Best Cargo Roof Racks: Store and Carry More Cargo on the Roof of Your Vehicle
Learn all about the best roof-mounted cargo carriers
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Having an extra way to carry cargo on your vehicle is great for long trips, large items, and other things that require a lot of hauling. The beauty of a good cargo rack is it can expand the hauling capabilities of any vehicle, large or small. In fact, in most cases, all you need is a roof. Our guide breaks down the info you need to know about the best cargo roof racks available.
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Why Buy a Cargo Roof Rack
- Store more stuff. All vehicles are limited in their built-in cargo capacity. Even large trucks with 8-foot beds will run out of the room if you fill them with enough stuff. A good cargo rack allows you to expand on the built-in cargo space without making any permanent modifications to your vehicle.
- Carry large or awkward items. Common trunks and cargo hatches are great for the occasional grocery stop or small-to-medium item. When it comes to large objects on a car roof, however, like skis and bikes, awkward shapes tend to present a challenge, especially on long road trips. With some cargo roof racks, on the other hand, you can have the full space of the roof to mount and tie down whatever you want to haul.
- Carry the weekend toys. It isn't always just about work when it comes to driving your vehicle. Cargo racks, in conjunction with almost any roof accessory like kayak racks, can carry a wide variety of weekend toys like bikes, kayaks, paddleboards, and more. The only major limitation is the number of toys you want to carry and the adapters you have to carry them.
Types of Cargo Roof Racks
When you don't want space to be an issue, the only real choice is an open roof basket. Like a regular basket, this flat piece of metal offers points to tie straps to anchor open items in the rack. This design is advantageous when you have large or awkward items to carry around. Much like a truck bed, the size and shape of an object aren't as much of an issue as long as you can secure it. Depending on the design, a basket can also be somewhat aerodynamic when not carrying anything.
For a little bit of protection when you are carrying objects, roof cargo boxes are the way to go. Made of plastics and composites, most cargo boxes are designed to be more aerodynamic and easy to open. Some even open up the storage space from both sides, so the mounting position isn't much of an issue. Several models also lock with a separate key to secure the items inside when leaving the vehicle unattended. Budget-friendly varieties tend to use a rooftop cargo bag design that can be folded when not in use.
Top Brands of Cargo Roof Racks
Started in Washington State, Yakima began as a small machine shop. Between 1979 and 1984, Steve Cole and Don Banducci bought the small shop and turned it into a globally recognized brand of accessory carriers. Today, you will find plenty of cargo basket and box options such as the SkyBox Aerodynamic Cargo Box.
Based in Malmo, Sweden, Thule is a globally-known brand that manufactures a whole line of roof and hitch accessories for various weekend toys. The company's lineup includes a number of bike and cargo racks that make it easy to secure important items to a vehicle. Check out the Thule Sidekick Cargo Box for an idea of the company's design and construction quality.
CURT Manufacturing has a long history of making high-quality towing accessories, including gooseneck, fifth wheel, and traditional hitch products. For the roof, the company has a healthy line of cargo carriers like the 18115 Roof Rack.
Cargo Roof Rack Pricing
- $300 and under: The budget range of most cargo racks have several low-end cargo boxes and decent baskets. Most of these are limited in design and size, with some offering as little as half as standard models in higher price ranges. These also tend to be fairly bare-bones in functionality, lacking accessories, security features, and mounting clamps for different roof types.
- $300-$750: Spending around $500 is a good price point for getting the most benefits a typical roof-mounted cargo rack can offer. The designs of these racks, both basket, and box, maximize the amount of space you have on a typical vehicle. There are also several options that mount to different types of vehicles like trucks and larger SUVs. A few come with security features like built-in locks and a wider range of accessories/clamps for different types of items.
- $750 and above: At the upper end of the cargo rack landscape lies a number of high-end, heavy-duty options that not only maximize surface area but also offer additional accessories and mounting options. In fact, many baskets in this range play well with other roof rack accessories from the same (and sometimes different) brand.
Ultimately, a roof-mounted cargo rack is only as useful as the amount of extra space it offers. The average rack has plenty of room for the typical assortment of suitcases and other small items you may take on trips. In larger designs, the amount of surface area expands to where you can comfortably fit larger items like bikes onto the roof. In general, baskets offer the most amount of space compared to cargo boxes by utilizing most of the roof's surface area.
Like any roof-mounted accessory, you need the right clamps to secure the rack to the top of the vehicle. In most cases, roof clamps are similar in design to other types of roof-mounted accessories. Most, however, are custom designed for a particular model of rack and vehicle. This means you'll need to find the right clamps for your vehicle to ensure compatibility between the two.
- Security: Securing items on the top of a cargo rack depends on a couple of things. First, simply securing the object to the roof will require clamps or straps that can attach to the various mounting points of a basket. If you have a cargo box, on the other hand, you won't need to worry about the extra accessories, especially if the cargo box locks into place.
- Aerodynamics: Anything you add to the exterior of a vehicle will affect the aerodynamics of it, reducing the fuel efficiency in most cases. That is why the design of a cargo rack is so important. An aerodynamic design will minimize the impact on the fuel economy the most. For cargo boxes, aerodynamic designs use sleek curves and pointed noses to slice through the air. On cargo basket designs, a low profile and bevel edges produce the same results.
Best Cargo Roof Racks Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- It can be helpful to measure the dimensions of your vehicle's roof (as closely as possible) to get an idea of the surface area you have to use with a cargo rack. In many cases, the width of the roof, in particular, will give you an idea of what objects you can carry (i.e. side by side) without any overhang.
- For open baskets, it's best to have some straps and clamps to secure everything down. Since a basket is a versatile mounting spot for large objects, you may find yourself different sizes of objects.
- Buy a common brand rack if you want a lot of accessories to add to your roof setup. Major manufacturers have whole roof rack ecosystems that play well together, regardless if you have a cargo rack, bike rack, or kayak carrier.
Q. What do I need to mount a cargo rack to my roof?
A. In most cases, you will need a good set of crossbars that span the width of the top of the vehicle. Crossbars can often handle many types of racks so you can have a versatile setup.
Q. Can I put a cargo rack on a truck?
A. Absolutely. Trucks offer a lot of space to haul stuff. Beyond the built-in space, you can mount roof and cargo racks onto the top. Some manufacturers also make ladder racks to haul even more.
Q. Can I have more than one cargo rack on my roof?
A. Some cargo boxes are narrow enough to where you can get two on the roof side by side. The lids of the boxes should be able to open from either side so you can easily access each box from the left and right.
Q. Will a roof rack survive harsh weather conditions?
A. Depending on the construction quality, most likely. Open baskets tend to be made of durable metals like steel and aluminum with a coating of weather- and UV-resistant paint. Cargo boxes, on the other hand, use lighter weight composites like fiberglass. These materials can take the typical bumps and scratches that happen in bad weather conditions, especially from rain and hail.
Q. Are cargo boxes watertight?
A. This depends on the design of the box itself. The space between the lid and the lower half of the box can allow water to leak into the interior space if there isn't proper weather stripping or foam along the edge. Some boxes also have a lid that extends over this space so water drips down instead of into the interior.
For its versatility in cargo storage options, the CURT 18115 Roof Rack earns our top spot. As an open cargo basket, it's hard to beat the convenience this carrier offers.
To save some money, check out the RoofBag Waterproof Rooftop Storage Bag instead. It offers a lot of storage and convenience in a simple design.