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Buying a Roof Rack: The Definitive Guide

Buying a Roof Rack: The Definitive Guide

A roof rack fitted to your car is a great way of transporting additional luggage. If you frequently enjoy camping trips or have a growing family, a roof rack gives you the flexibility you need to travel comfortably and safely.

If you haven't purchased a roof rack before, you might find yourself feeling a little confused about the process. We're here to guide you through it and make your purchase easier. Here's what we will discuss:

  • How are you going to use your roof rack?
  • Steel vs aluminium: What material should you choose?
  • Can you put a roof rack on any car?
  • How do you fit a roof rack?
  • What can you put on a roof rack?
  • How will a roof rack affect your car's performance?
  • Top tips for installing a roof rack

How are you going to use your roof rack?

Don't rush out and buy a roof rack just yet. There are two key questions that you should ask yourself first.

  • What is the primary purpose of the roof rack?
  • What is your budget?

Defining your requirements sooner rather than later will help you to purchase the right product. You'll end up with a roof rack that properly meets your needs.

There are also other considerations to make. These include:

  • Installing your roof rack: Are you happy for the roof rack to feature permanently on the top of your car? Or do you want the flexibility to remove it? If the roof rack is going to be a permanent feature, you might choose a roof rack that will drill into the roof, providing more security
  • Cargo Type: Are you buying a roof rack to transport a particular piece of equipment such as a bike or a kayak? Or will you be carrying a variety of luggage? There's a range of accessories that will allow you to attach different types of sporting gear or cargo boxes

Steel vs aluminium: What material should you choose?

It might not sound like a major consideration but the material that a roof rack is made from can make a difference to how much cargo it can carry and your budget. Most roof racks will be made from steel or aluminium.

Steel
Advantages Disadvantages
  • Longevity when it comes to usage.
  • It is generally less expensive, so better for smaller budgets.
  • It's heavier and therefore creates more drag.
  • Uses more fuel because it's heavier.
  • More likely to 'whistle' in the wind.
Aluminium
Advantages Disadvantages
  • It's a more lightweight material so it's easier to manoeuvre.
  • Because it's lighter it creates less drag when the car is moving.
  • It's more fuel efficient.
  • In some cases, an aluminium frame can carry more items.
  • It is more expensive.

Can you put a roof rack on any car?

If you don't have factory installed rails or raised roof fittings already installed on your vehicle, there are still ways for you to install the roof bars you need to support a roof rack. There are different types of roof racks and fitting systems that are dependent on vehicle type.

How do you fit a roof rack?

The process of installing a roof rack will be dependent on your vehicle. The first thing you need to do is find out what existing roof rack currently exists on your car. There are usually three vehicle types:

Description Solution
Vehicles with a bare roof. A bare roof vehicle is a car that doesn't have any pre-installed attachment points. There are 'clip fit' racks that are designed to fit onto cars that have a bare roof. Clip fit kits consist of rubber based pads and coated metal brackets. This clamps to the outer edge of your roof. For a full roof rack system, you'll also need to purchase roof bars. This type of solution is designed to fit various car models and manufacturers. It offers an easy to fit installation process and can be removed when needed.
Vehicles with fixpoints. A vehicle that has roof rack mounting fixpoints built into the roof. These can sometimes be well hidden. A roof rack can easily be installed through the use of base towers. These fit into the mounting points and will allow you to add roof bars to your vehicle.
Raised roof fitting. A vehicle with a raised roof fitting already comes with fitted parallel bars that are suitable to support a roof rack system. A roof rack can be easily fitted to a vehicle with raised rails through the use of base towers. You will need a base tower that fits around your existing roof bars. Be aware that the suitability of base towers will be dependent on your car model and manufacturer.

Once you've purchased a roof rack it is possible to fit it yourself. Before you get started, make sure you have the following:

  • Somebody to help you
  • The instructions specific to your roof rack (make sure you read them!)
  • Any tools/equipment you need close to hand
  • A clean roof so that attachments fit with ease
  • Lubricant to minimize scratches

Alternatively, if you don't feel confident fitting your own roof rack get a professional to do it for you.

What can you put on a roof rack?

You'll find that a majority of roof racks are extremely versatile. However, depending on the cargo that you are planning to carry, you might need additional accessories or mounts.

If you're going on holiday and have lots of luggage, you might fit a cargo box to your roof rack so that you can carry extra clothing.

Perhaps you're going on a camping trip and need a practical way of transporting your tent? In that case, a roof basket could be the answer.

Maybe you have lots of outdoor hobbies? Do you need a roof rack that can carry your bike, your kayak or your snowboard? There's plenty of accessories that will transform the capabilities of your roof rack.

Popular Accessories- The Pros and Cons


graphic showing the popular rof rack accessories

How will a roof rack affect your car's performance?

Despite the lightweight materials that roof racks are made from, they still add a significant amount of weight to the top of your vehicle. This increases the amount of aerodynamic drag to your car meaning it will burn through more fuel. Roof racks need to be properly fitted and maintained. If they are not there is a risk that you can damage the aesthetics of your vehicle.

Don't let that put you off though. There are steps you can take to significantly minimise the risk to your vehicle.

Top tips for installing a roof rack

Check your torque settings

A poorly fitted roof rack can impact your torque settings. Make sure that you know the correct torque settings based on the make and model of your vehicle.

Don't overload your roof rack

Check the weight limitations for your roof rack so that you aren't carrying cargo that is too heavy.

Drive Slower

Roof rack accessories have differing maximum speed limits which should not be exceeded. It's important to realise aerodynamic drag increases with speed. This means that if you drive faster than you should, there is a risk that the level of force could rip the roof rack from the vehicle.

Remove your roof rack when it's not in use

While roof racks use lightweight materials, it still adds weight to your vehicle and creates drag. This has the potential to waste fuel. It's therefore sensible to remove your roof rack if it's not in use.

Read the instructions before you fit

You increase the risk of damage to your car if you fail to read the instructions. Make sure you have a good read before you start to fit your roof rack and check that you have the right tools if required.

Grease the fittings

If your roof rack is a permanent fixture, it will be exposed to the elements and corrosion can occur. To prevent this from happening, use copper grease on the attachment points.

Get help when loading

When you're loading heavy cargo, it's very easy to overestimate what you're capable of lifting. Ask for help when loading up your roof rack so that you don't drop anything that could cause damage to yourself or your vehicle.

Tie down large cargo

Items such as kayaks or canoes generate a huge amount of drag. So much so, that they are capable of ripping your roof rack clean off when travelling at high speed. In high winds, they also pose a greater amount of risk. That's why it is recommended that you tie down items like these, securely attaching it to the front and back of your car.

Buying a roof rack for your vehicle is a great investment. However, before you make your purchase it is important to carefully consider what practicalities your roof rack needs to offer. You also need to understand which type of roof rack will fit onto your vehicle.


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