk racks, hitch racks and roof racks) have different risk levels. The riskiest ones (with a big gap) are trunk bike racks, whereas hitch and roof racks are fairly safe.

Though don’t get discouraged in case you are looking for a car bike rack. The transportation of your bikes on a rack can definitely be done safely (nearly 100% safely for roof and hitch racks). Keep reading and you will learn everything you need to know about how to transport a bike on a rack (all rack types will be covered) in a safe way!

What can go wrong with bike racks in general and why it can happen

Before moving to the specific bike rack types and tips on how to prevent any damage, let’s find out what damage car bike racks can cause:

  • Paint scratches (this is the most frequent type of damage),
  • Dents (bumper is the most vulnerable part though even metal parts are not safe from dents),
  • Rear window damage (if your car rear window does not have a frame around it),
  • Tail lights plastic damage (straps can slip and cause cracks in some cases).

Why it might happen:

  • There are many ways how your car can get damaged by bike racks. This is especially the case for trunk bike racks since this type of rack is installed directly on your car, and, as a result, directly contacts painted elements and the rear window, 
  • An insecurely mounted bike can simply fall off the roof and cause damage to your car or other vehicles or people on the road,
  • Also, in order to put a bike on a roof bike rack, you are supposed to perform some bike lifting. Something can go wrong so that the roof of your might get damaged  as well,
  • An overloaded trunk bike rack causes much more pressure on painted elements, the window and the bumper. As a result, these parts can suffer damage too,
  • Last but not least, people occasionally forget that with a bike rack (especially a roof rack) on it, a car becomes significantly bigger in terms of dimensions. As a result, the damage can be great not only to your car but to other property (for example, your garage) as well.

Trunk bike racks safety guide (highest damage potential)

Are trunk bike racks safe? This bike rack type has the highest chance to get you in trouble. Why? Because, as I have mentioned earlier, trunk bike racks installation elements (rack itself and straps) directly contact vulnerable parts of your car (window, tail lights, bumper). 

That’s why I don’t recommend buying a trunk bike rack in case you are planning to use it often. It does not have any advantages other than it is much cheaper than hitch and roof racks.

Anyway, you can definitely avoid any damage to your car using trunk bike racks though it will take some energy to always keep in mind quite a few things. Simply follow these best practices and you are going to be fine:

  • First thing first, be sure you have perfectly cleaned the rear part of your car before the installation. Otherwise, the dirt between your car and the rack’s attaching elements will inevitably cause scratches. Don’t forget to remove the rack and clean at least contact points from time to time,
  • Then I would personally use paint protection vinyl film (painter’s tape will also do the job, but it tends to be less reliable) and cover all elements that have any potential to contact the bike rack. Even though the trunk racks makers do not mention this step, it works really well and significantly decrease chances for your car to get scratched,
  • After that, you need to carefully follow all installation instructions and double-check that the rack is sturdy. Don’t forget that straps are supposed to be tightly strained,
  • Finally, put your bikes on the rack and properly secure them. This is a very important step since the dangling pedals of a bike can hit your bumper, dent it, and scrape it as well. The front wheel can scratch against the paint causing damage so make sure it is in the right position,
  • Also, never ever overload the bike rack. Even though it might seem not a bid deal, in reality, an overloaded trunk rack puts much more pressure on the bumper and on the rear window. I have heard quite a few such stories from my clients,
  • When you open the trunk with a trunk bike rack installed, watch out for the straps. The hooks of the straps might slip down to the tail lights area (especially true for SUVs and hatchbacks) where they are not supposed to be. When you close the trunk, since the hooks are between the tail lights and the body of the car, the tail lights might crack.
  • Last but not least, always remember that your car is now a bit bigger in size. Don’t hit somebody in the parking lot or while entering your garage.

Roof bike racks safety guide (low damage potential)

Are roof bike racks safe? Roof bike racks are quite safe, especially in comparison with trunk racks. It is very unlikely that you will damage your car using one of those racks. However, some precautions must definitely be taken:

  • First of all, properly install roof racks or crossbars on the roof of your car. Make sure that contact points are clean to prevent scratching. Double-check that roof racks or crossbars are stable and sturdy,
  • As it is true for any other bike rack type, properly secure your bikes on the roof bike rack,
  • In my experience, the most prevailing way how people get cars damaged using roof bike racks is that they are not careful enough while they are putting a bike on a roof rack. And it is quite understandable since it is not easy to lift a heavy bike on the roof (especially if we are talking about SUVs). Here is my tip to prevent it from happening. Buy a storage step stool and always have it in your car (it won’t take much space since it can be turned over and used as a storage place in your trunk). With the help of a stool, the lifting will be much more handy reducing any risks that something will go wrong quite significantly.
  • Always be aware that your car has basically become twice higher with a roof bike rack installed. This kind of mistake can cost you a lot of money since you can not only damage your car very badly but other property as well (garage automatic doors are the most frequent casualties). When I used a roof rack myself, I bought a sign (“Watch out Roof Rack”) and put it on my garage doors. It worked great and kept me safe!

Hitch bike racks safety guide (very low damage potential)

Are hitch bike racks safe? This is the safest bike rack type. There is not much that can go wrong. If you would like to get the safest experience using a car bike rack then hitch racks are definitely your choice.

To be 100% safe, just follow these simple rules:

  • Make sure that your trailer hitch is properly installed (I have never seen it being a problem in my experience but anyway),
  • Make sure that your hitch bike rack is properly attached to the hitch. Also if your trailer hitch is 2-inch and the bike rack is 1-1/4-inch, don’t try to make it work, you have to buy an adapter!
  • Make sure that your bikes are properly secured on the rack,
  • Don’t overload the hitch rack. Even though it is highly unlikely to damage your car, it can definitely damage the rack (and those guys are not cheap),
  •  Be aware that your car is now 2-5 feet longer than it was before.

Final thoughts

Trunk bike racks are the cheapest ones (from 50 USD) but have significant risks of damaging your car. I don’t recommend this rack type if you are planning to use it frequently. Also, it is definitely not a good choice for the owners of new or expensive cars. You won’t save money in the long term. Probably pretty much the opposite.

Roof bike racks normally cost 500-1,000 USD (including roof racks or crossbars), and this bike rack type will very unlikely damage your car. Don’t forget that you have it on the roof, use a stool or a lift-assist system and you are going to be fine.

Hitch bike racks normally cost 500-1,000 USD and this is the safest bike racks type. The chances that you will damage your car are basically non-existent. That’s why I recommend hitch racks from a safety perspective.