Roof Cargo Carrier vs. Hitch Cargo Carrier

We've all been there; you're packing up the car for an extended vacation when you realize you don't have enough space. You've already played trunk Tetris for half an hour, and there's no way to fit in anything else. Your car is filled to the brim with suitcases and hiking gear, and you somehow have to find room for three kayaks.

Situations like this are why many choose to invest in cargo carriers for their vehicles.

When they do so, they have two options; roof cargo carriers and hitch cargo carriers. 

Yet, it can be unclear which type of carrier is best for your needs. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. That's why I'm here to pit them against each other in the matchup: roof cargo carrier vs. hitch cargo carrier. Read on to learn more about each one and what they can do for you.

Understanding Hitch Cargo Carriers

First, let's look at hitch cargo carriers. If you didn't know, a hitch cargo carrier attaches to the rear of your vehicle. They're typically durable boxes or bags that are about 20 cubic feet long. Of course, there are varying shapes and sizes available.

If you're considering hitch cargo, you'll need a vehicle with towing capabilities.

It's for this reason that hitch cargo carriers can alienate some consumers. If you drive a small sedan, for example, you won't be able to hitch anything to the back.

Weight limitations are another consideration. If your vehicle can't tow much weight, you're probably better off storing cargo on the roof.

If you have a truck or SUV that can hitch and tow a great deal of weight, then it's a viable option. In fact, many that can attach cargo find it very convenient. Cargo is effortless to load and unload with a hitch carrier. Since it's at waist-level, you won't have to reach up high to get your luggage off the roof.

To see an example, the highest-rated carrier on Amazon is the MeeFar Hitch Mount Cargo Carrier.

It features a soft-shell bag that's 100% waterproof so that it can stand up to the rain. They made the cargo basket out of steel for extra durability. 8 reinforced straps easily attach to any car, truck, or SUV.

At $99.99, it's a high-quality and affordable option for hitch cargo. Other essential features include:

  • A combination lock for security
  • Easily holds 6-8 full-size suitcases with 20 cubic square feet of space
  • High-frequency voltage technology
  • Folds up for easy storage at home

This carrier bag is big enough to fit two suitcases, a cooler, boogie boards, yard games, and still have space. It's waterproof and durable enough to stand up to the conditions of any road trip.

Do Hitch Cargo Carriers Need Lights?

A commonly asked question about hitch carriers is whether they need lights or not. To answer it once and for all, here's a rule of thumb when it comes to hitching cargo lights:

  • If your cargo carrier isn't obstructing your taillights, you aren't required to have cargo lights.
  • If they do obstruct your taillights, then by law, you'll need to put lights on your cargo carrier.

Even if your carrier isn't obstructing your taillights, it's still a good idea to light it up. Why? Because it's safer and lets the drivers behind you judge the circumference of your cargo.

That's why I recommend attaching lights to your hitch cargo carriers no matter what.

After all, cargo carrier lights are relatively inexpensive and easy to install. Here's a $30 set on Amazon that has a near-perfect rating. The Partsam Red Cargo Carrier LED Lights Kit features waterproof lights as well. They will keep your hitch cargo carrier safe and lit up.

Are Trailer Hitch Cargo Carriers Safe?

Yes, hitch carriers are pretty safe. They're far safer than roof cargo carriers. Since the cargo is closer to the ground, there's less risk of falling off and causing an accident.

If safety is one of your primary concerns, you should go with a hitch cargo carrier. Of course, you'll need to make sure that your vehicle has towing capabilities to use one.

How Fast Can You Drive with a Hitch Cargo Carrier?

Some consumers worry about their cargo slowing them down. Others have concerns about how fast they can drive with cargo. In general, you should always obey the speed limits of each area.

If you have a hitch cargo carrier, you shouldn't see any decrease in speed capabilities from your vehicle. That's assuming that the cargo that you're hauling isn't too heavy.

If you are hauling weighty cargo, you may see some slow down.

The experts recommend that you never drive faster than 90 MPH with a hitch cargo carrier. If you're obeying the speed limit, you won't have to worry about going too fast for your carrier.

What is the Biggest Hitch Cargo Carrier?

There are lots of large carriers available. You'll have to take into consideration the weight limits of your vehicle. Also, it would be best if you did some research on your local state laws. They vary state by state, and your state may have a size limit. In general, flat-tray type carriers tend to be the largest, with 24 x 60-inch and above sizes.

How Much Weight Can a Hitch Cargo Carrier Hold?

Roof Cargo Carrier vs. Hitch Cargo Carrier

A 2-inch hitch can carry the most amount of weight. You'll have to make sure that your vehicle is capable of withstanding 2-inch hitches. These powerful cargo carriers can carry up to 200 lbs worth of gear and luggage. That's an impressive amount of weight to be able to carry on your vehicle.

Essential Benefits of Hitch Cargo Carriers

  • Easy to reach. If you're shorter in stature, you probably don't want to mess with loading cargo onto the roof. The great thing about a hitch cargo carrier is that it's at waist height near the ground.
  • Won't affect speed. Since the cargo is in the back, it won't affect the aerodynamics of your car. You won't see any lull in your speed as a result. You'll also get the most out of your fuel economy.
  • Superior safety. A hitch cargo carrier is a lot safer than a roof cargo carrier. The reason is that your cargo isn't suspended in the air.

Drawbacks of Hitch Cargo Carriers

  • Some cars can't use them. If your vehicle can't tow or hitch anything, then hitch cargo carriers are off the table. That's a shame, as it eliminates a lot of vehicle owners right off the bat.
  • Visibility limitations. This drawback won't apply to all hitch cargo carriers out there. If your carrier is small enough that it doesn't obscure your view, then you won't have any problems. Yet, some hitch cargo carriers are tall enough that they can cover your view out the back. That can be a safety hazard, so be careful.

Understanding Roof Cargo Carriers

Okay, now let's take a look at what roof cargo carriers have to offer. These are cargo carriers that you attach to your roof. They allow you to transport all sorts of gear, luggage, and equipment. For example, you could mount kayaks to the top of your car. You won't be able to do that with a hitch cargo carrier.

For this reason, rooftop cargo carriers are more popular amongst outdoor adventurers.

If you have an abundance of gear that you need to bring with you, a rooftop cargo carrier is your best option.

To see whether a cargo box or bag is correct for you, check out this other matchup that we did that compares the two.

To look at an example, here's the highest-rated rooftop cargo carrier on Amazon. It's the MeeFar Car Roof Bag, and it's waterproof and has an anti-slip mat. That ensures that your cargo roof carrier stays in place at all times.

At $119.99, it's an affordable way to transport gear, move long distances, and transport emergency equipment.

Other crucial features include:

  • Easy to use. The ten reinforced straps and six door hooks are easy to install on any vehicle. The anti-slip mat and luggage luck are bonuses. You can have the whole thing set up in just a few minutes.
  • Added security. You get a bonus combination lock to keep your valuables safe and secure at all times during your trip.
  • Universally compatible. Any car, SUV, or truck with a roof rack can use this carrier bag.
  • Tons of storage space. Twenty cubic feet of storage space is enough to pack everything you need for an extended vacation.
  • Waterproof and tearproof. You won't have to worry about weather conditions with this carrier. Not only is it waterproof, but it's tearproof as well. It's durable enough to stand up to any road trip.

Do You Need Crossbars for the Cargo Box?

Yes, you will need a roof rack or crossbars BEFORE you can use a rooftop cargo carrier. The good news is that you can install a roof rack on any vehicle in existence. Some SUVs and crossovers come with crossbars already installed.

A roof rack is pretty inexpensive, and you'll get a lot of use out of it if you travel a lot. If you ski, then you'll want to invest in a roof rack. To learn more, check out this article we did comparing roof boxes and ski racks.

How Much Weight Can a Roof Cargo Carrier Support?

Roof Cargo Carrier vs. Hitch Cargo Carrier

It will depend on which type of vehicle that you have. Trucks and SUVs can carry more weight on the roof than cars and sedans. To find out, check your vehicle owner's manual. It will let you know the exact roof weight limit for your car, truck, or SUV.

In general, it ranges between 100 and 160 pounds.

As you can tell, that's less than what you can transport with a hitch cargo carrier. If you can't tow anything with your vehicle, the roof is your next best bet.

Bear in mind that a roof cargo carrier will affect the aerodynamics of your vehicle. Carrying heavy, bulky items on top will cause your car to go slower. Your fuel economy will also suffer as a result.

Yet, rooftop cargo carriers are more universally available. Since any car can attach a roof rack, any vehicle can use a rooftop cargo carrier. To learn more, click here to see our comparison between car-top carrier boxes and baskets.

Benefits of Rooftop Cargo Carriers

  • Excellent versatility. Rooftop carriers tend to be more versatile than hitched ones. That's because you can carry more than a cargo bag or box. You can mount kayaks, surfboards, bike racks, skis, and more.
  • Universally available. Unlike hitch cargo carriers, any vehicle can install crossbars and use a roof box. That's excellent news for sedan owners that still want to add to their overall vehicle storage space.
  • No decreased visibility. Since the cargo is on the roof, you'll maintain complete visibility out of the front, sides, and back of your vehicle. You also won't need to purchase any extra lights.

Drawbacks of Rooftop Cargo Carriers

  • Cumbersome to load and unload. It can be tough to reach up high enough to mount the box on your roof. If you're shorter in stature, it can be near impossible. It's much easier to load and unload a hitch cargo carrier.
  • Reduced speed. A bulky roof box can mess with your aerodynamics. That will slow your car down and hurt your fuel economy.

Roof Cargo Carrier vs. Hitch Cargo Carrier: The Verdict

All right, so I've gone over a lot so far. By now, you should know the benefits and drawbacks of both types of cargo carriers. That is a versus article for a reason, and a winner must be chosen:

  • Winner: Rooftop Cargo Carrier

I based this decision on a few factors-the most prominent being that any vehicle can use a rooftop carrier. If you don't have a car that can hitch and tow, hitch cargo carriers are immediately off the table.

Rooftop carriers are easy to find, affordable, and very versatile. You can carry additional items such as kayaks, skis, and bike racks. You can't do that with hitch cargo carriers.

That's not to say that hitch cargo carriers can't be fantastic. If you have a truck or SUV that can use them, it's hard to beat their safety and accessibility.

If you want to learn more about cargo for cars, check out our extensive cargo carriers for cars guide.

I hope that you can use this guide to make the best personal choice for your needs. To learn more about everything related to vehicle cargo, check us out at The Roof Boxes.

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