The Dos and Donts of Buying a Roof Rack

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The Do's and Don'ts of Buying a Roof Rack

Roof racks make it possible to carry a wide range of items on top of cars, vans, and SUVs. Racks are designed for both personal and commercial vehicles. The designs of each are slightly different, allowing for the different sizes of the vehicles and the different kinds of items likely to be carried. Racks used on personal vehicles are most often used to carry sporting gear or bins of holiday paraphernalia. However, racks used on commercial vehicles are usually sturdier to allow for the carrying of large or weighty items, such as sheets of plywood, ladders, racks of pipe or duct, or loads of board.

Many roof racks are designed for permanent installation, although changeable accessory racks may have a keyed locking mechanism to hold them in place. Roof racks that may be lifted on and off the vehicle are typically designed for lighter loads on personal vehicles. A person seeking a roof rack is advised to consider the kind of vehicle, the kinds of items to be carried, and whether the installation is to be permanent as first steps in selecting a roof rack. Having made those decisions, locating a satisfactory roof rack at a motor accessory shop or an online marketplace such as eBay becomes quite simple.

Do Decide on the Use of the Rack

Roof racks are extremely versatile. They can carry almost any kind of sports gear, they allow construction crews to transport large sheets of plywood and ladders conveniently, and they may also be used to carry cargo boxes when taking a large amount of gear on holiday. Roof racks are broadly categorised into racks suited for recreational use and those designed for commercial vehicles.

Recreational Uses

Roof racks designed for recreational uses are designed to fit onto personal vehicles, including vans and SUVs. They offer accessory lines that allow the owner to attach such sporting gear as bicycles, kayaks, canoes, skis, snowboards, and paddleboards. Some also are designed to allow for the attachment of cargo boxes for carrying holiday paraphernalia.

Commercial Uses

Roof racks designed for commercial vehicles are often designed for heavier loads. They may be designed with side railings to help keep loads of such items as pipe from rolling off the van. Related accessory lines include items designed specifically for the needs of the commercial user: board stops, pipe clamps, ladder clamps, and load stops.

Some racks are designed specifically for one kind of gear. If the rack is to carry different kinds of gear in different seasons, consider a rack which allows for easy changing of the load accessories. Thule wing bars, for example, are designed to allow accessory tracks to slide in and out of a T-shaped track for speedy replacement.

Do Decide How to Fasten the Rack to the Roof

The rack that is suitable to a given vehicle is selected not just on the basis of the vehicle's size. The selection must also take into consideration whether there are already attachment points to which a roof rack may be fastened. The general form of a roof rack is some kind of support, which attaches to the roof. This holds load bars that actually carry the load.

Because vehicle roofs are variously shaped and sized, the supportive attachments and load bars are sometimes purchased separately to allow for correct fit. Additional accessories may be chosen to hold the specific kinds of items to be carried. This also allows the owner to create a rack designed for the vehicle and load.

Towers or Feet for Bare Roofs

The tower or foot style of roof rack is used on vehicles that have no roof gutters and no existing railing. The towers or feet attach to the roof with a kit from the rack manufacturer. The crossbars are then attached. Accessories are mounted to the crossbars or, in the case of some Thule systems, to a slide-in accessory mount.

Enhancements to Factory Roof Racks

The roof racks installed by the factory may not meet a particular transport need, in which case an aftermarket rack may be added. Factory roof racks are sometimes installed flush with the vehicle roof and sometimes slightly above the roof, allowing space for the owner to tie on cargo. Different aftermarket racks are designed for each circumstance. The Yakima Rail Grab system works with either; Thule's Crossroad racks work with raised rails.

Mounts for Factory Pre-Drilled Roofs

Where a vehicle's roof is pre-drilled for a rack but no rack is provided, the owner has the option of installing a tower style rack on four feet or a rack based on two rails. The Yakima Control Tower and the Thule Fixpoint XT are examples of the former; the Whispbar is one of the latter.

Rain Gutter Mount

In these models, the feet clamp onto the rain gutters at the four corners of the vehicle. Both Yakima and Thule offer modular systems which allow a buyer to separately select the feet that are correct for their vehicle and the mounting rails that are the desired length.

Roof Rack Options

Racks for personal vehicles in particular offer several options to reduce problems that the commercial driver is less likely to experience as a challenge. For some racks on private vehicles, an optional fairing may be available for purchase to reduce wind noise. The commercial rack is built for its specific use and remains in place.

The rack for personal use may include accessory bars that can be switched out to provide for the correct attachment of different kinds of sporting goods: clamps for bicycle wheels vs. grommets for kayak XXs, for example. Where bars may be changed out in this fashion, they may lock in place with a key lock, in which case some vendors offer a key matching service to give the owner the convenience of having the rack key match the vehicle key.

Do Decide Whether a Modular or Complete System is Preferred

A modular roof rack system offers separate purchase of supports and bars. Such popular brands as Thule sell modular roof bar systems almost exclusively. A complete system has everything in one box. The primary advantage of a modular system is that it gives the buyer maximum control over the system purchased.

If longer bars are desired to fit an extra kayak, they may be purchased as long as they fall within the maximum width requirements of U.K. regulations. If accessories are to be changed out, the appropriate components may be selected. A complete system, on the other hand, is the easiest to purchase and install. If it meets the buyer's needs, it makes for an easy decision and purchase.

Don't Choose a Rack That Cannot Be Reached

Commercial racks, which are typically mounted on top of delivery vans, may feature one or more rollers to assist in loading and unloading. A rack with rollers also uses clamps or other fasteners to prevent its load from rolling off once in motion. Many commercial racks also feature a drop-down ladder to allow the user to safely reach the load.

Mounting the load on a personal vehicle is a different challenge, especially when mounting bicycles on a roof. Before choosing a roof rack for a personal vehicle, try loading similar items on a roof rack installed on similar vehicle owned by a friend or club member. Roof racks have many advantages, but if the roof is too high to reach, a different means of transporting items may be best.

Do Decide on a Permanent or Removable Rack

Many roof racks are designed to be installed and remain on the vehicle, but some lightweight systems may be removed and stored when not in use. An easily removable rack system is the HandiRack, which is inflatable, fits most cars, and may be stored in the boot when not in use. It supports a maximum load of 80 kilogrammes and when used with the compatible cargo carrier, it adds up to 280 litres of space. The HandiRack may also be fitted with a strap system for canoes or kayaks.

Don't Choose a Rack Without Considering Its Material

Racks are manufactured in either steel or aluminium. Each has advantages and disadvantages, which may be summarised in part according to the table below.





Longest in use; less expensive

More likely to "whistle" in wind; creates more drag


Quieter; sometimes carries more items; creates less drag, therefore vehicle uses less fuel

More expensive

Aluminium roof bars are frequently aerodynamically designed, making it possible to reduce drag and wind noise significantly. The buyer must balance the difference in cost against the other advantages of the aluminium roof bars.

Don't Carry More Weight Than the Roof Can Handle

The vehicle manual should indicate the maximum weight that may be carried on its roof. Another source of this information should be the rack manufacturer in the specifications for each rack. When specifying the vehicles to which a rack is suited, the manufacturer should indicate how many kilogrammes it may carry on each.

Do Choose a Rack that Fastens Easily

If the rack selected is to be mounted and dismounted from time to time, select a rack that fastens easily to the vehicle. Many are designed to buckle onto the roof with web fasteners that attach inside the car through the window openings. The fasteners are most often located on top of the car but sometimes inside the vehicle.

Do also make sure to have adequate tie-downs for anything that is to be carried. If they do not come with the carrier, they may be purchased separately. Tie-downs may be elastic bungee cord type ties or web straps with ratchet fasteners at various widths and lengths as needed.

Don't Hit a Bridge

Every day, on average, five bridges somewhere in the U.K. are hit by vehicles too tall for the bridge clearance. In metro London alone, there are more than 300 bridges with clearance lower than 16 feet and thousands of low clearance bridges throughout the U.K.

The bridges and drive-throughs that are no problem for a vehicle itself may pose a hazard when bicycles in particular are standing tall on top of the same vehicle. Likewise, it is important to be cognisant of clearances in multistorey car parks and toll plazas and to pay attention to low hanging limbs. If there is a home garage, its clearance is unlikely to allow a loaded vehicle to enter safely. Luckily, it is quite typical for GPS systems designed for use in the U.K. to include low bridge information so that a safe route may be planned.

Do Know the Law

Where lengthy items are to be carried frequently, carry red or orange rags or plastic bags to mark the ends. Any item more than 1 metre longer than the length of the rack, whether at the front or rear of the vehicle, must be so marked in such a way that the flags are visible from both the ends of the vehicle and the sides. If the item being carried extends more than 2 metres, marker boards of a specific type diagrammed in government regulations must be used and local police must be notified in advance of travel.

Buying a Roof Rack on eBay

Roof racks available on eBay are divided broadly into two categories: those for cars and those for commercial vehicles. Most of the racks for commercial vehicles are designed for vans or pickups, with others offered for delivery vans or lorries. A buyer choosing a roof rack may choose to specify the vehicle make and model in the search window, thereby narrowing the selections to those most likely to be appropriate for the vehicle, such as "roof rack Vauxhall Corsa". A particular roof bar manufacturer may also be indicated, such as: "roof bars signo". Throughout eBay, as throughout the U.K., "roof rack" and "roof bars" are interchangeable terms and yield the same search results.

Making a Selection

The buyer who has predetermined a particular brand, vehicle fit, or price point may first use the search window to identify products that meet brand and vehicle criteria. The buyer may then use the "sort by" feature to organise the search results according to price, with options including price plus P&P to provide the most complete cost picture. This also allows a buyer to compare apples to apples. When the same product is offered at different prices, the decision is made more easily.


Roof racks or roof bars provide a convenient way to carry a multitude of items too large to contain inside a vehicle. The private vehicle owner often uses such a rack to carry sporting goods or items needed on holiday. The owner of a commercial vehicle may carry large sheets of plywood, boards, racks of piping, or ladders, among other items that would be difficult to fit inside a standard van. A roof rack must be chosen that may be fitted to the vehicle's roof, directly or attached to existing rails.

Modular systems are more readily configured to any size vehicle and to need an owner may have but are less conveniently purchased and installed. Whether a roof rack is permanent or removable, it can only suit the owner if he or she can reach it and easily manage its fastenings. Aluminium roof bars have gained popularity because aerodynamic designs reduce drag and noise, but they remain more expensive than traditional steel. A private or commercial vehicle owner who is considering the purchase of a roof rack can confidently select a useful product, whether in a local shop or on eBay by taking into account these issues.

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