Anyone who’s ever loaded up their car for a road trip knows that sometimes your trunk doesn’t have enough space. If you’ve ever wished you could increase your vehicle’s storage space, you’re in luck. Rooftop cargo carriers utilize unused space on the outside of your car and are the perfect solution for families who struggle to find a place for everything.
While deciding to buy a rooftop cargo carrier is an easy decision, wading through the sea of options is a bit more challenging. To help you make sense of it all, we’ve created this guide with our choices for the best rooftop cargo carriers. We’ve also included a helpful section outlining everything you need to know to make the right purchase.
Bottom Line Up Front
Through all the research we conducted, it was clear that the Thule Motion XT Rooftop Cargo Carrier has an edge over the competition.
The Thule Motion XT Rooftop Cargo Carrier offers superior durability, storage options, and usability. Though it comes with a hefty price tag, the peace of mind that comes from knowing your possessions are secured in a robust carrier that will last for years is worth every penny. We’ll discuss why in further detail later in the article.
Different Types of Rooftop Cargo Carriers
Before beginning your search for the perfect solution to your car’s storage issues, it’s critical to know what kinds of rooftop cargo carriers are available. There are some notable differences between the three categories, and knowing what each has to offer will drive your decision.
In general, each class of cargo carrier requires the user to mount them on their car’s roof racks or roof rails, and some are better suited to different purposes. We should also mention that there is another cargo carrier category, hitch-mounted cargo carriers, but we’re not going to discuss those because they don’t fall under the rooftop category.
Cargo bags are large and soft-sided, and in general, the material used in their construction is weatherproof. Cargo bags are a popular way to gain storage since their light profile makes them easy to install, and they can add up to around 15 cubic feet of extra space.
One big downside is that although they generally come with locks, they’re not as secure as cargo boxes because it’s reasonably easy to cut through the bag’s straps or fabric. Further, cargo bags are less equipped to protect fragile cargo.
Cargo boxes are a fantastic choice if you need to store different objects of awkward size, especially sports gear like skis and snowboards that are cumbersome in your car. They come in plenty of designs, but at their core, cargo boxes are what they sound like: storage boxes that go on top of your vehicle.
Users love this type of cargo carrier because it offers plenty of benefits. Depending on the size of your car, they provide anywhere from 10 to over 20 cubic feet of storage. They come with locks for anti-theft protection, and they’re usually aerodynamic, weatherproof, and in some cases, UV resistant.
While it may seem like cargo boxes are the obvious choice, they do have their downsides. Installation can be tricky and often requires two people to avoid scratching the vehicle during this process. And a cargo box requires ample storage space when not on your car, so if you plan to use it infrequently, this is something to keep in mind.
Cargo baskets are easy to install, as well as mount and unmount, and offer perhaps the most versatility of the three options. They’re generally made with metal, and you secure cargo with nets and bungee cords. Cargo baskets work well if you have objects with strange shapes.
Out of the three, this type of carrier is the most problematic. You have no protection from theft or the elements, and there is always the risk of improperly securing cargo.
How to Find the Best Rooftop Cargo Carriers
Our goal in selecting the best rooftop cargo carriers was to find middle-of-the-road options that would meet the needs of the most significant amount of users. Ultimately, we chose cargo carriers that users rated highly on the following features.
Ease of Installation
Some cargo carriers are easier to install than others, with box carriers notorious for being more challenging to install.
Aside from whether or not the unit is easy to install, another thing to consider is how often you will mount and unmount it. Cargo carriers snap on and off your roof, and you should look for one that’s easy to take off.
Water and Sun Resistance
Cargo carriers spend a lot of time exposed to the elements, especially if you leave them on your car most of the year. Their design is generally waterproof, but some carriers may leak in heavy rain, which could potentially damage or ruin the contents inside.
Carriers should be sun resistant, and this is an area where soft-sided bags, which are especially prone to suffering the damaging effects of the sun, present problems.
Think about how long you intend to leave the carrier on your car. If you plan to use it yearlong, make sure it’s waterproof and provides adequate sun protection.
Material is a significant difference between cargo boxes and bags, and each material type has advantages and disadvantages, some of which we’ve touched on already. Your needs will drive the decision of whether or not to choose the hard material in cargo boxes or the soft material in cargo bags.
And since rooftop cargo carriers can get pretty pricey, it’s critical that your investment be a smart one—that is, that the product is built to last. We chose products for our list that were well ranked for quality construction that you can depend on for years to come.
Before deciding on a model, ask yourself what you need the extra space for. If you need it for something like carrying golf bags or skis, look for a long carrier that can accommodate your items. Cargo bags, on the other hand, are perfect for things like clothes.
And be sure to keep in mind the amount of extra space you need. Cargo carrier storage ranges from 10 to 25 cubic feet, so choose a size that makes the most sense for you. If you only need around ten cubic feet, it’s more practical economically and for the fuel efficiency of your vehicle to stay in this range.
Another consideration is the size of your car because what it can handle weight-wise will influence your search. And if you have a small car (like a hatchback), you may not be able to fit a long cargo box, which is another factor to consider.
It’s inevitable that you’ll leave your car unattended from time to time, so security is a make-or-break feature in cargo carriers. They should have adequate protection to keep your items safe while your vehicle is out of sight.
Boxes and bags both come with locks, but boxes provide much more robust protection than bags do, and baskets come with no security. When it comes to this particular feature, do you want to have to unload your basket every time you leave your car overnight? If not, skip the cargo basket and some bags.
Adding an object to your car’s roof affects its aerodynamics, which in turn adversely affects gas mileage. We looked for the most highly rated aerodynamic models that won’t dramatically reduce fuel economy.
Certain shapes, like large square boxes, are not generally very aerodynamic. Low and long tends to be the best for maintaining fuel efficiency, though this type imposes height limits on the items you can store.
The Best Rooftop Cargo Carriers
With a variety of high-quality options on the market, narrowing the field to the top choices was tricky; however, as we researched the best rooftop cargo carriers, we began to notice some standouts. Here is the top four.
We’re kicking off the list with our number one pick, the Thule Motion XT Cargo Carrier. It offers plenty of storage options up to 22 cubic feet, and it excels in all of the features that are critical in rooftop cargo carriers—most notably in its highly functional design, which is what solidified its position at the top.
- Weight: 42-55 lbs
- Capacity: 16, 18, and 22 cubic feet
- Waterproof: Yes
- Lock: Yes
Thule impresses with no-brainer assembly and installation on the Motion XT. Cargo boxes are frequently challenging to assemble and install, but users report enthusiastically that this model goes on your car in no time at all—thanks in large part to the PowerClick system, which makes mounting and removal a cinch.
Once mounted, accessing your belongings is also straightforward. You can open the box from all sides, a feature we find handy for larger vehicles. The SlideLock system makes knowing when the carrier is secure simple, as the box clicks when the lock is engaged.
Concerning construction, you’ll be impressed by the quality of the materials, which are highly durable and stand up to all kinds of weather conditions. And perhaps most importantly, the aerodynamic design means trips to the gas station will cost about the same.
The only downside is the cost, but although it’s quite expensive, you receive outstanding quality.
- Easy assembly
- User-friendly design is simple to operate
- Moderately lightweight, which means installation could even be a one-person job
- Won’t fit all vehicles
Next, we have the Keeper Waterproof Rooftop Cargo Bag, our first bag carrier of the list. The Keeper offers 15 cubic feet of storage at a fantastic price point. If you need ample space to store your things, this model will more than cover your needs.
- Weight: 5.05 lbs
- Capacity: 15 cubic feet
- Waterproof: Yes
- Lock: No
The Keeper features a waterproof rubber laminated nylon material that, provided you mount it correctly (meaning there should be no exposed zippers or zippers facing the front of the vehicle where it’s easier for water to enter), is waterproof.
As is typical with cargo bags, installation is simple. It’s got four adjustable buckles with one on each side that you use to tighten the bag to the roof. It does require a roof rack, and it’s better if your car has crossbars and sidebars to secure it, though this is not strictly necessary.
The Keeper’s size may be better indicated for use with SUVs, but it does fit on some small cars. If you aren’t sure about your vehicle’s size, make sure to measure it before purchasing. The Keeper includes a lock, but the lock’s function is more to ensure the zippers remain closed than to protect against theft.
Overall, if you need extra storage but want to keep costs down, the Keeper will get the job done and then some.
- Soft design is perfect for odd-shaped cargo
- Easy to mount
- Requires a roof rack, which not all vehicles are equipped with
Just like Thule, Yakima is another name that kept coming up in our search, and the Skybox Carbonite Cargo Box was a close runner up in this competition. It’s a slightly cheaper version of Thule’s Motion XT and features many of the same qualities. The Yakima Skybox is available in even more cubic feet options than the Motion XT.
- Weight: 47-75 lbs
- Capacity: 12, 16, 18, or 21 cubic feet
- Waterproof: Yes
- Lock: Yes
The Skybox arrives ready for installation on round, square, and aerodynamic bars. The Quick-Release mounting hardware offers incredibly simple mounting that doesn’t require tools, which makes it incredibly beginner friendly.
You can access the Skybox from both sides, and it locks with the SuperLatch security system that ensures the box is closed correctly and your things are safe. The extra long, short design is perfect for sports equipment like skis and snowboards, so sports enthusiasts will love this box.
Like Thule’s Motion XT, it features an aerodynamic design that reduces drag and wind noise, and the tapered body all but eliminates hinge interference from your SUV’s hatch. Where it does fall a bit short is with the locking mechanism, which is not as user-friendly as the Motion XT’s, but overall, you can’t go wrong with this runner up.
- Made almost entirely from recycled materials
- Comes in many sizes to fit any car
- Its fantastic design allows sports enthusiasts a place for everything
- The locking mechanism could be improved, as it is somewhat fragile and difficult to maneuver
Lastly, we have another fantastic cargo bar for the driver that wants to get on the road and go and not worry about being able to fit everything in the trunk. And with the RoofBag Waterproof Car Rooftop Storage bag, you won’t be complaining about lack of space anymore—not to mention, the price is right!
- Weight: 7 lbs
- Capacity: 11 or 15 cubic feet
- Waterproof: Yes
- Lock: No
The RoofBag boasts a heavy-duty canvas construction, which is double coated both inside and out, as well as abrasion resistant coating for protection against the elements. Its triple seal technology also affords water protection, and the materials are non-toxic, so you can put any luggage in this bag without worry.
It’s available in two sizes to meet whatever your storage needs are, and the two straps it comes with can secure up to 3,000 pounds. Attaching it to your vehicle is quick and easy, even if you don’t have a rack, and it folds down for easy storage when not in use.
The RoofBag stands out for its fantastic features, great price, and for being manufactured in the United States. All in all, it’s a bag you’ll get plenty of use out of, and that should last you a long time.
- Compatible with all vehicles
- Manufactured in the USA
- Can be used on cars that don’t have racks
- Economical price
- As is typical with cargo bags, the aerodynamics aren’t great on this model, especially if not full
Comparing the Options
|Thule Motion XT Rooftop Cargo Carrier||Box||16, 18, or 22 cf||Yes||Yes|
|Keeper Waterproof Rooftop Cargo Bag||Bag||15 cf||No||Yes|
|Yakima Skybox Carbonite Cargo Box||Box||12, 16, 18, or 21 cf||Yes||Yes|
|RoofBag Waterproof Car Rooftop Storage Bag
|Bag||11, 15 cf||No||Yes|
Rooftop cargo carriers not only allow you to pack more by utilizing the top of your car, but they also increase the comfort of everyone riding inside. For the outdoor-oriented family who likes to get away, a rooftop cargo carrier can be an invaluable purchase.
While selecting one may seem like an easy task, it’s vital that you take the time to understand your needs and key features, as well as the safety indications, to make sure that you can safely enjoy your investment for years to come.