Whether you call them roof racks or roof bars, we call them roof bars, they are the core of any roof carrying system as everything else is simply attached to them.
Fitting a set of roof bars to your vehicle is an ideal solution for when you need to carry more stuff; if you are going on a family holiday, transporting bicycles to explore a new area, taking your surfboard down to Cornwall, attending a festival or for everyday use if you need the extra space your boot just can’t provide. Roof bars will allow you to transport even the heftiest of items, like a mattress or chest of drawers, without you having to go to the trouble of hiring a van or relying on friends with a larger vehicle for help.
Roof bars differ in their attachments, so depending on the vehicle you are attaching them to, will determine which type you require. Essentially, there are six different ways of fitting roof bars to cars, we’ll take you through how to identify your roof type so you can determine which roof bars you require.
What is your Car Roof Type?
There are two different types of roof rails; raised and flush or solid. We explain the difference below:
If your vehicle is fitted with roof rails running from front to back, typically found on SUV’s or estate cars and the type you can slide your hand between the roof and the rail (as per the picture below), your vehicle has what is known as a raised roof rail.
For vehicles fitted with roof rails that run parallel to the doors and there is no space between the rail and the roof (as per the picture below), these are typically referred to as a flush or solid roof rail. Again, these are often found on estate cars or SUV’s and are a more modern version of the raised roof rails.
These are channels that typically run the length of the roof (as per the picture below), parallel to the doors. Sometimes referred to as T-tracks, the channels are typically plastic or metal and can be factory fitted or installed after-market.
A designated area on a car roof that is specifically designed for mounting a roof rack to, there are usually four of them. Fix points can be found on SUV’s, estate cars, saloons and hatchbacks, pretty much any car body style and are usually concealed by a door or slider on the roof.
Usually found on older model cars, the guttering runs across the top of the doors on either side of the vehicle (as per the picture below).
If your vehicle does not have any of the above; raised roof rail, solid roof rail, tracks, fix points or guttering, you have a naked roof. For this roof type, you will need to attach roof bars with clamps to the door jamb (as per the picture below).
Roof Bar Types.
Now you’ve established what roof type you have, we can move on to the roof bars themselves. Below, we explain the different types of roof bars available, and what you need to fit them
There are four main types of roof bars to choose from that should be available for most car roof types:
As the name suggests, aero bars are designed to be more aerodynamic than steel bars so wind noise and resistance is kept to a minimum. They are also made from lighter aluminium and have a t-track that runs across the full length of the bars (as per the picture below), meaning accessories such as bike or ski carriers can be easily changed by sliding into place.
The classic square bar is probably the most popular roof bar as they offer great value for money and a high load carrying capacity. Square bars are typically made from steel with a plastic coating and accessories can be purchased which will allow you to carry any load imaginable.
Made exclusively by Thule, the WingBar is made from lightweight aluminium. Its aerodynamic, curved wing shape reduces drag, minimises any adverse effect on fuel consumption and at only 13 dB, it is exceptionally quiet. The t-track, which runs the full length of the roof bar, allows for fast installation or removal of accessories.
The perfect roof bar if you are carrying heavier or larger items or if your vehicle is particularly tall or wide. These bars slide out from each side of the vehicle making loading exceptionally simple and protecting the car from any side damage. They typically come with the t-track system which makes changing accessories a doddle. Slide bars can also be added to a standard roof bar installation.
In addition to the above four main types mentioned above, there is also the inflatable roof rack, yes, you read that correctly. Also known as a soft roof rack, these systems claim to be universal roof bars, fitting virtually any car provided it has four doors or four opening windows to feed the fixing straps through. The beauty of an inflatable roof rack is it can be easily installed in a matter of minutes making them ideal for one-off uses. They typically come with their own pump and fixing straps and after use, can be folded up and stored in your boot.
Roof Bar Fitting.
As we’ve discovered, the roof of your vehicle will determine what type of fittings you need but typically, roof bars are sold with three components; the roof bars themselves, a foot pack which attaches to the bars and a fitting kit which connects the foot pack to the roof, fixing point or roof rails of your vehicle. Most manufacturers offer a service that matches the parts required by establishing the specific make, model and year of your vehicle.
If you’ve chosen to fit the bars yourself, ensure you enlist the help of a friend as a second pair of hands will make the job a whole lot easier, and reduce the risk of scratching or damaging the bars or worse, your car.
Instructions are included with all roof bars. These give you vital information about settings and fitting positions so make sure you read them carefully. Pay close attention to torque settings as over tightening could cause damage to your roof bars or the vehicle. The instructions will also have the weight limit your roof bars can carry, if not this may be found on the box. Another factor to bear in mind is that your vehicle will have a limit as to the weight it can carry too. You should check your manufacturers manual before loading up to ensure your car can safely carry the weight of the bars and your load.
Make sure the roof of your vehicle is clean before fitting as a small amount of dirt, sand or grit could scratch the paintwork, particularly if it gets trapped between the mounting points. If you’re fitting to a naked roof, also make sure the door jamb is clean.
To make removal of the roof bar system easier in the future, use a small amount of copper grease on all the mounting bolt threads when fitting.
You have your roof bars in place, fantastic news but now you’re considering attaching a roof box, bag, basket or bike carrier but how do you decide and where do you start. Don’t panic, we’ve got some handy hints and tips below that will help you choose the right equipment for your needs.
Roof Bar Accessories.
Roof boxes come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, so deciding on which box to buy should be influenced mainly by what you want to carry. They also vary greatly in build quality and price so bear in mind that scrimping on price could leave you disappointed as you would expect your roof box to give you many years of reliable and safe service.
It’s fairly obvious but the shape of your box will determine what else you can carry on the roof of your vehicle. For example, if you need the flexibility of carrying kayaks, windsurfers or bikes in addition to your box, then a narrow or medium-width box would be suitable. The length of the items you need to carry should also be a considered. If you regularly carry ladders, or items over 2 meters then a long box will be required. The length and width of a roof box are the most important measures of usefulness, rather than the stated capacity (litres) the manufacturer estimates their box can carry.
Any size or shape box can be fitted to any car, within reason. Below is a run-down on different shaped boxes and the purposes they can be used for:
A narrow roof box will leave you space to carry items in addition to your roof box such as a kayak, or 2-3 bikes.
Medium-width roof boxes are ideal for families wanting adequate space to store belongings inside the roof box but also allow for one or two bikes to be placed alongside.
If you’re happy just to have the roof box and don’t need to carry any bikes on the roof, then a wide roof box could be the ideal solution. Depending on the width of your vehicle and the length of the roof bars fitted, a wide roof box could leave you space for one bike but it may be tight.
Roof boxes also come in different lengths, short or long. Short roof boxes are typically full width, so are great for carrying luggage on top of your hatchback, but if you need to carry additional items on your roof, a narrow or medium-width, long box would be more appropriate.
If you want the biggest box out there, go for a long wide box but be warned, these can be awkward to lift onto the roof of your vehicle unless there are two people. Long wide boxes also take up a lot of storage space when they are not in use and provide little flexibility for carrying other items on your roof unless you have a particularly wide car.
Your roof box will be subjected to huge forces when driven at speed so it’s important to bear in mind that the quality of materials used in the manufacturing process, make a significant difference to the overall quality of the box. Thicker or heavier plastics will typically be more expensive than the thinner plastic boxes but there is good reason for this. The thinner material boxes tend to be less robust and therefore, won’t last as long or be as secure as the heavier material boxes. Adjustable fitting systems are also included in the better quality boxes, meaning if your roof bar centres are not typical, you won’t have to drill additional holes.
ow your roof box opens is another factor to consider. For example, a box that opens on both sides, known as dual side opening, offers easier access to wide models but isn’t particularly useful on a narrow or medium width box as these tend to be fitted to one side of the vehicle or the other, rather than in the centre. If you opt for a narrow or medium width box, which side of the vehicle you choose to place the box, and therefore what opening format you need, is often determined by where you load the car at home; is there a wall, fence or other hazard that may make it difficult to load from a particular side?
Now you have decided on the size and opening system you want, we take a look at some of the best-selling boxes on the market to help you choose the perfect roof box for your needs.
A modern alternative to the classic hard roof box, the roof bag does pretty much everything a roof box does in terms of providing extra storage capacity but when it isn’t in use, a roof bag can be easily folded up and packed away so it takes up much less storage space than the traditional roof box. Certain roof bags can also be installed without the need for roof bars and typically come with their own fixing straps and compared to roof boxes, they are a considerably cheaper option.
Another advantage of the roof bag is that it is easier for one person to assemble and fit. Typically made from a weather-resistant fabric such as a PVC coated polyester, a roof bag is a lightweight alternative to the roof box. The soft design also provides a flexibility that the hard shell of a roof box can’t, meaning irregular shaped items can be stored.
This all sounds great but there are downsides to the roof bag that we need to point out, the first being security. It goes without saying that the fabric design of a roof bag, even with a good quality lock fitted, offers minimal protection against theft, a knife can quite easily slash through the material. So, if you need to make an overnight stop, the roof bag will have to be unloaded and safely stored in your room or the vehicle.
Exposing your roof bag to sun, wind, rain, salt and grit can deteriorate the UV and waterproof coating, meaning your roof bags’ weather proofing may not stand the test of time. How and where you store your roof bag when it isn’t in use, can also affect the fabric’s integrity.
A roof bag is also just that, a bag so no matter how neatly you pack you will not be able to achieve the aerodynamic shape of a roof box. The consequence of this is increased drag, which in turn means you’ll use more fuel. Also worth mentioning is if your roof bag is not full to capacity, your journey will be accompanied by a fairly irritating flapping noise produced by the excess fabric.
If you’ve decided a roof bag is for you, take a look at some of the best-sellers out there.
Roof Basket/ Luggage Rack.
A roof basket, or luggage rack has an open platform design, giving you the extra capacity to carry even the bulkiest or oddly shaped cargo. This open design also means you can pile your items high, bearing in mind the weight limits of your vehicle, and loading of cargo is quick and easy.
However, your load will be open to the elements so if you’re carrying something that a downpour or strong sunlight will damage, it will need to be covered with a waterproof and UV protective material. Unfortunately, no matter how snug the covering fits, and how secure it is fastened, it will produce the irritating flapping noise as mentioned in the roof bag section above.
All roof baskets, or luggage racks need to be mounted to roof bars and you will need to invest in a good set of straps, bungees or a net to make sure your cargo is tightly secured. As with the roof bag, aerodynamics will be severely affected and security is an issue but all in all, a roof basket, or luggage rack, is a good solution for short a to b trips that do not require any stops.
Bike Roof Rack.
Roof mounted bike carriers must be fitted to a set of roof bars. The type of roof bar required depends on the bike carrier so it is important to check the product information before you buy. It’s also important to note that if you are in the market for a bike roof rack, you need to purchase one carrier per bike.
There are several benefits to mounting bicycles on the roof of your vehicle rather than to the rear, such as to the tow bar or tailgate. The main advantages being that the boot of your vehicle is still easily accessible, the number plate and rear lights are not obscured and roof mounted bike carriers start from a very reasonable price. The downsides are similar to all roof mounted equipment, they are the least aerodynamic option meaning increased fuel consumption and depending on the weight of your bike, it may be difficult to lift it high enough to mount. In addition, mounting bikes to your roof leaves them exposed to the elements and can prove troublesome in height-restricted car parks.
Bike roof racks are split into three different categories depending on how the bike is carried; frame holder, fork holder and tyre holder. At the cheaper end of the scale is the frame holder, whilst the higher costing carrier is the tyre holder. Typically, the fork holder falls between the two price points. The different carrier types are explained in more details below:
As the name suggests, the bike is secured to the carrier by the frame, usually the down tube. Although some are designed to hold irregular-shaped frames better than others, the basic structure is the same, both wheels remain on the bike. One downside of the frame holder system is the majority of models do not give much support to the wheels, this means that the front wheel of the bike may vibrate quite violently whilst travelling along.
With the fork holder system, the front wheel of the bike has to be removed which can be a problem as it will need storing either in the vehicle or on a separate holder. The bike is then secured to the holder by clamping the front fork to the rack. The advantage of the fork holder system is there is no wheel vibration as the wheel is not attached to the bike, it also makes the bike itself extremely steady within the rack.
This is the ideal solution if you have an unusual shaped frame, your bike will not fit a standard bike carrier, or if you prefer the holder not to be in contact with any part of your of bikes frame or cables, those with carbon fibre bikes can’t go wrong with a tyre holder. The bike is held firmly either by its front tyre with a clamp on the rear or by both tyres, this also means that there is greatly reduced tyre wobble whilst travelling along.
Many roof mounted bike carriers are lockable, either the bike locks to the frame, the frame locks to the roof bars, or both.
In addition to the accessories available for roof bars mentioned above, you can also purchase ski and snowboard carriers, water sports carriers such as kayak and canoe carriers, boat racks, sailboard carriers and surfboard holders.
If you’ve come to the conclusion that you can no longer live without roof bars, there are a few things you should know:
- 1. A Roof Rack Fitted to your Car will increase fuel consumption. Even empty roof bars will create extra wind resistance and this in turn will increase the vehicle’s fuel consumption. For this reason, when a roof rack is not in use it should be removed.
- 2. A Heavy Load on your Roof Rack will make the vehicle less stable and you may find it lurches and sways around bends. The steering will not be as responsive and may feel unpredictable. There is also an increased risk of overturning, particularly if you’re a bit hot into a bend that has an adverse camber (H3). When driving with a heavy load, your tyre pressures should be adjusted accordingly to accommodate the extra weight.
- 3. Overloading your vehicle can seriously affect the distance it takes your car to stop. The typical stopping distance at 50mph is 53 meters but if you overload your vehicle, the extra weight will not only increase your stopping distance significantly, by as much as 35 per cent, but also put additional stress on your tyres, wheel bearings, springs, suspension components and engine.
It is also against the law to overload your vehicle. If you exceed the manufacturer’s limits, which for each vehicle can be found in the manufacturers handbook, you could be fined up to £300 and issued with three penalty points. In addition, your insurance could be invalidated if you are involved in an accident.
If you are in any doubt or feel you may be close to breaching the limit, head to a weighbridge, it’s better to be safe than sorry.