A roof-mounted cargo carrier supplies you with an additional method of transporting gear with your vehicle. By carrying cargo on top of your roof, you free up your vehicle's trunk or cargo area for other luggage or equipment. In addition, by stowing wet or dirty items elsewhere, your vehicle's interior stays neat and clean.
There are three different types of cargo management systems that are designed to mount to your roof or roof rack.
For the most part, choosing between the different types of rooftop carriers depends on your particular application. For example, if you are carrying luggage that you want to remain secure, dry and clean, a cargo box is likely your best bet. If, however, you have camping supplies that aren't particularly valuable or fragile, you can use a cargo bag. And if you don't have a specific application in mind - you just know that you need more cargo space - try a basket - it's relatively low profile and you can add accessories, tie-downs and even a cargo bag to it.
The table below can answer some of your basic questions about the differences between these systems. For more detailed information about cargo boxes, baskets and bags, keep reading.
Cargo boxes are the most secure of the roof-mounted cargo solutions. Most feature sturdy construction and durable locking mechanisms to keep your gear safely packed. With a cargo box, you can transport:
Cargo boxes are designed to mount to the crossbars of your roof rack. Most feature either clamping mechanisms or U-bolt devices that are nearly universal and can attach to either round, square, elliptical or aero bars. As always, though, be sure to read through the product descriptions carefully to determine roof-rack compatibility of each cargo box.
Many boxes are built with sliding tracks or multiple mounting holes so that you can use them on a variety of crossbar spreads and position them in the desired location on your roof. Not only does this make the cargo box an easy fit for your particular roof-rack system, but it also helps to eliminate concerns about rear hatch clearance.
Note: Just because a cargo box will fit your roof-rack crossbars does not necessarily mean that the box is compatible with your entire setup. Many cargo boxes are rather large and heavy. Remember, the maximum capacity of your roof-rack system is dependent on the lowest-rated part of the system. Check the weight limitations for all components, including your vehicle's roof. You also need to keep in mind the size of your vehicle. If you choose a long cargo box but you have a vehicle with a short roof, you might run into fit problems or you may have difficulty accessing your rear cargo area.
Methods of Attachment
U-Bolt Attachment Systems
The most economically priced mounting system for rooftop cargo boxes is a U-bolt system. To install a box with these mounts, just position the bolts beneath your roof rack's crossbars and attach the bolts to the box with either threaded hand knobs or, in the case of Thule's EasySnap system, snap-on brackets.
Clamping Attachment Systems
Integrated clamps provide the fastest and easiest method of mounting a cargo box to your roof rack. Just place the box on your roof rack crossbars with the clamps open. Position the clamps around your crossbars and tighten the clamps in place with hand knobs. The knobs are built into the box's interior for extra security and simple access.
Although most clamping mechanisms are similar in both function and appearance, there are some proprietary differences among cargo box manufacturers.
Cargo boxes are made to be opened in one of three ways. They can be opened from only one side of your vehicle, from either side of your vehicle, or from the rear of your vehicle.
Some cargo boxes feature passenger's-side-only entry. These boxes tend to be the more affordable models. This configuration was designed with safety in mind. Remember, if you are pulled over on the side of the road or highway and you need to access your gear, it is always safer to do so from the passenger's side of your vehicle.
Certain cargo boxes can be opened from either the driver's or passenger's side of your vehicle. This way you can easily access your gear from whichever side you decide is more appropriate. If someone parks too close to you on one side, just head over to the other side to get into the box. Pull up to your campsite or in front of your hotel room and quickly and easily unload from the most convenient side. Super easy, super convenient.
These types of cargo boxes can be mounted to either side of your roof rack and still be easily accessible too, making it simpler to figure out how and where to mount all of your roof-rack accessories.
A less common configuration offers rear entry. These cargo boxes open from the back of your vehicle. With this type of cargo box, you can load and unload all of your gear - both from the box and from your vehicle's trunk or cargo area - from the same position.
Most cargo boxes include locks to secure your gear. Typically, the lock is integrated into the handle. Some boxes have a built-in safety feature that prevents you from being able to remove the key from the lock unless the the handle is in the closed, secure position. In addition to securing your gear inside the box, this feature also prevents removal of the box from your roof rack because, typically, the attachment system can only be accessed when the box is open.
Most Thule and Yakima boxes have the option of being keyed alike. This process involves switching out the lock cores that come standard on the box or, if no locks came standard, simply adding cores to the cargo box. Thule offers the One-Key System, and Yakima has the Same Key System. You can buy multiple lock cores to make all your Thule or Yakima accessories keyed alike.
Sturdy, Durable Construction
Whether made of polyethylene or ABS plastic - the two most common materials for cargo boxes - each box is designed to be sturdy enough to stand up to adverse weather and road conditions. Typically, these boxes are also impact resistant to prevent damage to both the box and your stowed gear should rocks or debris hit the box.
Many cargo boxes have stiffeners built into their heavy-duty lids. A solid, well-built lid:
Obviously putting a box on top of your vehicle is going to decrease the aerodynamic ability of your car. But many cargo boxes are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible.
Look at the shape of each cargo box. The more low-profile and rounded the front is, the more aerodynamic the box will be. Typically, the sleeker the box looks, the easier it is for that box to cut through the air to minimize wind resistance. The result is a cargo box that not only looks great, but that rides quietly as well.
Cargo Control Accessories
Many cargo boxes include accessories designed to help keep your cargo in place inside the box. Cargo pads can be placed in your box to help prevent items from sliding and shifting. Nets help contain gear. And tie-down straps can be used to secure cargo in place. Some boxes have tie-down points built in for securing straps and nets, such as the loops that are integrated into Thule's EasySnap brackets.
Some cargo boxes are designed to open easily with spring-loaded hinges. These hinges provide simple, one-handed operation. Just unlock the latch and open the box, and the lid will automatically articulate.
Rear Hatch Clearance
If you're concerned about clearance when getting into your rear cargo area, then look for a cargo box that is designed to provide the best rear clearance possible. The clamps on these boxes can be adjusted so that the box is positioned more toward the front of your vehicle, leaving enough room in the rear for your hatch to open fully. In addition to the adjustable mounting feature, a box designed specifically to ensure clearance will be sloped or contoured in the rear to provide a little extra space for your hatch to fully articulate.
If you need some extra cargo space but don't yet know what exactly you might need to transport or if you have a wide variety of potential applications, then a cargo basket might be the way to go. With a cargo basket, you can carry almost anything. The drawbacks are that your items will be exposed to the weather and they will not be as secure as they would be in a closed and locked cargo box. But you can always use a cargo bag along with your basket to get a bit more protection.
Cargo baskets attach to the crossbars of your roof rack. The clamps that are included with the baskets are often nearly universal, fitting square, round, elliptical and most factory and aero bars. Always read the product descriptions thoroughly to determine roof-rack compatibility of each cargo basket.
Most cargo baskets are made of either steel or aluminum. Both are sturdy and durable, and each has its benefits.
Of the roof-mounted cargo systems, cargo baskets are probably the most utilitarian. Because of their sturdy construction and open design, they are often able to accept a wide variety of accessories, such as:
The accessories that you can attach vary depending on the model and manufacturer of the cargo basket as well as the accessories. For example, Surco baskets are targeted more toward off-roaders, so they can be used with mounts for a Hi-Lift jack and an ax or a shovel, as well as off-road lights.
Baskets tend to be more low profile than cargo boxes, but they will still detract from your vehicle's aerodynamic ability because they are riding on top of your roof rack.
Cargo bags are great for transporting gear that is not particularly fragile. Because they don't have the structure of a cargo box, cargo bags can't protect your gear in the same way. But most are constructed of either waterproof or weather-resistant material to keep your gear clean and dry. And unlike the boxes, cargo bags can be folded up for simple, compact storage.
With a cargo bag, you can transport:
Some of the most beneficial features of a roof-mounted cargo bag are:
Cargo bags can attach to almost any style roof, whether it has a roof rack or not. Typically, a bag will attach to your roof with integrated tie-downs and can mount to the following roof configurations.
Installation may vary depending on the model of the cargo bag that you choose. Cargo bags designed for naked roofs will attach in one of the following ways.
Bags designed for use with roof racks have integrated tie-downs that can be attached to either of the following configurations.
A cargo bag can be used with a rooftop cargo basket to better contain your gear.
Most cargo bags on the market provide some sort of weather protection for your gear. The construction of these bags varies. Nylon is typically water resistant and will offer sufficient protection in light rain or fog.
For more intensive weather protection, choose a bag with a PVC undercoat or one that employs a more environmentally friendly weatherproofing process that is aimed at creating waterproof fabric. These bags will keep water out even in driving rain.
Note: No cargo bag is entirely waterproof. It is possible for moisture to seep into the bag through zippers and seams. Some of the features that are available to help keep this from happening include:
Simple, Compact Storage
Perhaps the best selling point of cargo bags is their ability to be easily removed from your vehicle so that you can move the bag with all your gear to your hotel or campsite without having to unpack a thing. And when your trip is over, you can either fold up the empty bag or roll it up for supremely compact storage. Some bags even come with their own stuff sacks so that you can keep them safely stowed and easily accessible.
Cargo bags do not accept as many accessories as cargo baskets simply because you can't mount items to them. But, like cargo boxes, these bags do have some accessories that can enhance your use of them. Straps and tie-downs are available to either replace lost ones or to further secure your bag to your roof. You can also lock your bag to your roof rack or cargo basket with a cable lock for a little extra peace of mind.
If you are concerned about the bag scuffing your vehicle's roof, you can use a protection pad. Simply place this pad beneath your cargo bag when it sits on your roof to keep any sharp objects within your bag from scratching the roof as well as to prevent wear on the paint that could occur from shifting the bag around.
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Impressive. Very happy with the cargo carrier and wow that was fast shipping.
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