Roof racks are a cost-effective and convenient way to increase your vehicle’s payload. They allow you to carry longer or more bulky loads and are a must if you need to mount a roof box or bike carrier on the roof.
While a trailer offers the ultimate in flexibility, they are bulky and unwieldy to store. Roof racks can be quickly mounted, removed and stored until next time. There is a wide range on the market, from universal kits to roof racks that are model specific, so it’s essential that you do your homework to make sure the kit you choose will fit.
Which type you choose also depends on whether or not your car has factory-fitted roof rails: they are common on station wagons and SUVs, less so on hatchbacks or sedans. And you should also consider how often you’re likely to use them: a cheaper, heavier set may be better for occasional use, but if you’re using them often, a lighter, more aerodynamic set might fit. Either way, read on for our top picks.
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Best roof racks: at a glance
How to choose the best roof racks for you
Should I spend more to get more aerodynamic roof racks?
This really depends on your budget and how often you will be using them. Roof racks can significantly affect your car’s fuel economy and can be very noisy at high speeds; in general, the tighter the roof rack design, the more marginal the effects. You will of course pay extra for this. If you want to try it on once and forget, a set like the Thule Wingbar Evo is worth paying a premium for.
Should I choose steel or aluminum roof racks?
Again, it really comes down to how you plan to use your roof racks and how often. Aluminum roof racks are a lot lighter than steel, which means they have less impact on fuel consumption. And because they weigh less, they are just that little bit easier to install. In some cases, they may carry a little more, but you should check the specifications of each individual set.
Can I fit a roof rack on any car?
The short answer is probably not. There are some universal roof racks available: the Streetwise kit we tested should fit any car with factory fitted roof rails, but for the most part you need to choose carefully as the mounting brackets are specific to your car. Some roof beam setups are modular, such as the Thule Wingbar Evo tested here. You buy a universal pair of rods, but the specific mounting kits you need differ greatly from car to car.
It is worth noting that on some cars you cannot mount roof cars. Three-door hatchbacks, for example, may not have any way of actually mounting the rear beam.
How safe are roof racks?
Most roof racks have locks included in the kit, or are available as an option. Without them, a thief could easily remove them with simple or even no tools. If you are carrying an expensive set, or are planning to leave the roof racks in permanently, it is highly recommended that you invest in a set of locks if they are not included.
READ NEXT: Our pick of the best bike carriers for your car
The best roof racks you can buy in 2022
1. Best Aerodynamic Roof Racks: Thule Wingbar Evo
Price: £130 (plus £146 confirmations) | Buy now at Halfords
It should come as no surprise that the most expensive roof racks in our overview are the best all-rounders. They come from the Swedish company Thule, one of the best-known brands in this market. It is very clear, even from the most cursory of studies, that the Wingbar Evo set is a very high quality product. The bars fit a wide variety of models, but the clamping and mounting kits are model specific; in the case of the Ford Mondeo we tested them on, they cost an extra £146.
Assembly isn’t particularly easy, which is why Halfords offers assembly for £20. But once everything is put together and assembled, the excellent engineering of the package is all too apparent. Thule provides helpful guidance on how far apart the feet should be. When it comes to mounting, the spikes on the clamps are located in a hole at the top of each door jamb, so they will only fit when in the correct position. An included tool is used to tension the bars before mounting the lockable covers.
The sleek design of the bars, along with rubber strips to facilitate airflow above and below the rails, means wind noise is minimal, even at 60 mph.
Key specs – Width: 1350mm; Material: Aluminium; Load capacity: 75kg; Including locks: Yes
2. Best Budget Roof Racks: Summit SUP-071
Price: £75 | Buy now from Amazon
Summit is another brand with an impressive reputation for its roof racks. A wide variety of versions are available for a range of different models. Here we test the steel SUP-071 and aluminum SUP-071A on a 2016 Mazda 3 hatchback.
The steel and aluminum versions are almost identical in most respects. The aluminum units are lighter and have extra rubber edges to facilitate airflow, so require a little more assembly from the car.
Without the Mondeo’s spike setup, fitting the roof racks to the Mazda took a bit more guesswork – it was more a matter of the car than the design of the roof racks. But once you get your head around the positioning of the rubber soles that support the roof bars on the car, assembly is very easy. Only a bolt needs to be tightened using the supplied Allen key, although it is difficult to measure exactly what the required 5Nm feels like with a standard hand tool.
On the move, the SUP-071 and SUP-071A were both impressively quiet between 30 mph and 60 mph, but at slower speeds they produced a light, almost musical sound as the wind passed through them. Still, it’s nothing that the radio or conversation wouldn’t drown out.
Key specs – Width: 1270mm; Material: Plastic coated steel (aluminium – SUP-071A); Load capacity: 50kg; Including locks: Optional (£20)
3. Best roof racks for cars with roof rails: Streetwize Anti-Theft Lockable Universal Roof Racks 1250mm
Price: £42 | Buy now at Toolstation
Proving that roof racks don’t have to cost the earth, this Streetwize kit costs considerably less than £50. It will fit almost any car with factory fitted roof rails, as long as your car is less than 125cm wide, although Streetwize has longer rods for larger cars.
Assembly is easy, even if the instructions aren’t the clearest. You simply open the plastic bracket and locate the rubberized grips around the roof rails of your car and tighten the locknut from below. Pull the shackle down, making the grip on the car even tighter, push the lock in and you’re done. Perhaps the biggest challenge is making sure the bars are properly spaced (Stretwize says it should be 700mm) and that they are aligned correctly across the width of the car.
They have a maximum load of 60 kg, but it is best to take into account the recommendations of the car manufacturer. They don’t make much noise at low speeds, but at over 60 mph the air whips around them to produce a thumping sound. But they are easy to remove and come with a clip to secure them together and hang them up when not in use.
Key specs – Width: 1250mm; Material: Plastic coated steel; Load capacity: 60kg; Including locks: Yes
Buy now at Toolstation