Best Roof Racks: Carry Bikes, Skis, and More With These Top Picks
Let our top picks for the best roof rack guide you towards new adventures
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BY Lisa Conant / LAST UPDATED ON October 15, 2021
It seems that no matter what size vehicle you drive, you wish you had more space. This is especially true for people who drive compact cars and sedans. But, even if you have a roomy full-size pickup truck or SUV, there have probably been times when you just didn’t have enough room. This is why investing in a high-quality roof rack becomes a good idea. Such a rack can help fit bikes, luggage, surf boards, cargo boxes, and much more on top of your vehicle. If you’re in the market for a new roof rack, our list of top favorites and our quick-read buying guide will help you choose the best one to lug all your gear wherever you want to go.
Arksen offers tons of great features on its carrier basket. Made from heavy-duty steel, the rack measures 64 inches by 39 inches by 6 inches.
- Lightweight and easy to install
- Can hold up to 150 pounds of gear
- Basket design allows for many anchor points
- Not completely rust-proof
- Not the best for carrying bikes
- A little pricey
Made from lightweight, corrosion-resistant aluminum, this bar carrier is just what you need to haul around your favorite toys without having to sacrifice precious interior cargo space.
- Constructed from durable and lightweight aluminum
- Fits a wide variety of vehicles
- Can create wind noise when driving at higher speeds
- Clamps for the bars don’t include any padding to prevent paint scratching
- Mounting clamps could be more sturdy
Rugged 1-inch diameter steel tubes provide a solid and dependable framework that’s also got a black powder coating for extra corrosion- and rust resistance.
- Versatile and durable
- Allows you to easily transport a wide variety of items
- Includes a handy wind fairing to further decrease wind noise while underway
- Not as easy to install as some other models
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Best Roof Rack Reviews & Recommendations
How We Selected the Best Roof Racks
There are numerous different roof racks to choose from. In order to narrow down and select only the best options, we first chose products from reputable manufacturers. We wanted to offer a diverse selection of roof racks to suit different needs and wants. We also wanted to offer a wide range to suit any budget, whether you're price conscious or have a bit more to spend.
Our product selections, rankings, and awards for this story are based on research. While we haven’t conducted real-world testing on all of these products yet, we’ve looked at consumer testimonials and data, tutorials, and general discussions on social media and in forums. We also consider price and specification in the context of the segment. And, of course, we rely on our institutional knowledge of the automotive landscape to weed out weak products.
Buying Guide/What to Look For
Benefits of Roof Racks
- Extra storage. Roof racks allow you to store accessories on top of a vehicle. This means there’s more room inside the vehicle for storage, especially items not necessarily meant for all-weather conditions.
- Small investment, large return. Installing a roof rack on your vehicle broadens the possibilities and capabilities of your vehicle. You can use the roof rack to transport various objects and save space within the cabin.
- Universally applicable. Though some roof racks are meant specifically for certain makes and models and others can only fit on a particular vehicle type, there’s a roof rack out there for nearly all types of cars and SUVs.
- Adventure seekers’ best friend. Roof racks allow adventure seekers to take their gear with them as they find new roads and paths. Drive your car around, and store your gear on the roof rack for spontaneous adventures.
- Selling factor. Some accessories for your vehicle don’t necessarily add or detract from the vehicle’s value. However, roof racks often add an incentive for like-minded drivers. If you’ve already made the investment, a roof rack could help you get what you ask for when you trade it in or sell it privately.
Types of Roof Racks
When people think of a roof rack, many tend to picture two parallel beams strapped across the width of a vehicle’s roof. These types of roof racks are known as crossbars because they cross the width of the vehicle and typically attach to side rails or gutters. Most crossbars are meant for carrying bicycles. You can also get crossbars with multiple beams in a ladder configuration. With crossbars, you can haul anything that you can securely tie down that doesn’t exceed the weight limit capacity of your vehicle’s roof.
J-shape or J-bars are positioned close to one another to create a cradle-like shape. These types of roof racks are typically used for canoes and kayaks. This is because they mimic the curved shape of the canoe or kayak to create a more secure hold. J-bars are often sold in sets of two. One set mounts to each side of the car’s side rails for support.
The cargo basket roof rack is typically made from steel tubes that are around one inch in diameter. Though there can be quite a few cross members and connecting tubes in a basket roof rack, they can actually be very lightweight. Many models also include fairings to reduce wind noise and improve aerodynamics.
The best roof racks will be durable, able to repel the various weather conditions you may encounter, and endure through the years. Roof racks should wear well over time so they look like new for many years.
The best roof racks shouldn’t take a lot of time, effort, or brain power to assemble and install on your vehicle’s roof. The instructions from the manufacturer should be clear and have pictures to aid you in putting the rack together before you mount it on the car’s roof. Similarly, disassembling or simply removing the rack should follow the same protocol.
High Weight Capacity
Most people don’t have industrial scales to measure hundreds of pounds on a single surface. While it’s a good idea to make sure you don’t overload your vehicle’s roof, your roof rack should be able to handle what you throw onto it.
Strong Support Structure
The ability to carry a lot of weight can be great, but having a poor structure to hold all those pounds will get you nowhere. The best roof racks are well-built with strong main structures and bracing cross beams or width supports to distribute the weight. Even J-bars that are sturdy will include heavy-duty steel or aluminum construction.
Little to No Special Tools Required
The best roof racks shouldn’t require you to purchase special tools for installation. While some racks may come with a key or special tool to prevent theft, this shouldn’t affect the overall price. You should be able to assemble, mount, and remove the best roof racks with tools commonly found in a standard tool box.
- Using a sunroof when a roof rack is installed could be a problem. Depending on what type of roof rack you purchase, your sunroof may be blocked or it may not be able to function properly. Be aware of this when you use your sunroof when a roof rack is installed.
- Side rails and roof racks are not the same thing. Side rails or gutters are preinstalled on some vehicles to provide attachment points for a roof rack. Most crossover SUVs include some kind of side rail in their designs. Roof racks usually mount to side rails if they are installed, but this is not a requirement.
- If you’re concerned about your vehicle’s paint where the roof rack mounts directly to your vehicle, consider applying clear strips between the mounting points and the paint. This will cushion any rubbing that might occur and will preserve the paint surface in case you want to remove the racks at a later date.
- Be aware of the extra height added to your vehicle when you install a roof rack—and anything you mount on top of the rack as well. Consciously think of your vehicle as being much taller than normal so that when you encounter clearance areas you can respond accordingly.
- Properly secure objects on your roof rack. Because they are located at the top of your vehicle they will likely be subject to more force from winds at highway speeds. Check your roof rack tie downs periodically.
- Maintain and service your roof rack regularly. Before each major trip, make sure all the components are tightened and working as they should. If there are any doubts about parts or the rack itself consider purchasing a new unit.
Q: Will my car still fit through a carwash with a roof rack installed?
This depends on the type of cargo rack you select. Some roof racks can be low profile. The height of your car roof is a factor as well. Most touch-free car washes can accommodate cars with roof racks.
Q: How do I know if a particular roof rack will fit my vehicle?
There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether or not a particular roof rack will fit on your vehicle. The type of roof can play a big part, especially considering some of the design features on cars today, such as antenna covers. Having secure mounting points is key to choosing the right roof rack because without a good grip no roof rack will work well.
Q: Will my roof rack rust, and if so, how do I prevent that?
High-quality roof racks should be rustproof; however, it doesn’t hurt to add a bit of rustproofing for good measure. The main thing to remember when rustproofing a roof rack is that moisture is the culprit, so sealing bare metal is key.
Q: Does a roof rack (and its contents) affect fuel economy?
Fuel economy depends largely on how aerodynamic your vehicle is. For example, cargo boxes tend to be shaped aerodynamically, but they still add a large mass atop your vehicle. J-bar and crossbar roof racks alone (without cargo) shouldn’t make much of a difference in your overall fuel economy.
Q: Will the roof rack create road noise after it’s installed?
Depending on the aerodynamic design of the roof rack, it may or may not increase the wind noise of your vehicle. Most of the wind noise you hear comes from the small Jetstream between your vehicle and the roof rack where the air is being forced as you drive.
The Arksen 64-Inch Roof Rack Cargo Carrier is an excellent roof rack overall. This lightweight, basket-design roof rack allows you to transport a variety of objects on the roof of your car, leaving you more breathing room inside.
For a top-quality, budget-friendly choice, consider the CargoLoc 2-Piece 52" Aluminum Roof Top Cross Bar Set. Made from rust-resistant aluminum, this bar carrier is just what you need to haul around your favorite toys without having to sacrifice interior cargo space.