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Discussion Starter #1
We're planning a long trip in our Odyssey hauling our 4 small kids and a lot of stuff. We are debating 1) installing roof and hitch cargo carriers or 2) pulling a small trailer. We currently don't have a roof rack or a hitch installed on the van. I know there are additional components needed for hauling a trailer.
What are the pros and cons of both options, including cost of setup, safety, gas mileage, wear on vehicle, and capacity? What else have I not thought of?
Thank you for your help!
 

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Unless you can at all avoid it, don't use a trailer. Trailers are great for Home Depot runs, etc - but parking, backing-up, slow highway speeds, etc. are all a hassle on a road trip. Unless you want to go all the way to a travel trailer - but then the Odyssey isn't normally the right tow vehicle for that anyway.

Best for mileage and access would be a hitch-mounted carrier, as long as you can keep it low enough to still allow for the rear hatch to open. Stuff would have to be protected well from water and road grime if it is going to rain/snow at all unless you get an enclosed box style hitch carrier.

Roof is nice too, but (good) cargo boxes are expensive! Remember you will have to lift everything you put up there over your head. At least you can open the slider doors to step up to see in there... I have the OEM rails and aftermarket (Malone) cross bars so I could choose the location of the cross bars (OEM cross bars are fixed location). My roof box is very long (used for skiis, mostly) and needed the clearance for the rear hatch - and the longer cross bars also allow a couple bikes up there while the box is installed. Expect to lose 3-5mpg highway with something up there, more if you use an open basket instead of a box.

Do you think your kids would be willing to do 3-accross so you can fold down 2/3 of the 3rd row? That will gain you a lot of interior cargo space.

Also consider getting rear airbags to keep the sag to a minimum.

As for the technical side...

The OEM roof rails are fairly easy to install. You have to cut the roof channel trim, which is the only challenge, really (just intimidating if you haven't done stuff like that before...).

The OEM trailer hitch is expensive, but looks best once installed. Check the other options on eTrailer.com so see what else is out there. The OEM hitch requires fairly precision cutting of the rear bumper cover. You'll probably want to get the OEM wiring with it, as it is the cleanest (bolts on). That requires a fair amount of interior disassembly to install (the whole driver's rear panel comes off). You technically 'need' to install a transmission cooler when you do the rear hitch, but don't really need it unless you will be pulling a trailer.

-Charlie
 

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My first thought would be to get a trailer, but that is me. Regardless, you'll need a hitch for either a hitch carrier or trailer. Not sure of the cost of roof rails including install, but you may be able to get a trailer in the same ballpark price. Remember how high and big the roof is, and to hold and get to all the items will need to bring a large step stool at best and don't forget the cost of a roof carrier, whereas a trailer is easily accessible. And if you could use the trailer for hauling other items like 4x4s, snowmobile, riding lawnmower, etc. You'd have to register and plate the trailer. Be tough to back up with trailer if you're not accustomed to them. Lots more to consider I'm sure.
 

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I have both a hitch rack and a utility trailer, though I haven't used either of them on the Ody yet. Here's my thoughts:

Roof Rack / Hitch Rack:
-) A roof cargo box of any usable size will affect your mileage noticeably. This is due to the 1-2 punch of added weight and added wind resistance.
-) A roof box will add wind noise. The rack, by itself, will also add wind noise (depending on your crossbars)
-) Payload is limited to a few hundred pounds for each. A heavy roof box raises your CG.
-) Hard to reach the roof to get the stuff up there.
-) Hitch rack has the potential to block your license plate/taillights, especially if it folds up. Be mindful of regulations about this.
-) Hitch rack affects hatch opening. Note that even if you can get the hatch open, you still have to reach in there, which will be hard with the rack in the way.
+) Tare weight of rack(s) is relatively low. Unlikely to exceed GVWR even when fully loaded.
+) Neither the roof rack nor the hitch rack will affect parking (much), though the roof rack may interfere with some parking garages.
+) Once unloaded, the box/rack can either be detached and stored, or secured in place.
+) Nothing besides the hitch itself required for the hitch rack. (no electrical, &c)

Trailer:
+) Little additional wind resistance, but much higher tare weight. Mileage may be a wash when compared with the above setup.
-) Trailers are noisy too, but in a different way. Clanks and thumps are transmitted directly through the frame.
+) For your stated usage, payload is (essentially) a non-issue, up to the GCWR. Make sure your Ody is set up for towing: Electrical cxn (lights and maybe brakes), Trans. cooler, PS cooler, air struts (if you're really into it), and up-to-date on your trans. D/F!!!
-) Parking and backing up become non-trivial. Parking lots, gas stations, too-short driveways, &c.
-) Toll roads may charge you for the extra axle.
-) Once unloaded at the destination, what are you going to do with the thing? Drag it around with you? Leave it somewhere?
-) Trailer is expensive, needs registering, (possible) periodic inspection, tires, lubrication, lightbulbs, &c.
-) Towing requires an additional level of awareness and skill. You are now 25-30 feet long (or more), and you are flexible. You cannot zip in and out of traffic. You cannot run 85 in the left lane. You cannot stop in 3 feet.
 

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Easiest and least impact on mileage would be a hitch receiver with a rear carrier. We did that when camping a few times when we tent camped and had a pack and play and all sort of other stuff. You don't give too many details on the trip and so on, but my first piece of advice would be to closely go through all the things that you are packing and pare them down some. The Ody is a cavernous beast and you can fit a ton of stuff in it if you pack carefully. Also, on clothes and so on, sometime it is easier to just do laundry once on the trip. Remember the underseat storage and use all of the rest of the storage wisely and you may find that you don't need any additional exterior storage. We have gone on week long 1000+ mile one way trips with four quite large kids and everything fits fine in the Ody - but we watch what we bring. you'll get it down one way of the other.
 

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I am going against the flow and vote for a roof top box. Yes they can be expensive and take up room when not installed on the vehicle. Our long Thule box has been on top of our '99, '06, and most recently our '15 Odyssey. Since we have been empty nesters even before the '06 was totalled, we have used the box twice on the '15--but in the busy part of life the box was used to schlep (smelly) hockey gear, snow boards, skis, and even luggage. The pros for the car top box is that it won't interfere with access to the rear hatch, won't obscure your view with the back up camera, it won't accidentally hit anything while backing up (however the internet is filled with many images of the cargo box vs garage door frame challenge), it also will not impede parallel parking (like a hitch carrier or trailer would). Also if you can find a horizontal place in the garage to store the cargo box, you can put a lot of stuff in the box.

Roof rails were standard with the '99 and '06 Odysseys, so all I had to do is purchase Thule feet and crossbars (Craigslist, Offerup, LetGo, and eBay can be sources to purchase Yakima or Thule items for a lot less than retail). Our '15 came with dealer installed roof rails and cross bars--when we purchased the lease returned vehicle the cross bars were loose and I didn't like the spacing between the front and back Honda cross bars, so I removed the Honda crossbars. The spacing between the roof rails is wider on this generation Odyssey so I had to obtain a pair of longer Thule bars, and had to replace the Thule feet (the 15 year old feet were showing signs of fatigue). Since we don't use the cargo box or roof rack frequently, both the cargo box and cross bars are kept in the garage (off the vehicle).

With the cargo box on top of the van, you can take a hit in mpg, it didn't seem too significant a difference though. It is difficult to tell that the roof box is there when you are driving (unless you have the moonroof open)--it does not create any appreciable increase in wind noise (this may be due to the fact that the Odysseys do not completely isolate the passengers from road noise or wind noise). Without the cargo box, the traditional square Thule bars do make an impressive howling noise--another reason not to keep the bars on the roof when not in use. Due to the limitations of how much your roof rails/rack/cargo box can hold (I think around 165 pounds) this will not significantly change the vans center of gravity. When you are putting things in the roof top box, you discover that it is much easier putting bulkier/lighter items up there. Also with a longer box you can schlep around longer items (like skis or hockey sticks) than you can in a hitch mounted box.

Now if you want to DIY things, I would think that it would be easier to owner install a trailer hitch and wiring than it would to owner install roof rails.

Hope this helps.
 

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I have Thule roof box and the hitch for a pop up. Thule prof box is very easy to use/accessible from both sides, no wind noise, and easy parking. Lots of space inside with that. Rear mounted box would lose access / be a lot harder to get into back of the van.

trailer seems a pain for travel.

mileage hit on box is a couple of mpg , be a bit more for a box trailer (a lot more in city driving)

for cost and pain / modifying van, roof box much simpler over hitch for a trailer
 

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Are you going to require parking in decks or other low-overhead clearance areas? We got a van on our last trip to SF and everywhere we parked was in a deck. Luckily the van swallowed everything without the need for carriers. One thing to note...the Honda hitch is recessed which allows you a bit more weight without hitting on steep driveways. Adding a hitch carrier with a lot of weight in the back might cause some issues in that regard.

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I have a hitch for towing a pop-up, but if I was on a non-camping trip I wouldn't want to be bothered with a trailer. Things like stopping for gas, and getting food on the go are no longer as simple as they were without a trailer. It could be just me, but towing adds extra stress to the trip.
 

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Are you going to require parking in decks or other low-overhead clearance areas? We got a van on our last trip to SF and everywhere we parked was in a deck. Luckily the van swallowed everything without the need for carriers. One thing to note...the Honda hitch is recessed which allows you a bit more weight without hitting on steep driveways. Adding a hitch carrier with a lot of weight in the back might cause some issues in that regard.

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If you do go the roof box route, just measure from the floor to the highest part of the box when mounted, write that number down and you should be able to get into multilevel garage parking without too much difficulty. It would be good to have the measurement close by so you can whip it out to see if you'll have adequate clearance (usually the garage entrances are marked with the vertical clearance measurements. We have never had any problems with vertical clearance in public parking garages, however, our box does have some scratches due to low lying branches.
 

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All I know is there is plenty of clearance to make it through Starbucks drive through with Thule xl box and oem crossbars. ;) Fresh caffeine is nice with a full gas tank
 

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I have the dealer hitch on my 2016 and I've used a receiver carrier and utility trailer with it. I've used roof rack stuff on previous vehicles and paid a MPG penalty, but not bad with a modern aerodynamic one. Noisier yes. I still keep it in the attic but I haven't even thought of using it since getting a receiver carrier. Mine is the $38.88 Harbor Freight one. I've hauled everything from boxes of firewood to a snowblower on it and it's done fine. But really for the amount of stuff you can fit in a roof box or on a receiver carrier, I'd take the center console out and put a giant tote bag of stuff right there between the driver and passenger. Each kid gets a pillow case full of clothes to lean on or keep stashed around their feet. That should eliminate a couple more bags. Buy whatever else you need when you get there - you could get the whole family two pairs of brand new boots for what you'd spend getting a hitch or roof rack installed if you don't already have those. I often take my oldest/worst clothes on non-business trips and throw them away when I'm done so I have room for souvenirs and don't have to schlep dirty clothes home. If we don't have room to take the gigantic two-kid stroller (we call it Goliath) we just take two $9 umbrella strollers. If they don't fit on the way back - leave a "free" sign on them and some needy family will take them. If your kids will do 3-wide in the rear, remove the middle seats for cargo space. That's how I typically drove my 98 Odyssey. It converted to cargo van quickly. I've read that the third row seats unbolt completely - then you'd have the cargo well and the space where the seat was. Keeping everything self-contained always makes me happiest. No worries about stuff getting stolen at sketchy rest stops. Or stuff getting wet from leaks. May not work for your situation but maybe it'll inspire someone :)
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Thanks for all the replies! Our 4th was born shortly after I posted this question, so I'm just now coming back to addressing it. The more we talked about it, the more we're hoping to make a multiple month stay out of this, which means bringing a lot more along with us. Although it's not completely settled, I'm leaning more towards towing a trailer, since we plan to stay at one destination once we arrive.
 

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The more we talked about it, the more we're hoping to make a multiple month stay out of this
If it is almost going to be a mini-move, go for the trailer. Rent a Uhaul trailer, get to your destination and turn it in. Definitely the cheapest way to get lots of stuff across country. Since it will only be for each long drive, the hassles are worth it. I think most of us were envisioning a 2-6 week multi-stop trip, not a single-destination trip.

-Charlie
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Thanks for the advice! I just installed my hitch & wiring. I am going to add the ATF cooler next.

I only have 35k miles, and this trip will be 2k miles with some mountains. Normal maintenance schedule says change transmission fluid at 90k, severe says to change at 30k. Until now, I think I've been normal, except for hot summers.

Should I change the Transmission fluid now?
Besides the oil and tires, is there anything else you'd recommend for maintenance before a long trip with a trailer? Thanks again for all the help!
 

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There is no 90k recommended fluid change interval for the trans. It used to be 45k, so the 90k might be the second one. Remember, the normal maintenance is a simple drain & refill, changing approx. 1/3 of the fluid. You should do that now and perhaps again after the trip. Honda automatics can't really have too many fluid changes. I have been changing mine every 15k for the last 200,000 miles.
 

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I only have 35k miles, and this trip will be 2k miles with some mountains. Normal maintenance schedule says change transmission fluid at 90k, severe says to change at 30k. Until now, I think I've been normal, except for hot summers.

Should I change the Transmission fluid now?
Besides the oil and tires, is there anything else you'd recommend for maintenance before a long trip with a trailer? Thanks again for all the help!
Trans fluid should be changed every 30k miles by the current/updated OEM schedule. 15k mile changes are more often recommended here. Our van had shifting issues (surging) by 38k miles even with a trans fluid change at 30k. So, yeah, change the fluid now, and regularly after that (every other oil change ~= 15k miles).

Unless you are using your van for long drives with cruise control, always use the 'severe' schedule for maintenance. Around town driving = severe. Hot summers = severe. Cold winters = severe. Short trips = severe. Basically anything but a nice spring/fall highway drive are severe conditions.

-Charlie
 
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