CAR’s guide to the best roof racks

Want to show you're active and adventurous? Roof racks will help you do just that. They're also useful for carrying things. Here is our guide to roof racks.

A red VW Golf with a roof rack carrying bikes and a kayak

by Chris Williams |
Updated on

Nothing upgrades your motor to ‘family mode’ more than a roof rack. This says "I’m a parent who knows exactly what I need. More space."

No matter how big your boot space, kids and life take up more room than we have sometimes and then the added need for bikes or canoes opens a whole new can of worms. Roof racks can be a tricky business, though, you’ll need to check whether your car is compatible, generally, if your vehicle has rails on the roof, you’ll be good to go. If you don’t there is still an option to install a roof rack but you are more limited on choice.

Price ranges vary, this is to do with materials used, aerodynamics as well as other factors so which is the best? Well, it’s a good job I’ve done all the looking for you.

Types of roof rack

Square bars: The simplistic choice, generally quite sturdy a no messing about option and probably the cheapest.

Aluminium bars: a lighter alternative, but lighter often means not able to support heavy loads, usually a little bit more ‘aero’

Aero Bars: Made to reduce wind noise and not have as larger detrimental impact on the fuel gauge. Something your partner will really enjoy discussing with you when considering Roof Racks.

Types of car roof rails

Of course it wouldn’t be so easy as turning up at Halfords and just buying a roof rack to install on your car, not only are there different roof racks there’s all different types of car roofs to consider…

• Raised rails

• Flush Rails

• T-track

• Fixed Point

• Rain Gutter

• Normal Roof

Helpfully, if you’re buying from Amazon, there is an Amazon Confirmed Fit menu that will help you choose the correct rails for your car by entering your make and model

Important Notice

Your car's roof will have a weight limit – check the manual before installing roof racks and loading your car up. The last thing you want is for your roof to collapse at 60mph on the way to the seaside.

Roof Rack picks

When it comes to roof racks, there is one name which rules the roost: Thule. Thule have put in an awful lot of research and development to bring a wide range of roof racks to suit most budgets. The WingBar Edge is discreet and aero keeping wind noise to a minimum.

They’re easy to install on cars with raised rails and are a very sound choice. These are right at the top end of the market and will cost you a pretty penny. A way of justifying the cost is how much you intend on using them and how often. If they will be in everyday use it might be worth considering something like this as they are durable and versatile. These are an all-in-one purchase and will not require extra purchases of railing kits.

At the other end of the price spectrum and for flush rails is the Halfords Integrated Rail Roof Bars, made from steel these are sturdy and durable and also a complete set that doesn’t require extra purchases.

These bars have a maximum load of 100kg while not having as much aero in mind wind noise may be higher, however, if you’re carrying large objects on your roof anyway, this may not be so much of a consideration for you.

If you don’t have any roof rails on your car and a standard roof – these may be what you’re looking for. At 4.9kg they’re lightweight but they can only hold up to 50kg and with their oval shape, the wind noise can be a little loud.

Suitable for carrying your bikes or outdoor adventure kit, they’re certainly a good option if you’re limited on the choice of roof racks.

Now here’s a novel idea that doesn’t care what roof rails you have because to mount it, you don't need any. From Smart Cars to SUVs the HandiWorld HRACK weighs just 2kg and can hold up to 80kg.

These inflatable roof racks will help you transport ladders, bikes, canoes, anything. With its durable material, you inflate the HRACK with a pump and when you’re not using it, it can be stowed in a small duffle bag in the boot.

A very unique idea but with its durable material and the way it mounts to your vehicle, wind noise could be a factor. But, if you’re switching between cars and carrying different loads, it could easily solve a carrying conundrum for you.

Chris Williams is a Senior Product Writer for CAR, also working for Live For The Outdoors. An expert in camping and muscle cars, he spends most of his time up a mountain or laying rubber.

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