When searching for the best rooftop cargo carrier, your ideal option depends partly on how you plan to use the carrier. We tested rooftop carriers intended for holding extra luggage and items. You may want to consider a different carrier if you need to transport bikes or outdoor equipment such as a kayak.
In general, it’s wise to consider the following factors when shopping for the best roof cargo carrier:
What do you plan to carry in your rooftop carrier? If you need extra storage space for your backpack or sleeping bags, consider the products in this review. If you need something to carry your bike or skis, you should purchase a specialty roof rack.
Also consider the distance you’re traveling and how often you’ll use your cargo carrier. If you’re going a long way, you’ll likely want a waterproof carrier in case you encounter precipitation. If you plan to use your carrier frequently for shorter trips, you may want a product similar to the Arksen roof rack, which you can easily leave on your car even when it’s not in use.
Any carrier you put on your roof will add wind resistance to your vehicle and reduce fuel economy. The farther you travel with your carrier, the more significant the impact on your gas tank. A low-profile rooftop cargo carrier designed for aerodynamics can reduce drag and minimize gas-mileage loss.
A bigger carrier may only fit larger vehicles if it can’t mount your car’s cross bars, so be sure to check the specs of the model before purchase.
The loading point of a rooftop cargo carrier tends to vary between manufacturers. Below are the most common iterations:
- Single-side: These cargo carriers only open on one side, typically the passenger or driver side of the vehicle.
- Dual-sided: The best rooftop cargo carriers open can open from either the driver side or passenger side for easy access.
- Rear: Sometimes considered a budget feature, rear-opening cargo carriers can sometimes be harder to load depending on the vehicle.
This review includes three types of cargo carriers: hardtop, softshell, and basket. A hardtop carrier will provide the most protection, but it’s the heaviest. A softshell bag can still be waterproof, but it may be less aerodynamic and more challenging to load. You can leave a basket carrier on your vehicle, adding a little drag, but you will need a net or bag to secure your loads.
Some rooftop carriers include a lock, and you can safely leave them on top of your vehicle while it’s parked (for example, if you break your trip into several days and want to leave most of your luggage in your car while at your hotel). If you believe you’ll leave your luggage in your carrier while your vehicle is parked overnight, invest in a carrier with a lock.
Some rooftop cargo carriers require a roof rack for proper installation. Check that your roof rails are adjustable, as some mounting clamps may be fixed in place.
If your car comes from an automaker without racks, select a rooftop cargo carrier with a mounting system that doesn’t require rails. These typically have door hooks that keep them in place.
Lastly, make sure you’re not exceeding the load capacity of the carrier and the weight limit of your roof as well.
Other features to look for include:
- Passenger side mounting
- Dual-side opening
- One side or rear access
- Latch locks
Unless you purchase one of the more high-end rooftop cargo carriers, those above $1,000, most interiors are fairly barebones. A common inclusion with these carriers is strapping to secure items in place, but dedicated storage pockets are considered a premium feature.