of cargo roof racks on the market today.
Although some may look similar, there
are some that are better suited for specific
needs than others. We’ve provided you
with the features that make up a good
cargo roof rack so you know what
to look for when you start looking
for the right one for you.
Cargo Roof Rack Buying Guide
What is a Cargo Roof Rack?
One of the biggest advantages to installing a cargo roof rack on your vehicle is the extra space it provides. The roof of any vehicle is usually wasted space and having a cargo roof rack takes that space and makes it very useful to the user.
If you do the necessary research, buying the cargo roof rack that fits your family’s needs becomes a simple process. Before you purchase one, you need to know how much extra space you want to add. This will ensure that you choose the correct one.
Some cargo roof racks are already installed on the vehicle in the factory, but they can be aftermarket items and you can install one on a vehicle that has not had one previously. Some cargo roof racks are meant to stay on the vehicle and others can be removed when not in use. There are benefits and drawbacks to each type.
The Benefits of Purchasing a Cargo Roof Rack
You can carry sporting equipment, luggage, and much more on your cargo roof rack. As long as the combined weight of what you put up there does not go over the rack’s suggested weight limit, you will never have an issue. There are definitely benefits to having a cargo roof rack.
Versatility – There is a lot of versatility that a cargo roof rack offers. It can be used to transport all kinds of equipment. You can even add light brackets to the cargo roof rack and have lighting on dark roads or trails. Whatever you need to haul, chances are, if the weight limit matches, you’ll be able to strap it to the roof rack and get where you’re going.
Capacity – Adding extra storage space is always beneficial to a car owner and one that is easily accomplished with the addition of a cargo roof rack. It makes extra room inside the vehicle for the passengers, and keeps your belongings organized and protected.
Types of Cargo Roof Racks
Even if your vehicle didn’t come with a factory installed cargo roof rack you can add one easily. The roof racks are broken down into categories based on the type of roofs that they are meant for. We’ve outlined the more common designs below.
- Rain gutters – This type of roof rack was very popular about 60 years ago. While they are still available, there are many more styles and alternatives to choose from now. You will most often find rain gutters on full sized vans, both passenger and cargo. All you need to make this type of roof rack work is a cross bar system that only uses load bars as well as gutter foot packs. Depending on the roof clearance, you can choose from
- Bare Roof – The majority of today’s vehicles have bare roofs. The cargo roof racks that work for bare roofed vehicles will have a uniquely designed base that has a rubber base and metal brackets that have been coated in rubber as well. The unique design enables the cargo roof racks to fit a variety of vehicle roofs.
- Raised Rail – This type of cargo roof rack is the one most often used and found in the current market. You will see this type of roof rack often on vans, SUVs and minivans. What does a raised rail roof rack look like? It has a roof rail that goes the length of the vehicle and runs from the front of the vehicle to the back. It is attached to the edge of the vechiles’s roof. It will need load bars as well as foot packs.
- Flush Rail – This is a relatively new design and was first started on European vehicles. The design is such that the rails are flush with the roof and has no spaces between the rail and the roof. This type of roof rack not only serves a good purpose, it looks attractive too.
- Track Roof Rack – This style of roof rack is similar to flush rail roof racks. Track roof racks have tracks that run along the outer edge of the roof from front to back. These parallel tracks make it easy to use a cross bar system and position it wherever the bars are needed. A lot of cars and even campers have factory installed track roof racks. Since they require drilling, it is best to have the installation done professionally.
- Fixed Point – These are fixed connections that are found on the outer edge of the roof. There are two in specific locations on either side. Whenever the fixed point roof rack in not in use, the fixed points become almost too hard to see with the naked eye. The connections points on a fixed point roof rack are found under the trim of the roof. You can attach fasteners, bases and rubber boots can be exposed to the load bars and foot packs when the thread s are visible and exposed.
- Half Rails – You may notice that some vehicles only have one rail on each side. They run side by side on either side of the roof and enable the user to install a full roof rack. It does not have cross bars. You must purchase separately a roof rack mounting hardware pack to use the half rails system.
- Full Rails – Some vehicles are equipped with a standard set of rails and cross bars and all you need to get is a roof rack that can ride on top of the system. You will need extra mounting hardware to make sure that the roof rack fits properly and securely.
Roof Boxes and Soft Top Carriers
Two types of items that are commonly used with cargo roof racks are
- roof boxes
- soft bags
Roof boxes – these enclosed cargo containers offer an additional 8 to 21 cubic feet of space. They are all different shapes and sizes and can accommodate generalized things such as clothing and items to specialized cargo boxes for items such as skis. Remember to get a roof box that will fit your vehicle without restricting the hatch or wagon if your car has one.
Most of the time, these roof cargo boxes are made of durable, hard plastic and are difficult to break. You can choose models that have reinforced lids for much easier opening and closing. One of the drawbacks to these roof cargo boxes is their weight and size. They typically need two people to get installed on top of the car roof. Also consider that with a roof box on top of the roof rack, you will more than likely be too tall to safely drive into the garage or carport.
Soft Top Carriers – These fabric cargo bags are attached to the cross bars of the cargo roof rack. They are usually square and are perfect for luggage and other types of gear that you don’t have room for inside the trunk or vehicle. They fold easily which makes storing them easy and efficient. They are lighter than the roof cargo boxes and can be carried and mounted to the cargo roof rack by one person. One drawback to a soft top carrier is the fact that they are not waterproof and can be a problem should you encounter bad weather. It is also easy to cut the fabric with a knife, so having your stuff stolen can be a potential danger as well.
What can You Carry on a Cargo Roof Rack
There are many things that having a good cargo roof rack will enable you to carry. These items include bicycles, skis, paddleboards, surfboards, luggage, cargo boxes or soft carrier bags, small pieces or furniture, and much more. Even irregular shaped items can be strapped down and carried on a roof rack.
The Pros and Cons of Cargo Roof Racks
There are many benefits and drawbacks to having a cargo roof rack installed on your vehicle.
- Budget conscious, many price points available that will fit any budget.
- Adaptable with the seasons
- Lockable mounts are possible if desired
- Bicycles are more secure and don’t move back and forth
- Rack doesn’t block the driver’s view
- Users have to lift items above their heads to get it onto the roof rack
- Wind resistance can be a problem, reducing gas mileage
- Height restrictions such as drive through establishments, garages, carports and some overpasses can be a problem
- Permanently attached to the vehicle
Cargo Roof Rack Safety Tips
Many people love road trips and having the car packed up and ready to go can be cause for a lot of excitement. If you have a cargo roof rack, then you have the benefit of additional space that you may not have had before.
Your passengers will appreciate any extra room they have and having that room will make the trip go that much smoother. Below are some safety tops to remember and be aware of when using a cargo roof rack. Make sure you have made note of these tips before you head out on a road trip.
- Make sure the Roof Rack Fits – If you are adding an aftermarket roof rack to your vehicle, proper fit is the number one priority. There are different points of attachment for different roof racks. If the rack doesn’t match the shape of the vehicle roof it could mess up your paint, or even slide off the vehicle at the most inopportune time. If you are not sure, it is best to consult a professional.
- Watch Your Clearance – Adding a load to the top of your car warrants some attention to the additional height you have given your vehicle. On the open highway this may not be much of an issue. In town it can be though. Low hanging branches, carports or garages, fast food places and more all have lower clearance areas, usually with warning signs. Know what your clearance is before you leave on a trip.
- Stay Balanced – The center of gravity of your vehicle will be shifted with the addition of things attached to the top. It can cause swaying at high speeds (highway) if not properly secured and packed. If the weight is too far towards the front of the vehicle it will shift forward when you hit the brakes. If it is back heavy, you will feel that the steering is super loose. If everything is packed towards to the back it can cause a super loose feeling in the steering. Pack the load level, stable and secure it completely.
- Pack Practically – The best things to pack on your roof car carrier are the things you will not need much if at all. It is not easy to have to unpack the roof for one item you forgot you would need on the trip. Pack light items and make sure that even the heaviest of those light items pack on bottom.
- Pay Attention to the Weights – You need to know what the roof rack weight limit is and what your roof weight limit is. Heavy loads will lower your gas mileage and cause a lot more noise as well. If you speed this can also cause danger with a fully packed roof rack. This is a particular danger for a vehicle like an SUV that already has a higher center of gravity and the additional height can become a tip hazard.
Cargo Roof Rack Maintenance Tips
Cargo roof racks are not inexpensive so it stands to reason that you will want to maintain it so it lasts a long time. There are some things you can do to keep up the maintenance on your roof rack and ensure that it stays in great condition.
- Take the roof rack off the vehicle occasionally to clean it and inspect it for any damage. All you need is warm, soapy water to clean it.
- If any of the bolts, washers, tighteners and locks are corroded, replace them. At the very least lubricate them when needed. Tighten all of them to ensure a sturdy, stable fit.
- Check the straps and buckles for frays, worn spots and rust. It doesn’t matter what you’re carrying on your roof rack, you don’t want to lose it due to a faulty or worn out strap. They are easy to replace and whenever they are not 100% they should be replaced.
Cargo roof racks are a great investment for anyone who does any travelling or even carpooling to sporting events or functions. The extra space it provides is well worth the cost of the rack. They are simple to install in most cases and last a long time with proper care. The three top rated cargo roof racks that we have reviewed are all great choices for anyone looking for that added storage space.
The information in our guide can help you understand what you need to know about cargo roof racks. When you have the right information you can research, narrow down your choices and then make a confident decision on the cargo roof rack that will be the best fit for your needs and preferences.