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Can I Install Solar Panels on My Car Roof?

Solar energy is used in a variety of contexts to produce electricity including rooftops, road signs, playground equipment, and even calculators.

But the question we’re looking to address is whether you can put a solar panel on your car roof.

In short, the answer is yes! You can place solar panels on the roof of any vehicle as long as:

  • The roof can withstand the weight and pressure of the equipment.
  • There is enough free space on the roof to accommodate the solar panels.
  • You have the correct mounting kit to attach the solar panels to the roof of your vehicle.
  • The vehicle has a running electrical system to store and use the energy produced by the solar panels.

What types of vehicles can you put solar panels on?

You can attach solar panels to just about any vehicle that runs, including cars, trucks, SUVs, trailers, and RVs.

camper van roof solar panel installation

The larger the vehicle, the more space you have to mount solar panels therefore, the more electricity you can possibly generate.

What does matter to install solar panels on the roof of my vehicle?

Roof shape and size

The shape of your roof determines whether you can install solar panels on your car roof. Flat roofs allow for more mounting options than angled or curved surfaces, but either surface type will work.

Roof material

Vehicle roofs can be made of a variety of materials, including fiberglass, steel, aluminum alloy, and even carbon fiber.

Each material has different properties that determine the weight each can hold, how strong it is against corrosion or weathering, and its electrical conductivity. Knowing your roof material is important when choosing the right type of installation kit.

Roof Strength

You must ensure that your vehicle roof is strong enough to hold weight and resist pressure from the wind. All vehicles are different so you need to know the weight and pressure that your vehicle roof can handle.

Don’t assume that just because your neighbor’s car roof can handle the weight of a few solar panels that your vehicle will too. That is a sure-fire way to damage your vehicle.

What you need to do is look up the weight-bearing capacity of your car roof. You should be able to find this information at the manufacturer’s specs or online.

If you still aren’t sure if your car roof can support the weight of a solar panel system, you may want to take get in touch with the authorized dealer through whom you bought your car.

They might know for sure, or at least they may be able to point out from where you can find the information.

Weight of Solar Panels

The weight of the solar panels you purchase is critical to ensure that your roof can support them. Remember you will carry the weight of your solar panels with you as you drive. Therefore, you want to buy the lightest but yet the most efficient one possible.

You should check the specifications of each panel to find out how much it weighs, what dimensions it has, and most importantly how much power it can generate. Vehicle rooftop is limited space so you want to maximize the amount of energy you can produce from it.

Once you know the specific weight of your solar panel system and the weight-bearing capacity of your car roof, you can determine that your car roof is capable of supporting the equipment.

Always err on the side of caution and choose a weight that is less than what your car’s roof can support. As a rule of thumb, you should be fine if the weight of the solar panel system is 30% less than what your car can support.

Make sure to have enough free space on the vehicle roof

The next thing you need to check is whether there are enough empty spaces on your vehicle roof for the solar panel system. To do this, measure the size of your solar panel system and compare it to how much space is available on your vehicle’s roof.

When you compare the size of your solar panel system to the space available on top of your vehicle, you should plan for a few extra inches on each side just to be safe. You really don’t want to end up with a solar panel system that is sticking up from your vehicle.

Look for any weak spots on the roof

Make sure there are no weak spots on your car roof that could be damaged by the weight of a solar panel system. While most vehicle roofs can support the equipment, there are some weak spots that could be damaged with the weight of a solar panel system.

For example, if your car roof has a spoiler or an air dam add on it might not be able to hold the weight of a solar panel. Hence make sure to where you will be mounting the solar panel is free from all such add-ons.

Mounting kit for solar panels

In order to attach the solar panels to your car roof, you will need a mounting kit. If you are buying new equipment for this purpose make sure that the mounting kit is compatible with your vehicle roof.

Some mounting kits are universal and can be attached to a wide range of vehicle roofs. However, not all manufacturers make these kinds of kits so you may have to do some extra research to find out whether the mounting kit is compatible with your vehicle.

Sometimes solar panel manufacturers also sell mounting kits to go along with their solar panels. This can be a great way to buy the mounting equipment you need in one go. If your solar panel manufacturer does not have a mounting kit, you can get one from a number of different retailers.

Change in vehicle’s aerodynamics

Installing a solar panel system on your car roof will change the aerodynamics of your vehicle.

Even the panels are installed parallel to the roof, your car will have more wind resistance than it did before. This will inevitably affect handling and fuel consumption, albeit to a small extent.

The faster you go, the greater will be the change in your vehicle’s aerodynamics, which can mean that you may have to drive a little slower.

Therefore, if the performance of your car is critical to you, you should install a thin-film solar panel system that will stick to the roof. In this way, you can get lower wind resistance and maintain the aerodynamics of your vehicle.

Fixed Mount vs Mobile Mount

A fixed mount is one where the solar panels are attached to your vehicle roof in a manner that does not allow them to be moved.

Once you have installed a fixed mount you will not be able to move the panels around. If you don’t plan to constantly remove your solar panel system, a fixed mount is what you should go for.

A mobile option on the other hand is a system that can be easily detached and taken off. This kind of mount is perfect for people who want to remove their solar panels when the car is not in use or when they are not needed to generate electricity.

This is a great option if you plan to move the solar panel system from your car roof and then back on again.

What types of mounting options are available?

There are a number of different types of mounting options available for your car roof. But the most common ones are:

Bolt-on Mounts

Bolt-on mounts are the most secure and permanent type of mount. They use stainless steel screws to attach your panels to a metal base plate which is then bolted to the roof.

Using bolt-on mounts with a roof rack is a great way to secure your panels when the whole setup needs to be moved. These mounts are easy to install and can be easily found online or at your local hardware store.

Strap Mounts

Strap mounts are great for vehicles with a factory rack or roof rails. These come in pairs and one end of the strap mounts to the roof rack, while the other end attaches to your solar panel. These are great for people that want a quick and easy installation without damaging their roof.

Track Mounts

Track mounts are a suitable option for vehicles with no roof rack or factory rails. They work by attaching the solar panel to a track that is attached to the roof. This allows you to attach your solar panels at any position along the track, allowing for better positioning of your solar panels.

Clamp-on Mounts

Clamp-on mounts are the least secure, but easiest to install option. They are attached to the roof with metal clamps that screw into the door frames of your car. They are a quick and easy option, but if not installed properly they can damage your car.

When using clamp-on mounts it is important to make sure that the screws are tightened enough to secure your solar panels, but you don’t want them too tight or they could damage your car.

Screw Mounts

Screw Mounts are great for people that want a more permanent mount. These are similar to bolt-on mounts except the screws attach directly to your roof. Screw mounts offer the least amount of movement and are the most secure option.

Please note installing mounts will require some drilling into your car. Therefore, it should be planned well and executed with the utmost care.

If you have don’t have any experience with DIY or car repair, you should consider hiring a professional to help with the installation.

Also, drilling into your car will cause some damage to the paint and body of your vehicle, so it’s important that you take every precaution in advance.

Can you install flexible solar panels on the car roof?

If your vehicle has a flat roof and no other components that would interfere with installing thin-film photovoltaic systems then you should be able to use flexible solar panels on the car.

Flexible thin-film photovoltaic cells are not as durable or efficient as their rigid cousins, but they offer a simple installation that will reduce wind resistance by just sticking onto your roof.

The main downside of using these types of panels is if you need to remove them, they can leave a sticky residue on your car’s roof. Here is an example installation video for flexible thin-film solar panels.

What kind of preparation would you need for the installation?

Once you have decided on the type of mount that will work best for your setup, there are a few other things to consider before installing it.

Check weather conditions

Installing solar panels on the vehicle roof will likely require some drilling. Therefore, you should always check the weather conditions before starting your installation to avoid any unnecessary danger or damage.

You will need to ensure that you have a relatively dry day with minimal chance of rain or other inclement weather. Because the last thing you want is when you are working on your installation rain starts pouring down.

Clean your car

You also want to make sure that the surface where your solar panel will be mounted is clean and free of debris like dirt or rust.

Any debris may interfere with the ability of your mount to seal and protect itself from water. Use a sponge and non-abrasive cleaner or soap to thoroughly clean the surfaces.

The cleaning process should include the mounting surface, mounting kit, door frames, or other areas where the mounts will be attached.

Prepare the tools and equipment

Make sure to prepare the tools and equipment before you start. The required tools and equipment will vary based on the type of mount you are using. However, in most cases, you will need:

  • Ladder
  • Drill bits
  • Screwdriver(s)
  • Wrench
  • Measuring tape
  • Masking tape (for precise marking)
  • Waterproof sealant
  • Gloves (optional)
  • Eye protection

Check the mount kit

Once you are sure your car is clean and dry, it’s time to check the mount kit before you install it.

You should check that all of the required components are included in your kit. Make sure to check that all of the necessary screws and other hardware are included along with detailed instructions. Match the components shown in the instructions closely to the list of included items in your kit.

Remember a kit with a missing or damaged component can result in a failed or incomplete installation. In addition to checking the kit before you start, it is also important that you check the instructions.

Take your time and thoroughly read installation instructions before you begin. This will minimize the chance of any damage to your car and ensure that your solar panel is securely installed.

Measure and mark carefully

You will need to measure your car and mark the position where you want to mount the solar panel before installing it. The best way is to use masking tape which can be removed without leaving a sticky residue on your paint job.

Use an adhesive measuring tape or string line for this process so that you get very accurate measurements as this will ensure that you get the solar panel mounted exactly where it should be.

Use a straight edge to mark your measurements on the car roof. Be sure to measure twice and make any adjustments before drilling into your vehicle’s paint job. You can also use an electronic level or laser line to accurately mark your measurements.

It is very important that you take extra care when marking the spot for drilling so as not to drill into any electrical lines or other components that may be located under the car roof.

If you are unsure about hitting a wire or other component, do not drill. Read the manual or call a professional to inspect the roof before drilling.

Start drilling

After you have marked the spots, it’s time to drill. If possible try and use a cordless impact driver which will make the process much easier. If you do not have an impact driver, a standard drill will do the job as well.

Start by making a small pilot hole through the masking tape. This will help prevent the drill from slipping and causing major damage. Once you have drilled your pilot holes, follow the instructions that come with your mounts to attach them properly to the roof.

Make sure you are using the correct size of drill bit for your screws as it is necessary to have a very tight fit between the screw and hole.

Once the drilling process is complete, go ahead and remove the masking tape. If you see any debris or sawdust on your car roof, wipe it off with a clean cloth.

Install mounts

After you have drilled the pilot holes for your mount, it’s time to install it. Start by attaching the bottom of the solar panel mounting kit to the roof of your car. To do this, you will need to align the screw holes on your mount with those on the car.

Once you have your bottom piece aligned properly, attach it using the appropriate screws. It is important to tighten these screws very securely so as not to risk the mount coming loose.

Once you have installed the bottom piece of your mount, install any cross pieces that may be needed to complete your installation.

Waterproof the connection points

After you have installed the mount, use a small amount of waterproof sealant around the connection between the car roof and mount. The sealant will provide you protection from any water leaks that may happen in the future. The sealant may come with your kit so check for it there if you are not sure.

Install solar panel

Now that you have your mounts in place, it’s time to install the solar panel itself. To do this, line up the top of the solar panel with the top of your mount and slide it into place.

Before you attach this piece to your car make sure that there is no debris or sawdust that needs to be removed. Also check the underside of the solar panel for any obstructions, such as cords or cables which may get in the way of a secure installation.

Once you have ensured that there is no debris or obstructions under your solar panel, slide it into place and attach it using the screws provided.

Finally, take a step back and admire your work. You’ve successfully installed a solar panel on top of your car. Now you can enjoy the benefits of solar energy even when on the go!

Can you install solar panels on the vehicle roof at a tilted position?

Although it is possible to install solar panels on a vehicle roof at a tilted position it is highly discouraged.

A tilted solar panel system on a vehicle roof is more exposed to the elements like wind and flying debris. This can damage the system and lead to a premature failure of your solar panels.

Also, a tilted solar panel system on a vehicle roof will create wind resistance and the car’s aerodynamics will be negatively affected. This can increase your fuel consumption and loosen the solar panels from the car body.

A tilted solar panel installation on a vehicle rooftop has no benefit because it does not increase the amount of electricity you produce since a vehicle is anyway not stationary.

This type of installation will not create a positive impact on your system’s energy production but will definitely make a negative impact on your vehicle’s fuel consumption and aerodynamics.

Finally, for safety reasons, you should avoid installing solar panels in a tilted position. A damaged or loose panel can become an object that will fly off the vehicle roof and hurt someone or damage property.