Roof racks seem like a bit of a rabbit warren to the uninformed, which, to be fair, is most people. Most people have better things to do than to become experts on roof racks. However, this only becomes regrettable when the time arrives and we need a set of roof racks. A bike rack, a roof box, surfboards - whatever it is going on your roof, you’re going to need roof racks.
Luckily for you, it’s not rocket science and we're on hand to decode and simplify the world of roof racks. In this article, we will address questions surrounding the different kinds of roof racks? Which roof racks fit which car? Why the price differences? We've done the hard work for you and created a guide to the best roof racks for your car.
Keep reading for our FAQs on what to look out for and top tips.
What are the different kinds of roof racks?
Square bars: a simple steel square bar. The cheapest option.
Aluminium bars: a lighter, more aerodynamic alternative.
Aero bars exclusive to Thule: the most aerodynamic option. Made from aluminium, and reduce wind noise to a minimum. Also a bit more efficient for aerodynamics and therefore fuel consumption.
In addition, you need to know that there are also different types of roof rails. Cars either possess no roof rails at all, which need a full fitting kit to fit roof racks; flushed/integrated rails that look like slim lines along each side of the roof; or raised roof rails, which you can distinguish by the gap between the rails and the roof.
Different roof racks often vary in what weights they can hold. Therefore, some with lighter limits will not be so suitable for big camping trips, but rather a pair of mountain bikes. Your car’s roof will also have a weight limit so it’s vital to be aware of what it is before choosing and fitting roof racks and loading them up. Refer to your car’s manual to be sure.
Which roof racks fit my car?
The most important question. There are a couple of different factors to consider at this point. The first thing is to note what is whether your car has roof rails on them already. Because cars obviously come is a multitude of sizes and shapes, roof racks come in three parts to make them more universal in fitting various cars – bars, feet, and fitting kits.
Cars with solid roof rails fitted by the manufacturer (frequently estates and SUVs) may not need the fitting kits – only the feet and bars. There are two types of roof rails that manufacturers fit: raised ones that have a gap between the roof and the rail, and integrated/flush that don't.
On the other hand, cars with fixed points or nothing at all will need all three parts. Fixed points do not protrude from the roof like solid rails. There are usually four of them on a car, often along two black strips – one on each side of the roof.
In addition to the way roof bars attach, they also come in a range of sizes to accommodate the different widths of cars.
Both Amazon Garage and Halfords' search tool are useful resources in filtering which roof racks fit your car. But you still need to be aware of whether you need racks for raised, flush, or no roof rails.
What’s with the price differences?
It’s mainly about the type of roof rack it is. Square bars are the simplest and cheapest and the lighter, more aerodynamic options will be more expensive. There is branding to consider too. Names such as Thule are the bee’s knees of the roof rack world and consequently, are at the higher end of the price range.
Are they easy to fit?
Yes, and made easier with two people. But as with anything, that relies entirely on following the instructions correctly. It’s like a recipe. You read the procedure all the way through before starting to avoid surprises, frustration, and cursing. On top of that, poorly fitted roof bars can be hazardous: fastened too tight, the rails and connection points can get bent out of shape; not fastened properly, you can probably work that out for yourself.
The best roof racks for raised rails:
Thule WingBar Edge Complete All-in-One Racks
Solid and silent racks for raised cars with existing raised roof rails. Unquestionably on the pricey side, but they are engineered brilliantly, including a wind diffuser to create as little air resistance as possible. Yet they are still rated up to 75kgs. Telescopic feet means a widely universal fit.
Summit Semi Universal Roof Bars
Best budget racks for raised roof rails
A quality alternative to the Thule that won't break the bank. Still rated up to 75kgs, these Summit roof racks are also made from lightweight aluminium, just without the ultra-slippery design.
Streetwize Aluminium Lock Bars
An alternative to the alternative. Despite being a budget option, these roof bars are still rated up to 75kg, like the Summit bars, and are made of lightweight aluminium. They also feature locks to keep everything secure from thieves. However they're nowhere near as aerodynamic as other options so expect wind noise.
The best roof racks for flush/integrated rails
Thule WingBar Edge For Flushed Rails
Best roof racks for flushed rails
The same cutting-edge aero design from Thule as above. However, these are suited for the kinds of roof flush roof rails that are generally found on newer cars.
Halfords Integrated Rail Steel Roof Bars
Best budget racks for flush rails
Plain and simple square bars. Made from steel and rated up to 100kgs. The racks may be able to take that much but remember to check what your car load limit is.
Roof racks for cars without rails
Bear in mind that in getting roof racks for cars without rails will need the fitting kit, as well as the feet and bars. They will inevitably cost a bit more because of that. Finding out which fitting kit for your specific car is very important.
So, for a top of the range Thule Edge WingBar kit you should expect to pay roughly £300 for the complete setup. To save some money, get the Thule square bars instead. Remember to use Amazon Garage or Halfords search tool to help you find the correct ones.
The alternative is the vastly cheaper set of Summit roof racks. The drawbacks are that the load limit is only 50kgs – but that is completely circumstantial as to whether that matters to you. The other obvious difference is the design – square bars to Thule’s aeroplane-style Edge WingBars.
The Easy Rack soft roof rack from Streetwize is specially made for carrying light loads on short journeys without the need of installing roof bars. It is perfect for carrying lightweight items such as surfboards, canoes, luggage and ladders. This soft roof rack is easy to fit with no tools required. Plus, it comes with a handy storage bag for you to conveniently pack the padded rack and store it in your vehicle's boot when needed.
it should be noted - when supporting a load with this soft roof rack, the maximum speed you can drive is 50mph.