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Published May. 25, 2018

A roof rack can be a great way to add extra storage space to a vehicle. That extra space can come in handy, particularly if you’re driving a smaller vehicle and don’t own a truck or SUV. There are odd-shaped items that can be hard to fit into your vehicle, such as bicycles or skis. A roof rack can also accommodate ladders. A roof rack can provide the space to easily transport these large, unwieldy items.

Picking out a roof rack is not at simple as grabbing the first product that fits your vehicle, however. There are a range of potential models available, and each one has different features for different applications. To help you find the right one, we put together this guide of the best roof racks on the market.

The Best Roof Rack

We kick off this list with this set from CargoLoc that appears, at least on the surface, to be a pretty simple design. What we have is a rack designed to be used on the kind of raised roof rails that are often found on SUVs and station wagons.

It simply clips onto the rail with the help of a very well-designed locking system. You simply place the bars where you want and then raise the tension with a simple little tool until you have the bar locked securely in place. They’ll stay there too, thanks to the built-in lock that secures the bar in place with the turn of a key, deterring any would-be thieves.

Look a little closer, and you can see that this item comes with some features that you may not expect given it’s lower mid-range price point. The best thing is the all aluminum construction, which give these bars strength (the load capacity is 150 pounds, not bad at all) and save weight – the 46-inch versions weighs a little under nine pounds, which is far less than the equivalent steel versions. They also have rounded edges and a low-profile design.

Key Features
  • Simple Design
  • Keyed Lock
  • Easy Fit with Adjusting Clamps
Specification
  • Brand CargoLoc
  • Model 32451
  • Weight 8.6 lbs

Another set of aluminum bars designed for raised side rails, the standout design feature is that these fit side rails up to 50-inches apart, so there is only one size option with this product.

Installation is very simple. It takes 10 to 15 minutes from un-boxing to complete installation. All in all, it’s a very basic design, however they are by far very inexpensive. Don’t expect any bells and whistles, but at the same time you can avoid denting your bank account too much.

If one criticism could be leveled at these bars it is that one-size-fits-all design. They are made for use on side rails that are up to 50 inches apart. That is fine if you have side rivals of that distance (or close), but if your rails are narrower, there will be a little overhang. As they are nice and wide they are also going to be heavier than bars made for narrower rails, with a weight of almost 12 pounds total.

Still, it’s harsh to be too critical with that low price point.

Key Features
  • Fast & Easy Fit
  • For Side rails up to 50 Inches Wide
  • 150-Pound Weight Capacity
Specification
  • Brand Apex
  • Model RB-1001-49
  • Weight 11.45 lbs

This roof rack from Yakima certainly has the hallmarks of a premium product. Top-quality aluminum has been employed to manufacture a bar with excellent overall weight capacity. Depending on the size, the product has a total weight of between 10 to 13 pounds – not the lightest on the list but certainly not the heaviest either.

It also boasts a lovely wide surface. That helps with clamping down items, but it also increases the bar’s aerodynamic profile. The weight-bearing mass is spread over a shallow, flatter bar, and that is going to cut down wind resistance and avoid affecting the vehicle’s performance.

Installation is pretty straightforward. This rack is designed to be used on the hidden rail that you see on modern and smaller cars. It can also be mounted on a vehicle with no rail, although you may have to buy an additional mounting kit for that option. Either design is protected from thieves by being either screwed in or mounted within the doorframe, so no need to lock the model to protect it from thieves.

All in all, it’s a well-designed roof rack made of premium materials, but depending on the size you need for your vehicle, prepare to pay a premium price.

Key Features
  • Excellent Aerodynamic Installation
  • No Lock Required
  • Good Load Capacity (175 lbs)
Specification
  • Brand Yakima
  • Model 8050119
  • Weight Aprox. 10 to 13 lbs, depending on model

In some ways this is a pretty basic model, which is actually to a certain extent one of the standout features. The main thing to note with this model is that it is designed to be used on a vehicle with a bare roof. In other words one that doesn’t have rails or drilled roof rack attachment points.

That alone is a pretty useful feature because so many modern car designs, especially smaller cars, do not come equipped with anything on the roof to aid with rack attachment. Yes, it gives modern car models a nice, streamlined appearance, but where are we supposed to attach a kayak?

This rack simply slots into the door arch, and it even boasts a rubber-coated installation plate that protects the car paint. These are somewhat old fashioned but extremely common two-inch diameter bars, so you will have no problem finding accessories that fit the bar.

They are steel construction and nice and solid but are a little bit heavier than equivalent-sized aluminum bars. In sum, they may be a little heavier, they may be a little old fashioned, but their go-anywhere, do-anything design is certainly very appealing overall.

Key Features
  • Fits Vehicle Without Rails
  • Tool Free Installation
  • Steel Construction
Specification
  • Brand SportRack
  • Model SR1102
  • Weight 11 to 16 lbs, depending on size

The ARKSEN 64″ Universal Black Roof Rack can be installed on vehicles that have mounting rails and crossbars. The rack is 64-inches long, 39-inches wide, and six-inches high and is designed to carry items such as camping gear, luggage, and extra-large baggage. Featuring heavy-duty steel with a black powder-coated finish, this rack also extends 23 inches in case you need even more cargo space.

The rack is easy to assemble and mounts to most vehicle’s crossbars using four U bolts. It’s lightweight enough for one person to assemble and install. It also includes a steel wind fairing to minimize wind resistance and noise. It stays solidly in place even at highway speeds and has a 250-pound weight capacity. Plus, it can add a sporty look to your vehicle.

The biggest complaint about this rack is that spots of it can rust over time even with the powder coat. Also, the instructions may be a little hard to follow for some users. Some people have also had to modify the mounting hardware.

Key Features
  • Includes a 23-inch extender
  • Easy to assemble and install
  • Steel fairing reduces noise
Specification
  • Brand Arksen
  • Model 5864173990
  • Weight 8.03 pounds

If you need a roof rack to transport a bicycle, the Swagman UPRIGHT Roof Mount Bike Rack is a great option and a great value. This upright roof rack is easy to assemble and takes just a few minutes to install. Plus, you don’t need to remove the wheel on your bike, which makes it extra convenient.

To mount the rack you need square, round, or oval crossbars that are up to three-inches wide. This rack has a weight capacity of 35 pounds, and you can install more than one on a single vehicle. It’s made of steel and plastic and weighs just five pounds. It features a minimalist design and comes with tie-down straps and a locking mechanism to deter thieves. Despite its low price, this rack is quite sturdy and secure.

One downside is your bike may sway a little bit during travel, so you may want to use bungee cords for added security. Also, it may not accommodate bikes with wider tires.

Key Features
  • Easy to assemble and install
  • 35-pound weight capacity
  • Sturdy and secure
Specification
  • Brand Swagman
  • Model 64720
  • Weight Five pounds

Best Roof Rack Buying Guide & FAQ

That is our list of the best Roof Racks out there on the market right now. As you will have seen there can be a considerable difference in the design, materials, features and – most importantly – price across the entire range.

What’s more, you need to ensure that you are choosing a roof rack that will be suitable for fitting on your vehicle – whether it is as raised side bars, solid side bars, fixing points or nothing at all.

roof rack

Once it is installed, you need to be careful to load it safely to protect both other road users and also your stuff. After all, when you load up the roof rack, you want to know the items you put up there are going to stay up there.

To that end then we’re going to go through some of the features to look out for, give you some advice on how to fit and then load your roof rack, before answering some of the most frequently asked questions about this type of product.

Aren’t we great, huh?

Features to Look For in a Roof Rack

  • Aerodynamic/Low Profile Design – Ok, it’s pretty obvious that strapping a kayak and a couple of mountain bikes to the vehicle roof are going to negatively affect performance and fuel economy. But you should also consider the long term effect that the bars themselves could have. As that article puts it, roof racks can turn your car into a real gas-guzzler! Now, the effect is probably not quite going to be that extreme, however choosing low profile bars or a rack that has been designed with aerodynamic performance in mind can really help to offset any negative issues.
  • Connectors  – You need connectors that work with your vehicle’s design. See the section below where we discuss the different ways you might be attaching the roof rack to the vehicle.
  • Construction Material – Your options here are going to be steel and aluminum. Steel is generally cheaper, but a bit heavier. Aluminum is usually found on more premium models, but it is quite a bit lighter.
  • Keyed Lock – Roof racks that attach with a clamp should be secured with keyed lock to prevent thieves from stealing them. Roof racks that secure via fixing points or inside the door jamb don’t need to be locked.
  • Weight Capacity – How much weight are you planning on carrying? Most of the racks on this list will hold 150 to 160 Pounds, which should be sufficient for most car trips.

Safety Tips When Using a Roof Rack

Using a roof rack is generally a pretty safe and straightforward endeavor. Think about it, if people routinely ended their journeys only to get step out of the car and find that all of their items had disappeared during the journey, no would use the things anymore, would they?

In actual fact, a cursory glance as you drive down nearly any highway will show that hundreds and hundreds of people place their trust in their roof racks to deliver their load safely from point A to point B.

These people are almost certainly following a good set of safety tips, and if you want to be like them (in other words smart) then you should take a look at these useful safety tips too:

  • Correct Fit – Nothing will make a rood rack less safe, and more likely to shed it’s load, then if it does not have the correct fit. Think about it, these things are out in the wind, zipping along at 70 Miles per Hour, often loaded down with odd shaped loads of over 100 pounds. That can place a lot of pressure on the rack which it can easily deal with, but only if it is the correct fit for your vehicle. Therefore make sure that you are buying the right sized rack for your vehicle with the correct installation points.
  • Correct Installation – Once you have the right roof rack for your vehicle, the next stage is to ensure it is installed correctly. Most racks are relatively easy to install, and many are available that can be put in place securely with minimal tools, sometimes even with none. Try to select a style of roof rack you are confident you can install.
  • Height Restrictions – Bear in mind that a roof rack will make your vehicle taller, and also whatever you load on it will also increase that total height. If you already have a tall vehicle, like a SUV, then you should be aware of low height warnings, especially if you’re loading up will tall or bulky objects like kayaks or upright mountain bikes.
  • Center of Gravity – A heavy load can offset the center of gravity of the vehicle if it is not loaded correctly. Luckily, this is pretty easy to avoid, just aim to load heavier items toward the center of the roof and not off to one side or all at the front or rear of the available space. Work from the Middle outwards, and place light items around the edges and sides of the space.
  • Total Weight – Finally, always bear in mind the total safe weight that the roof rack can handle. Also, consider how that weight is carried. So a rack that can take 150 Pounds can be loaded with that amount if the load is distributed safely and evenly. If however the weight is concentrated in one smaller area, such as one or two dense and heavy objects then take extra care.

Pretty simple really, right? Just bear these tips in mind and also always remember the capacity of your roof rack and you should have no problems.

roof racks

How to Tie Things to Your Cars Roof Rack

If you are going to safely secure items to the roof, then one of the most important lessons you must learn is how to secure the load safely.

One of the keys, especially when it comes to securing larger loads, is to use a proper knot to secure the ropes. Don’t worry, this isn’t a Boy Scout thing, you don’t need to learn a hundred of them and get a stupid badge. In fact, there is just one you need to know, and it’s called a Trucker’s Knot, because what else would it be called? Click that link to see a great guide to this very useful knot.

As for the loading up of the roof rack itself, please click this link to see a great (and mercifully short) lesson in proper roof rack loading, delivered by a monotone Australian man with a cracking moustache.

Best Roof Rack FAQ:

Do you have any questions about roof racks? If so, we’ll try to answer them here. If your question is “how do I strap a dead body to a roof rack?” please be aware we have passed your IP address to the FBI.

Q:  Will Any Roof Rack Fit my Car?

No it won’t, which is why we made a point of highlighting on each product review what type of vehicle each roof rack was suitable for. Essentially there are 4 ways that a roof rack can be secured to the roof of your vehicle, and they depend on the equipment your car is currently equipped with. Most likely seen on SUV and station wagon style cars. These are, as the name implies, rails that are raised up, probably about 2 inches, on the vehicle roof. Very similar to the above, except they don’t have any gaps between the rail and he vehicle roof. This makes them look all cool and streamlined, so you will likely find them on cars and SUVs with a more modern design style. Both types of rail, despite looking different, operate in exactly the same way. Some vehicles on the other hand come with pre-installed fixing points. They are basically holes drilled in the car roof and filled with some kind of plastic bung or cap. If you have one of these, then you will need to find it, remove the covering and then attach your roof rack by screwing it down through the hole. The fixing points will be on either side of the vehicle, often covered by a strip of plastic or a plastic cover, helping them to blend into the car’s design. And some cars have nothing! This is especially common on smaller sized, and modern cars. But don’t fear – all is not lost! What you need to do in this case is pick up a roof rack that secures to the vehicle via the door jamb – this is the cut out that the car door sits in. These can be just as secure – and just as strong – as any rack that is attached to the rails or fixing point.

Q:  How Do I Know What Kind of Roof Rack I Need?

The first thing to do is read the section above to see how your rack will be secured. Once you know that, the next thing you need to know is what distance the bars must stretch across. Depending on the type of roof rack, you may have to look up your vehicle model on the manufactures website to see which model is made for your specific vehicle. If you pick up a universal rack however, all you have to do is check that it will cover the distance you have measured between the bars – nice and simple!

Q:  Can Roof Racks be Removed?

They are not welded or glued into place, so yes they can be. However, you may not want to keep removing them all the time, especially if you have chosen a model that connects via a fixing point, which can be fiddly to get on and off. Broadly speaking, a bar that clamps onto a rail is going to be easiest to get on and off repeatedly.You May Also Like: Best Gifts For Car Lovers

Our Top Pick 

Choosing a top pick for these types of products is not as straightforward as it is with some others that we look at here at Car Bible. That’s because we can happily recommend what we consider the best product – but if it doesn’t actually fit your specific car that advice is worthless.

Therefore we’re going to pick two top picks. Can we do this? Well, who’s going to stop us, huh? Exactly.

First off, we are going to recommend a model for vehicles that have roof rails installed – whether the old style raised rail or the modern solid rail. If you have one of these, we would suggest the Vault Cargo Management 54 Inch Universal Locking Roof Rack (Product number 5 on the list above).

car roof rack

It is just a very well designed roof rack. Easy to install, no size options to wade through, good maximum weight capacity, lightweight but solid aluminum construction and a decent aerodynamic design to minimize drag.

Our other Top Pick is, in a lot of ways, the polar opposite of our other selection. We’re talking the SportRack Complete Roof Rack System (Item number 4 on the list).

Now yes, as we pointed out in out design this is a pretty basic and somewhat old-fashioned design. It’s stand out feature however is that it is designed to be mounted on vehicles with no side rails at all. That makes it very useful in today’s market when smaller cars without any side rails or roof rack mounting points are becoming more and more common.

Sources:

  1. Americans Choosing Smaller Cars – Washington Post
  2. Affect of Roof Rack on Car Performance – Popular Mechanics
  3. National Lampoons Vacation Bag Falls – YouTube
  4. How to Tie a Truckers Knot – Instructables
  5. Roof Rack Loading Guide – YouTube

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