Best Hitch-Mounted Cargo Carriers: When You Need Extra Space
Handy cargo carriers that fit right onto the back of your vehicle
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
BY Hank O'Hop / LAST UPDATED ON November 5, 2021
Not everyone has room in their budgets for pickup trucks, though many people have use for them. That's why your buddy Dave with an F-150 is so popular. A hitch-mounted cargo carrier is far more feasible, affordable, and keeps you and Dave friends for years to come. It might not be as spacious as an 8-foot bed, but it frees cabin legroom and gets your gear wherever your planned adventure begins. That's why we want to discuss how to pick the right hitch-mounted cargo carrier for your vehicle and which ones we recommend. Let’s get into it.
High-quality cargo carrier coming from an industry-leading name. The ability to mount this to most hitch classes combined with a foldable design makes it a clear choice for many car owners.
- Compatible with 1 1/4-inch and 2-inch receivers
- Folds up against vehicle when not in use
- High-quality construction
- Carrier lower that receiver and might drag on some applications
- Might sit near exhaust on some applications
An affordable unit with quality that surpasses initial expectations. Solid materials and powder coating promote reliability while it supports the same weight as costlier units.
- Affordable price point
- Surprisingly good quality for the price
- Comes with hitch pin
Wide opening might cause items to pass through
Rattles quite a bit
Everything a standard carrier does, and then some. This is a foldable model with extra-high walls that comes with an anti-rattle stabilizer to promote an enjoyable ride.
- Deeper than average walls offer maximum support for cargo
- Includes anti-rattle stabilizer to maintain quiet ride
- Folds up neatly against the vehicle, even with tall walls
Issues with powder coating are somewhat typical
Elevation too high for lights in some applications
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 Hitch Cargo Carriers Reviews & Recommendations
How We Selected The Products
Hitch-mounted cargo carriers are pretty simple, really, which is good because we don’t have to evaluate much when choosing our favorites. In all reality, our biggest concerns are quality, manufacturer reputation, and capacity. We made sure to pick out models that we know you can trust to carry a good amount of cargo without crumpling under the weight. After that, we had the freedom to consider additional details such as pricing, make and model, and other useful features that help them better suit the needs of different consumers. We went through a long list of hitch-mounted cargo carriers and removed many from consideration until we came up with the list you see above.
Our product selections, rankings, and awards for this story are based on research. While we haven’t conducted real-world testing yet 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
Say you need something different than the options we’ve highlighted. No problem. There are some details that we considered that you’ll also want to take into account for. That’s why we’ve put together a quick buying guide for you below where we’ll walk you through everything that you need to know to make sure that you pick out a high-quality product that truly meets your demands.
Do You Need a Hitch-Mounted Cargo Carrier?
If you have a trailer hitch on your vehicle and routinely need more storage, it only makes sense to add a cargo carrier to your arsenal. You might not get the room of a pickup truck’s bed, but you add enough space for coolers, small dirt bikes, hunted animals, and other supplies when camping, on vacation, or during a move.
You can argue that unoccupied seats provide the same amount of room, and that is true. But what if you’re taking the family? You can load everything up on the cargo carrier and leave more than enough breathing room for the kids and dog. And as a bonus, you won’t have to worry about sharp corners tearing up the upholstery.
- It’s a quick way to add more storage space to your vehicle
- Frees up more cabin room for passengers during trips and keeps cargo from damaging the upholstery
- It supports more weight than a roof rack
What to Consider When Buying Hitch-Mounted Cargo Carriers
Thankfully, there’s not a lot to cargo carrier designs, as it’s a relatively simple construction. And as we said, you don’t have to look at much to determine if you’re picking out a good unit. Still, there are a few details you need to make sure you read into.
Receiver Hitch Size
The first thing you need to make sure of is that the cargo carrier will work with the receiver hitch on your vehicle. You determine this by verifying the shank size matches your receiver. Receiver hitches on cars typically have either a 1 1/4 or 2-inch receiver. If you’re not sure what you have, simply take a measuring tape out and find the size of the opening.
If you find a cargo carrier with a 2-inch shank, you can still use it for a 1 1/4-inch receiver with an adapter. However, this will reduce the tongue weight capacity by about 50 percent. So, you need to make sure that the weight of the cargo carrier and cargo doesn’t exceed that threshold. We say it’s worth upgrading your hitch because of this limitation.
Overall dimensions are an incredibly important detail as well. For one, it determines how much room you have for cargo. Obviously, you want to make sure you pick a cargo carrier that has enough surface area to carry what you need it to.
Also, keep in mind that the size of the cargo carrier is adding length to your vehicle. That usually isn’t more than two feet, but it’s something you will need to be aware of in traffic. You also want to make sure you pick a cargo carrier that’s any wider than your vehicle, or that’s wide enough to obscure your taillights.
Most hitch-mounted cargo carriers will have the ability to support about 400-500 pounds, which is more than enough for most situations. Still, weight quickly adds up as you start piling coolers and luggage on top of each other. So, you need to make sure you pick a sturdy enough cargo carrier for your situation.
As a rule of thumb, it’s better to play it safe and get a carrier that can support more than you think you’ll need. Even then, you need to be mindful of what you use it to carry, as overloading the carrier can lead to serious consequences.
Expert Tips On Hitch-Mounted Cargo Carriers
Before we close shop for the buying guide, let’s leave you with a few pointers on trailer cargo hitches. These are tips you can apply after your purchase to make sure you don’t run into any hiccups down the road.
Weight Distribution Has a Caveat
As we said when we spoke about hitch adapters, you need to consider hitch tongue weight capacity. Just because the cargo carrier can support up to 500 pounds does not mean you can safely load it up to that weight. Make sure you know what the hitch can support to prevent overloading it. Too much weight can damage the hitch and possibly even your vehicle’s frame.
Invest in a Cover
A hitch-mounted cargo carrier places your belongings outside of the vehicle. That means whatever is back there is subject to the elements. A cargo carrier cover is a simple upgrade you can make to ensure your belongings are safe. Trust us — rain, dust, and road debris won’t show any mercy while you’re driving.
Invest in a Hitch Lock
You do need a hitch pin to attach your cargo carrier, and the one you already have will work just fine. Still, we recommend investing in a locking-type pin, as it does slightly boost security. It won’t do anything to protect what’s on the carrier, but it does ensure the carrier isn’t going anywhere you don’t want it to.
All right, we know you have a few questions of your own. We just can't hear them. We can do the next best thing and answer some of the most commonly asked questions about hitch cargo carriers we've found on the internet!
Q. Are hitch-mounted cargo carriers safe?
Yes, cargo carriers are safe but only if used properly. So long as you don't overload them and secure your belongings properly, you shouldn't have any issues. Again, it's essential to be mindful of the receiver hitch's maximum capacity as you load it up to avoid problems.
Q. Do hitch-mounted cargo carriers need lights?
If your cargo obscures your vehicle's tail lights and reverse lights, it will need lighting. However, you shouldn't run into this issue if you pick the right size for your application and avoid placing gear back there that adds a substantial height to the carrier.
Q. How fast can you drive with a hitch-mounted cargo carrier?
For most situations, you can drive up to any speed limit with any hitch cargo carrier attached. That doesn't mean it's always safe, though. It would be best if you always drove with caution whenever you have one attached. Of course, you should always make sure your cargo is secured correctly, but driving aggressively can cause the cargo to shift unexpectedly, creating serious problems for you and other drivers.
Q. Are hitch-mounted cargo carriers legal?
Yes, cargo carriers are legal. You just need to make sure you do your part to ensure that they are safe. Always make sure everything is properly secured and that you're not obscuring your taillights. If you don't and an accident is caused because of it, you will be held accountable.
Q. Can you put a bike rack on a cargo carrier?
That depends on the model you have to work with. Some cargo carriers will allow you to attach a bike rack so long as they don't have raised sides that will interfere with installation. There are those that come ready for bikes out of the gate, such as the Tow Tuff TTF-2762KR Steel Cargo Carrier with Bike Rack.