The roof of a car is still a good place to load a kayak for travel. It requires a roof rack as a bare minimum, but a few little tips will help you load and carry your kayak securely, and without damage to your vehicle.
The car pictured is a 2013 Ford Focus with a Sportrack rack to carry my Hobie Outback.
First thing is bow and stern tie downs. I personally only use bow tie downs, but they provide security for your kayak, your car, and other drivers on the road by ensuring your kayak will remain attached to the car if you have a failure of your kayak tie downs, or your roof rack comes off the roof of the car. On the 2013 Focus there are no spots under the front of the car for a tie down. There are a couple of store bought tie downs that you can use, one version bolting under the hood to existing fender bolts, the other fitting between the hood and fender, with a tube or ball being held in place by a closed hood:
On the focus the shape of the hood leaves very little room along the edge of the hood, and the hood is somewhat flimsy, thereby risking damage if a tiedown was to pull on the hood for any length of time. As such, I decided to come up with my own solution, tying webbing to a section of support structure under the hood, leaving enough webbing to reach a couple inches out of the hood. I personally used an old dog leash, which was strong, readily available, and cost me nothing because I already had it kicking around.
Another trick for protecting your car is to mask off the car under the feet of your roof rack. Although 95 % of the time I found I could run the racks with no damage to the car, I found my paint being scratched under the feet on rainy days; the water coming up off the road from vehicles around me was carrying dirt and debris that was getting under the rubber feet and eventually scratching the paint. For years I was using masking tape, applying it and removing it with the roof racks. But there’s a better option. Clear vinyl, I picked up a 4″ wide roll off Ebay for about $6 that will last me a lifetime. Install small pieces under the area to which the roof rack contacts the roof. Leave it there all year long for a good level of protection that is barely noticeable on your car. Just don’t install yours at 10:30 at night prior to an early morning fishing trip, otherwise your protective stickers will end up crooked and with air bubbles just like mine.
Cartopping is still an easy and effective method of transporting your kayak, just be sure to take your time and safely tie down your gear for whatever your travel plans might be.