Can You Drive With an Empty Car Bike Rack?

A bike rack is a great way to transport your bikes, but can be a hassle to remove it each time. So this is a very reasonable question to ask whether you can leave it as it is, and don’t bother yourself with removing it each time you would like to drive without bikes.

To better answer this question let’s divide it into two parts:

  • From the legal perspective,
  • From the fuel efficiency perspective.

Is it legal to drive with an empty car bike rack?

Driving with an empty bike rack is completely legal and it’s not prohibited by law. However, your car bike rack must be properly secured on your car. Otherwise, it can be interpreted as unsecured loads which can result in up to a $5,000 fine or even jail time in some states.

How to secure trunk-mount racks:

  • Make sure that your bike rack is compatible with your car’s model. Otherwise, it might be impossible to properly secure it on your car,
  • Tighten all straps,
  • Check the straps after each ride to make sure that they are still tight.

How to secure hitch bike racks:

  • Make sure that your hitch receiver has the same size as your hitch rack,
  • Carefully follow the instructions since different hitch racks are installed very differently,
  • From time to time check that the rack is not wobbling.

How to secure roof bike racks:

  • Make sure that a roof bike rack and a rack system are compatible. Otherwise, it might result in insecure construction,
  • From time to time check that the rack is not wobbling.

Empty car bike rack and fuel consumption

In a nutshell, even an empty car bike rack can significantly reduce your mileage (up to 10% less). How much fuel efficiency you will be losing depends on a bike rack type, your car’s body type, and how fast you drive.

Your speed is the biggest factor. If you are not driving fast (let’s say no faster than 35 mph), an empty bike rack will have a very negligible effect on your mileage. 

I have a separate article on how loaded bike racks impact fuel consumption

However, if you are driving on a highway, probably 50 mph+, then you are going to notice that your mileage goes down.

Let’s consider each bike rack type and learn how it is going to affect your mileage driving 65 mph fast (even being empty).

Empty roof bike racks and fuel consumption

SUVs (65 mph): 5% mileage reduction

Sedans/hatchbacks (65 mph): 11% mileage reduction

Empty hitch bike racks and fuel consumption

SUVs (65 mph): 2% mileage reduction

Sedans/hatchbacks (65 mph): 4% mileage reduction

Empty trunk-mount bike racks and fuel consumption

SUVs (65 mph): 2% mileage reduction

Sedans/hatchbacks (65 mph): 3% mileage reduction


From the legal perspective, you can drive with an empty bike rack, no problem. Make sure it is properly secured, and you have nothing to worry about.

From the fuel efficiency perspective, it highly depends on how fast you drive, bike rack type and car’s body type.

Empty hitch and trunk bike racks slightly reduce mileage only if you drive on a highway (65mph). 

Empty roof bike racks significantly reduce mileage if are being installed on sedans and hatchbacks. On SUVs, it will be a manageable 5% reduction (65 mph).