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.
Data obtained December 2018. Prices are subject to change and should be used only as a general guide.
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 type||Roof rack type|
|Smaller passenger cars||Bare/naked/normal|
|SUVs, wagons, minivans||Raised rail (some European models have a flush or low-profile rail)|
|Cargo and passenger vans||Rain gutter|
|Cars without factory-fitted roof rail||Fixed point|
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.
- Most durable
- Best for transporting heavy duty equipment and off-roading
- Significantly decreases load amount you can carry
- Strong and lightweight
- More corrosion-resistant
- Produces less noise
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.