What is the international sign for "you left something on the roof of your car"?

Occasionally, I'll spot a car with something on its roof, the driver clearly having put it there and forgotten about it. I have just a few seconds to catch the driver's attention and make some sort of explanatory gesture. What is the international sign for "You left something on your roof"?

Comments (41)
  1. James says:

    There was a commercial for Chili’s restaurants take-out in which several bystanders try to alert a driver that his car has something on its roof; however, he thinks they’re just waving at him and waves back.

    This commercial tells us: (1) the sign is something like a wave, however (2) it’s not widely recognized so it doesn’t do much good. Commercials can be very informative.

  2. Scott says:

    If you’re not in a car, I’d say tap the top of your head with your finger.

  3. Adrian says:

    A few miles from home one morning, two guys in a car in the adjacent lane were making all sorts of gestures at me.  We ended up side-by-side at a red light, and I rolled down my window to ask what was wrong.

    "There’s a banana on top of your car," the passenger said.

    So yeah, we need a gesture for this.  I almost lost my breakfast!

  4. BradC says:

    Pointing up doesn’t communicate it clearly. How about sticking your hand out your own window and pointing to your roof?

    Or grab your own coffee mug (or some other representative object) and hold it out your window on your own roof to make it clear.

    Unless you’re going highway speed, in which case his mug probably won’t stay on much longer anyway…

  5. Frandsen says:

    We don’t need a new signal.

    What we need is someone geeky enough to go and invent the ThereIsAThingOnTopOfMyCarSensor, which, if there is actually a thing on top of the car, will make the ThereIsAThingOnTopOfTheCarLight in the dash board blink.

    Am I on to something or what?

  6. Ross says:

    I think flashing your lights can mean "there is something wrong with your car." If someone did that to me and I knew that they weren’t indicating a speed trap ahead I would check my lights and then my tire pressure. The second would require stopping the car and getting out, at which point I could spot the banana on my roof.  

  7. dbt says:

    If the window is rolled down, just yell out "hey!  there’s a __(noun)____ on top of your car!"

    Yet another example of how air conditioning is destroying america’s social values.

  8. Paul says:


    “How about sticking your hand out your own window and pointing to your roof?”

    What if you’re not driving? Or not driving a car;  if a truck driver stuck his arm out of the window and pointed, it’s entirely possible you wouldn’t see it anyway.


    “If someone did that to me and I knew that they weren’t indicating a speed trap ahead I would check my lights and then my tire pressure.”

    And how would you know that in advance?

    Besides, flashing your head lights at oncoming traffic already means different things in different parts of the world – in England it normally means ‘thank you’, or you’re giving right of way to the other driver (letting them out of a side road), and in bits of Europe (France?) it means you’re telling other traffic that you have right of way.

    [Flashing one’s headlights is apparently illegal in Washington. -Raymond]
  9. Clyde says:

    I’ve always interpreted flashing headlights as "Look out ahead" — usually because there’s a speed trap or a deer in the road.

  10. JW says:

    Give him the middle finger, and follow it up by other obscene gestures. That way, while he’s getting out of the car to beat the crap out of you, you can explain that something’s on his roof.

  11. M Marcus says:


    Can I assume that ThereIsAThingOnTopOfTheCarLight  will invoke the API:

    DWORD ThingOnTopOfTheCarLightEx(

     DWORD nCount,          // number of handles in handle array

     LPHANDLE pHandles,     // pointer to an object-handle array

     DWORD dwMilliseconds,  // time-out interval in milliseconds

     DWORD dwWakeMask,      // type of input events to wait for

     DWORD dwFlags,         // wait flags

     BOOL bThingOnTopOfCar  // flag indicating there is thing on top of the car


  12. romulo says:

    I once saw on the road a tiny car with a big mattress tied to the roof. However, a rope secured only the part in the middle, along the left and right sides. So, as the car ran, the mattress folded and exposed its bottom surface to the wind. I tried to imagine how that affected the car’s aerodynamics at 60 mph.

    It didn’t occurred to me any international sign, though. Any standard sign would be of no use, since even if the driver stopped, the mattress would naturally unfold in the absence of wind and he would say: "no problem here!".

  13. Mikkin says:

    Some problems just do not admit facile solution.

    A couple weeks ago I was slowly making my way out of the supermarket parking lot when I saw someone, also driving slowly, mindful of pedestrians, with one of those ridiculously huge paper buckets of soda on the roof directly over his head. As I thought about whether flashing my lights would be futile, my arm, seeming to act on its own accord, passed by the light switch and extended out the window in the international sign for "Halt." He ignored me, keeping his attention on the pedestrians. One of them sized up the situation and gestured frantically, waving both hands above his head and making as if to step in front of the car. I then experienced one of those time warps where the whole universe moves in slow motion, as the bucket toppled forward and mass quantities of soda sheeted down the windshield, cascaded frothily over the wipers, and proceeded variously across the hood and down into the engine compartment.

    Time resumed its normal flow as the driver turned on the wipers and sat dumbfounded, and I contemplated on how this was not the best possible outcome but some problems just do not admit facile solution.

  14. Mat Hall says:

    Raymond: Totally OT, but your custom CSS specifies "Lucida Console" as the font family for <code> which means than on non-Windows machines there’s a better than even chance that it’ll be rendered in the default font.

  15. Tim Smith says:

    What is the international sign for:

    "You have a man in a wheelchair stuck to the front of your truck!!!"


  16. MJ says:

    I was bicycling one day when a driver had something on the top of his roof. I tried to point (A lot and frantically but nicely) but he just kept looking at me like you’re crazy. So needless to say he continued through the intersection and I’m sure the thing went flying down his windshield at some point and realized – that biker girl must have been trying to tell me about this. ;)

  17. Kyralessa says:

    I agree with those who suggest pointing at the roof of your own car.

    However, if you’re not actually in a car, I don’t know.  If I pointed at my head, I suspect the other driver would think, "Why is that guy pointing out to me that he’s losing his hair?"

  18. @BradC:

    This is Seattle. You don’t get to drive highway speeds.

    To the topic at hand, unless you’re short and can barely see over your dash in your big ol’ SUV/SAV, you should be able to tap on your roof. Seems that would be the best option and a fairly common response here.

  19. Motti says:

    Cool API Marcus but you missed:

       LPDWORD pdwReserved // must be NULL

  20. giles says:

    I went to the fish and chip shop (yes, I am English) got my dinner, drove home, searched my car when I got home, couldn’t find my grub. realised I must have left the shop without my food, got out of the car, stood up, saw my dinner still still on top of the car roof after a ten minute drive home. Result.

    I can’t imagine any signal from other drivers would have made me understand what I had done. But still, I was young…..

  21. nobugz says:

    Easy.  Sign language can express more than one idea.  First: horizontal left hand over vertical right hand.  Driver sees that, pays attention (in the US).  Then: stick left arm in a curly motion above your head and make a grabbing motion.  When I see ASL users signing, I often feel they are more efficient and less ambiguous about what they say.

  22. Puckdropper says:

    Why not simply pat your head a couple times?  It’s about the closest thing I can think of to indicate roof in both in-car and out-of-car situations.

    As to the head light thing, in actual use in the Midwest they’re sometimes to warn drivers of upcoming hazards.  We’ve got a lot of two lane roads, which means cars pass quite close.  It’s very possible that if you stop in time for a deer and the driver coming from the other way doesn’t, your car could be involved in an accident.  You don’t want to sound your horn, as the deer could get startled and bolt.

  23. Answer says:

    There are a few such international signs: ⊜, ◊, †, ‡. Pick your favorite.

  24. I would point at them, to make it clear I’m trying to communicate with them, and then point *at* the thing on top of their roof.

    If that doesn’t work, I’d point at them, and then point straight up, at my roof, and then point at theirs.

  25. Miral says:

    I sometimes wish that all cars were linked together in an ad-hoc wireless network, with built-in VOIP so you could just hit a button and be talking to the driver of a nearby car.

    Then I remember that we don’t live in a perfect world and what would be the most likely use of such a technology :)

  26. ::Wendy:: says:

    after the unabashed fits of laughter have abated (or during if you can multi-task) point to the item on the roof of thier car

  27. SvenGroot says:

    I’ve only seen flashing headlights used in two ways: to indicate to other traffic you’re letting them go first, and to indicate to oncoming traffic they have their lights on when they shouldn’t (e.g. they have fog lights on when it isn’t foggy).

    The latter used to happen to us a lot; in our old Volvo 440 it was impossible to turn the lights of (they just turned on and off with the engine). In Sweden I think it’s required to always have your light on. In the Netherlands it’s not required, but recommended, so there it was never a problem. But when on holiday in France, every other car would flash us!

  28. Triangle says:

    I would say holding any handy object over your roof and pointing at it would do the trick.

    Or it might make the other person lock their doors and drive away faster.

  29. Tim the Enchanter says:

    When I saw someone with a purse (wallet for Americans) on her roof she happened to be stopped at traffic lights so I went over to the car took it off the roof knocked on the door and handed it to the surpised occupant through the now open window.

    Fascinating I know.

  30. mcgurk says:

    Point and laugh.  It works almost immediately.

  31. njkayaker says:

    Suggestion: hold one hand flat over your head. Point at the top of your hand with the other hand. (It isn’t perfect).

  32. Leo Davidson says:

    From the Seattle Times article Raymond linked in an earlier reply:

    "Don’t even think about using your horn. Per state law, the horn is used only in emergencies."

    I really wish we had a similar law in the UK (or if we already do, that it was enforced vigorously). Taxi drivers over here seem to think that honking their horn is an effective method of direct communication to the individual who is waiting at home for them to arrive. In fact, they are a way of saying "HEY THERE’S A CAR OUT HERE!" to the 200 or so people in earshot in the the residential area.

    What happens if two people are waiting for a taxi? They’re both alerted. Why can’t the lazy *******s get out of their cars and ring a doorbell or pick up their mobile phones and call the person directly, thus only alerting the people who care about the car-outside situation?

    This even happens early in the morning sometimes. It’s an outrage!

  33. mccoyn says:

    "I sometimes wish that all cars were linked together in an ad-hoc wireless network, with built-in VOIP so you could just hit a button and be talking to the driver of a nearby car."

    Something like a CB radio?

  34. saturday answer says:

    the important thing does not concern the speed is that family has precaution in taking care of asu who does not know of I throw asi that is not necessary so frude the important thing is the union of never free the non family… so that it loves them

  35. saturday answer says:

    the important thing does not concern the speed is that family has precaution in taking care of asu who does not know of I throw asi that is not necessary so frude the important thing is the union of never free the non family… so that it loves them

  36. James says:


    I don’t think signing with two hands while driving is such a hot idea.

    Anyway, I’m trying to figure out how to indicate to people that they’ve left their turn signals on.

  37. Woolstar says:

    My car still has splitpea soup on the roof rack, from when I left a bowl of soup up there.  Amazingly enough I made it all the way from home to work without losing the bowl itself or the spoon.  When I got to work, I finished off the soup.  It was a little cooler, but still good.

    Don’t remember anybody waiving frantically at me though.

  38. Bec says:

    What is the international sign for "You left something on your roof"?

    Sadly I think it’s exactly the same as ‘your lights are on’, ‘your lights aren’t working’, ‘your car boot/petrol cap is open’, ‘thanks for letting me in’, ‘sorry I cut you off’, and ‘your car is leaking oil all over the road’…

    In Australia, flashing your headlights at an oncoming car usually means ‘speed camera ahead’. You’re not really supposed to do this but some community-minded people do it anyway. :)

  39. Dave Harris says:

    Try making a drinking mime – hold an invisible cup to your lips and drink from it.

    Hopefully this will remind the driver that he or she bought a drink, and they should check that they still have it. When they realise they haven’t, they’ll work out for themselves where it must be (given that you can see it).

  40. David Conrad says:

    Turn signal: get in front of them, put your turn signal on, and gradually slow down. They usually figure it out.

    On the roof … hmm…. Rolling down the window and pointing at the roof of your car, then at them, as some have suggested, is about the best I can think of. Or you could just follow them around until it falls off. Having a camera at that point could be good.

    Hey, that gives me an idea. Point at them and laugh. Like it’s the funniest damn thing you’ve ever seen. This will make them extremely curious about what you are finding so funny.

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