Written By Heather Fishel
Updated Jan 27, 2022 12:18 PM
Sure, you can fit plenty of groceries and luggage (and maybe even a couple of coolers) in your car’s available cargo space. But if your trunk is filling up far too often —or you’re struggling to fit large items such as kayaks, bikes, or extra-large luggage — then it’s time to step up to a new storage solution. Don’t settle for the limited cargo space available inside your vehicle. Instead, give yourself more room with a roof rack.
Available in countless styles from simple racks to baskets to expandable racks with side rails, roof racks fit vehicles small and large. They’re made for the city and for off-roading, and they can carry everything from outdoor gear to canoes and boards. Add one of the best roof racks to your vehicle, and you’ll be ready to do more.
In order to choose the best roof racks, we took a close look at the types of racks available for vehicles of all styles and sizes. We considered options for small passenger cars as well as those suited for off-roading and SUVs, highlighting the best in each category. Along the way, we sought out products that offered easy installation, a secure, wobble-free fit, and the ability to fit plenty of cargo. We also considered roof racks that could carry unusually sized items or adapt to haul equipment of all kinds. In particular, to assess durability, we made sure to look at the material of each rack, as well as the weight or load rating, to ensure your items could travel safely.
Best Roof Rack Reviews & Recommendations
Best Roof Rack Overall
The Smittybilt Defender Rack Welded One-Piece Roof Rack is no slouch. It’s a tough and capable workhorse that’s able to carry as much as you need. It’s also versatile, giving you plenty of functionality and a fit that works with pretty much any vehicle on the road today. With a universal fit design, all you need is a vehicle-specific mounting kit (sold separately), and you can choose from multiple mounting positions to get the rack secure and in the right position. Made out of 16-gauge welded steel tubing that’s covered in a protective, textured black powder coating, this roof rack is durable yet lightweight and aerodynamic, so it won’t alter your fuel efficiency or speed.
Keep in mind that you do have to drill into your roof in order to get this cargo basket roof rack mounted securely. Additionally, since the mounting system is sold separately, you’ll need to make sure you invest in the exact fit for your make, model, and model year.
- Fits Universal fit
- Mounting Requires mounting kit
- Material Black powder-coated steel
Welded corners and seams
Lightweight and aerodynamic
Mount in multiple configurations
Mounting kit sold separately
Best Roof Rack Value
When it comes to value for your money, the Haul-Master Roof-Mounted Steel Cargo Carrier is a fantastic pick. This all-welded cargo basket roof rack is designed to suit any vehicle (as long as it can support 150 pounds of dynamic weight), and you don’t have to purchase any extras to get a flawless fit. Made out of steel, this rack is coated in a durable weather-resistant finish that can stand up to bumps, bangs, scratches, and cargo hook usage. And you can easily place this rack onto your existing roof rails or cross bars, getting a secure fit in no time. All of the accessories and installation hardware you need come with the rack itself, giving you everything you need at an affordable price.
The only issue you may have is your vehicle’s cargo capacity load rating. Double check before purchasing to make sure your vehicle can carry this kind of rack, while it’s empty and packed with cargo.
- Fits Universal fit
- Mounting Uses existing roof rails or cross bars
- Material Steel
Tough, all-welded steel construction
Coated in a weather-resistant finish
Can handle cargo hooks, bumps, sunlight, and more
All installation hardware is included
May not suit all vehicle cargo capacity limits
If you’re hoping to increase your available cargo space and carry items such as bikes, kayaks, and outdoor equipment, the Rhino-Rack Pioneer Platform is a great base. This roof rack, which offers a universal fit for most vehicles, is designed to be a platform on which you can build a customized cargo-hauling setup right on your vehicle’s roof. Made out of aluminum and reinforced fiberglass nylon, this rack is covered in a black powder coating for added corrosion protection. It features built-in accessory channels so you can use Rhino-Rack cargo accessories, and there are even integrated wiring capabilities in this rack so you can set anything on it. You can adapt it to your vehicle and needs, with corners that can be drilled or cut out. It’s also backed by a five-year warranty.
In order to customize and fully equip this roof-rack platform, you’ll have to invest in Rhino-Rack accessories, which increases the investment. Additionally, you’ll need a vehicle-specific mounting kit, which is sold separately.
- Fits Universal fit
- Mounting Requires mounting kit
- Material Aluminum and reinforced fiberglass
Aerodynamic and lightweight
Black powder coated
Installation is easy
Compatible with Rhino-Rack accessories
Requires mounting kit
Accessories not included
Best No-Drill Roof Rack
The Lund Roof-Rack Cargo Basket is a great solution if you want to expand your available cargo space yet don’t love the idea of drilling into your vehicle. Designed as a no-drill rack, this product creates a 39 x 44 inch cargo basket on your roof, though it fits only SUVs and minivans. Made out of tough steel and covered in a protective, corrosion-resistant powder coating, the rack can hold bags, luggage, coolers, and more. It attaches to your existing roof rails or cross bars, and it’s lightweight enough that you won’t have any trouble handling the rack components during installation. In fact, it’s so easy, it can be put together in 30 minutes or less.
The powder-coated finish on the rack can scratch off easily, however. It may become compromised with some wear and tear, and that can ultimately lead rust to develop.
- Fits Most SUVs and minivans
- Mounting No-drill mounting
- Material Powder-coated steel
No drilling required
Uses existing rails for secure fit
Not for smaller vehicles
Finish can scratch off
Best Cross-Bar Roof Rack
When you’re carrying items on a roof rack, they’ve got to be secure. With the SportRack Square Crossbar Roof Rack, you’ll keep both goods and the racks themselves in place. This universal fit roof rack fits onto just about any vehicle, and it can be used to carry everything from luggage to skis to bikes to kayaks. It’s a set of crossbars that clamp and latch onto your rooftop and protect it against damage with a set of soft rubber pads. Able to carry up to 130 pounds of cargo, these crossbars are made out of durable steel, with a black plastic coating meant to offer corrosion protection. One of the best features is the series of integrated locks on the crossbars, which secure your items and the rack to your roof and can only be opened with the included chrome keys.
The only issue you might encounter with this roof rack is a slight whistling sound traveling 55 miles or more per hour. Additionally, if you live in a hot and sunny climate, you may experience issues with the plastic components.
- Fits Universal fit
- Mounting Clamps and clips
- Material Steel and plastic
Durable steel construction
Fits most vehicles
Anti-theft locking mechanisms
Plastic components can fall off
Creates whistle at high speeds
Best Adjustable Roof Rack
Customize your extra cargo space by adding the Curt Universal Roof Rack to your vehicle. Designed with a universal fit for most vehicles, this rack and cargo basket setup will give you 42 x 37 inches of extra storage space on your car. It arrives in two pieces and is made out of durable steel, which is covered in black powder and an E-coat for added protection against corrosion and wear. But the best feature by far is the extension piece, which allows you to take your cargo space from 10 square feet to up to 16 feet. It’s a great option for those hauling bulky items. The roof rack attaches to most existing roof rails, using simple and universal brackets. All hardware you need for installation is included, and there’s even an added bonus: a windshield for the cargo basket to protect your items at high speeds.
On many vehicles, the U-bolts for this roof rack can be too long and may poke into your cargo basket. That means you’ll need to shorten those. Additionally, it can take some practice to remove the basket when you don’t need it.
- Fits Universal fit
- Model Attaches to roof rails
- Weight Steel
Can extend up to 16 feet
Powder coat and E-coating
Includes a front windshield
U-bolts may be long
Cargo basket removal difficult
Best Heavy-Duty Roof Rack
The Costway Universal Roof Rack Basket is a great product for those who are worried about weather, wear, and other damage-causing obstacles. Your roof rack can encounter a lot, and this is one that’s built to be tough enough to handle it all. Made out of high-grade steel with a black powder-coated finish, it’s protected against corrosion as well as weather. Every piece of the rack is weather and rust resistant, including the universal U-bolts you’ll need for installation. It can support loads up to 250 pounds total. And it features plenty of tie-down points so you can easily and safely secure whatever you’re carrying. It installs easily, right onto any existing crossbars setup you have on your rooftop.
There’s just one little catch to this all-around tough roof rack. It requires existing cross bars in order to be installed. So if you don’t already have cross bars in place, you’ll need to purchase and install them at an added cost.
- Fits Universal fit
- Model Uses existing cross bars
- Weight High-grade steel
Made out of heavy-duty, weather-resistant steel
Powder coated for rust protection
Offers plenty of tie-down points
Cross bars purchased separately
Our Verdict on Roof Racks
When it comes to durability, design, and functionality, the Smittybilt Defender Rack Welded One-Piece Roof Rack takes first place. Built for years of carrying cargo and enhancing your storage space, this rack is lightweight and made for years of adventures. When it comes to value for the price, the Haul-Master Roof-Mounted Steel Cargo Carrier is another great option that won’t break the bank.
What to Consider When Buying a Roof Rack
In order to find just the right fit for your vehicle, there are a few key factors you’ll want to think about before you settle on any particular roof rack. Here’s what you need to know, and what should influence your decision, when you’re picking out the perfect rack.
Types of Roof Racks
Crossbars are one of the simplest and most common kinds of roof racks. It’s a rack created with two beams, which are installed across your car’s roof width-wise (or perpendicular to your existing roof rails, if you have them). They cross your car’s roof and can be configured to carry other roof equipment, like bicycles or latch-on baskets or enclosed containers. Depending on the size of your vehicle and what you plan to carry on its roof, you may need more than two crossbar beams.
This kind of roof rack is just like it sounds: a set of bars that are shaped like the letter J. J-bars sit upright on your vehicle, and their specialized shape is meant to cradle and keep secure items such as kayaks and canoes. You’ll typically need a minimum of two J-bars to hold onto items like these, but the benefit is most cars can hold two sets, placed opposite one another.
Cargo baskets are another very popular roof rack option. They’re big metal baskets that sit on your vehicle’s roof, commonly made out of aluminum or steel. A cargo basket can even be adjustable, giving you bonus storage space when you need it. They attach onto roof rails or may require their own crossbars or rack installation, and they can either come in a universal fit or vehicle-specific fit.
Roof Rack Key Features
If you don’t want to do a whole lot of drilling or damage to your vehicle, make sure you choose a roof rack with easy installation. Look for roof racks that have easy assembly and no-drill installation, if you’re hoping for a frustration-free process. The more you have to put together yourself, the more complex it’ll be to get your roof rack in place. Skim the product details for special tools or other equipment. There’s nothing worse than a roof rack arriving and requiring you to have specialized tools to install it. If you need a more customized or extensive rack, opt for professional installation.
Strong, Durable Material
Don’t settle for a weak roof rack. Since these add-ons are designed for carrying everything from heavy luggage to tool chests to bikes and water toys, you want to make sure your rack can safely carry plenty of weight. That means you’ll need one made out of tough, durable material such as steel. Added perks, such bracing cross beams and supports or powder-coated finishes, can help your roof rack last longer and offer better durability even with wear and tear.
Lastly, you can’t overlook weight capacity when you’re picking out a roof rack. Choose one that can easily hold hundreds of pounds without any worry. Since you likely won’t be weighing the items you stash in your roof rack, it’s best to opt for one with a large capacity so you can carry a lot without being concerned about its structure or stability.
Roof Rack Pricing
Roof racks vary pretty significantly in pricing. You can find options for as little as $90 to $200, but these racks tend to be relatively simple and are designed to carry less weight. The most durable and largest roof racks, including those built for SUVs and trucks, will typically run you $600 to $800, and the top-tier premium products can total as much as $1,000.
You’ve got questions. Car Bibles has answers.
What’s the difference between a roof rack and roof rails?
Roof rails are the rooftop rails that sit on either side of your vehicle’s roof, mounted to run parallel with your car’s length. They allow you to tie items down to your roof, but they don’t offer any other security or cargo space on their own. A roof rack, on the other hand, attaches to your roof rails and offers more customized storage components, like a basket, J-bars to hold kayaks, or an enclosed cargo container to store loose items.
Can I use a roof rack without crossbars?
This depends on the kind of roof rack you’re buying. Some do require crossbars in order to securely fit onto your roof, but others may not. Just check the specs and installation details on any rack you’re considering to determine if you’ll need crossbars before it can be attached.
Are roof racks universal?
Only if the particular roof rack in question says it offers a universal fit. Otherwise, many roof racks are vehicle specific, especially if you’re looking at roof racks for Jeeps, Subarus, and trucks. Take a close look at the product specs and fit information to determine if a roof rack can really work with your make and model.
- Roof Rack – Wikipedia