Roof Rails and Roof Racks: Everything You Need to Know
If you take a lot of road trips or participate in outdoor sports or activities, a roof rack makes your vehicle a lot more practical.
Jul 23, 2018
When you are a person who loves the outdoors and who wants to travel with sports gear, the choice between roof rails and roof racks is not easy to make. In many cases, you will be limited by the type of car you have. Some vehicles come with roof rails installed by the manufacturer, but other vehicles aren’t compatible with roof rails at all. If your car has two rubber or plastic strips on the roof, it means that you can install the roof rails. If your car doesn’t have these strips as standard, don’t worry because there are still aftermarket options for you.
Installing the roof rails and the roof racks are different because they’re different things. But in both cases, it can be done at home. Roof rail installation is made using power tools, this is why it is not recommended for people who are not familiar with these tools. But roof racks often don’t require tools for installation.
Here’s everything you need to know about roof rails and roof racks.
What are the benefits of using roof rails?
Roof rails have many benefits. They are the base for your roof rack installation and they can help you carry various cargo or sporting equipment. Here are the other benefits of mounted roof rails:
A base for the various roof racks or roof cargo boxes
Can be mounted on many types of cars that include sedans, hatchbacks, SUVs, and even some vans
Roof rails can help you carry sporting equipment such as skis, snowboards, bikes, kayaks, etc.
Roof rails are sturdy, as they are screwed to the top of the car
Roof rails are difficult to steal
Roof rails can be the base for aluminum or steel crossbars
What are the benefits of using roof racks?
Roof racks go on top of roof rails or on top of crossbars. They represent a mounting point for gear such as bikes or skis. Roof racks are often the first option for people who do not have the space to carry sports equipment inside their cars. Other roof rack benefits include:
Transporting large outdoor gear such as skis or bikes
Maintaining unrestricted access to the trunk of the car unlike hitch-mounted racks
The ability to lock the sporting equipment to the rack to prevent theft
Versatility for cargo transportation such as with cargo boxes
Roof racks can be easily removed and placed into storage when not in use
Summertime and wintertime outdoor gear transportation
How to choose the best roof rails?
Choosing the best roof rails means that you have to know which options can be used on your car. Unlike with roof racks, roof rails can be more restrictive. It is important to look at the following possibilities the roof of your car might offer:
Solid roof rails
Raised roof rails
Solid roof rails are a durable option.
There is no gap between the car and the rail, which means that they can handle increased weight, in theory. In terms of functionality, they are not different from any other type of rail. Their sleek design means that you will find them on many modern cars, such as SUVs and minivans.
Raised roof rails
With a slimmer profile, they are the rails that allow a spacing between them and the car. They might not be as popular as you’d think but they can be seen on cars such as station wagons. In terms of functionality, these roof rails work using the same principles as other roof rails.
Fixed points roof rails
Many cars come with fixed points roof rails regardless of their size. Installing roof rails have been described above and doing so on fixed points might be the most complex installation among all possible options. Fixed point roof rails are usually covered by a plastic, rubber or metal strip so they are easy to identify once you remove this strip.
A few cars have no roof rails, no fixed point, and no raised roof rails. You might be wondering if there is any possibility for you to fix a roof rack in this case. The good news is that there is one possibility which requires you to fix crossbar-style raised bars or racks on the door jamb.
Choosing the best roof rails is a matter of fit. You can find that your car already has roof rails as standard. At the same time, you can add your own roof rails or replace the factory-mounted roof rails. Since most roof rails are made from solid materials such as steel or aluminum, there is no considerable difference between them.
How to choose the best roof rack?
Choosing the best roof rack is not as straightforward as with roof rails. Due to the endless options, it is really advised to consider a few top characteristics that make the best roof rack. They include:
The fit of a roof rack is a great starting point for the best decision. Most mass-market roof racks fit round, square, factory-standard and other aerodynamic roof racks. This is possible due to the fact that most manufacturers use straps or adjustable clips. The same reinforced rubber straps work on both round and square roof racks. It is thus important to choose the system which can be fitted the easiest.
Ease of installation
To fit the roof rack on roof rails or on crossbars, you need to tighten the securing straps. Instead of making this a muscle effort, manufacturers such as Thule or Yakima have implemented a universal mounting system which tightens by turning a knob. Older designs that might still be carried by some stores might require you to manually pull the securing straps of the rack in the tightest position.
The height of the racks can be important, especially when you think of overhead clearance. If a rack will increase the height of your car, racks carrying sporting equipment will seriously limit the area you can reach with your car. A few examples include Yakima’s FatCat 6 Evo’s 5.25 inches or Thule’s Pulse Alpine Ski Box with its 12.5 inches. Making sure you fit in garages or underground space is crucial.
The weight of the rack is important as well. Furthermore, it has to be taken into consideration by the weight of the object it carries. For example, it is not the same for a car’s roof to carry 150lbs of evenly distributed weight and for it to carry the same weight which is concentrated on a small area. The weight which can be loaded on each car can be found in your manufacturer’s user guidelines.
Not all roof racks are the same. Even if they can be mounted on any rails or crossbars, they come in different shapes and sizes. Most people are familiar with the roof racks that carry sporting equipment such as bikes. They can be the most compact racks. Other solutions that carry skis can also be compact but they are made from two carry pieces that are mounted towards the front and the rear of the car. Cargo boxes can also be a similar solution that is usually mounted on crossbars. Cargo boxes are a good way of maximizing your vehicle’s capacity both for luggage and for sporting equipment which can even be secured inside the box.