It’s that time of year again: road trips, camping trips, cross-country moves, yard sales. The sky’s a soothing blue, the hiking boots are on, and if we’re lucky, it’s s’mores for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Unfortunately, when a lot of climbing or camping gear is required for an awesome trip, our cars may not suffice. Likewise, the average vehicle probably doesn’t have enough room to fit all your child’s belongings as she prepares to move to her new college dorm. The best solution? A best roof rack that lasts trip after trip, move after move. The real question is: does such a product—at an affordable price—even exist?
When buying any sort of product, it can be difficult to know what specific product is best for a specific situation, let alone if it’s necessary to dispense a large amount of money. Fortunately, we’ve researched a few products that are currently on the market as possible solutions for a variety of cargo-related needs. Look no further for a selection of affordable options and advice on how to assess what form of cargo storage is best for you.
Table of Contents
Product 1: CURT 18115 Roof Mounted Cargo Rack
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This particular rack is built for all sorts of cargo. Its design makes it suitable for anything from Christmas Gift trees to canoes. In this sense, it serves as a baseline product capable of completing a variety of jobs for a variety of potential owners. Camping expert or off-roading novice, the rack will likely suit your needs and a load of other needs you may not know you have.
A popular product from leading hitch manufacturers at CURT Manufacturing, this particular rack has 4″ tall sides and can carry 200 pounds of cargo or more. Made of steel and finished in powder black, the product has a little over ten square feet of storage room, but with the extension piece installed, has 16 square feet of storage room. It also boasts an aerodynamic design so that even with maximized vehicle cargo space up top, your vehicle doesn’t lose speed.
Perhaps the best feature of this specific rack is the facility with which it can be assembled and stored. Not only is it exceptionally lightweight, but it consists of only two assembly pieces which makes it incredibly simple to install. Even if you have no experience with racks or hitch-mounted accessories in general, this rack could be assembled by the average 14-year-old boy scout (with supervision, of course) or appreciated by the experienced cross-country skier. More than with most manually assembled products, when purchasing a cargo rack, it is important to make sure the assembly is accessible and simple. If not, extra money could be lost in having to hire someone else to assemble the product for you. If you’re on a budget, this is not an ideal solution, but a complicated and confusing cargo rack may require you to spend more money than you initially anticipated.
Compatible with most styles of roof rack base rails, this rack is usually—from assembly to installation—completely secure within twenty minutes and unlike similar racks, doesn’t feature a confusing amount of parts. It also features a simple extension option (sold separately) making it suitable for both small, weekend camping trips as well as the weight of extra tires or mountain bikes.
One feature of this rack that distinguishes it from other products of similar use is its walls. With only a few extra inches, these walls allow for extra security so that while you’re driving, you’re not as worried about losing bits and pieces of your precious cargo. The walls also accept the straps or hooks of your average cargo bag or cargo net that protects the cargo from the top. With this sort of confidence in storing your cargo, packing up and hitting the road is faster and easier than ever before.
Of course, one of the most appealing features of this product is its price. Compared to other brands such as Smittybuilt, Thule and Yakima, the this product and its extension pack a serious bang for your buck. The product’s competitive price makes it especially appealing to those who want something dependable without having to break the bank. Potentially simple problems with the product—i.e. unreliable locking nuts, the possibility of rust development depending on climate and weather conditions—are usually easy fixes. In the case of flimsy locking nuts included in the product’s package, new U-Bolt nuts can be bought at the average hardware store for very cheap. The development of rust is also relatively easy to prevent if protection measures are taken in the form of rust prevention spray (also available for purchase at your average hardware store). Even if a customer finds the product doesn’t have all the bells and whistles they are looking for, this product’s price, range of use, and durability make it a noble competitor.
Product 2: 62.5″ Roof Luggage Cargo Storage Rack with Wind Fairing
Our next product shares a lot of similarities with the CURT Roof Mounted Cargo Rack, though its dimensions are larger. In this sense, it can hold more than the previous product, which is a definite plus if you’re looking for something that can carry a lot of cargo. The maximum weight it can carry efficiently, however, is probably around 50 pounds less than what it says it can carry because the rack itself weights 50 pounds. There’s a bit of irony in this: the rack is larger but it can carry less weight. Of course, all of these elements are worthy of consideration if you truly want to get the best product in this price range.
As it stands, this cargo basket—a product of Rage Powersports—is constructed of steel, features a sleek black paint finish and at 47 pounds, is relatively lightweight. The basket’s floor is built of durable, wire mesh and features walls to better—and more safely—carry cargo. In terms of aerodynamics, this rack includes wind fairing to help direct air above the cargo so as to lessen the possibility of noise and/or vibration that could potentially slow the vehicle or cause the driver to worry about the state of his cargo. With the wire mesh on the bottom of the rack, the product is also designed to accommodate water in inclement weather. Rather than pool in the bottom of the rack, the water is able to escape through the holes in the mesh.
Similarly to the first rack we looked at, this rack features a frame with plenty of spots to tie down cargo. Losing your belongings shouldn’t be a problem as long as the cargo is securely tied. There isn’t a net included with the product, and there isn’t even a net distributed by the same manufacturer. Thus, purchasing a net from another company might be necessary if you’re interested in securing your cargo in more ways than one.
This particular rack, like most racks of similar caliber and price, require manual assembly. The assembly of this rack is supposedly easy, though product descriptions don’t offer too much by way of specific parts or the assembly process. Needless to say, a little more research into this aspect of the product might be useful if you’re seriously considering it.
In comparison to other racks from more expensive and well-known brands, this rack stacks up pretty well. It coincides with pre-existing bars on most types of cars and can be used for Ford, for Honda, for Subaru, etc. Some have noted, however, that the weight of this rack takes away from the maximum capacity of the rack itself. Because the rack weighs almost 50 pounds, the 150 pound capacity isn’t exactly accurate. Furthermore, the mesh floor is welded by tacks, so placing heavier loads of cargo is a bit of a stretch if you want to preserve the little strength provided by these tacks over time. Of course, it is possible to replace these tacks with something sturdier available for purchase at the average hardware store. The rack comes with a set of U-Bolts for mounting the rack. If you’re worried about the rack’s sturdiness—which isn’t necessarily something to worry about unless you want to be extra cautious—it is possible to buy and use extra nuts. In the case that the wind deflector fades in the sun—which is reported to have happened to certain owners—it’s possible to wrap it in some spare carbon fiber vinyl in order to prevent fading.
In any case, this rack does get the job done. It’s basic size and shape lends itself to a variety of different cargo types, and it is for this reason that the rack deserves attention: it is large and has the capacity to offer aid in nearly any situation. Of course, such racks aren’t necessarily built for kayaks, but that doesn’t mean they can’t serve some kind of purpose in the transport of larger, bulkier cargo loads. In fact, they can be used for down-hill bikes, for snowboards, for furniture, and for nearly anything you could want to carry. It is only imperative that with these different types of cargo, the cargo is secured in an effective way.
If you want a product that never requires aesthetic repairs however, this specific rack probably wasn’t made for you. Owners of the product noted that sometimes the rack arrives already in bad aesthetic condition with scratches, dents, etc. This isn’t usually the case, but it is something to be aware of. While the majority of racks do arrive in pristine condition, it is important to note that the need for a new paint job may present itself after some use.
Product 3: 53-5/8″ Aluminum Locking Vehicle Roof Cargo Bar Pair
Our last product is a bit different in comparison with the first two. This product is not a cargo box or rack, but a set of cross bars designed to increase vehicular storage space by using the rails already built into the car. As you can safely assume, these durable and aesthetically pleasing bars do not serve the exact same purpose as a cargo basket/box would. With the two products already discussed, it is possible to store large things as well as small because all cargo is essentially secured inside the contraption. In this case, smaller objects or loads (such as sleeping bags, ski poles, etc.) are not as easy to store. These sorts of objects are storable, but they require an extra container that can then be attached to the cross bars. Needless to say, this product is perfect for those weirdly shaped, large objects that don’t fit as easily in a rectangular storage space. The cargo cross bars are perfect for kayaks, skis, snowboards, or any other sort of large, irregular shaped load. They can also serve as a bike carrier.
This product is also manufactured by Rage Powersports and offers an extremely compelling draw: their weight. At 11 pounds, these cross bars are the perfect alternative to a bulky cargo rack. They are simple to attach, simple to remove, and easy to store because they hardly require any space. In essence, not only do they provide road-trippers with more leg room when they’re in use, but they don’t necessarily take legroom away when they’re stored inside the vehicle. Their installation is also a formidable benefit, as they’re designed to clamp onto roof side rails using large, turnable knobs. These knobs are secured with a lock and key so that thieves are deterred from stealing cargo or the product themselves. In addition, the installation requires no tools. That said, these cross bars are an incredibly approachable product that suits the needs of the most advanced outdoorsmen as well as the needs of a few teenagers headed to the ski resort. Because they are so sleek, the bars look nice with your average sedan, a truck, SUVs and even minivans. They are built for cars of any type and/or model which means they can be transferred from one vehicle to another with little to no problem.
Like most cargo racks, these cross bars have a capacity of 150 pounds, but unlike a majority of other products, they also have a rubber grip for additional traction. They are constructed not from steel, but from aluminum so that they last for many years of family reunions or camping trips in the National Parks. It may seem too good to be true because of the product’s low cost, but as other consumers have noticed, the product doesn’t disappoint in providing a versatility perfect for a range of bulky cargo.
One notable concern with this particular product is a disclaimer in the product manual that qualifies the cross bars as only suited for temporary use. What does this mean? It means that the bars should be removed when they are not in use and especially if they are subject to bad weather. Unfortunately, this advice poses a variety of problems: what does a camper do if the weather is bad and her belongings are secured with the cross bars? Surely, a few days of exposure to the elements won’t do much to the bars, but after repeated instances, it makes sense that the owner would be concerned. She can’t leave her larger belongings that won’t fit easily into her car outside without any security measures but she doesn’t want to rust to develop on the cross bars. Although a seemingly obscure and trivial predicament, it is nevertheless an issue to consider. By comparison, more expensive bars are typically considered permanent accessories, which means there is no need to remove them in inclement weather. These bars also tend to co more on average, so what it really comes down to is the priorities of the consumer and whether or not she believes this could potentially pose a problem for her.
Another reported concern with these cross bars is the fact that if they are under too much stress, they tend to take on a slight bend. This doesn’t mean they aren’t doing their job, but it does mean that they aren’t as suitable for extremely heavy loads as a more expensive pair of cross bars would be.
Now that we’ve explored three potential cargo solutions all within an affordable price range, it’s important to assess what specific type of product would best accommodate the specific needs of a given consumer. In other words, what should you—as an individual with certain cargo needs—know before you start shopping for best roof rack?
It’s easy to get caught up in the allure of well-known brands, but it’s important to recognize and respect your original budget. When you know what you can and can’t spend as well as what you would have to give up in order to spend more on a given need, it’s easier to prevent over-spending as well as the development of unrealistic expectations. It is equally important to assess how important this given product is at the given time—do I really need this? Do I really need the most expensive model? Sometimes, it is wiser to invest more money in the present in order to avoid spending too much money over a long period time. If you have to buy the same product every year, why not invest in something a little more pricey so that you don’t have to take as many losses in the future? Nevertheless, this mindset often wrongly diminishes the quality of a lower-priced product. Just because something is lower-priced doesn’t mean it won’t get the job done and successfully resist the wear and tear of continued use. Remember: assess your budget but don’t be allured by supposedly higher-end products without having done your fair share of research.
When researching potential products—and in our case, most of the research is completed for you—it’s imperative that you analyze the product based on what you plan on using it for. Surely, you could find unexpected uses for the product that could also prove beneficial, but don’t let a concern that doesn’t apply to you eclipse the value of a product when it could—in fact—work perfectly for your purposes. For example, if you are planning on purchasing a cargo accessory to supplement the space in your car on skiing trips, don’t worry about whether or not the product can adequately move two large couches. Unless you’re specifically interested in using this product for both of those reasons, the concern that it isn’t built to carry furniture over long distances shouldn’t affect you. If the product’s seller (such as Amazon or Ebay) has a limited time offer that—although more expensive—features two products in one, think about whether or not you need that additional product. It might be nice if you ever decide to take up windsurfing, but do you actually need it?
Would your skis work better with a cargo box or with cargo cross bars? This is, once again, the type of issue you will need to consider when you choose the specific product you would like to purchase. Will your car actually work with the product you are considering? How often will you use this product and for what reasons? How much effort do you want to put toward installation? Most times, consumer choices should be based not upon aesthetic appeal or a fancy brandname, but on whether or not the product will fulfill your needs or fit within your budget.
The brand and reviews from other customers:
Even though it isn’t wise to focus too much on brand name, it is important to look at the brand’s history as well as reviews from other customers. Usually a high rating can be trusted, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns to be had. Before putting too much stock into reviews, however, make sure the reviews have a verified purchase status and explore the product from both a positive and negative perspective. After you see both sides of an issue, you are better prepared to buy a product.
Best Roof Rack:
In weighing the pros and cons of the products explored in this article, the CURT 18115 Roof Mounted Cargo Rack appears to have the most value as a product that can serve a wide variety of purposes. It may not be as large as the other cargo rack and it may not be as light or easy-to-store as the cross bars, but it comes in the middle of these two products to deliver the best of both worlds. It is, by and large, one of the most competitive of its kind on the market and our recommendation for a summer spent in the outdoors.
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