We all have that road trip where we carry too much luggage. When your car’s trunk is not enough, these inexpensive roof racks come to the rescue!
Normally, the trunk handles all our storage needs in a car. Groceries, work gear, children’s bags… After all, that room is one of the factors most of us prioritize. when choosing a car. However, there is always a time when we need more. Besides that road trip, it could be moving or helping with construction, for example. Most cars do not offer enough space for those events because they are not part of their everyday use.
In those cases, roof racks can be quite handy. Your car has roof rails prepared for them, so you can simply follow the manual and install the rack yourself. And, as you are about to see, there are several products of high quality at a moderate price. However, we understand that such variety is also what makes choosing a roof rack confusing. We wrote this article with the models we prefer in order to help you select yours.
What are roof racks for?
If you are new to automotive lingo, no problem! Roof racks are structures that allow you to load cargo on the roof of your car. Carmakers expect you to load everything in the trunk, because it is the safest option, but they do prepare car roofs to receive load if it is necessary. You could always just strap cargo directly to the roof, but that would come with a variety of hazards we are going to explain further in this article.
Roof racks are meant for occasional use, so it is common to see options with different purposes. The basic ones are simply crossbars to which you can strap your items. But you can also find metal boxes, which are great when you have to transport multiple small objects; covered boxes, which are great to minimize aerodynamic impact; and even inflatable bars, which are great for general use and have easy installation.
How to install roof rack?
Roof racks are a structure that goes above the car’s roof, without directly touching it. They are attached to those roof rails we have mentioned. Most products can be attached directly to the rails while others need existing bars. That is important to know because, in general, only and already have those bars. Hatchbacks, sedans and coupés, for example, have only the rails covered by rubber stripes.
Having that considered, it is a matter of following the roof rack’s instructions. We say it as simply as that because, as you are going to see, there are many different products on sale. In fact, there is even one with inflatable crossbars. Although this is a simple product, manufacturers are always trying to make it more adaptable to multiple purposes and to multiple vehicles. There are no universal steps to install roof racks.
How to use roof rack?
Once the rack is properly attached, it is time to properly attach the cargo. The most obvious reason is that loose objects will simply fall off when the car moves. However, there is another item you should take into account when loading your roof rack. By adding mass on top of the vehicle, we are changing its dynamics. Doing that right means making that change to an extent where the car is still safe to drive at a highway.
The primary rule is to obey the limits; car and rack can only bear some load. Secondly, try and concentrate the items on the center and with the lowest possible height. That will minimize the impact on the balance of the car. Thirdly, keep in mind that whatever you add to the roof harms its aerodynamics, which is worse on road trips because of the highway speeds. Be prepared for a higher fuel or electricity consumption.
Best roof racks for cars
Now that we covered the basics of this product, we are going to jump to individual reviews. As usual, the first step is the table below, where we compile primary information about all the models. It is useful to get you an overview along with links to where you can find them on sale. If you keep scrolling, you are going to see the individual review of each roof rack and, finally, our general conclusion after analyzing them all.
|Roof rack model
|L x W x H
|56″ x 3.5″ x 4.5″
|64″ x 39″ x 6″
|3″ x 52.5″ x 5.8″
|14.2″ x 10″ x 6″
|15 cu ft*
|14.6″ x 7.4″ x 5.7″
|46″ x 36″ x 4.5″
Best for heavy duty: Arksen Universal Roof Rack
This roof rack’s appearance says it all: it offers serious cargo room. That basket shape is especially helpful to contain smaller objects, while that metal frame provides endless possibilities of where to strap everything. Arksen offers three length options so as to fit all car sizes. Besides, they are all collapsible: you can reduce the roof rack when you do not need all that room. You can also order a box or a net in any of those sizes.
To be honest, the Arksen roof rack will only be a bad purchase if you do not need everything it offers. It is installed on an existing roof rack, so you have to be mindful of that as well. People who use roof racks all the time, like those who enjoy camping or who work with their car, will surely make great use of all those functions. Occasional users, in turn, might be better served by other roof racks which are also cheaper.
- Basket shape makes it useful with small items
- Three lengths available, all of them collapsible
- You can add a cargo box or a net with the rack
- Best suited to camper or worker users
- One of the most expensive roof racks here
- Requires existing crossbars on the car’s roof
Easiest installation: HandiRack Inflatable Roof Bars
You will have to fully inflate the bars and tie their ends through the car’s windows. That is the extent of it. This roof rack allows you to carry large objects, like surfboards and kayaks, with minimal effort. Once you arrive at the destination, all you have to do is unstrap your items, deflate both bars and store them away. The manufacturer sends all the necessary items to use this rack, including the aptly named HandiPump.
Now, this roof rack is versatile in some ways and limited in others. There is no restriction about car model or make, but they cannot have curtain airbags or a soft top (like a convertible). Parallel to that, the nature of this item makes it unsuitable to carry small items unless you pack them in a box. And, you know, sharp objects can always puncture the bars. HandiRack asks you to remove the roof rack when it is not in use.
- Installing it is as simple as you are thinking
- Suitable for cars with or without roof rails
- Weight limit of 175 lb is quite high
- Packing small objects requires extra equipment
- Unsuitable for car models with curtain airbags
- You have to remove the bars when not in use
Most versatile: CargoLoc 2-Piece Roof Rack
There are times when all we want is a straightforward product that serves its purpose and nothing else. If that is your case with roof racks, look no further. The CargoLoc roof rack is a pair of crossbars that you will attach to the existing bars of your car. You can adjust their clamps to fit up to 46″ of space between them, and you can attach the bars anywhere on the rack. They also feature individual locks for extra safety.
You may also like to know they are made of aluminum, so it will be harder to oxidize. If you want to know its downside, the main issue we could mention is the weight capacity of 150 lb. It is not the highest in this list but, to be honest, it still handles regular use very well. All things considered, this roof rack is adequate for occasional users; people who travel once in a while and need extra cargo space only at those times.
- Aluminum build makes oxidation more difficult
- If 52″ are not enough, there is a 60″ version
- These bars are versatile in width and length
- Not appropriate for heavy/professional use
- Requires existing crossbars on the car’s roof
- Weight limit is not among the highest here
Amazon Basics Cargo Roof Bars
At first glance, the 10% higher weight limit makes this roof rack better than the CargoLoc. Especially when you see that all other features are the same: adjustable size, built-in lock etc. However, there is a narrower range of acceptable widths between the car’s bars. And this item comes with sealing strips to reduce wind noise, but you have to cut them to that width. You could not use the same rack on two different cars.
Fivklemnz Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Compared to the others in this list, a roof carrier features pros and cons. The built-in cover protects your cargo from the elements, but also limits what you can pack. You can strap it to cars with or without roof rails, but the carrier might be too big for some models. It comes with a mat to prevent slippage from the roof. On the other side, storing such a box when not in use requires much more space in your garage.
MaxxHaul Cargo Roof Rack
This product only becomes a second-best purchase when compared to Arksen’s. The basket-shaped roof rack is resistant against rust, provides firm attachment to existing crossbars, and offers decent room. Here, in our list, the only problem is that the Arksen is way above average. Since the MaxxHaul is cheaper, it is a matter of pondering what exactly you need from roof racks. That will help you decide which one to get.
What are our top picks?
Hands down, the . Heavy-duty users will have endless possibilities with three lengths as well as the optional cargo box and net. We know it is not the best for occasional users, but the fact that the roof rack is collapsible makes it appropriate even to them. Since this item provides additional cargo room, it is better to have a lot without needing all of it than to fall short when you most need it.
When it comes to our honorable mention, we will go with the . First of all, we cannot overlook how difficult it is to be creative with such a rational product. However, things become even better when we notice that this creativity serves a purpose: this roof rack is compatible with multiple cars. If its restrictions are not a problem for you, and you are an occasional user, this is your roof rack!
Danillo Almeida has explored his passion for cars in two distinct ways. The first one is his graduation course in Mechanical Engineering, which will hopefully lead to a job position in the field. The other one is expressing his knowledge and opinions on the matter through writing. Almeida has already contributed to blogs, stores, and websites in general writing automotive content in many formats.