There’s little as frustrating as not being able to fit everything in your car if you’re headed away for the weekend.
Not all of us can afford to buy Land Rovers, meaning you need another plan to get your excess baggage from A to B without blocking your rearview or squeezing the whole family (and a few friends) into your car like sardines.
That’s where rooftop cargo carriers come in. They’re incredibly popular for obvious reasons – they give you more space without having to buy a truck, they’re practical for your on-the-move lifestyle, and they give you a secure and dry area to store excess luggage on that unexpected family road trip to the coast.
But not all luggage roof boxes are created equally. Some are lighter, more affordable, and safer than others, which is why it’s so important to make sure you don’t just buy “a” rooftop cargo carrier. You need to buy the right one.
So, without further ado, here are 13 things to look out for before you buy a rooftop cargo carrier, luggage roof box, or whatever you choose to call the thing you so desperately need to help you take extra stuff with you on your journey!
Rooftop Cargo Carriers: The Definitive Guide
1. Buy From a Trusted Brand
That cheap discounted rooftop cargo carrier might look like a bargain, but as with anything in life, you almost always get what you pay for.
When searching for the best luggage roof box on the market, be sure to explore reputable brands with plenty of shining reviews.
If there are a couple of bad reviews lingering, don’t be discouraged – as long as they’re outweighed by the positive.
You get some nasty buyers out there after all! All that matters is that there are at least 90% positive reviews to prove the cargo carrier’s durability, and that it functions the way its makers promise.
Ultimately, this is up to you as the buyer. You need to research and do your homework before making your purchase if you don’t want to end up disappointed.
The best roof boxes are also refreshingly easy to use and a breeze to load and unload.
2. Make Sure it’s Weatherproof
Mother nature is unpredictable at best. Just when you think you’ve got clear skies and a dry road ahead, there she goes – unleashing the hardest downpour of rain you’ve seen this decade.
That’s why you need to make sure you invest in a waterproof rooftop cargo carrier – and if possible, one with dual seam technology and a double water-repellent coating. But think beyond water too.
Riding on the open road exposes you to a rainbow of other elements that could damage your cargo carrier (and its contents) as well, like extreme heat, brutal cold, flying debris on the highway or uneven terrain, and everything in-between.
Only with a high-quality, weatherproof car cargo carrier can you be assured that your stuff won’t only be protected from the wrath of mother nature, but that of prying eyes too.
3. Bag it?
You might be struggling to decide between a cargo box or a cargo bag, wondering which is better and why. First of all – if you really want to go into detail on this subject – I’d recommend making yourself some coffee and checking out this article for more.
Long story short, while both rooftop cargo boxes and bags serve the same purpose, they are different. Both carry unique pros and cons, and for cargo bags, that means a more cost-effective purchase, UV resistance, a waterproof design, and most notably, no need for a roof rail, rack, or cross rail.
When it comes to cargo roof boxes, these are made from rigid plastic which keeps your belongings extra-safe from debris and the elements.
Cargo roof boxes can also be locked, which is definitely another big plus. However, they are a bit more cumbersome than cargo bags – so it all depends on the height you can risk taking your car up to.
If you’ve already decided that a rooftop cargo box is the way to go, then be sure to check out our top-rated cargo box – the Thule Force XT Cargo Carrier. You can buy it on Amazon right now! Well, as I write this, it’s out of stock.
But that’s just proof of how popular it is! Available in four different sizes depending on what kind of car you have, the largest will add 22 cubic feet of space to your vehicle. So, keep that in mind before making your purchase.
I also love the Thule Motion XT Rooftop Cargo Carrier, which you can also bag on Amazon. Its lid automatically locks in place for secure closure, and a quick-mount system means just about anyone can install it in a matter of minutes.
This specific cargo carrier is designed to maximize your storage space. You’ll hear the same clicking sound when you mount your system as when you lock it shut – a clear indicator that you’re locked, loaded, and ready to hit the road, Jack.
4. Boxes, Baskets, and Ski Racks, Oh My!
Sometimes, a roof rack cargo basket might be all you need – but only if you don’t plan on traveling long distances and you know for a fact that the weather won’t be too harsh in any way.
Obviously, your cargo will be exposed to the elements should you opt for a cargo-carrying basket instead of its closed box counterpart, but you do get plenty of high-quality roof rack cargo baskets out there – not to mention ski racks that attach to crossbars if they already exist on your vehicle.
The best ones offer incredible durability, an adjustable fit, molded-on ergonomic handles, and convenient straps that keep your cargo secured safely to your vehicle.
You’ll also want to look out for things like an aerodynamic cargo carrier design that makes sure you don’t have to endure deafening noise pollution while you conquer bumpy terrain.
The best rooftop ski racks are built from durable, heavy-duty materials – and if you’ve got the budget, the better ones come with built-in locking systems that keep thieving hands where they belong. Off your stuff.
If you want to know more about the pros and cons of rooftop ski racks versus cargo boxes, check out this article I published already. If you indeed have your heart set on a ski rack for your car, we’d highly recommend the Thule SnowPack Ski/Snowboard Rack on Amazon.
It mounts quickly and easily onto almost any car, crossover, or SUV, and many buyers agree that $299.95 is a small price to pay for such a high-quality ski rack from Amazon. In terms of cargo bags, I have nothing but praise for The RoofPax Soft Rooftop Cargo Carrier – which you can also buy on Amazon right now. It’s UV resistant, has a waterproof zipper, and measures in at 48” long, 36” wide, and 18” high. The fact that it offers such a colossal amount of storage space is a bonus, giving you plenty of room to pack and move the gear you can’t travel without.
5. Make Sure You Have a Mounting Rail and Cross Bar
I’ve seen way too many people receive their rooftop cargo carrier deliveries after weeks of waiting, only to realize that they can’t install it.
Again, do your homework! Make sure your vehicle is fitted with both a mounting rail and crossbar.
If your car doesn’t come with one already, you could get one installed if your car allows for it.
Consider giving your dealership a quick buzz to determine if your vehicle is eligible for mounting rail and crossbar installation.
If it is indeed compatible, ALWAYS get a professional to install it. Many people think that they are as handy as MacGyver, but soon realize that installing a mounting rail and crossbar is a bit more complex than, say, screwing in a lightbulb.
Professionals know intricate details like the need to position the saddle away from the rack’s center to ensure even weight distribution.
They are also aware of the importance of aligning to the crossbar on the vehicle, then clamping and securing the rack to the crossbar by tightening the saddle’s wing nuts.
One wrong move in the installation process, and you could be setting yourself up for disaster when flying down the highway at 70mph.
No one wants to see their underwear strewn across the road for all to see, so make sure your mounting rail and crossbar are installed by experts so that your confidential cargo stays put.
If your vehicle is already fitted with a mounting rail and crossbar, then you’re in luck – you can whip out your MacGyver skills after all.
Installing a roof box is relatively straightforward if the foundation is already there, but be sure to still take the time and effort to get it done correctly.
I’ve seen countless news reports covering road accidents involving cars and poorly installed rooftop cargo carriers. It all comes down to installation, so get it right and stay safe out there, folks.
6. Check for Safety
Cheap roof cargo boxes can never provide the functionality or safety of their costlier counterparts. Again, you get what you pay for.
This is connected to our point about buying from a trusted brand. The best rooftop cargo carriers out there meet strict industry standards of safety, quality, and functionality, and they never affect your visibility on the road.
These also have a set strength-to-weight ratio, have passed stringent windup stability tests, and ensure great performance come rain, shine, or snowfall.
However, a huge part of safety on the road with a rooftop cargo carrier strapped to your car is your responsibility. Most carriers are perfectly safe provided they aren’t overloaded.
Check the weight limit on your roof cargo box before packing it – and weigh it once it’s full to confirm that it aligns with the stated limit.
This could be anywhere from 50 to 150 pounds for a standard car, or 200 lbs. upwards for a bigger SUV.
And remember – the best rooftop cargo carrier brands back up any claims they make with confidence and conviction.
Look out for an ASTM certification, which clearly indicates that the roof box has passed strict lab testing.
This way, you can sleep easy the night before your trip, knowing that you and your family will be safe, sound, and problem-free on the road.
7. Do You Want Extra Features?
The fancier rooftop cargo carriers on the market boast a bevy of extra features, like locks and alarms to keep thieving hands at bay.
While these obviously cost a prettier penny than their more basic, affordable cargo-carrying counterparts, they could come in handy if you’re traveling to a location where you can’t be sure that your car will be guarded.
If you have the budget, we would definitely recommend investing in a rooftop cargo carrier with some next-level upgrades like this.
These kinds of cargo carriers almost always look a lot sleeker too, with high-end beauty to match the functionality. We repeat: Check out Thule Motion.
8. Check the Fit.
If you thought every bag fits every car rooftop, think again. When it comes to roof cargo boxes, a one-size-fits-all does not apply.
You’ll also need to check whether your vehicle has raised or flush roof rails or a naked roof, which seriously influences whether the cargo carrier you buy will fit on your car.
9. Know Your Budget
You need to make a choice here. Do you want quality that will last – and keep your cargo safe – or do you want the best bang for your buck?
If you want the latter, you need to at least make sure you’re buying from a highly-rated cargo carrier brand that people trust.
There are middle-grounds whereby you don’t have to spend your life savings on a roof cargo box that’s high-quality and save to boot, but avoid cheap rooftop cargo carriers at all costs.
Decide on a budget beforehand, but give yourself a few dollars leeway.
10. Check for Fuel Economy
Just like the cargo carriers strapped to them, cars have weight limits too – and these should never be ignored.
If your car will be filled with multiple fully-grown adults – and a rooftop cargo carrier on top of them – you’ll need to seriously think if this will affect your fuel economy.
If your car is too weighed down, you can expect a heftier gas quota by the end of the trip.
Remember that wind resistance can also compromise fuel economy, so again – homework people.
This also brings your tires into the conversation, meaning you should also check and double-check the recommended inflation pressure.
Not the maximum pressure, the recommended one. Your car’s manual should give you the answers you need.
11. Where Will You Be Parking?
Remember that many places, like building entrances and parking garages, have height limits.
If you own a large car that’s already close to this limit, you could have a not-so-pleasant surprise when you try to enter spaces like these.
If you’re going to be parking your car undercover, driving through a parking garage, or moving through any space that has a height limit, check how much height your cargo carrier will add to your vehicle before leaving your yard.
12. What’s it Made of?
The best rooftop cargo carriers on the market are designed and engineered using heavy-duty materials, waterproof and fade-resistant coatings, UV protection, and heat-welded seams.
They should also be flame-retardant. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for things like adjustable straps that will keep your roof carrier in place without scratching your vehicle – not to mention an anti-slip mat.
Don’t forget to check how the rooftop cargo carrier is designed to open and close. You’ll want high-quality zippers or a strong latch to keep your belongings safe on the road.
13. Know the Warranty
The finest car roof bags offer a lifetime warranty. Why? Because they’re that confident in the quality of what they’re selling.
Should your zippers, buckles, or any part of your cargo carrier wear or tear, you’ll be covered under warranty.
The top rooftop cargo carrier brands always offer an extended warranty – if not one for life.
Ultimately, it all boils down to this: You want to invest in the best car rooftop cargo carrier money can buy, one that is durable, heavy-duty, safe, and built to last.
You also want something with plenty of space that doesn’t require a rocket science degree to install.
I hope our recommendations will help you make the most informed decision possible when buying a rooftop cargo carrier.
Stay tuned for our next blog – we’ll be back soon with even more content to educate and empower you on your on-the-move lifestyle.
Until next time, stay safe out there, folks. And we’ll see you soon.