Change the Spacing of the 2014-2015 Toyota Highlander Roof Rack Crossbars?

In response to my previous post about installing crossbars on your Highlander, a reader named Dick asked:

“The 27-inch spacing of the standard design is too close. There are no roof container designs available. Do you think the bars could be installed further apart?”

There are actually two issues here, the ability to change the spacing of the crossbars and the availability of suitable cargo carriers. I’ll tackle them one at a time, below, starting with crossbar spacing.

Change crossbar spacing?

For starters, no, it’s not possible to change the spacing of the OEM crossbars, as they’re attached to fixed anchor points. This makes installation dead easy, but it also means that you can’t move the bars. At all.

For reference, here are links to the crossbars:

As noted above, installation is easy. They attach with four bolts, so don’t be afraid to DIY. I’ve provided details/pics at this link.

Based on my own real-world measurements, the crossbars end up being spaced 27.5 inches apart (center-to-center). Yes, this seems like a relatively narrow spacing, but I haven’t found it to be too limiting in practice.

Now that we have that out of the way…

Rooftop cargo boxes

The notion that there aren’t any good cargo carriers for the new Highlander is just plain wrong. I think this view probably has it’s roots in the fact that the major cargo box manufacturers initially listed their boxes as being incompatible with the 2014+ Highlander when it first came out.

As it turns out, they’re not. As detailed previously (here and here), both the Yakima SkyBox and the Thule Hyper XL work perfectly well.

And those aren’t the only options…

A quick check of product listings at AutoAnything (filter the listings by specifying the year/make/model at the top-right) reveals a ton of options. This includes cargo boxes from INNO, RhinoRack, Thule, and Yakima.

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26 comments… add one
  • Tiffany Jul 4, 2015

    Hi…thanks for all the great info, love the forum. I’m trying to find any good recommendations for transporting bicycles with the highlander. Any suggestions would be great!


  • Tim Brannon Aug 23, 2015

    I just bought a Highlander 2015 XLE and ordered the PT278-48140 cross bars on Amazon. Looking at the roof rails I notice some smaller covers in front of and behind the 2 mount points for the crossbars. Does anyone know what these are for? I don’t find them addressed in the manual anywhere. Are they intended for a tie-down bracket of some kind?

  • Kate Aug 30, 2015

    The spacing may not be an issue for cargo carries but it definitely is for canoes. This is not our primary canoe car but when we do have to put a canoe on the roof to run a shuttle or something like that the bars are way to close together. Will end up having to get another bar using the trailer hitch or something like that unfortunately.

  • Tony Padon Aug 30, 2015

    I’m considering buying the 2015 Highlander but I am concerned that the roof racks are not far apart enough apart or sturdy enough to carry a surfboard and a stand up paddle board. The torque from the airflow on straps / racks 27 inches apart concerns me. Any thoughts or comments would be appreciated.

  • david Nov 14, 2015

    I have a highlander LE plus. Do the roof rails for this model add noticeable wind noise when installed?

  • Brad Nov 14, 2015

    I have a 2015 Highlander with the “naked” roof. Had I realized the poor design of the roof rack/rail/cross bar system/options, there is a chance I would not have purchased this vehicle. All other Toyota SUV-type vehicles have a practical rack systems. If you don’t like the OEM cross bars, which I don’t too closely spaced, not a lot of accessory options, limited tie down options, etc.) Thule currently has a product that will substitute and allow you to use their towers and cross bars. Yakima’s product is in the works and will be available “in the near future” – that was as of 11/14/15. And all of this still don’t address the too closely spaced issue!! Super disappointed in Toyota to produce a vehicle with “sport” and “utility” described in the model and no practical rack system.

  • Greg Doyle Nov 16, 2015

    I have a 2015 Highlander XLE with Crossbars. Really like this car BUT the crossbar design is really problematic. I have a long (18+ ft) kayak and I’m still trying to figure out how to carry it. There are no front and rear tie-down points either. I agree with the above post about the “sport” and “utility” descriptions. This is a big miss by Toyota. If Yakima or Thule come out with something that attaches to the body and provides a decent load capacity; I’ ll go for it..

    • Ron Lucey Nov 2, 2019

      I noticed most of these posts are three or four years old. I just purchased a used 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited (Platinum). I have a 17-foot canoe and was looking forward to finally getting it out on the lake until I REALIZED the roof rack was completely useless as it can’t be adjusted. Has anyone solved this problem yet? Please send me an email if you do.

  • fastfriend Jan 31, 2016

    Ditto, if I had known how crappy the new crossbar set up is I wouldn’t have bought my 2015 xle highlander in the first place. I truly thought it would come with a decent roof rack like my sons’ 2012. I was pissed when it finally was delivered with that roof rack that I just assumed would be as functional as the former models, talk about going backwards in design. I know Thule or someone may “fix” this huge factory design flaw, but it will cost me a lot of money. (What an amazing opportunity for the aftermarket guys!, just coincidence? ) If you want to haul anything on the roof, just buy a different vehicle.

  • J allen Feb 9, 2016

    If you have a hitch, just build a stand that bolts onto the ball holder flat. Have to remove the ballto do it. Weld to that a piece about 50 inches or so straight up and weld a cross piece to hold the boat. Made mine out of scrap aluminum. Makes plenty of length for a kayak.

  • tiffany May 9, 2016

    Yes, you can move the racks. If you look at your roof, there are 4 other cut outs. if you pull out the cut out cover, there is a bolt inside, the same one that the racks use. You can move each rack out (front one forward and back one back further) to lengthen the space in between. There isn’t an option to slide it to any position that you’d like, but you can space them out further for a kayak. I have the 2015 Toyota Highlander XLE.

    • Matt May 22, 2016

      Tiffany, Have you actually done this? I am very interested to hear if it works as it appears it would.

    • Jim Jul 13, 2016

      I was told by a dealer that those other cutouts are the location of the attachment points where the roof rails attach to the roof of the car, and that the crossbars could not be moved to those spots. We have kayaks and would like to have greater distance between the crossbars. Have you been successful in widening the distance between the crossbars?

  • Jim Jul 13, 2016

    I was told by a dealer that those other cutouts are the location of the attachment points where the roof rails attach to the roof of the car, and that the crossbars could not be moved to those spots. We have kayaks and would like to have greater distance between the crossbars. Have you been successful in widening the distance between the crossbars?

  • Paul Bade Mar 9, 2017

    I was just about to purchase a 2017 Highlander (to replace my 2001) and I noticed the roof rack system is extremely limiting. Being able to change the spacing is essential for kayaks, canoes, bicycles, and even my old sears cargo box. Guess that eliminates the Highlander from my new vehicle options.

  • Lee Green Mar 31, 2017

    Can someone email me the instructions for removing the cross bars and putting the 4 plastic trim covers in the side rails (2 each side).
    I’m about to order the 4 trim covers but not sure if they come with mounting bolts or not. The wife and I don’t like the looks of the whole system (too high) and ugly. We bought the ’14 Highlander Platinum used from a dealer and the first owner (unknown) obviously discarded the trim covers as they were not found anywhere in the vehicle. I would appreciate an email to Thanks

  • Ron May 15, 2017

    I have the same problem with my 2017 Higlander. Crappy design for a sport utility vehicle. I need to haul a 17 foot canoe around and the cross bar span is too narrow. Rack and Road can install tracks to accommodate Yakima or tule cross bars so you can get up to around a 5 or 6 foot span. I was going to buy clamp on cross bars, but was told that the clamp ons are not a good idea with this vehicle. Really disappointed in toyotas lousy design

  • Ron May 15, 2017

    Additionally, for a canoe front tie down, there is no place in the front of the vehicle to attach a tie down. Your options are to get a Micky mouse gizmo that jambs under the hood and has loops sticking out to tie down to, or you can buy towing eyes that screw into the bumber. They are $50 bucks each. Really a stupid design for the whole rooftop carrying capabilities of this 2017 highlander.

  • Ben May 31, 2017

    Just bought a 2014 highlander and if I had known the bad roof design I would have bought pilot. My 2008 highlander has been great for hauling a canoe and basket. I am bummed out on the poor design.

  • Carl Jun 19, 2017

    Hey Ben… With the roof rails so far to the RSA on the 08, didn’t the canoe hang way off the rear of the car? Looking at a 2013 with the same rails.

  • Todd Colburn Jul 17, 2017

    You can purchase a front tow eyelet from amazon. There are two mounts in front, behind the small panels under the lights. Screw in the eyelet, and tie off your bow line. I have a 13’ Pelican, used with Yakima j-hooks, and no issues what so ever. Stern tie town is on my hitch.

    • David Jul 17, 2019

      Do you have a link for those eyelets or a brand /model name used to search?

  • Jennifer Jul 24, 2017

    I purchased a 2017 Highlander. I’m disappointed with the roof area. I do have the factory cross bars installed but the vehicle has no side rails. I need to transport two large paddleboards. What is the best option for this?

  • Recon1 Sep 22, 2017

    I like many others are not happy with the close crossbar spacing of the highlander. My 2016 has the same issue. Maybe a body shop can solve the problem. Until then this is what I had to purchase to load my 16′ kayak, my video

  • Seajhay Jan 23, 2018

    i have a 2016 Lando and i was able to pickup, for free, an old Yakima Spacecase Rooftop Cargobox. with an amazing stroke of luck, it actually fits right in between the spacing of the factory crossbars, AND is just clear enough for the trunk to open ALL THE WAY! i just need to make permanent brackets. i “quick fabricated” some for a 200+mile road trip through snow and wind and it held up like a champ with no issues. i purchased replacement gas struts for $15 ea on-line and it was (literally) a snap to replace! i am eventually going to replace the cross bars with some that are longer because i eventually want to put on a home-made platform for a small tent. i don’t want the cartop tents that are available because i want the cargo box up there. oh YEAH!!

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