LAST UPDATED: May 15, 2019
Best Cargo Roof Racks: Store and Carry More Cargo on the Roof of Your Vehicle
Learn all about the best roof-mounted cargo carriers
The Review Team
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PUBLISHED ON May 15, 2019
Having an extra way to carry cargo on your vehicle is a great thing to have 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. Here is our handy guide that breaks down all the info you need to know about the best cargo roof racks available today.
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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 2019
It's hard to beat the simplicity of a true cargo basket offers. While cargo contents are left exposed to the elements, the open basic design offers instant access and use. This is what makes the CURT 18115 basket an attractive cargo carrier: You can secure cargo and hit the road in just minutes.
The main frame of the cargo basket has several metal tubes welded together in a grid-like design. Despite its heavy-duty appearance, the basket has a surprisingly lightweight feel when mounting it to the roof. With everything included in terms of fasteners and clamps, installation is mostly straightforward.
Unfortunately, there is a small hiccup in the basket's installation setup. The included fasteners can be too short to fit with some styles of roof crossbars. The U-bolts also tend to stick out of the bottom of the basket and may need to be cut down.
The RoofBag cargo bag reduces the amount of money and time you'll spend on getting a decent amount of storage area on the roof of your car. Unlike metal and composite baskets and boxes, a cargo bag is more flexible in positioning and use. This one is no exception.
Despite using a soft surface design, the RoofBag is pretty tough when it comes to outside weather and impacts. The vinyl fabric does a good job of repelling water and protects the inside contents from wind and debris. The straps are also heavy-duty but easy to place around the roof.
Small drawbacks to the Roofbag's design includes a difficult zipper design that doesn't open smoothly. The vinyl surface also makes it difficult to expand the interior compartment to its full size without some wrangling.
The Thule Force gets our honorable mention spot for its take on a high-quality, enclosed cargo box. The design has a few unique features that make mounting and using the cargo box more easy than other competitors.
The real differentiators in the design are in the hinge and mounting mechanisms. The cargo box's lid is designed to open from the left or right so you can mount the box on either side of the roof. The available mounting kits fit a variety of crossbars and roof racks as well.
Given the composite construction of the exterior, there is a little bit of flex and give when moving and using the cargo box. While the exterior is strong enough to handle some knocks and impacts, the flex may be a turn off if you want to the most in terms of durability and protection.
This heavy-duty carrier bag is made of abrasion-resistant vinyl. Its measurements are 44 x 34 x 18 inches to give you 15 cubic feet of capacity. The bag is 100 percent waterproof. There’s a two-inch flap that covers the zipper to create more protection.
What’s nice about this carrier bag is that it comes with four 1.5-foot straps. This lets you secure it to your roof rack or rails. It also easily folds down flat to 11 x 6 x 15 inches for compact storage.
Unfortunately, the material can begin to shred at high travel speeds. While the bag could be secured with ratchet straps through the car, the included straps aren’t long enough for this. You’ll need to either have a rack or rails for the short straps to secure to or buy longer straps. The bag also tends to leak in heavy rain.
Mount this cargo basket on your roof and have 48 x 37.5 x 5 inches of storage space on your roof. It comes in a two-piece construction to make installation easier. The entire basket has a rough coat finish to prevent scratches and wear from the elements. Mounting hardware is included. The basket is constructed of heavy duty steel.
What’s nice about this basket is that it’s universally compatible. You can mount it on most factory OEM roof racks, including square and round rails. The mounting brackets are adjustable. There’s also an included air deflector for the front to make it more aerodynamic.
Unfortunately, this rack can begin to rust. The rack’s finish can also scratch, leaving the metal exposed. The pre-drilled holes don’t always line up, which makes for a more difficult installation. You also need to have crossbars on your roof to mount the basket.
Choose from either the 15- or 19-cubic-foot carrier. Both bags are made of military-grade 1680D PVC material to make the bag both waterproof and durable. The bags have double waterproof ABS zippers and dual seam construction. There is a double flap that covers the zipper and it has eight Velcro strips to hold it in place. The entire bag is treated with a waterproof coating. Included with the bag is a TSA-approved combination lock.
What makes this bag stand out is the additional hooks it comes with for installation. They hook to your car’s body underneath the door seal. This is both the safest and most secure way of strapping down your bag if you don’t have rails. Another nice extra feature is the 10 elastic Velcro straps located throughout the bag to prevent strap flapping.
The downside of this bag is that the straps aren’t as durable as the rest of the bag. They could break while driving, which causes the bag to come off. The door hooks are not compatible with all vehicles. The bag can also leak if you don’t secure the protective flap correctly.
This cargo box comes in three colors to match your vehicle: black, white, and titanium grey. You’ll have 14 cubic feet of cargo space and up to a 165 pound weight capacity. The entire box measures 62.5 x 30 x 15 inches. You can open the box from both sides, which makes accessing it easy no matter where you park. The box is made from sturdy ABS plastic and PC material. It comes with four quick-connect anchors to make installation fast and easy.
The aerodynamic shape of the box helps it to cut through the air. This reduces drag and noise while you’re driving. The box is also reinforced with metal lid stiffeners to give it stability and strength.
Unfortunately, the lock isn’t very strong or secure. The entire box feels a bit flimsy. The box also doesn’t have a universal fit, so be sure the dimensions fit the roof of your vehicle.
This large roof rack comes in 43, 64, and 84 inches in length. You also have the option of buying the racks alone or with a cargo net. All three sizes have a maximum weight capacity of 150 pounds. The baskets have a powder-coated finish and steel wind fairing to make it more aerodynamic. They come with all of the required installation hardware.
You’ll love the largest basket size because it gives you the greatest amount of freedom during installation. All three baskets come in modular pieces to give you a custom fit, but the largest basket comes in four pieces. You can create all three basket sizes with the included pieces.
The downside of this basket is that you need to have crossbars on your roof for the basket to mount onto. It also has limited compatibility and will only work on square crossbars up to 4.65 inches wide x 1.375 inches thick or round bars up to 1.375 inches in diameter.
This durable cargo bag is 100 percent waterproof with triple-layer waterproof tarpaulin material, welded seams, and zipper flaps. You can load the bag with up to 99 pounds of cargo. The bag measures 44 x 34 x 17 inches for a total of 15 cubic feet of storage space. The material features a double-wall construction with a middle layer of mesh cloth. The outer PVC layer resists harsh weather and protects against grit and dirt. The high-density inner layer gives the material extra strength and durability.
You’ll love how easy this bag is to install with the included eight reinforced straps and heavy-duty buckles. It folds down to about the size of a tablet when it's not in use.
The downside of this cargo bag is that the straps aren’t very durable and can break during use. The bag can also develop holes during use. The holes could open up at the seams or there could be tears in the middle of the material.
This spacious roof bag comes in two sizes: 15 or 20 cubic feet. The bags are waterproof as they’re made from heavy-duty tarpaulin and are treated with fabric guard. The zippers are coated to give them waterproof protection. Included with your cargo bag are a mat, storage bag, four roof rack straps, and four door hook straps. This bag is compatible with vehicles with and without roof racks.
What makes this cargo bag stand out is the aerodynamic shape of the bag. The front of the bag is sloped to create less wind resistance and reduce fuel consumption. The included protective mat is nice because it can protect the roof of your vehicle from scratches and potential damage.
Unfortunately, the stitching on the straps isn’t durable and can break during travel. This will cause the bag to fall off your roof. The protective mat can slip around during use, which can leave your roof exposed to damage. While you can technically use it without a roof rack, you’ll struggle to secure it in a way that ensures it stays in place.
- 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.