Car roof rack buying guide: How to find the best roof rack

We'll help you choose the right roof rack so you can carry more on your car.

Updated

Fact checked
Man attaching bike to a roof carrier in the hot blazing sun in the middle of nowhere with his son urging him to hurry up because the zombies are coming.

Key facts about car roof rack:

  • A roof rack gives you the flexibility to transport more items on your car's roof. With a roof rack, you can put all your large sports gear, such as bikes, skis, snowboards, surfboards or canoes, on the roof rather than needing a trailer or a larger vehicle.
  • The roof rack you should buy depends on your car's roof type and what you need to transport.

Compare some of the best roof racks

Data obtained December 2018. Prices are subject to change and should be used only as a general guide.
Name Product Average Price (AUD) Maximum load rating (kg) Bar style Colour Mount style Warranty Purchase today
Whispbar HD T17W
Whispbar HD T17W
$364
100
Cross
Silver
Clamp
Limited lifetime
The Whispbar HD is ideal for heavy loads and earned the iF Product Design Award 2009.
Thule WingBar Edge Roof Rails 958100
Thule WingBar Edge Roof Rails 958100
$419
75
Arched
Silver
Edge
2-5 years
Thule’s WingBar Edge Roof Rails are noise and drag reduced low-fit bars.
Rhino-Rack Heavy Duty RLT600 JA8637
Rhino-Rack Heavy Duty RLT600 JA8637
$497
100
Overhang
Silver
Ditch
Lifetime
The Rhino-Rack Heavy Duty RLT600 is an easily removable option that suits tradies, kayakers and travellers.
Rhino-Rack Vortex RLT500
Rhino-Rack Vortex RLT500
$643
100
Overhang
Silver
Track
Lifetime
The Rhino-Rack Vortex RLT500 is suitable for utes, trucks, caravans and convertibles.
Prorack S-Wing
Prorack S-Wing
$393
75
Through
Silver/Black
Gutter
3 years
Prorack’s S-Wing is a noise-reducing, removable roof rack.
Rhino-Rack Euro 2500
Rhino-Rack Euro 2500
$302
60
Overhang
Black
Bare Roof
Lifetime
The Rhino-Rack Euro 2500 is light and easy to use making it ideal for travellers, surfers, cyclists and those who love the outdoors.
Thule WingBar Edge Fixed Points / Solid Roof Rails
Thule WingBar Edge Fixed Points / Solid Roof Rails
$428
75
Arched
Silver
Edge
2-5 years
Thule’s WingBar Edge Fixed Points/Solid Roof Rails are sound minimised, low-fit bars.
Prorack P Bar
Prorack P Bar
$299
75
Through
Silver/Black
Clamp
3 years
Prorack’s P Bar is an entry-level, affordable roof rack for everyday needs.
Whispbar Through Bar
Whispbar Through Bar
$350
100
Through
Silver, Black
Clamp
Limited lifetime
The Whispbar Through Bar offers extended carrying capacity and is suitable for heavy loads.
Rhino-Rack Heavy Duty 2500 JA0111
Rhino-Rack Heavy Duty 2500 JA0111
$374
75
Overhang
Black
Bare Roof
Lifetime
The Rhino-Rack Heavy Duty 2500 is non-permanent, strong and secure, with lockable legs made from glass-reinforced nylon.
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What should I know about roof racks?

A roof rack allows you to store items that don't fit inside your car on the roof including fishing and camping gear, ski gear, bikes, kayaks, canoes and luggage. You can also use roof racks to attach a roof box to your car, which can greatly increase your car's storage capacity. For more information, check out our guide to roof boxes.

However, buying a roof rack isn't the only way to transport items on your car's roof. If you only want to carry bikes, you could opt for a bike rack instead. For a cheap alternative for transporting surfboards or stand up paddle boards, try roof pads. Another option that gives you extra load capacity is soft-sided roof bags, which are strapped directly to your car roof. However, they aren't durable.

Types of roof racks

Your car's roof type determines the roof rack type you need to fit. Here's what's typically used for some common vehicle types:

Car typeRoof rack type
Smaller passenger carsBare/naked/normal
SUVs, wagons, minivansRaised rail (some European models have a flush or low-profile rail)
Cargo and passenger vansRain gutter
Cars without factory-fitted roof railFixed point
Camper shellsTracks

To find out which roof racks fit your car, consult your car owner's manual or ask your car seller. If you're still unsure, check any roof rack brand's vehicle fitment guide (this is available on most sellers' websites).

What materials are roof racks made from?

There are three main materials used for roof racks: steel, aluminium and plastic.

TypeProsCons
Steel
  • Most durable
  • Best for transporting heavy duty equipment and off-roading
  • Heaviest
  • Significantly decreases load amount you can carry
Aluminium
  • Strong and lightweight
  • More corrosion-resistant
  • Produces less noise
  • More expensive
Plastic
  • Lightest
  • Cheapest
  • Flimsier and less durable
  • Unsuitable for off-roading

How to compare roof racks

Roof racks typically cost you from around $90 up to $700, depending on the type and the materials.

When buying a roof rack, consider the following factors:

Items you're carrying

If you have specific equipment to carry, such as watersport equipment, fishing gear, bikes, canoes, skis or snowboards, make sure your rack choice can handle those items. You can usually mix and match roof boxes, bars and bike carriers from different brands.

Bar types

Roof rack bars come in two main types. The most common type is through bars, which stick out beyond the roof racks, offer more space to store cargo and are often used with larger vehicles. Flush bars, with closed ends and a loading area between the roof rack feet, are used on smaller cars and don't offer as much storage capacity.

Load capacity

Check your vehicle's roof rating first, as this will limit how much you can carry. Don't waste money on a rack which can handle a capacity way bigger than your car can handle.

Height clearance

Check how tall your vehicle will be with roof racks (and roof boxes) attached. If that makes your car too high for accessing low road bridges or car parks, opt for removable roof racks.

Corrosion resistance

If you live near the ocean or live in a humid climate, corrosion-resistant aluminium will ensure your roof rack is more durable. To minimise wear, consider a removable roof rack that can be stored indoors when not in use.

Noise

If you're sensitive to noise and want to minimise drag and fuel costs, it may be worth paying a bit extra for aluminium bars.

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