Introduction to the World of Car Racks
This guide-cum-review is designed to help you find the best car rack for your vehicle.
First, we provide the basic information you need to know about car racks: what they are, the different types available, why buy one, how to go about choosing the best car rack from the myriad options available and so on. Second, we detail several review-based options to help you make your choice from what we believe would be a great fit, depending on different needs.
Now that we got the disclaimer out of the way, let’s move on…
When it comes to buying a car, most people have this misconception that they need a vehicle that caters not just to their simple everyday needs, but also one that would satisfy their requirements at their most extreme.
Well, there is always the chance they will be hitting the trail at some point during the year, whether it is camping, going on a road trip, a weekend excursion with family or friends, or just about anything that requires them to spend time outdoors. And for that, they need a car that can spaciously accommodate everyone and everything without cramming them all in the back.
But do they really?
What seems to elude many travellers is that there is a workaround to that and it does not involve shelling out crazy money for a top-of-the-range SUV or crossover which, in some cases, cannot even guarantee that much coveted space for both person and cargo.
It is called a car rack. Try using one sometime.
Some vehicles come equipped with one, and even for those that do not, a rack can always be fitted without breaking the bank.
And this goes for small vehicles too.
After all, unless you spend every weekend on the back trail, you find that the right car rack can serve your needs quite effectively. And at the end of the day, it will keep you from falling for those marketing gimmicks that promote costly fuel-guzzlers which seem to boast perfect rock-climbing ability that they would have no trouble being contenders for the annual Rhino Charge competition.
In all truth though, a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle can always be relied upon to help you get by in the real world 9 out of 10 times. Provided, of course, you manage to fit it with the right car rack which you can always add whenever need be.
Why a Car Rack?
Apart from saving a premium on steep initial and running costs associated with larger high-riding vehicles, fitting a car rack to your vehicle offers immense versatility and practicality.
They are just a perfect and economical alternative for millions of people across all travel divides – outdoor enthusiasts, holidaying families, DIYers, business owners, cyclists you name them. Because let’s face it, if outdoor expeditions are a frequent feature on your calendar, it is highly likely that the issue of vehicle roominess has crossed your mind at some point.
A rack basically allows you to bring more stuff than you would otherwise have – baby equipment, ladders, bikes, surf boards or just extra luggage – while also allowing you to reserve more room inside your vehicle. The type of car rack matters not much – a roof rack, hitch rack, trunk rack – they all get the job done.
There are just innumerable everyday scenarios where a good car rack can come in handy, and in most cases, it will free you of the need to hire a van (or bother that mate who owns a huge estate car).
Types of Car Racks
Car racks come in different types and generally, the three most common include:
- Roof racks
- Hitch-mounted racks
- Trunk-mounted racks
Roof Racks and Carriers
As the name suggests, this type of rack is mounted on the roof of your vehicle. It is the most adaptable solution and can be used to ferry just about any additional cargo in your inventory.
Roof racks come in a plethora of styles.
- Roof basket
One of the most common and handy roof racks, the roof basket is usually constructed with metal tubes. The top of the basket is open which means you can load up on cargo without restriction save, of course, for load weight and recommended maximum height restrictions at certain points.
Otherwise, very ideal for luggage and everyday items.
- Roof bike rack
Most roof bike racks have a mechanism to secure the front fork and rear wheel of the bike while also supporting the frames to prevent the bike from tipping either side.
Their downside is that not only are they cumbersome, but also shorter individuals may find them a challenge to use (as with all roof racks).
- Ski/Snowboard rack
This type of rack typically features two metal bars on a hinge with soft, gripping rubber on the inside to help hold skis and snowboards in place. They are cost-effective and provide an easy way to access skis and snowboards.
However, ski and snowboard racks tend to expose equipment to both road debris and elements. Road salt can particularly be bad for the equipment bases as it dries out the P-tex material. So if you transport your skis and/or snowboards this way, you will need to wax them regularly to prevent them from slowing when gliding.
- Kayak carrier
This is the best way kayaking enthusiasts can conveniently move their kayaks and canoes from Point A to B. Some of these carriers usually have a curved holder that props the boat up on its side for easier access.
If you plan on buying a kayak carrier, opt for loadbars that are a size longer than what the fit guide suggests in order to fit the boat(s) more easily. If the bars are a bit extended, you can always trim them.
- Cargo box
This is one of the most popular car rack options among outdoor enthusiasts and it is easy to see why: the cargo box guarantees absolute protection of your items from the elements, provided you can fit it all in.
Speaking of fitting in, the main benefit of the cargo box is also its Achilles heel; double-edged sword if you rather. True, it has no limitation as to the type of luggage you can carry, as long as you can accommodate it inside. But the fact that it has to be clamped down means you cannot carry any tall or large items in it.
Cargo boxes come in two types.
There are soft-case carriers (more like sacks) which are constructed from soft materials and can be zipped to keep their contents in place. They are available in an array of sizes and shapes suitable for most vehicles.
There are also the hard-shell carriers. They are the more expensive of the two, but for many, it is a price worth paying for a host of reasons.
One is that, in addition to being waterproof, they are also lockable which means you can leave your car unattended without the fear of having unintended hands rummaging through your stuff. Second, they are extremely robust and can be relied upon to effectively protect your valuables. Third, they are perfectly suited for long-distance trips and can be used all year round.
What’s more, the high quality types can last the lifetime of your vehicle!
Advantages of Roof Racks
Generally, the advantages of roof racks can be summarised as follows:
»They are the most versatile solution, with a slew of specialty carriers to choose from
»They are excellent for items with long or odd dimensions – think skis, kayaks and other uneven cargo
»They offer great stability and security
»Roof racks do not restrict rear access therefore they eliminate the need to have extra tail- or stop-lights
»They have a good cargo capacity both in terms of weight and length
»Accessing roof carriers is not convenient, especially in the case of larger vehicles
»They have been faulted for bringing extra wind resistance which may not only be noisy, but also could lower fuel economy
»There is the issue of compatibility where trucks are concerned because the cab is not large enough to mount the base rack
The second type of car rack differs from its roof counterpart in the sense that it is usually mounted at the back of the vehicle.
Hitch racks are normally secured in the hitch receiver of the vehicle, and they work best on trucks and larger vehicles. Vehicles that come without a hitch receiver can always have one installed, but it is advisable to have this done by a professional as there is no one-size-fits-all solution: hitches are divided into classes (I through V) based on towing capacity, so this is something you need to keep in mind.
Take Class I, for example. This can fit any vehicle but it has a limited towing capacity of 2,000 lbs. Class V, on the other hand, is best for vans and heavy-duty trucks and can tow up to 18,000 pounds.
Hitch carriers can either be upright-style racks or tray-style racks.
Advantages of Hitch Racks
»Their mostly rectangular shape provides nice flexibility for cargo storage
»Access to gear is easy irrespective of vehicle size
»They do not impact fuel consumption rate considerably given their position in the vehicle’s slipstream
»Hitch carriers will not always fit large or long cargo
»They require a trailer hitch receiver
»May block license plate, stop lights and taillights, thus some extra lights may be needed on the carrier
3. Trunk Racks
Trunk racks are attached to the rear decks via a system of straps and hooks designed to be friendly to your paintwork, although care must always be taken while fitting the hooks. They are incredibly versatile and suit a whole range of vehicles.
Trunk racks are smaller, lightweight and the most affordable of the lot. Installation is easy, and through a little practice, can be mounted and removed with ease.
Advantages of Trunk Racks
»They are typically affordable
»Great fit for a wide range of vehicles
»Installation is super easy
»Easy to store and can even be stored in the trunk of the vehicle when not in use
»Convenient access to your bikes when you get to your destination
»Poor installation may block the rear view
»They tend to be less secure
Other Notable Mentions
Truck rucks are designed to transform the bed of a truck into an efficient carrier.
These are often specialised – they could be for bikes, could be for boats; cargo boxes even.
Any vehicle with a mounted rear spare wheel (usually off-road or sports utility vehicles) can be fitted with spare-tyre racks that can be used to ferry items such as bikes, although this type of car rack restricts you to only two bikes.
They are fairly light and compact, and their beauty is that they do not restrict access to the rear door.
Choosing the Right Car Rack
For many people, choosing the right rack is a decision that may already have been done for them. If your car doesn’t come with a hitch or an option to fit one, then you might want to spend some time picking the best roof rack to fit your needs. However, if your vehicle is set up for both options, then you got something to mull over.
Assuming you are torn between going for either, which car rack is better than the other?
It all boils down to how far the rack goes in meeting your needs. Suffice to say your needs should be at the heart of the decision you make.
The good thing about roof racks, aside from being a fit for most vehicles, is they give you that freedom to bring along just about anything you want, whether it is a couple of bags, or a canoe. If you are quite the outdoor type, or if you often travel with lots of gear, then a roof car rack may be the best carrier for you.
A hitch-mounted rack, on the other hand, may serve you just fine if you only need to bring along an additional gear bag (and the propane grill, maybe). The best thing about hitch cargo carriers, so long as your vehicle supports one, is the convenience they bring. In the event you need something while on the road, accessing it is easy without the need to unload your luggage.
Besides, they help in optimising your fuel economy by maintaining your vehicle’s aerodynamic shape.