The Best Rooftop Cargo Carriers for Transporting Everything You Need

No carrier can haul as much stuff as a cargo van, but the best car top carrier can make your car more practical. Need to carry camping gear? A bike rack and car-top carrier are all you need. This guide will help you conclude which car top carriers are suitable for you.

Car Top Carrier Types

© AutoGuide

There are three car top carrier types: cargo boxes, car-bike racks, and car roof racks. Cargo carriers are large boxes that cover the entire car top. Bike racks also cover the car top but don’t have a lid or sides. Car roof racks attach your car’s roof to make room for gear strapped onto the bars of the frame.

Cargo Boxes

With four or more sides, car top cargo carriers can hold plenty of gear. The downside is that they don’t work with every car, and they must be permanently attached to the vehicle. Cargo carriers come in two types: hard car top carriers and soft car top carriers. Hard car top carriers look like car top luggage carriers, but they have a hard shell, so straps don’t damage the car’s paint. Soft car top carriers are made of canvas and zip around to secure gear in place.

Car-Bike Racks

© My Trail Co

If you need room for your bike on top of your car, car-bike racks are a good choice. Car bike racks don’t attach permanently to your vehicle, but they prevent you from going through car washes with your bike on top of the car. Some car-bike racks attach directly to your car, while others clamp onto car roof racks.

Car Roof Racks

Car roof racks are the best car top carriers for most people. Unlike car-bike racks, car roof racks attach to your car permanently. Most models connect to the car’s roof rack bars, which are metal crossbars that span across the car roof. However, there are also car roof carriers with frames that attach to your car’s doorframes.

Cargo Carriers for Any Vehicle

Thule car top carriers might if car-bike racks and roof racks won’t work with your car. These car rooftop carriers fit any vehicle and don’t require a car roof rack to hold cargo boxes in place. However, these car top carriers won’t attach to car roof racks, so you’ll need to remove the car top carrier when you want access to car roof racks.

How Much Can I Carry?

Cargo car carriers hold dozens of boxes and bags, while bike car top carriers only carry one or two bikes. Car-bike racks don’t work with all cars, but car roof racks work with any vehicle. If you need to have gear on your car top, car roof racks are the best car top carrier for most people.

Price

Car-bike racks and car roof carriers range from $30 to over $300. Cargo boxes cost more than car roof carriers because cargo boxes are made of metal, and car roof carriers are made of plastic, but car roof carriers work with more vehicles. For this reason, car roof racks are the best car top carrier for most people.

Where to Get Car Top Carriers

If you’ve decided on car top carriers, you need a car rooftop carrier that works with your car. Check the car top carrier’s car compatibility with your vehicle at the car rooftop carrier’s website before buying one. Also, look for car roof racks at car rooftop carrier stores and on Amazon.com.

Types of Rooftop Cargo Carriers

Box: 

© OutdoorGearLab

This is what most individuals view when they think of a cargo carrier. These are solid-sided, often heavy, and safe. They offer the most excellent protection for your stuff by keeping it in an enclosed shell and the weather elements.

Many of them also feature lockable lids and rack/bar attachments. A box may be difficult to mount on your car’s roof, but it is simple to operate once installed and does not require any rope or strap tying to keep your items from flying away.

For the drawbacks, boxes will stick out into the wind, decreasing your gas mileage and noise levels. They also tend to be the most high-priced kind of freight carrier.

Bag: 

Consider a soft-sided carrier if your automobile doesn’t have a roof rack and you can’t justify adding one, or if it does, but you want to keep things simple. These fasten to the top of your roof using straps that connect to mountings on your rack or loop through your windows.

Soft-sided luggage is usually lighter, more straightforward to store, and flexible enough to hold oversized or odd-shaped items. They have faster wear and are more prone to scratch your car’s paint than hard-sided bags. When packed full, they get somewhat blocky, resulting in a large, drag-inducing surface for the wind.

Basket: 

These are substantial metal baskets, in a nutshell. They allow your belongings to get wet, hot, and windy while transporting them, making them better for transportation but worse for long-term storage. Baskets also require cam straps or at least a rope to secure whatever you put inside them. However, they are typically easier to mount than any car top carrier because they lack solid bodies.

Another reason to get low-profile gear is that they’re more likely to fit into a garage after you’ve unloaded the things from them, saving time and effort. Baskets are also more durable and less expensive than boxes.

Sport-specific: 

If you are mainly transporting one item or anything that won’t fit in a box, bag, or basket—such as a kayak or bicycle—you’ll want to invest in a carrier designed for that object. We’ve included some alternatives at the bottom of the list. Some, like the TMS J-Bar and RockyMounts Tomahawk, are car-specific. Like the Yakima FrontLoader and Inno Velo Gripper, others aren’t car specific but can work with a rooftop rack.

Not all of it, though, can be put on the top of your vehicle if you park it in a garage because of the height. Still, they outperform anything else for their specialized gear and are not always as pricey as a box.

© Switchback Travel

Conclusion

Without lowering your fuel efficiency, car top carriers are elegant enough to complement the design of your vehicle without detracting from it. All you need is a roof rack—though occasionally not even that—and you can add cargo capacity to the top of your car without looking like the Beverly Hillbillies.

What car rooftop carrier should I use?

Car-bike racks or car roof racks? Car rooftop carriers attach to car roof bars and car doorframes, so car roof carriers work with car roof racks and car doorframes. Car rooftop cargo carriers have a hard shell, so straps don’t damage car paint. With car rooftop carriers, you can haul dozens of boxes and bags on top of your car.

Other Features to Look For

When choosing a box, think about how the box opens and from which side. You want a handle that’s easy to grab and use, especially if you’re vertically challenged when reaching overhead or across the roof. Also, consider whether you want a box that opens from the back or side based on your vehicle and how you access the carrier. Finally, most people buying a rooftop carrier want one that locks so they can store valuables inside their tent when they don’t have access to a car. You’ll also want your hardshell or soft-sided bag to be waterproof, and you’ll need your hardshell or soft-sided bag to be watertight.

What Type of Mounting System Do You Want?

In general, your cargo carrier will either be very simple to put on and take off or a little more difficult if you want to leave it (or bring it) with some equipment. Lower-end models frequently utilize a straightforward u-lock system that needs only a few wrenches to install (or remove). Higher-quality alternatives, such as those from Thule and Yakima, use tool-free installation methods that are simple to operate.

Choosing car rooftop cargo carriers based on the car roof racks is easy, considering car roof racks are included in car rack systems. If you already have car roof racks or car doorframes, your choice will be made easier by selecting a box that fits your equipment.

Other Factors to Think About

Price: We mean how much the carrier costs and what kinds of features it includes for its price. We’ve listed both high and low prices below for comparison purposes.

Weight: Some units offer the ability to take the entire thing off and carry it around like a suitcase (which can make hauling easier if you’re not technically inclined). The downside with this feature is an increase in weight; your cargo bag may become heavier than the car roof cargo carrier itself. It will also be harder to haul because you’ll have to carry it like a suitcase, even if it’s sturdy and straps onto car doorframes or car roof racks.

Capacity: How much can your car rooftop cargo carrier hold? Generally, consider how many boxes you will likely put on the top of your car for each outing. If you plan on using your car rooftop cargo carriers to move house, make sure you don’t overload it with heavy items. Most car rooftop cargo carriers can handle between 150-200 pounds depending on their size and material—which may surprise you considering that most car rooftop cargo carriers are lighter than 100 pounds themselves. Some car rooftop carriers use lightweight materials but won’t hold as much.

Security: Consider car rooftop carriers that have car doorframes or car roof racks made from lockable steel mesh, so the car rooftop cargo carrier itself locks to car roof racks and car doorframes. When choosing a car doorframe, consider how it locks into place. Some need you to drill holes into your car’s framework, while others clip on using a type of u-lock system that locks the fabric onto the lower part of the bar without tools.

Car Top Cargo Carriers

Roof luggage boxes come in several different styles—rigid luggage box, soft lid box, rooftop cargo bag (or hardshell), and soft-sided bag (or inflatable)—and vary considerably in price, with top brands costing more than lower-priced car top cargo carriers.

Hardshell rooftop cargo carriers are generally lightweight yet durable aluminum, plastic, or fiberglass-reinforced vinyl (FRP). Most car roof racks are made with these materials because they’re lightweight, while some car rooftop cargo carriers are even lighter than car doorframes and car roof racks themselves. If you plan to transport heavier items in your car rooftop bag, choose a car-top carrier with metal parts for durability and ease of installation.

Most car rooftop bags do not have an internal frame, so they may become distorted if too much weight is applied to one corner. This can cause the door(s) to get stuck when closed or won’t close at all, which will leave your gear exposed to the elements.

They are working with car doorframes made from car top carriers since car doorframes are typically made of the same materials as car roof racks and car rooftop cargo carriers. Remember that the car doorframe will not hold as much weight due to its design (smaller bars).

Hardshell rooftop cargo bags are more expensive than soft-sided rooftop cargo bags but offer higher durability and better security in comparison. They’re also easier to install by simply clipping them onto car roof racks or doorframes without tools since they attach using a u-lock system. However, most hardshell car rooftop cargo bags cost upward of $500, while some soft-sided car rooftop luggage boxes can be found for less than $150.

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