How To Secure Lumber In Your Car Or To Your Car's Roof

How To Secure Lumber In Your Car Or To Your Car's Roof



👋🏼Hi there!

Over the years I've learned that there are good ways, and not good ways, to transport lumber. In this post you'll find suggestions for good ways to get lumber from purchase point to project site. If the post also quells your fears and equips you with safety-first confidence - great!

If you plan to use a sedan, station wagon, hatchback, or SUV to transport your lumber, with or without a roof rack, this post is for you. (If you have a pickup truck, van, or utility trailer - you don't need this post.)

Just FYI, if you'd rather have your lumber delivered or want to rent a truck or van to do it yourself, check out this post: "Delivered: DIY & Other Options To Get Lumber Home".


Safety First. Always!

Before getting into the ins and outs of getting lumber in and out of your car, or on and off of your car, please remember to always put safety first. Don't load up your car to the hilt and compromise your ability to see out of, or actually drive, your car.

If you're committed to getting lumber home with your car, it may take more than one trip - and that's okay!

Don't cram everything you can into one ride. Take it easy, take your time, and take as many trips as you need to get you and your lumber home safely - and to let everyone else on the road safely get to where they're going, too.

Ok, ready to haul some lumber? Let's go!


Have a Roof Rack? Start Here.

I've been there…. Tying lumber to the top of my car with what I hope (fingers crossed!) is a sturdy no-fail trucker's knot. Or driving down the road with lumber sticking out of my open hatchback (or sunroof, or window). Concern in these situations is not mis-placed.

Roof racks are a game changer when it comes to transporting lumber with your car. No wait - roof racks and ratchet straps together are the game changers!


Wait - What's a Roof Rack?

For the purposes of this post, "roof rack" (also sometimes called cross bars or cross braces) refers to bars that are installed on the roof of your car running across the width of the car, from windows on the left-side to windows on the right side.

The roof rack is installed on roof rails which some cars come with, others don't. The rails run from the front of the roof to the back of the roof.

Together the rails and rack make for a sturdy piece of exterior infrastructure that allow you to use the top of your vehicle to safely carry everything from sheet goods like full sheets of plywood, to a christmas tree and other large items.

If your car didn't come with factory racks - mine didn't - you can purchase an after-market car rack that fits your make and model. If your car didn't come with rails, you can purchase a roof rack system. Try running a Google search on your car and "roof rack" to get started.


The Wonderful Ratchet Strap

In my experience, ratchet straps (also known as "tie downs" or a "cinch strap") are the best way to tie down lumber and other items to your roof rack.

They're made of strong webbing combined with a piece of hardware that let's you tension the strap and lock it into place.

It's easier to get how these work by showing you:


You can find ratchet straps at hardware stores, auto stores, big box stores, and a lot of places online. I bought my last pair at Home Depot when I was purchasing - you guessed it - some lumber.

How to secure lumber to your roof rack with ratchet straps


Check Your Car's Roof Weight Limit

Before you start strapping items to your car's roof, it's a good idea to check how much weight your roof can withstand. Check your car manual, or try a Google search like: "how much weight can a [year make model] carry on roof".

Google's also great for figuring out the weight of the load you're planning to carry. For example, a search on "how much does an 8' cedar 2x4 weigh" will set you up for some quick multiplication work to figure out how much weight your vehicle will need to manage.


Carrying a Small Stack of Lumber

Again, it's easier to show than try to explain how to strap lumber to a roof rack.  Here's a short and thorough video that I refer to, and I refer to others, all of the time.

This isn't the only way to strap lumber to your rack. You can find dozens of ratchet strap how-to videos on YouTube if this method isn't your jam. But for me, this is tried and true and my go-to method.


Carrying a Larger Stack of Lumber

This video builds on the approach used in the small-stack video above, so please watch the above video first and then play this one.


Use Common Sense!

Once it's all strapped in, give your lumber a good pull and push on all sides to make sure it's solidly on the car. If you grab the end of the lumber and give it a shake, your car should shake.

Check that all of the lumber - including the lumber in the middle of your stack - is solidly in place. 

When driving with anything strapped to your car, use common sense. Use extra precaution. Don't speed. Give the other folks on the road ample info about what you're going to do - eg., use your signals.

If you'll be on a long drive with lumber on your roof, pull over and check to make sure there's no lateral movement - or any movement! - in your load.


Overhang - Do Your Research

It's a good idea to check the laws in your location regarding driving with lumber strapped to the roof of your car to understand:

  • how many inches or feet of overhang - front, back, sides - you are allowed,
  • and under what conditions you might need to use a flag (and what color the flag should be) to alert other drivers to your load.


Don't Have A Roof Rack? Start Here.

Transporting lumber in a sedan, station wagon, hatchback, or SUV that doesn't include a roof rack is possible. I prefer hauling lumber inside of my car when I can; one less thing to do, one less thing to worry about.

I've transported lumber as long as 12-feet long inside of my compact SUV by laying the lumber diagonally so that one end is in the corner of the trunk area behind the driver's seat, and the other end runs through the space between the front seats and ends in the foot well of the passenger seat. I can get eight 2x4s into the car this way.

There's typically less space available in sedans - especially older model sedans which don't include as many ways to create interior space (eg., no trunk pass-through).

For sedan drivers, try the tips and tricks below - you may be able to create a surprising amount of space. Or just enough space to ferry just the amount of lumber you need - which is fine.

If you have a station wagon, hatchback or SUV, the tricks laid out here can turn your vehicle's interior into a truck-bed's worth of hauling capacity.


Measure Your Space

First off, grab a tape measure and head out to your car. Two-by (2x) lumber typically can be purchased in 4-, 6-, 8-, 10-, and 12-foot lengths. Your tape measure will help you assess what length you can accommodate.


Passenger Seat

Lay your passenger seat down as flat as you can and measure from the footwell of the front seat to the back seat. Try different angles - remember that running the lumber at a diagonal will give you extra inches to work with.

You may be surprised at how many feet of lumber you can fit into your sedan just with the front passenger seat down.

Don't forget to measure from the car seat to the ceiling of your car. This is especially good to know if you will be transporting other, possibly bulky goods, home along with your lumber.


Trunk Pass-Through

If you have a pass-through opening between your trunk and back seat, use your tape measure to assess how much space there is between the back of your trunk and the back of your front seats.

Also run your measuring tape from the back of your trunk, in between your front seats all the way to your car's console. The size of the pass-through opening will likely be a limiting factor, but there's a chance, depending on how you stack the lumber, that you can get several pieces of lumber into the car this way.


Back Seats

Some sedans have back seats that fold down. In this case, it's possible that you can feed the lumber through the trunk to the front of the car, guiding the lumber on either side of the front seats.

If your passenger seat is unoccupied, you'll likely be able to transport quite a bit of lumber in this way - especially if you work your diagonals!


Head Rests

Just noting that you may need to remove the head rests from some or all of your seats to maximize your available space. For example, I can't get my front seat to lay flat without taking off the head rest. 


Things to Bring Along

To not bang up your car's interior, break a window, or cause other calamities while transporting lumber in your car, you might bring along items like towels or blankets to create a cushion between the lumber and various parts of the car's interior.

Tape and shrink-wrap can come in handy to bundle lumber together. And rope or straps can bundle the lumber and also help keep it in its place - and you safe - inside of your car.


Overhang - Do Your Research

If you're tempted to drive with your back door or hatch open to transport lumber that needs more space than the interior of your car affords, it's a good idea to check the laws in your location regarding:

  • driving with your door/hatch open,
  • how many inches or feet of overhang (amount of lumber that hangs outside of your vehicle) you are allowed, and
  • under what conditions you might need to use a flag (and what color the flag should be) to alert other drivers to your load.


And There You Have It

I hope that this has been helpful to you. If you'd rather have your lumber delivered or want to rent a truck or van to do it yourself, check out "Delivered: DIY & Other Options To Get Lumber Home".

Wondering how many 2xEDGE Staples you need for all of that lumber you've just brought home? We've got a project calculator and example projects for you!

Thanks for reading!

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