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Buyer's Guide

Buying a Headache Rack: Your Questions Answered

 Posted on: July 30th, 2021

Buying a Headache Rack: Your Questions Answered

You’re thinking about getting a rack for your truck, but you’ve got some burning questions about whether or not a headache rack makes sense for your needs. Read on to uncover the what/where/why of the uniquely-named headache rack.

Commonly Asked Questions

What is a headache rack?

A headache rack has several functions, all of which are designed around keeping people and belonging safe.

  • It protects your cab from damage caused by loads bumping into the window due to an accident or sudden stop.
  • It adds a layer of security to prevent thieves from entering your truck from an unlocked cab window.
  • Depending on the design, it reduces the amount of sunlight that enters your cab, keeping it cooler in sunny or warm weather.
  • It provides a secure, safe place to tie down larger cargo that exceeds the height of your truck bed.

Why is it called a headache rack?

Because it will stop you getting headaches, duh! In all seriousness, headache racks save you from both literal and figurative head pain by making your truck more secure to prevent damage or injury from loads that are taller than the height of your truck bed.

Is a headache rack the same as a cab rack?

“Cab racks” generally refer to larger racks that are designed for semi-truck or flatbed use. They tend to include built-in storage for chains, binders, tools and other miscellaneous items. They provide some light protection against shifting loads but are not always rated or sold as safety products.

Are headache racks safe?

Installed correctly, the right headache rack is extremely safe. It’s definitely worth noting that there are headache racks on the market that are designed more for aesthetic reasons, which is why it's so important to read all the safety warnings and documentation before purchase.

Who should get a headache rack?

If you’re an industry professional who uses their pickup truck to transport building supplies, large loads, or similar items, a headache rack is a no-brainer. If you’re a man or woman who regularly uses your pickup to haul furniture, appliances, or other large items for your side hustle or hobby, then a headache rack is a smart investment.

Do I need to buy a specific width to match my truck or are there universal headache racks?

The great thing about headache racks is that many manufacturers offer models that are engineered to adjust horizontally, meaning that you can install them to the exact width of your truck. While they might not be universal in the sense that they fit every pickup truck make and model, they will fit most.

What pickup trucks won’t work with a headache rack?

2021 Honda Ridgeline side view with angled pickup bed sides
2021 Honda Ridgeline side view with angled pickup bed sides

The first generation Honda Ridgeline truck beds have angled sides that makes installing a headache rack unpractical and unsafe due to the angle. Similarly, if your truck bed sides are not level for any reason, a headache rack won’t be a good option for you.

Other trucks that headache racks won’t work with are the Nissan Frontier and Toyota trucks.

Nissan Frontier with Titan bed divider installed on Utili-Track railing
Nissan Frontier with Titan bed divider installed on Utili-Track railing

Nissan Frontier trucks installed with Utili-Tracks prevent clamp-mounted headache racks from being installed correctly. Some Frontier owners like to flip their Nissan bed dividers upside down and use them as a headache rack - it might look aesthetic, but it’s definitely worth noting that it won’t have nearly the same sturdiness and function as a headache rack designed for that purpose.

2019 GMC Sierra Denali with the carbon fiber truck bed
2019 GMC Sierra Denali with the carbon fiber truck bed

The newer GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado with carbon fiber bed liners also impede the proper installation of a headache rack. In the case of the Silverado, the tight radius design of the truck bed liner underside creates an angle that most clamp-mounted headache racks simply can’t get a purchase on.

When it was first revealed back in 2018, Car and Driver did a great in-depth review of the new bed design that highlights why GMC made the switch, and offers exploded visuals of the bed itself. It’s a great concept, nicely executed, just not compatible with most universal clamp-on headache rack designs.

Regardless of the truck make/model you have, if your truck bed has aftermarket or OEM bed rails installed then they will most likely not work with clamp-on headache racks. If you have questions about the compatibility of your vehicle, our knowledgeable team are on hand to give you the low down on what will and won’t work for your truck.

Do I need to drill holes in my truck to install a headache rack?

With most models, it will be necessary to drill into your truck to ensure that the headache rack is properly secured. If your truck has stake pockets, you’ll be pleased to know that some models, such as this one, are designed to fit into stake pockets with no drilling required!

Apex Headache Rack Mounting Brackets
Apex Headache Rack Mounting Brackets
Apex Headache Rack Mounting Brackets

One nice feature of our Apex headache rack line is that even though most models require drilling, they are all compatible with Apex Headache Rack Mounting Brackets. By installing the brackets, you eliminate the need to damage your truck. The mounting brackets insert into the rack and clamp securely to the sides of your truck bed. Trucks with built-in rails might not be compatible with the mounting brackets, so definitely check your truck and call us if you need confirmation of compatibility.

Can I install a headache rack with a toolbox in my bed?

Yes, as long as the headache rack is specifically intended to be used with toolboxes, or if you have adapter brackets (sold by many headache rack manufacturers and dealers) that ensure the headache rack arms allow the toolbox to sit level and as intended.

Can I install a headache rack with a tonneau cover?

Much like toolboxes, a tonneau cover will prevent most headache racks from being installed as intended. However, adapters and headache racks designed specifically to accommodate tonneau covers do exist to help you configure your truck accordingly.

How expensive are headache racks?

As with anything, there’s a range you can expect to pay with headache racks and it all depends on your needs, budget, and truck type. Always read reviews and price-compare to make sure you’re getting the best deal for a product that will live up to its worth.

Because Discount Ramps focuses on quality products at affordable prices, our line of Apex and Elevate Outdoor headache racks range between $160 to $260 for simple, classic designs.

A manufacturer like BackRack might be priced higher between $200 to $400 for similar universal racks, and specialty vehicle-specific manufacturers such as HammerHead offer headache racks that are priced in the $600s.

Design options


Crossbar: Simple grid design, good all-purpose cab protection.


Louver: Sturdier than crossbar, good for more heavy-duty applications, some visibility obstruction through the rear window.


Half-louver: Incorporates the strength of the louver design while offering full visibility through rear window.

Wire mesh

Wire mesh: Ideal for protection from lighter loads or loads with smaller components that might slip through a crossbar or louver design.


Mesh: The same protection as wire mesh on a stronger scale.

Flat Bar

Flat Bar: Good for tying down larger loads like appliances or equipment that don’t have small components.

Stops Tops

Top Stops: Almost all racks have vertical stops at the top of either side to keep overhanging cargo contained.

Top Crossbar

Top Crossbar: An additional top crossbar is a nice feature because it allows you to transport longer loads at a better angle to reduce the chances of overhang over your cab or windshield. These racks also pair really well with ladder racks, such as in this truck rack set or this one.

Steel or Aluminum?

It’s a question we get asked a lot – which is better? From a strength perspective, both steel and aluminum offer excellent strength. Steel tends to be a harder metal and won’t dent as easily, however steel is more prone to rusting which is why painted or power-coated steel is generally the industry standard. Aluminum tends to be priced higher than steel because it’s a costlier raw material, however it’s a lighter metal which means it’s easier to handle during installation and won’t add as much weight to your truck than a steel model.

Our Headache Racks Comparison Chart

Elevate Outdoor Aluminum Adjustable Headache Rack
Apex Adjustable Universal Steel Flat Bar Headache Rack
Apex Steel Mesh Adjustable Headache Rack
Elevate Outdoor Aluminum Adjustable Headache Rack and Ladder Rack Extension
Elevate Outdoor Half-Louvered Steel Headache Rack
Elevate Outdoor Adjustable Louvered Steel Headache Rack
Elevate Outdoor Adjustable Headache Rack
Brand Apex Apex Apex Elevate Elevate Elevate Elevate
Width Fits 62" to 74" Fits 59" to 74.5" Fits 63.5" to 78.5" Fits 57.25" to 74" Fits 59" to 74.5" Fits 59" to 74.5" Fits 57.25" to 74"
Design Crossbar Flat Bar Wire Screen Mesh Half-Louvered Louvered Mesh
Installation No-Drill Drill Drill Drill Drill Drill Drill
Construction Aluminum Steel Steel Aluminum Steel Steel Steel

Additional features

If you want to get really fancy, there are a lot of manufacturer who focus solely on higher-end headache racks that come with all the bells and whistles. Additional features include headache racks with built-in taillights, and headache racks that come with a winch mount to assist with loading certain kinds of cargo.