If you are on the road often and have a fairly active lifestyle, you understand the importance of being able to bring your equipment wherever you go, be it skis, kayaks, bicycles, or even camping gear. This is where a quality and reliable roof rack can come in handy. Having that extra storage space up top can do wonders for your peace of mind. But there are a number of different roof racks and other roof storage accessories for cars out there, and you have to take several things into account before ultimately making the roof rack purchase that is right for you.

Here, we will look at the various types of roof racks you can get and also touch on some of the best roof racks for cars on the market.

What Is a Roof Rack?

Before we get into the various types of roof racks, we need to look at the different parts of the roof rack itself. Generally, a roof rack is composed of three basic parts: the mount, the tower, and the cross bars.

First off, the mount is the part of the rack that attaches to the vehicle itself.

What sort of mount you get is based on the make and model of your vehicle. The cross bars are simply that: the bars the go across your rack. Finally, the tower connects the mount to the cross bars.

5 Best Roof Racks

Bestseller No. 1
CargoLoc 2-Piece 52" Aluminum Roof Top Cross Bar Set – Fits Maximum 46” Span Across Existing Raised Side Rails with Gap – Features Keyed Locking Mechanism, Silver
  • HIGH QUALITY ALUMINUM CONSTRUCTION – Our design features a rigid aluminum body that cuts down on weight without sacrificing strength!
  • 150 LBS LOAD CAPACITY – Whether it’s a kayak, mountain bike, or skis, these cross bars will get your favorite toys to where the fun happens!
  • SAFE AND SECURE – A heavy duty clamping mechanism ensures the cross bars will remain firmly fastened to the existing side rails, and the keyed locking mechanism will make sure they stay put!
  • MEASURES 52” END TO END – Fits a maximum of a 46” span between side rails, providing ample room for your gear!
  • RAISED SIDE RAILS WITH GAP REQUIRED – Fits most vehicles with existing raised side rails with gap (maximum 46” span between side rails)!
Bestseller No. 2
MAXXHAUL 46" x 36" x 4-1/2" - 150 lb. Capacity - NOT Assembled 70115 Steel Roof Rack-150 lb
  • Instant cargo space for vehicle with cross bars
  • Easy to assemble and install (assembly and mounting hardware are included)
  • Attaches to most cross bars with easy to use U-bolts for simple installation
  • Includes rubber caps to cover the U-bolts and protect the cargo
  • Rust resistant finish to resist corrosion
Bestseller No. 3
Seah Hardware Universal Roof Rack Cross-Bars 2 PC. 48 Inches
  • The straps go through the door frames, and attach the rack on top of the roof, it fits almost all four door car without side rails, it fit four door car with side rails which height is less than 6.4 cm from roof, because the distance from car roof to bottom of bar is 6.5 cm. It can not be installed on two door car, because there is too small room between the two bars in two door cars.
  • Comes with a pair of crossbars 48". Heavy duty steel tube make it strong and safe. 4 PC 1/4" x 2" screw and 4 PC 1/4" lock nut.
  • Crossbars are adjustable in position. Install in minutes and disassemble in seconds.
  • With water proof ratchet tie down.
  • DO NOT OVER TIGHTEN!* 1800 lbs ratchet tie down ensures the roof bar will remain firmly on your car top. Whether it’s a kayak, mountain bike, or ladder, these cross bars will get your favorite things to anywhere.
Bestseller No. 4
SportRack Complete Roof Rack System
  • Everything in one package; load bars, hooks, locks and every part required: ready to install
  • Adaptability of all accessories (bikes, skis, kayaks)
  • Holds up to 130 pounds or 59 kilogram
  • No drilling required
  • Please check the Size Guide (under Product Details) to find the fit for your specific vehicle.
Bestseller No. 5
FIVKLEMNZ 47” Roof Rack Cross Bars, One Pair Adjustable Aluminum Cargo Carrier Rooftop Luggage Crossbars, Fit for Most Vehicle Without Roof Side Rail
  • 【High Quality】: Made of high-quality aluminum alloy, corrosion-resistant, light weight, can support luggage or cargo, the maximum support weight can reach 150lbs (68 kg), offering enough space for the equipment.
  • 【Simple Installation】: Easy to assemble and disassemble within a few minutes, fast and convenient, with telescopic space on both sides, free adjustment. Comes with three sizes mounting brackets: 30mm, 65mm, 85mm, adjustable for different car model on the market.
  • 【Max Protection】: The rubber soft clip can protect the car paint from scratching and anti-skid by the crossbar.
  • 【Safe and Reliable】: Super strong bite force, high safety performance, low streamline design can effectively reduce wind resistance and noise.
  • 【Caution】: Please note that our roof rack only suitable for the cars without side rails!!! 7x24 online customer support, ask us anything at any time. 

This is just the base setup of a roof rack, but you can also get other accessories and mount them to your crossbars for added storage capacity.

What Your Car’s Roof Can Tell You About Your Roof Rack Options

Did you know that there are several different roof types that can determine what sort of roof rack you should purchase? Let’s take a look at a few of these roof types and some of the best roof racks for each corresponding type (Yakima and Thule are two of the best roof rack manufacturers on the market, so we’ll solely be focusing on their products).

  1. Bare Roof

Description: If your car just has a bare roof, then the best solution is to get a clip fit roof rack, which requires specific measures and allows you to mount the rack to your door frame using clips. You could also get a permanent rack installation, and while this offers great positioning flexibility, it also is a lot more expensive than the clip fit option.

YAKIMA - Q Tower Roof Rack Tower System for Cars Without Roof Rails or Gutters, 4 Pack
  • SECURE STARTER TOWER: An easy-to-use tower designed specifically for cars without roof rails or gutters; Works with the classic Yakima RoundBar
  • KIND TO YOUR CAR: 4-way movement adjusts to any roof shape and delivers a more solid fit; The padded base helps to grip the roof securely, while helping preserve your paint job
  • EASY INSTALL: Fast and easy tool-free installation and removal; Sets up easily in 60 minutes or less; Requires Q-Clips and the crossbars of your choice to complete
  • SAME KEY SYSTEM: Easily locks to you vehicle with our SKS system (sold separately)
  • WE'VE GOT YOUR BACK GUARANTEE: Covered by our Limited Lifetime Warranty

Roof rack options: Yakimia Q Towers are specifically designed to accommodate fast and easy installation and provide four-way movement to ensure a solid fit. The Thule Traverse boasts an integrated tensioning tool to guarantee the rack stays completely secure at all times.

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  1. Rain Gutters

Description: If you have an older car, you probably noticed that it has rain gutters running along the sides of the roof. With this type of roof, you could get a rain gutter tower that simply clamps down onto the gutters.

YAKIMA - 1A Raingutter Roof Rack Towers for Retro Cars with Rain Gutters, Set of 4
  • ROOF RACKS FOR RETRO RIDES: Secure, easy-to-use tower specifically designed to clamp to old-school rain gutters
  • SIMPLE INTEGRATION: Works with the classic Yakima RoundBar, opening up multiple storage options
  • HARDY CONSTRUCTION: Die-cast interior creates a durable and sturdy anchor that provides solid support season after season
  • SAME KEY SYSTEM: Easily locks to you vehicle with our SKS system (sold separately)
  • WE'VE GOT YOUR BACK GUARANTEE: Covered by our Limited Lifetime Warranty

Roof rack options: The Yakima 1A has a die-cast interior, making it a particularly sturdy option. It can also be permanently installed. The Thule 953 and 300 models are also perfect for rain gutter setups.

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  1. Raised Side Rails

Description: Factory mounting points such as those provided by raised side rails make it easy to attach a roof rack.

Thule Rapid Crossroad Railing Foot Pack
  • Designed exclusively for use with the new Rapid Aero Aluminum Load Bars
  • Maximum Rack Strength and Custom Fit provided by Rubber-Coated Steel Strap
  • Easy to install with the turn of a handle; no tools required

Roof rack options: The Thule 450R Rapid Crossroad has a sleek look, easy fit, and is accessory compatible. The Yakima Timberline is made of durable stainless steel, works with a number of different crossbars, and has a maximum load rating of close to 200 pounds.

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  1. Factory Track

Description: Instead of raised rails, this roof has two slots running from front to back.

Thule 460 Podium Foot Pack (Set of 4), One Color, Square Bar
  • Seamless factory-rack appearance
  • Durable resin exterior, steel internal components
  • Works with flush-mounted side rail vehicles
  • Requires vehicle specific Fit Kit and square load bars, please check fit guide (sold separately)
  • Locks not included. This allows you to purchase a larger pack to include locks for all of your Thule.Not for use on trailers or towed vehicles

Roof rack options: The Yakima Control Tower is particularly known for its quick installation and removal. The Thule Podium 460, on the other hand, has a durable exterior ideal for most conditions.

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  1. Truck Canopy/Camper Tops

Description: With vehicles that have these sort of roof setups, you can either attach a rain gutter bracket, which the appropriate rain gutter tower can then attach to, or you can install a permanent custom track (this will likely require the help of a professional).

Thule 542 Artificial Rain Gutter
  • Compatibility: Thule Gutter, Gutter High, Super High Gutter Foot Pack s
  • Part Number: 542
  • Recommended Use: travel
  • Manufacturer Warranty: limited lifetime

Roof rack options: Yakima WideBody Brackets are quality rain gutter brackets, but they only work with the Yakima 1A. The Thule 542 rain gutters will also get the job done.

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Choosing the Right Car Roof Rack for You

It is important to keep your lifestyle in mind before choosing the right car roof rack for you. Are you looking for something that has a kayak roof rack for cars or a car roof bike rack, or are you an avid camper who needs plenty of room for accessories?

Ultimately, the type of car you drive plays a big role in what sort of roof rack you can get, but there are always opportunities for custom rack or mount installations, if you are willing to spend some extra money.

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