Photo Credit: In Green via Shutterstock

If you’re looking for a way to expand the cargo capacity of your vehicle, roof rails and roof racks should be somewhere on your shopping list. In addition to make your vehicle more practical, roof rails and roof racks come in handy if you’re planning to go on a road trip or need extra space for luggage that won’t fit in your trunk. Or perhaps you often go camping or carry outdoor sporting gear with you. Whatever may be the reason, there are plenty of roof rack options to fulfill your needs.

Some vehicles roll off the assembly line with roof rails, making it much easier to install a roof rack. But if your vehicle isn’t equipped with roof rails, there are a number of aftermarket options to choose from that work just as well as factory-installed units.

In this article, we’ll take a look at 15 of the best roof rails and roof racks you can purchase online and go into detail about what the product does and how it could benefit you. We’ll also help you answer the question of whether you need roof rails and a roof rack for your vehicle.

For more information on roof rails and roof racks, refer to our table of contents.

Recommendations

All these roof rails and roof racks are made to a high standard. Some of the affordable options can still compete in practicality with more expensive solutions which can say a lot about their build quality. But not all roof rails and roof racks are the same and some of them excel in particular areas.

Best overall: The Thule Complete CrossRoad System lives up to its name as one of the highest quality and most complete options, measuring 50″ in length and offering up to an additional 165 pounds of carrying capacity.

Best for aerodynamics: With the most sophisticated design, the Thule Aeroblade Roof Rack Bar has the most impressive aerodynamic performance based on its shape and on its WindDiffuser surface.

Best for affordability: The Vault Roof Rack 54” is the solution you need when you want practicality which will not require a considerable budget.

Best for versatility: With an enclosed shape, the Thule Sidekick Cargo Box is the solution you can use for various types of transportation needs you might have regardless of the season.

Best for water sports: The Inno Racks Water Sports Car Top Mount is the solution which is recommended for all types of water sports such as kayaking, canoeing, wind boarding, etc.

Best for ease of use: The Whispbar Through Bar Roof-Rack System is recommended for ease of use. As it comes with the sliding bar design, it represents the most practical option which is the fastest to mount and unmount from the roof of the car.

Best for naked roofs: The Perrycraft AVXX48-B Aventura Black 48″ is the best solution if you have a naked roof and you need to install your own roof rails.

1. Editor's Pick: Thule Complete CrossRoad System

thule crossroad complete roof rack system with load bars

When it comes to quality, this is one of the best products available. The Thule Complete CrossRoad System features a 50″ length and the rack fits most cars while handling heavy weights—up to an additional 165 pounds. Best of all, it features a user-friendly design that makes it easy to install with no tools necessary.

If your vehicle already has roof rails installed, the Thule Complete CrossRoad System securely straps into position. It features Thule’s own rubber-coated steel straps, which are extremely durable so you can mount and unmount the accessory often without worrying about excessive wear and tear. This product also includes locks for extra security and a lifetime warranty from Thule.

2. Best for Aerodynamics: Thule Aeroblade Roof Rack Bar

thule aeroblade roof rack load bars

One of Thule’s most aerodynamic products is the Aeroblade Roof Rack, designed to resist higher speeds with lower noise. The rack is also one of the most sturdiest options in its class. The Aeroblade Roof Rack is said to have been made with the ultimate attention for wind resistance and air flow, while also helps to reduce noise and drag from the rack.

Constructed from lightweight materials, this rack can accommodate up to 165 lbs, making it similar to the maximum carrying capacity of most roof racks in the market. That means it’s also a sturdy option for heavy equipment and luggage. This product is also one of the most straightforward to install and includes the AcuTight Tensioning Tool so you can see whether the rack is completely secured.

3. Best for Affordability: Vault Cargo Management Roof Rack Crossbars

vault roof rack crossbars

From Vault Cargo Management are these 54″ universal locking crossbars, which feature padded clamps to protect your vehicle and its roof rails from scratches. The clamps have a built-in locking mechanism, making it one of the most up-to-date anti-theft solutions. These crossbars have a raised profile and its design can easily be used for outdoor sports equipment. Measuring 54″ in length, this product works with side rails that are up to 47″ apart and comes with a 150-lb weight capacity.

These universal crossbars are ideal for protection and affordability and is also one of the few products that includes added rubber strips that run along the length of the rack, protecting your cargo. Overall it has a low profile, aerodynamic design and can work on most roof rails with a minimum 1.2″ clearance from the roof.

4. Best for Versatility: Thule Sidekick Cargo Box

thule sidekick cargo box

Our pick for the most versatile solution is the Thule Sidekick Cargo Box, which provides plenty of extra storage for your vehicle. It’s compatible with numerous types of mounts or roof rails and has a side opening lid that will allow you to stuff all sorts of extra cargo into it. It’s a practical option for vehicle owners who want to expand cargo capacity by using a roof rack, rather than a hitch mounted to the rear of the car.

The Thule Sidekick Cargo Box has a versatile lockdown system and the rack can works well with all types of bars, such as round or square crossbars. Overall, it offers 8 cubic feet of storage, while still being one of the most compact options in its class. This makes it ideal for smaller cars as well, such as sedans.

Although it is one of the smaller cargo carriers offered by Thule, it’s one of the most versatile and best. Once it is properly installed, you can use the included locking mechanism to secure your items to prevent possible theft.

5. Best for Water Sports: Inno Racks Water Sports Car Top Mount

inno racks water sport car top mount

Water sport enthusiasts can save money by purchasing this product from Inno Racks, which can accommodate multiple types of gear including kayaks, canoes, wind boards, paddle boards, or longboards. The Inno Racks Water Sports rack is designed to be a universal fit item, so it works well with round, square, or factory roof rails. It also features a unique locking system. If you’re looking for a fast and secure way to mount your water sports gear, this is it.

Featuring the largest lever and ratcheting mechanism in its class, this rack not only saves time but is very practical. It also uses Inno’s locking mechanism with keys, to ensure your gear is always locked to the rack. There is also a floating strap system to keep all your cargo nice and safe, while making it easy to unload when needed.

6. Best for Ease of Use: Whispbar Through Bar Roof Rack System

whispbar through bar roof rack system

One of the more premium offerings is also our pick for ease of use—the Whispbar Through Bar Roof Rack System. This stylish roof rack offers great aerodynamic performance and includes 4 towers so you don’t have to mount it on standard roof rails. Also included are 4 SmartFoot mounts that are cushioned, helping prevent any scratches from appearing on your vehicle. The bars can also be used with different mounts, since they can easily be removed from the mounts they came with.

Along with aerodynamic performance, this rack also supports up to 220 lbs in load capacity, which is above average. As a premium offering, it also comes with built-in SKS locks for extra security.

7. Best for Naked Roofs: Perrycraft Aventura Black 48" Roof Rails

perrycraft aventura black long roof rail

If your car lacks roof rails straight from the factory, there are plenty of aftermarket offerings to consider. If your roof is naked, take a look at Perrycraft’s Aventura Black Roof Rails if you’re looking for a way to add a roof rack to your car. These roof rails are able to accommodate different types of roof racks and feature a 220-lb maximum load capacity with a raised design. That means it will work with multiple crossbars as well.

Ideal for SUVs and minivans, these rails are available in 48″, 58″, or 68″ options and are manufactured with T-6 aluminum with UV protection and a powdercoat finish. These roof rails are also one of the best solutions when it comes to durability.

8. RhinoRack 2500 Series

rhino rack euro 2 bar and leg roof rack set

Able to handle up to 165 lbs is the RhinoRack 2500 Series, which is also one of the most versatile roof racks in its class. While it is ideal for transporting heavy outdoor equipment such as kayaks, one of its main advantages is that it can fit on vehicles that don’t have roof rails already installed. In those situations, the RhinoRack 2500 Series mounts right above the front and rear door.

Designed to fit a wide range of vehicles, from sedans to SUVs, this roof rack also includes a key lockable mechanism to help prevent theft.

Read More Top 10 Best Cargo Carriers and Roof Boxes for Your Car

9. Yakima SUPDawg Paddle Board Carrier

yakima superdawg s.u.p carrier

This is more of a specialized roof rack, designed specifically for stand up paddle (SUP) boards. It’s called the Yakima SUPDawg and can accommodate two boards with the ability to mount on different rails or crossbars. It can also mount in minutes thanks to the same tool-free installation process used across Yakima’s range of roof racks. This particular rack also comes with rubber-padded arms to protect the boards and if you want to leave them on the rack, you can keep them locked and secured through the SKS system.

Weighing 14 lbs, this roof rack comes fully assembled and features a premium glossy finish.

10. CargoLoc 2-Piece 52" Aluminum Roof Top Crossbar Set

cargoloc 2-piece aluminum roof top crossbar set

Designed to be mounted on raised cross rails is the CargoLoc 2-Piece Crossbar Set. If your vehicle came equipped with raised roof rails, installing these crossbars is the next step to expand cargo capacity on your vehicle. This is one of the most robust options in its class and is capable of handling weights up to 150 lbs. The 52″ variant of this product can cover a maximum distance of 46″ between the crossrails, although there are shorter alternatives available.

These crossbars also come with a built-in lock system to prevent them from being stolen. They can be easily mounted and unmounted when not needed and feature an adjustable clamp system that is among the best for this type of product.

11. Yakima JetStream Crossbar

yakima jetstream

If you’re looking for a product that balances aerodynamics with durability, take a look at the Yakima JetStream Crossbar. This design offers great performance and quality and is compatible with many tower supports, such as Baseline, Ridgeline, Skyline, or Timberline. It can also be used on vehicle with or without existing roof rails.

Thoroughly wind tunnel tested, the JetStream CrossBar boasts a T-slot design, making for quick rack mounting. It also allows you to use specialized racks, such as the SkiClick from Thule. This crosbar is available in 50″, 60″, and 70″ and weighs just 8.5 lbs thanks to extruded aluminum construction. Equally as important, it’s also one of the quietest options in its class, even when mounted on roof rails.

Read More Top 5 Best Thule Ski and Snowboard Racks for Cars

12. Sailnovo 20 Cubic Feet Car Roof Top Carrier

sailnovo car roof top carrier

If you’re in need of a compact solution to expand cargo space, take a look at the Sailnovo 20 Cubic Feet Car Roof Top Carrier. Offering good practicality and durability, this is also one of the most affordable options in its class. Featuring a waterproof design, this roof top carrier is easy to install, with straps that attach to the roof rails. It uses a total of 6 attachment straps and 2 long straps—that go on top for extra security—making it a safe and easy solution for many vehicles.

Constructed from rubber-laminated nylon, this product is designed to handle up to a 20-cubic feet load and is one of the smaller products on the market. No tools are needed to mount it to your vehicle. If you are carrying fragile objects however, keep in mind this carrier does not have a hardtop cover.

Read More Top 15 Best Ski and Snowboard Racks for Cars

13. SportRack Complete Roof Rack System

sportrack complete roof rack system

For the most part, square-mounted roof racks aren’t as common these days. They have reduced aerodynamics, which means they’re not highly desired among vehicle owners who look to maximize their fuel economy. They still have their advantages however, especially when it comes to carrying specialized sports gear. If you’re looking for a roof rack with a flat surface, the SportRack Complete Roof Rack System is one of the better options. As a complete system, you don’t necessarily need to have pre-installed roof rails to mount it.

Taking advantage of the flat design of the square bar, this system is fully adaptable. It works with a variety of racks and holders, including box-style designs to specialized bike racks, ski, and snowboards racks, or even kayak racks. And although it is affordable, it comes with some modern features such as a no-tool installation process, the ability to lock it to the roof of your car, as well as compatibility with most modern cars. Since it doesn’t require roof rails to install, this rack can be mounted directly on the position marks above the doors, as indicated by the automaker.

Just keep in mind since it’s not a very aerodynamic design, this roof rack could be noisy.

Read More Top 13 Best Car Bike Racks

14. Yakima LoadWarrior

yakima loadwarrior rooftop cargo basket

If you’re looking for something that’s simple, yet versatile, the Yakima LoadWarrior is the way to go. It can easily be mounted on crossbars or multiple types of roof rails and in some cases, it can be attached directly to roof rails. The rack itself is practical and doesn’t specialize in a particular type of gear-carrying, so it’s ideal for different types of luggage or weatherproof camping gear.

Weighing 25 lbs, it’s not exactly the lightest roof rack that’s available, but it can take advantage of different extensions and locking mechanisms. Overall, it’s a sturdy unit and it can be used with other racks as well since it’s fairly compact. There’s a LoadWarrior extension that can be purchased, adding 18″ to the rack or an extra 40% loading capacity.

15. Whispbar Rail Bar Roof Rack System

whispbar rail bar roof rack system

Another premium roof rack offering is the Whispbar Rail Bar Roof Rack System. Featuring an aerodynamic design that is made to significantly reduce air drag, this roof rack mounts directly on roof rails with a clearance and can also be an option with standard roof rails, or with added systems such as the Perrycraft product we took a look at earlier.

It sports an overall elegant design and is very simple to install without the need of any special tools. It can handle up to 220 lbs of load and many of its owners are pleased with its quality and versatility.

Everything You Need to Know About Roof Rails and Roof Racks

Roof Rails and Roof Racks

Photo Credit: Alexander Narraina via Shutterstock

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast or often travel with sports gear, roof rails and roof racks are almost an essential accessory for your vehicle. You’ll likely need expanded cargo capacity for all your gear, but there are a lot of things to take into consideration when shopping for roof rails and roof racks. For starters, the type of accessory you can use will be limited by your vehicle. Some cars will come straight from the factory with roof rails installed by the automaker, but some vehicles aren’t compatible with roof rails at all.

A good general rule is to look at the roof of your vehicle and check to see if there are two rubber or plastic strips. If there are, that means you can likely install roof rails on your vehicle. However, if your car doesn’t have those strips as standard, you’ll have to shop for certain aftermarket options that can be installed onto your car’s roof.

When it comes to installing the accessory, it will depend on whether you’re opting for roof rails or a roof rack. For either product, the install can be done at home, but generally installing roof rails will require power tools, while most roof racks do not. If you’re not familiar with using power tools, it’s highly recommended to seek professional help with installing aftermarket roof rails.

What are the benefits of using roof rails?

To start by learning the differences between roof rails and roof racks, we’ll take a look at the benefits of using roof rails. Roof rails serve as a base for your roof rack installation and can assist in carrying various cargo or sporting equipment. Here are other benefits of mounted roof rails:

  • Serves as a base for various roof racks or roof cargo boxes
  • Can be used on multiple types of vehicles including sedans, hatchbacks, SUVs, and even some vans
  • Can assist in carrying sporting equipment such as skis, snowboards, bikes, kayaks, and more
  • Sturdy since they are screwed to the top of the car
  • Difficult to steal
  • Can also serve as a base for aluminum or steel crossbars

As we mentioned before, some vehicles will come standard with roof rails straight from the factory. You’ll often find them on utility vehicles and wagons, but some sedans will come equipped with roof rails, such as the Subaru Impreza seen above. For vehicles that don’t have roof rails as standard or an option, you’ll have to look at aftermarket options.

What are the benefits of using roof racks?

As for roof racks, these are installed on top of roof rails or on top of crossbars, serving as a mounting point for gear such as bikes or skis. Roof racks are typically the primary option for people who lack space to carry sports equipment inside their car. Here are some other benefits of roof racks:

  • Great for transporting large outdoor gear such as bikes and skis
  • Unlike hitch-mounted racks, roof racks leave easy access to the trunk
  • Able to lock sporting equipment to the rack to prevent theft
  • Expanded versatility for cargo transportation with the ability to add cargo boxes
  • Can easily be removed and placed in storage when not being used
  • Offers summer and winter outdoor gear transportation

How to choose the best roof rails?

If you’re shopping for roof rails, you may notice there are a few different options available on the market. Unlike roof racks, roof rails are generally more restrictive, so it’s important to take a look at the possibilities the roof of your car might offer:

  • Solid roof rails
  • Raised roof rails
  • Fixed point rails
  • Plain roof

Of all the options, solid roof rails are the most durable since there is no gap between the car and the rail. In theory, that means they can handle increased weight. But as for functionality, they are not really that different from any type of rail, but they do have a sleek design which means you’ll often find them on today’s modern cars.

Raised roof rails have a slimmer profile and are rails that have a space between them and the car. These aren’t as popular these days, but you can still find them on wagons. In terms of functionality, they work using the same principles as other roof rails.

Typically covered by plastic, rubber, or a metal strip, fixed point roof rails are often found on many cars, regardless of their size. Installing roof rails on fixed point rails tend to be the most difficult to install.

There are a few cars that have just a plain roof, which means no roof rails, no raised roof rails, and no fixed points. It’s a valid question on whether you can add a roof rack to a vehicle with a plain roof, and the good news is that there is one possibility—it requires you to fix crossbar-style raised bars or racks on the door jamb.

Choosing the best roof rails will often come down to what fits. Some cars already come with roof rails as standard, while others you’ll have to add your own roof rails or you may even want to replace the factory-mounted units.

How to choose the best roof rack?

Best Roof Rails and Roof Racks

Photo Credit: In Green via Shutterstock

Unlike roof rails, choosing the roof rack isn’t as straightforward. There is a large variety of options available in the market, so here are a few of the features and characteristics you should pay attention to when narrowing down your choice:

Fit

This may sound like common sense, but you’ll want to start by seeing which roof racks fit your vehicle. Most manufacturers use straps or adjustable clips, which work on a variety of roof and square roof racks. There are also factory standard and aerodynamic racks you can purchase, just make sure they actually fit your vehicle.

Ease of installation

Although it’s not an accessory you’ll often need to uninstall, ease of installation is an important factor to consider when choosing a roof rack. Certain products will require the tightening or securing of straps for the roof rack to be properly installed onto roof rails or crossbars. But some products, like those offered by Thule or Yakima, use a universal mounting system that tightens with a turn of a knob. It’s up to you to decide if convenience is worth the price difference.

yakima fatcat evo 4 ski rack

Height

Naturally adding a roof rack to your vehicle means you’ll have to consider overhead clearance. Not only will the rack increase the height of your car slightly, but carrying equipment on top of it will limit the areas you can reach with your car. A few examples of roof racks that add quite a bit of height to your vehicle include Yakima’s FatCat 6 Evo’s 5.25 inches or Thule’s Pulse Alpine Ski Box‘s 12.5 inches. You’ll want to make sure you’re still able to fit in garages or underground spaces with the addition of a roof rack.

Weight

You’ll also want to take into consideration how much weight a roof rack will add to your vehicle, in addition to how much weight it supports. Check your car’s guidelines as to how much weight can be loaded onto the roof of your vehicle, and keep in mind how the weight is distribution is important as well. It’s not the same for a car’s roof to carry 150 lbs of evenly distributed weight compared to all the weight being concentrated on a small area.

Shape

If you’ve done any sort of shopping for roof racks, you may already be aware that they come in a wide assortment of shapes and styles. The bottom line is that not all roof racks are the same, and you’ll want one that works as a solution for what you plan on transporting. Typically people are familiar with roof racks for sporting equipment, such as bikes, but there are also solutions designed for cargo boxes that can help maximize your vehicle’s capacity. Choose the right option for what you plan on carrying with your vehicle.

3- Thule Force -Large 628 Cargo Box is one of the best sports racks for your car.

Storage

Keep in mind that not all roof racks must remain mounted on the car when they’re not being used. That means you’ll want to consider how easily the rack can be stored if it’s not being used. The average roof rack doesn’t require too much storage space, but it’s something to consider.

How do I know what kind of roof rack do I need?

Deciding what kind of roof rack you need comes down to the type of cargo or equipment you’re planning to transport. If you’re going skiing, look for a ski or snowboarding rack; but if you’re going cycling, you’ll need a bike rack. If you’re looking to protect your cargo from the elements during transport, a cargo box is recommended. There are even specialized designs if you’re looking for a more ideal solution for your particular situation.

Can roof racks be removed?

Regardless of the type of roof rack you purchase, it can be removed after installation. Some modern roof racks can be installed or removed in as little as 15 minutes, which means you can remove it from your vehicle when it’s not being used.

Is a roof rack dangerous?

When installed correctly, a roof rack is not a dangerous accessory. They can however, be dangerous if you don’t take overhead clearance into consideration. In addition, driving at high speeds in windy conditions with a roof rack may make your vehicle less stable. Pay careful attention to the tips from the manufacturer of the roof rack to help reduce those risks. Conditions will vary depending on where you live, so consider your driving speed when traveling with a roof rack and cargo.

What tools do I need to install a roof rack?

Most modern roof racks do not require any special tools to install. Typically they use rubber straps for installation, although some older designs do require fitting bolts and screws.

What tools do I need to install roof rails?

Roof rails on the other hand, will generally require multiple tools for installation. The process also takes longer depending on the roof rail. Some tools you may need to keep handy are screwdrivers, needle nose pliers, Torx drivers, a file, drill, drill bits, pushpins, jigsaw, and plastic trim tools.

Can I fit roof rails on a car under warranty?

If warranty is a concern, you will want to check with your dealer if it can install roof rails under warranty, or if you can have a professional install them while retaining your car’s warranty.

Does the shape of the roof rack influence car performance?

Adding a roof rack and subsequent cargo to the roof of your vehicle will affect it’s overall aerodynamics. This results in lowered fuel economy and more drag on your vehicle. Overall vehicle performance can also be affected due to added weight. Most importantly however, you’ll want to keep in mind that traveling with a roof rack and cargo may mean driving at slower speeds to be safe. Some products claim to be more aerodynamic than others, so if fuel economy is a concern, pay close attention to a roof rack’s aerodynamics.

General Tips on Installing Roof Rails

Not all roof rails will be installed with the same process, so follow the instructions carefully. But if you’re looking for an idea of how roof rails are installed, here is a general overview of the steps involved if your vehicle came with rubber roof strips.

1. Remove the rubber strips on the roof

  • This step is fairly straightforward, as removing the rubber strips on your roof shouldn’t be very complicated. On most vehicles, this can be done by hand by pulling on the strips to raise them from your vehicle. Once a section of the strip has been lifted, you can remove it by pulling it towards the front of the vehicle.

2. Remove the rear hinge bracket

  • Some vehicles will have a rear hinge bracket, especially on larger cars. This bracket normally can be easily removed, but may require some extra force. Some cars will require you to open the trunk so the bracket can slide out unobstructed. A rubber mallet is recommended for this step, since you don’t want to accidentally break the bracket.

3. Modify the hinge bracket

  • For some roof rails, the bracket will end back up on the roof of the car, but not before you make some modifications to it. This is where a jigsaw can come in handy so you can cut the hinge bracket down to the necessary size and shape. And this doesn’t have to be a perfect job, since the bracket will be covered by the roof rails once they’re installed.

4. Modify the roof rubber strips

  • The rubber strips you removed from the roof of your car in the start may need to be shortened. The length required is typically noted in the roof rail installation instructions. Measure the strip and mark where it needs to be cut before you do the actual cutting.

5. Install the trim piece

  • Start from the front of the car to reinstall the shortened trim piece back onto the roof of your car. For most vehicles, this piece is made from plastic and will clip into position.

6. Remove the remaining plastic clips from the roof

  • If there are any remaining plastic clips that are exposed on the roof, you’ll want to remove these with a flathead screwdriver or similar tool.

7. Reattach the plastic hinge cover

  • You can now reinstall the plastic hinge cover to the back of the roof rail. Pay close attention as you’ll have to position the cover so that it attaches to some of the plastic clips. To make it easier, you can remove the plastic clips from the roof of the car first and attach it to the plastic hinge before snapping it all back in.

8. Install the mounting bracket and roof rail cover

  • Depending on the roof rail, your next step will be to line up the bolts and install the mounting bracket into place. All roof rails should come with the necessary hardware for install.

General Tips on Installing a Roof Rack

Compared to installing roof rails, installing a roof rack is generally much simpler. In fact, most products won’t require any special tools since modern roof racks come pre-assembled. That means you’ll likely have to just mount them onto your roof rails or crossbars.

1. Place the rack on the crossbar

  • Most roof racks will come with securing straps or clamps already mounted to the unit. Start by placing the front piece on the crossbar, towards the front of the car, and the rear piece towards the rear of the car. Make sure they are centered with equal spacing to the edges of the crossbars.

2. Lock the rack into position

  • In order to secure the rack onto the crossbars, you’ll need to tighten the straps that are included. Most racks come with adjustable straps that can be tightened into by position by simply turning a knob.

3. Test for sturdiness

  • Once your roof rack has been installed, check and make sure it’s nice and secure. Since you’ll likely be driving at high speeds, wind resistance could possibly move the rack, which is something you will want to avoid. Make sure everything is sturdy before adding cargo to the roof rack.

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