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How-to Guide

How to Choose the Right Roof Rack for Your Vehicle

 Updated: January 11th, 2020
How to Choose the Right Roof Rack for Your Vehicle

Maybe it’s the perfect weather for an unplugged weekend out in the woods, or perhaps you’ve planned a cross-country road trip to visit some friends. Either way, you have a lot of items to transport and not a lot of truck space. Instead of hitching up a trailer or loading up a hitch-mounted carrier, you want to load your roof for a hassle-free ride. Good candidates for roof cargo transportation are lightweight items that are too bulky to go in your trunk, but not large or heavy enough to merit towing behind in a trailer, such as bikes, luggage, kayaks, tents and similar items.

 Read on to find out how to choose the perfect roof rack for your vehicle and situation.

1

Determine what you want to transport

Determine what you want to transport

The items you want to put on your roof will be the determining factor for what sort of roof rack or carrier is best for your purposes. Luggage and smaller items could fit in a cargo box or basket, and specially-designed racks for bikes, kayaks, canoes and paddle boards safely keep those recreational items up and out of your way while driving.

2

Find out the weight capacity of your vehicle’s roof

Find out the weight capacity of your vehicle’s roof

Your roof can only support so much weight, especially if your car or truck also has a moon roof, and often side rails and cross bars will come with weight ratings of their own. The roof rack and load carrier capacity can be found in your vehicle’s owner manual, or online if you no longer have a manual in your possession.

3

Estimate the combined weight of your heaviest items

Determine what you want to transport

If you want to transport two heavy bikes, as well as entire months’ worth of clothing and essentials in a cargo box, you should make sure the combined weight is less than your vehicle’s maximum weight capacity. Especially if you plan on carrying mixed items, some planning might be required to make sure you aren’t going to overload your car. Perhaps the two bikes will be ok, but your luggage will have to go in the trunk.

4

Look at your vehicle’s current roof set-up

You need to know what look your vehicle’s roof is currently sporting in order to ensure that you acquire all the necessary equipment to transport your desired items. Roof side rails run front to back along the sides of a vehicle’s roof, and provide both a mounting point for roof cross bars as well as a convenient tie down point for securing cargo. Side rails are almost always a factory-installed option. Ideally, for safe and secure roof transportation, you should have side rails and cross bars. Certain cars might have cross bars attached to the roof with no side rails, however, that is quite rare with most standard vehicles and could lower the maximum roof weight capacity.

Side rails
Side rails
Side rails with cross bars
Side rails with cross bars
Cross bar roof rack without side rails - rare
Cross bar roof rack without side rails
Rare
5

Measure your roof for crossbars

Once you understand what is on top of your vehicle, fill in the gaps. If you have side rails and need cross bars, measure the width of your roof near the front and rear, as they could differ in size. It’s also important to note which type of measurement you’re taking (inside, center or outside), as different makes and models of cross bars attach to side rails in different ways. Although most will have a range of width adjustability, some are designed with a tighter fit and therefore accurate measuring is a must. If safety is a concern, consider an option that locks so your bars cannot be removed when you’re parked.

These locking Apex roof cross bars clamp to the inside of the side rails, and need to be fit using inner measurements.

These locking Apex roof cross bars clamp to the inside of the side rails, and need to be fit using inner measurements.

These locking Apex cross bars strap around the side rails, and need to be fit using center measurements

These locking Apex cross bars strap around the side rails, and need to be fit using center measurements.

The Apex universal roof cross bars have 11” of adjustability, and can accommodate most side rail widths

The Apex universal roof cross bars have 11” of adjustability, and can accommodate most side rail widths

Apex strap-attached cross bars

In addition to standard options that attach directly to side rails, strap-attached cross bars fit vehicles that have no side rails, such as smaller crossovers or sedans.

 You can find our full selection of cross bars here.

6

Choose a roof rack that suits your application

Cargo boxes

Cargo boxes

For an added level of protection, a Roof Box attaches to your vehicle’s roof bars to hold cargo in an easy-to-open hard container. The hardened plastic roof boxes secure your items during transportation better than a roof bag, and most can be locked. They tend to be more difficult to install, remove, and store than bags or baskets.

Cargo bags

Cargo bags

Waterproof roof bags offer increased protection for your luggage and are available in many different shapes and sizes to meet your cargo transport needs. As opposed to roof boxes, they are more flexible and easier to transport. When not in use, it can be folded up easily and stored.

Bike racks

Bike racks

Roof bike racks are a great option for carrying your bicycle(s) if the rear of your vehicle isn’t compatible with a mounted rack, or if you just don’t want your bike rack to get in the way. Each rooftop bike rack can hold a single bike, but multiple racks can be used if necessary.

Canoes or Kayaks

Canoes or Kayaks

Designed to transport your canoe or kayak on the roof of your vehicle using existing roof bars, canoe and kayak racks make transporting your boat simple. When using a rooftop canoe or kayak rack to transport your boat, make sure to properly secure your boat and stop occasionally during your trip to ensure it hasn’t come loose.

Cargo basket

Cargo basket

Cargo baskets allow you to transport large items with tie-downs, which is helpful if you have items that might not fit easily in a cargo bag or cargo box.

Paddle board racks

Paddle board racks

Flat with a top strap, paddle board racks firmly secure your stand up paddle board to both cross bars, and sometimes allow you to stack multiple boards on top of each other for compact transportation.

Ski and snowboard racks

Ski and snowboard racks

Ski and snowboard racks easily mount to your vehicle's roof rack to allow you to safely and easily transport your skis or snowboards. When selecting a ski or snowboard rack, bear in mind how many pairs of skis or snowboards need to be transported, whether anything else needs to be stored on the roof, and how often you will use the rack.

By having a good grasp on the weight of all your items, the maximum weight your vehicle can hold, and the ideal roof set-up you need for your vehicle, you will be able to choose the perfect roof rack for your next big trip.