Roof Rails Vs Roof Racks? Which One and Why?

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We often see people referring to the bars, rails, rods, frames of whatever those things up on your car's roof as roof rails and roof racks. Even manufacturers and vehicle experts use them interchangeably. However, the two are not the same, and roof rails vs. roof racks have become an important discussion for numerous reasons.

Roof rails and roof racks differ from each other in design, orientation, installation, and overall purpose. The difference is so important that not being aware of it can pose a risk to your rooftop carrying.

To get a detailed breakdown of what the two items are, how they differ, and which one best suits your needs, dive right into this article on roof rails vs. roof racks!

What Are Roof Rails?

Roof rails like Tata. Melia Roof Rails on Amazon are an ideal way to give your car that sleek, aerodynamic look. They allow you the option of tying down items like camping chairs or bikes in case they get moved around during transport and can also protect against theft with their security features such as locks for bicycles. 

What Are Roof Racks?

Roof racks are an excellent way to safely transport your cargo. They're designed for heavier loads and can handle any size of vehicles, including SUVs! For example, CargoLoc 2-Piece 52" Aluminum Roof Rack support up to Maximum 46” Span Across Existing Raised Side Rails while LocknLoad Bars provide enough space in their lengthwise facing holders or 5" x 7" compartments below each rack point with hooks on either end. 

Roof Rails vs. Roof Rack: What's The Difference?

The main difference between roof rails and roof racks is in their purpose and subsequent design. Although both are rooftop cargo carrier systems for vehicles, there is a significant distinction between the two. The difference becomes important when you make a purchase decision.

The roof rails vs. roof rack difference can be pretty confusing. Because even on the internet, you will see pictures of roof racks when you search for roof rails. So, let’s have a look at what separates these two.

Mounting System Vs. Carrying System

The primary difference between roof racks and roof rails is in the purpose they were built for. Roof racks are more or less a complete carrying system. You can tie up big items like skis racks, surfboards, snowboards racks on a roof rack and carry them when you need to.

On the other hand, roof rails are a mounting system. They are not designed to be carriers. You can mount a cargo box on your roof rails and carry loads of items that you can’t do on a roof rack. Roof rails can also be mounting spots for roof racks.

Difference In Design

The easiest way to tell the difference between a roof rack and roof rails is in their design. The way they are oriented toward the car reveals both who they are and their purpose. Although there are many variations in designs, most roof racks and roof rails have a basic difference in their design.

Roof rails run from north to south. Which means they are parallel to the length of the car. Meanwhile, roof racks go from east to west. In other words, they are parallel to the width of the car. If a roof rack is only two bars, you can still differentiate it from the rails by looking at this orientation.

Already Installed Into The Car

As roof rails are mounting systems, they are commonly installed directly from the factory. You often notice two bars on the rooftops of passenger cars running along the length of the vehicle. These are usually roof rails. They don’t add much extra weight to the car on their own.

Roof racks are less commonly installed from the factory. The smaller models rarely have them built into them from the beginning. They are usually an option for the customer. This is because roof racks are bulkier and have a significant effect on the car’s appearance. They are more common with big, heavy models and SUVs.

Who Should Buy Roof Racks?

As roof racks are a carrier system of their own, but with limited capacities compared to the cargo box, you should only buy them when you don’t have to carry much serious cargo.

When you are buying a roof rack for your car, or a car that already has a roof rack fixed on its roof, you should take some time to consider your situation. As installing, re-installing, and buying accessories for these requires a lot of time and money, be mindful from the beginning.

Single Traveler 

If you don’t have a family and don’t plan on having one, you might never need to mount a cargo box on your car roof. In that case, you can be well-off with a roof rack. You might occasionally use the roof rack to carry a bicycle or something like that. Other than that, you will not have much use of the roof cargo space.

Also, if you are a single traveler who goes on solo trips, a roof rack will be enough for you. You can fit most of your luggage in the empty passenger seats. If there is one or a maximum of two odd-shaped items, you can fit them on the roof rack.

People Who Go On Small Trips

Many people would never go on thousand-mile road trips. If they had to travel that much, they would simply opt for airlines or other public transport.

For recreation purposes, they might drive only for short trips to safe and nearby places. If this sounds like you, go for the roof rack.

People Who Carry Sturdy Single Items

Maybe you are looking for a rooftop carrier that’s just enough to carry a bicycle. Or, you go rowing or surfing and that’s all you will ever need to carry on your roof. You just need to get those one or two items on your roof and that’s that.

You don’t have to worry much about damage or water impact. In this case, the roof rack is sufficient for you.

Who Should Buy Roof Racks?

Who Should Buy Roof Rails?

If you are going to install a cargo box on your car, you should go for roof rails. Roof rails are designed to be secure mounting systems for rooftop carriers. Installing a cargo box on a roof rack makes it insecure and unsafe, hampers aerodynamics, and adds unwanted weight.

Large Family

As roof racks have a very limited capacity to carry items, you will be wanting to install a cargo box when you have a large family. And the safe and secure attachment of that cargo box requires roof rails. So, it’s better to have roof rails when you plan on a large family.

Who Carry Delicate Equipment 

If your hobby or profession requires you to carry around equipment sensitive to natural impacts, go for the roof rails. Roof rails cannot provide effective impact resistance even when accessories such as tents or covers are used.

For the safe and secured carrying of valuable roof rails. So, you can install a strong and well-designed cargo box on them to carry your equipment around.

Visit Rough Roads And Places

If you often drive through rocky dusty trails, places with wild winds, heavy rainfall, extreme sunlight, it’s best to install a cargo box for your stuff. So, if you are a frequent adventurer, get yourself some nice roof rails on which you can install the cargo carrier.


roof rails vs rails racks can be confusing due to the similarities in their purpose and the interchangeable use of the terms.

However, they do have important differences. Hopefully, this article will help you to make the distinction and make your decision accordingly.

About the author 

Vieira Babeker

Hi! I'm Vieira. I've always been interested in different Auto Accessories

My passion here at is to provide helpful straight forward clear advice and tips for Automotive Accessories.

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