If necessity is the mother of invention, it’s little wonder that mankind has learned to carry their gear atop the ultimate nomadic invention of all time, the automobile. If you take at least one road trip a year, go camping at all, or find yourself in a state or national park renting a bike, kayak, canoe, or other recreational toys, a handy roof rack will transform your travels. Use the following six tips for choosing car roof accessories to find the best one for you.
1. Know Your Options
When choosing car roof accessories, make sure they can accommodate mounts for bikes, skis, rooftop tents, canoes/kayaks, or whatever equipment you may need. Here is a list of the basic types of car roof accessories.
- Cargo bags- Flexible and easy to transport. Can be removed and stored.
- Cargo boxes- An easy-to-open hard container. Attaches to the car roof bars. Offers more protection than cargo bags, but is harder to install and remove.
- Bike racks-Good for cars when the rear isn’t compatible with a mounted rack.
- Canoes/Kayaks- Uses existing roof bars to transport small watercraft.
- Paddleboard racks-Secures a SUP to both crossbars.
- Ski/Snowboard racks-Mounts easily to a car’s roof rack.
- Cargo basket-For larger items with tie-downs.
2. Choose the Right One for the Job
Consider what you want to transport. Appropriate items are ones too bulky for the trunk but not large enough to need a tow trailer. If you engage in a variety of activities, look for accessory mounts for each compatible rack. Then choose the option that is the most versatile. Remember that wider crossbars will hold more stuff, but they should only be as wide as your vehicle including the mirrors.
A cargo box or basket can be used for luggage and smaller items. Specially designed racks are available for bikes, canoes, kayaks, and SUPs.
3. Determine Your Car’s Weight Capacity
Your car’s roof can only support a certain amount of weight, especially if it has a sun/moon roof. Check your vehicle’s owner manual or online to determine roof rack and load carrier capacity. Keep in mind that crossbars and side rails have their own weight ratings.
The estimated combined weight of your heaviest items should be less than the vehicle’s maximum weight capacity. Plan accordingly for packing. For example, if carrying two bikes, your luggage may have to go in the trunk.
4. Consider Your Car’s Roof Setup
Your vehicle’s current roof setup will determine the equipment needed for transporting your desired gear. Roof rails run from front to back and give you a mounting point for roof crossbars and a tiedown point for securing cargo. Side rails are usually factory installed. For the most secure roof transportation, both side rails and crossbars together are best.
Some vehicles may have crossbars with no side rails. This is rare, but it could lower the maximum weight capacity.
5. Go For Strong, Not Heavy
Rack failure is the quickest way to ruin a trip. Flimsy racks may not make it into the backcountry. Opt for a roof rack that is strong rather than heavy. Many racks are made of dense steel, but a well-built all-aluminum rack is stronger and lighter than steel and has more load-carrying capacity.
Choose a rack manufacturer that specializes in gear for rough conditions. Then you won’t have to limit your trips to asphalt and will be free to find some of the best camping spots.
6. Learn How to Install it Correctly
A roof rack has a base and crossbars for securing various types of gear. Some vehicles have factory-equipped raised side rails that adapt to differing needs. You can also purchase “foot packs” that attach to rain gutters or fixed points on the roof. Be sure that the foot packs match both your vehicle and the crossbar system you’ll be using. With crossbars that attach perpendicularly to the feet or side rails, you can add the necessary mounts for varying gear.
If free installation is offered, take advantage of it, even if you are a dedicated DIYer. The manufacturer knows the best way to install your rack. If it’s necessary to do the job yourself, look for an installation video on the manufacturer’s site on YouTube. This will eliminate the hassle of trial and error.