You have your family, dog, tents, and electronics all loaded up into the car for a camping trip, just to discover that you have no space to spare for the coolers. What you need is a hitch cargo carrier. These simple automotive accessories have become very popular in recent years because of the ease of their installation. All a consumer has to do is slide it into their vehicle’s standard two-inch-square hitch, lock it in place, and take advantage of the expanded cargo space.
What to Consider
There are a few varieties of hitch carrier, with some specialized to carry things like bikes and wheelchairs. The vast majority, though, feature a simple box design made for strapping on whatever will fit. Many carriers are made of welded steel, which offers cheap strength, but is heavy. Aluminum construction offers a lighter alternative, making installation and removal easier if you are doing it by yourself.
Hitch carriers typically max out at a 500-pound cargo capacity, because that’s the maximum “tongue weight” allowed on two-inch square hitches. Length and width dimensions often vary, however. Be aware that loading up the rear of a vehicle in this manner will naturally affect its weight distribution and handling dynamics, and drive cautiously with this in mind. You’ll also want to strap any items in the carrier down as securely as you would in any other towing scenario. If your vehicle doesn’t currently come equipped with a square hitch, one will have to be professionally installed before using any of these items.
How We Selected
Popular Mechanics has picked these items among a range of price points, uses, and capabilities. Personal experience, as well as review research conducted from publications like The Drive, Outside Magazine, and Four Wheeler.
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MaxxHaul Aluminum Cargo Carrier
- Gaps in constructions
- No side walls
This item is a mostly flat aluminum box with one steel beam serving as the hitch connector. The whole assembly is only 22 pounds, so a single adult can lift it with relative ease. To achieve this light weight, there are fairly large gaps between the metal portions that small items may fall through. Dimensions are 48 by 19 inches, making for a low profile and 6.3-square-foot area.
The lack of raised walls also makes securing cargo a bit trickier. Included reflectors at all four corners improve low-light visibility. A version available for about $40 more also comes with a folding mechanism to stow away while unloaded.
Best Overall Value
Curt Folding Carrier
- Wide cargo area
- Lots of reflectors
- On the heavy side
This powder coated steel basket weighs in at nearly 60 pounds, so installation may be difficult without a partner. With that extra heft, you get a grate-style bottom which you don’t have to worry about items falling through. There is also a six-inch-tall wall around the whole carrier, giving a sturdy base to strap down cargo.
Dimensions are 60 by 20 inches anda raised hitch connector gives a couple extra inches of ground clearance. There's also bright red reflectors all around ensure visibility and afolding tuck-away mechanism is also included.
MAXXHAUL Cargo Carrier with Ramp
- Great for mobility equipment
- Assembly can take long
This carrier is specifically designed for wheeled equipment, like wheelchairs, lawnmowers and mobility scooters. Anything under 500 pounds that will fit in its 27-by-47-inch dimensions can simply be rolled up the 47-inch integrated ramp—after which the ramp is placed in a static upright position, forming the fourth wall of cage and providing an extra large strap point.
The other three sides are covered by seven-inch-tall sides to ensure nothing goes rolling off. Since the carrier is aluminum, the whole thing comes in at around 52 pounds.
Carry Dirt Bikes
TMS Motorcycle Carrier
- Compact and light
- Only holds one bike
This low-profile hitch carrier will load up a sport bike, moped, dirt bike, or any similar two-wheeled vehicle under 500 pounds. Its small size makes for a light weight of 48 pounds, but cargo options are also limited apart from motorcycles.
To use this carrier, simply attach the included ramp to either side, drive your bike onto the rack, strap it down, and return the ramp to its storage position.
Yakima HoldUp Bike Rack
- Tilting and folding mechanisms
- Easily secure two bikes
This specialized carrier from Yakima mounts two bicycles with ease, loading them onto the rack with zero disassembly. Straps and clamps are built right into the product, so no additional equipment is required. They’re secured to the vehicle by their wheels, negating the risk of scratches along the bicycle frame. There are also some added convenience features, as the rack can swivel down slightly while loaded to allow rear hatch access on a van or SUV.
When not in use, the whole assembly can fold into a small form factor. Lastly, an extra hitch on the carrier allows for an additional two-bike rack to be slotted in, allowing for four bikes total. The cost for all this versatility is over $400 with 49 pounds of weight, and double those if you want the extra capacity.
All in One
King Bird Waterproof Cargo Basket
Now 33% off
- All the equipment you need included
- Has rear reflectors in storage position
- 18 cubic feet of space
- Cargo bag covers reflectors
When it comes to general-purpose hitch carriers, this King Bird product is really the complete package. With this, you get not only the steel basket, but two included tow straps and a waterproof PVC cargo bag to keep items protected over long journeys. There are also plenty of reflectors, including a few on the bottom to aid visibility while it’s in the upright folded position.
Carrier weight is 60 pounds, which we find acceptable for its large size. The 60-by-24-inch length and width make for just over 18 cubic feet of storage with the PVC cover secured. The only oversight we see in design is that the bag covers up most of those reflectors while in use, so it may negatively affect visibility.
- Unique swing-out design
- Modular accessories
- Secure spare tire mount
- Very expensive
The Ultraswing is made with serious off-road drivers in mind, and mostly devoted to carrying a full-sized spare tire around. Its name comes from the fact that the entire assembly is made to swing out a full 180 degrees, allowing ample room for rear hatch or tailgate access.
RIGd products also act as modular systems, allowing additional mounting options for things like shovels, water containers, fuel cans, and bikes. A picnic table attachment is even available, which makes for an improvised kitchenette during camping. The carrier also has its own two-inch hitch, allowing for another small basket to be slotted behind it.
RIGd products are also made in Southern California, for those who like to buy American. The steel construction weighs 65 pounds, and closer to 100 with a tire mounted. Installation and removal won’t be a quick proposition, so the swinging arm should come in handy. The system also comes at a premium of nearly $1400, with accessories costing extra beyond that.
Talon HomerTalon Homer is a writer and photographer out of South Carolina who was born with a love of cars, gaming, and advanced technology.
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Safe and Easy.
This advantage of accessing your goods while standing firmly on the ground is much easier and safer than accessing them on top of your vehicle and is one of the chief benefits of a hitch cargo carrier.
Along with the rating of the carrier based on the weight limit set by the manufacturer, this is how you'll find your carrier's weight limit. Typical carriers will hold 150 to 300 pounds, depending on the hitch class, but you can also find carriers that will hold over 500 pounds when paired with the correct hitch rack.Which is better roof rack or hitch rack? ›
When compared to roof racks, hitch racks tend to have sturdier frames and can hold items that may have wheels or are too heavy for the roof. Hitch racks are ideal for bags, coolers, tool boxes, tents, and more. Some hitch racks also work great for bicycles.How fast can you drive with a cargo carrier? ›
First, users often wonder how fast they can travel with a cargo carrier atop their car. Find Camping Gear recommends that if you use a cargo box such as one made by Thule, you should keep your speed under 90 mph (which we would advise even if you weren't hauling a cargo box).Are thules worth it? ›
Thule cargo boxes come in a variety of sizes, are good on gas mileage, and keep your items safe and dry. These features, plus their limited-lifetime warranty make Thule cargo boxes worth every penny.Does cargo box affect gas mileage? ›
Although cargo boxes are usually sleek and aerodynamic, they can still significantly affect a car's fuel economy. According to the Department of Energy, driving with a cargo box on your car's roof can impact its fuel economy more than if the carrier were attached to the car's rear.Are roof cargo carriers safe? ›
Are rooftop cargo bags safe? They're safe if they're not overloaded, if they're packed with soft-side luggage and snuggly strapped to the car. A loosely secured cargo bag may slide or let the wind get under the bag.Do hitch cargo carriers work? ›
Hitch-Mounted Cargo Carrier Pros and Cons - YouTubeDoes a hitch adapter reduce tongue weight? ›
Hitch adapters reduce the vehicle's tongue weight by 50%.Does a hitch extender reduce towing capacity? ›
Expert Reply: The use of a hitch extender reduces the tongue weight capacity of the trailer hitch by 50 percent. So if the trailer hitch is rated for 1,000 pounds tongue weight it would be reduced to just 500 pounds tongue weight capacity when using an extension.
Usually, the tongue weight is just a representation of how much you are towing. For example, a 500-pound tongue weight would ideally mean you are hauling a 5,000-pound trailer.Can too much tongue weight cause trailer sway? ›
If you don't have enough weight on the trailer tongue, the trailer may be prone to swaying from side to side, making it difficult to control. Conversely, if you have too much weight exerted on the hitch ball, the force could overload the rear tires of the tow vehicle and push the rear end of the vehicle around.What is the difference between hitch weight and tongue weight? ›
The answer? It's no different at all! Tongue weight and hitch weight are both terms that refer to the force a bumper pull trailer puts on a hitch. When discussing fifth wheel trailers, the term “pin weight” also describes this very same thing, making things even more confusing for those who are just learning the ropes.How does a car top carrier affect gas mileage? ›
But the point stands: anything you strap to the top of a car is going to affect your gas mileage. The larger in surface area the item, the larger the impact on the coefficient of drag. And the more aerodynamic the items you strap to your car are, the less they should affect your fuel economy.How do I choose a roof rack? ›
- Check the Weight. Strong is good, heavy is not. ...
- Go for Modular. ...
- Check Out the Accessory Lineup. ...
- Strength and Durability. ...
- Low Profile. ...
- Product Support. ...
- Learn from the Pros. ...
- Wide Product Range.
Trunk Mount Racks
Arms and cradles support the bike to keep it securely in place. Pros: These racks are great for the recreational cyclist, and they can be used on multiple vehicles since fit is adjustable. Trunk-mounted racks are light, highly portable and easy to store when not in use.
Boxes made by the Swedish manufacturer Thule have a maximum speed limit of 80 mph. Other manufacturers might recommend 70 mph as the limit for their particular carrier. For the majority of people, these limits are likely to be higher than the maximum speed allowed in their country or state.How often should you check your cargo? ›
Re-check the cargo and securing devices as often as necessary during a trip to keep the load secure. You need to inspect again: After you have driven for 3 hours or 150 miles. After every break you take during driving.How much can you fit in Thule? ›
Thule roof boxes have a load capacity of about 75kg/165lbs and most vehicles have the same maximum capacity. Double check with your car manufacturer to see if that's the case for your car. In general, when packing your roof box, try to pack lighter, bulkier items like tents, clothes or sleeping bags.Is Sportrack made by Thule? ›
Sportrack and TracRac are made by Thule.
Thule Force is a rooftop cargo box with a quick-mount system and dual-side opening. Thule Motion is a rooftop cargo box with a dual-side opening and a SlideLock system that makes it the most secure box of its kind.Why are cargo racks so expensive? ›
Roof racks are engineered using high-quality materials and special design to support a large amount of weight on top of a car using minimal contact points. The biggest reason why roof racks are expensive are because of the high-quality designs. Roof racks must be able to withstand high speeds and wind resistance.Can roof racks go through a carwash? ›
No! When you wash your car you should remove the rack because: The rack might snag on some of the machinery of the car wash and damage your car, or worse, the car wash. Wand washing your car could blow dirt underneath the pads of your rack system, which will end up damaging the vehicle's finish.Do cross bars reduce mpg? ›
Highway driving, yes - significantly (up to 25% worse MPG). Take them off when you don't need them. If not for your wallet, then for the planet. I'd say the baskets do a lot more damage to mpg loaded or unloaded.Do roof bars decrease mpg? ›
One report found an increase in fuel consumption of 50%. More typically drivers are spending between 10 – 25% more on fuel because of their roof box. This is because increasing the 'frontal area' of the vehicle destroys the aerodynamics. Even an empty roof rack can add up to 15% to your fuel bill.Do roof boxes get stolen? ›
Roof boxes and roof racks are a great way of storing your luggage and equipment. However, they have one major disadvantage: thieves may steal them or your gear from the top of your car.Do roof bags damage your car? ›
If your rooftop carrier is loaded with too many items, it can weigh down the car and cause damages to the vehicle or even accidents while you're on the road.Can you attach a cargo carrier without roof rack? ›
No, RoofBag car top carriers can be fastened securely to a roof rack (if the car has one), or to the roof and door frame of the car (if the car has no roof rack).What is a class 3 hitch? ›
Class III hitches used for weight distributing are rated up to 10,000 lbs. gross trailer weight (GTW) with a maximum trailer tongue weight (TW) of 1000 lbs. A Class III hitch usually has a 2″ square receiver opening. A higher class drawbar does not increase the towing capacity of the hitch.Do cargo carriers need lights? ›
If the cargo carrier and the cargo loaded on it do not obscure the vehicle tail lights, you do not have to have a light kit installed on the carrier. However, it is still a good idea to get a light kit for safety purposes.
Outside of the cost of the trailer hitch itself, installation charges range from $150 to $200 for simple class 1 or 2 installations up to $250 to $500, or even $650, for more complicated installations like class 4 and fifth wheel hitches. At an hourly rate, trailer hitch installation costs $50 to $225 per hour.Where should I store my trailer hitch? ›
How To Store The Trailer Hitch On Your Travel Trailer - YouTubeWhat are the 4 types of hitches? ›
- WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION.
- 5TH WHEEL.
Even though the Class II hitch can serve many purposes, I recommend the Curt Trailer Hitch Receiver Class III # C13315. A Class III hitch is rated to tow heavier loads; the max GTW is 4,000 lbs and the max TW is 600 lbs.What does v5 mean on a trailer hitch? ›
Class 5 – Xtra Duty: If you drive a heavy-duty or super-duty truck or SUV, you have a Class 5 – Xtra Duty hitch. Class 5 – Xtra Duty hitches have 2-inch receiver sizes, and have GTW capacities of 16,000 to 17,000 lbs. and TW capacities of 2,400 to 2,550 lbs. They also have a WD capacity of 17,000 lbs.Are rooftop cargo carriers safe? ›
Are rooftop cargo bags safe? They're safe if they're not overloaded, if they're packed with soft-side luggage and snuggly strapped to the car. A loosely secured cargo bag may slide or let the wind get under the bag.How do you attach a cargo carrier to a hitch? ›
Cargo Carrier Assembly | CURT 18110 Tray-Style Hitch ... - YouTubeHow do you pack a cargo carrier? ›
Yakima  School Of Rack  Car Packing Tips - YouTubeCan I install a trailer hitch myself? ›
Can I install a hitch myself? Yes, you can install a trailer hitch by yourself as long as you have the right tools for the job. DIY hitch installation is a great way to save money on the trailer hitch installation cost.Does Walmart install trailer hitches? ›
Walmart does not do trailer hitch installations. They do, however, sell all of the parts necessary for a trailer hitch installation. You can purchase the parts you need for your trailer at Walmart and then install the hitch yourself or take it to another location for installation.
To legally tow a trailer, your vehicle's brake lights and turn signals need to be wired to your tow hitch through a trailer wiring harness. A trailer wiring harness is a wire that extends from the back of your vehicle to your trailer.How do you store your weight distribution hitch? ›
Storing your Weight Distribution and Hitch with EZStorHitch on Rollin' On ...