Our motoring lives can be complicated, with so many different models of vehicles to choose from – hatchbacks, sedans, SUVs, crossovers, trucks, minivans, sub-compacts … the list just goes on forever, but choosing something that gives you more room for the odd occasion that you need it doesn’t make sense, you just need to upgrade the space you have, and for that, you need one of the best rooftop cargo carriers.
A rooftop cargo carrier, also known as a roof-box, can be bought for relatively sensible money, you can store it in the garage (heck, you could even leave it attached if you had to), or if you buy a roof-bag, you can pack it away into something the size of a shoe box … no storage problems there then!
These solutions offer lots more practicality, they’re also hard wearing and durable, secure, weatherproof, and in many cases, they may not affect your economy too much either – it really is a win-win.
I’ve briefly touched on the effect on fuel economy, and it’s true that any carrier, box or even roof rack will have an effect. But these days, we’re talking maybe 1-2mpg, and the noise level doesn’t rise significantly either, which used to be a big minus point for anything that you placed on the exterior of the car – it’s all about aerodynamics now, and they work.
You should think about how much extra space you need – enough for maybe a suitcase, or perhaps enough extra room for the whole family and their family, with a few extra ‘essentials’ packed in for good measure. Of course, the size of the carrier has an impact on the pricing, which if I’m honest, is blatant profiteering, but that’s just the way it is unfortunately.
Thought needs to be given as to whether you already have a roof rack or roof bars, and if you don’t, do you want to purchase them separately, or do you never want to fit anything like them to your car? Even if you don’t have bars or a rack, there are still rooftop carriers available to you, usually called a ‘roof-bag’, and it just simply straps to the car, usually through the door openings.
One final thing to think about … overall vehicle height.
If you drive a large SUV or minivan, there may be some height restrictions in place that you get close to, I’m think of parking structures, public building lots … that sort of thing. With a roof-box added, you may well be too tall for these restrictions, which A) limits your options, and B) could end in a total disaster if you forget you’ve got it attached … and while you may say “there’s no chance I’ll forget”, believe me, I’ve seen it happen more than once.
The Best Rooftop Cargo Carriers
1. Thule Sidekick Cargo Box
Like the idea of a rooftop carrier, but don’t want anything too big? You just need a bit of extra space? Then the Thule Sidekick is the right choice for you – 8 cubic feet of space, gives rough dimensions of 54 x 25 x 15.5” on the exterior, it’s the smallest rooftop cargo box that Thule make, and it can take an impressive 75lb in weight.
It will fit most standard roof racks and bars, although being shorter than the average carrier, you may want to double check the spread size of the bars, just in case. Thanks to its small size, there’s plenty of room leftover for other equipment, both lengthwise and across the front of the box. It opens from the passenger side of the vehicle (for that added bit of safety).
It comes with a complete hardware kit for mounting – sturdy U-bolts and reinforcement plates offer a level of security (as in, the box not being able to move around), but again, the small size means that you may have tailgate clearance issues if it’s mounted too far backwards.
The included two locks can be locked shut, and locked to the bars or rack, so security (anti-theft) is pretty good, although being honest, the impact resistant polyurethane plastic isn’t actually that tough.
2. RoofBag Soft Car Top Carrier
15 cubic feet is approximately the same storage space as five medium suitcases.
While a car roof does have some strengthening built-in, these really aren’t that strong, and it’s quite easy to dent them, but also because you could easily mark the paintwork with scratches or swirls, RoofBag do offer (as a separate item) a protective mat to fit between the bag and the roof.
Moving on from that minor (personal) issue, in theory, it’s a great idea – extra roof space storage for vehicles that don’t have roof bars or rack, with easy storage when not in use – it packs up to around 10 x 8 x 4” in size, and of course, it will fit any car.
The idea is simple enough, using two straps (1.5” wide with a load strength of 3,000lb) that fit through built-in loops, you can attach the straps to a rack or bars, or pass them through the door openings to latch to each other. RoofBag say that they don’t like having the straps attach directly to the RoofBag because that’s not the most reliable method of attachment, which sounds fair enough.
The material is a heavy duty tight-knit polyester canvas that’s been liquid coated on both sides for the ultimate in waterproofing – water, abrasion, mildew, UV rays, tear and fire retardant … kind of like an NBC suit for your extra storage.
If you’re on a budget, or really can’t or don’t want to fit roof bars, then the RoofBag is a great solution for the extra storage need, and providing you pack it right.
3. Yakima SkyBox Aerodynamic Rooftop Cargo
Yakima offer a number of different sizes, and I picked the 15 cubic feet model as a direct comparison to some of the other models here. This is the low profile model, measuring just 11.5” tall, but still offering a huge amount of internal storage space, the overall size is 92 x 36 x 11.5”, and it has a good range for crossbar spread – it’ll fit between 24” through to 42”.
It comes ready assembled (it’s a BIG box) and Yakima say that it’s a completely tool-free installation process, and of course, removal process is the same. The sleek design helps to keep fuel economy as the manufacturer intended, and you really won’t notice that you’re carting around a box that’s around 7.5 feet in length on the roof.
Thanks to the length, Yakima have added internal stiffeners to the lid, which means it’s not all floppy when you open it up, and it can be opened from either side of the vehicle, which is a useful addition. A quality latch means that you just need to drop the lid and it will lock, and of course that means securing the box to the rack also, of which it can fit most manufacturer and aftermarket racks.
This would be the #1 choice if you don’t want to add too much height to your vehicle, but still want the ability to carry a fair bit of extra ‘stuff’, providing that it will fit in the shallower design.
4. SportRack Vista XL Rear Opening Cargo Box
With the capacity of 18 cubic feet, and 100lb in weight, the Vista XL is a great choice for families that really need some room – 18 cubic feet is equivalent to around 12.5 carry on bags worth of storage.
Unlike all of the other rooftop carriers here, the SportRack is rear opening, which depending on your viewpoint, could be a good thing, or a pain. A side opening carrier is fine, except that in some circumstances, it could place you in the path of traffic, if you have to stand side on to the car, whereas a rear opening box removes that risk entirely, but could make it more awkward to reach things that have been stored upfront.
It’s an ABS construction that is durable and can take a knock or two, and the angled contours help to lessen the drag (less damage to the fuel economy) and reduce wind noise. It has everything needed for fitting, including the U-bolt and hardware kit, and the quick release mounting helps keep it secure, both against moving around and being stolen.
Dimensions are 63 x 38 x 19” and the minimum load bar spread is 23 5/8”.
Very well priced, giving great value for money, and the styling makes it look better than the average big box of space for cars. Perhaps the most popular choice here.
5. Rightline Gear Sport 3 Car Top Carrier
Another ‘soft’ rooftop carrier, and the dimensions are pretty square – 48 x 40 x 14-19”. It holds 18 cubic feet, but the limitation is the weight that can be applied to the roof.
This is another design that needs no bars or roof rack, it can be attached using clips that fit under the weatherproofing strip of the door. Not only could it lead to premature failure of the weatherproofing, but I can’t see how you’d be able to pull it tight, without relying on the door closure to firm everything up.
What I do like about it is the weatherproofing – Rightline have gone to great lengths to ensure that not a drop of water will enter the carrier, either through the material or the zips. They even rate it as 100% waterproof, which is quite a claim.
TOP TIP: When using a soft rooftop cargo carrier, you should try and fill it entirely, to firm up the structure which will help to reduce flapping about, and therefore, wind noise.
Being quite tall and square shaped, this carrier will have more of an effect on your gas mileage, but that’s a small price to pay for the convenience of not having to have a permanent fixture.
6. Thule Motion XT Rooftop Cargo Carrier
This is the daddy of rooftop carriers, at least in this list; it’s huge – 91.5 x 37.5 x 18” is a similar footprint to the Yakima, but it offers an extra 6.5” of taller space, giving it 22 cubic feet of storage, and weight capacity of 165lbs.
Despite its size, Thule have designed the Motion XT to be as aerodynamic as possible, and judging by reports, they’ve done a good job – wind noise is kept to a minimum, and gas mileage doesn’t sink like a stone, and that’s all about you could ask for when you’re using something this size.
The Thule Motion XT uses a quick mount system, which means fitting and removal is a matter of minutes, and you can feel a positive click when it’s locked in place, and the lid auto-locks which is useful when you have your hands full of ‘stuff’.
Dual side opening, and grip friendly handles finish the details, and it will fit most regular roof bars and racks, be that factory fit or aftermarket.
Yes, it’s expensive, but there are some neat features, it’s very secure, and it can swallow so much extra luggage … you could almost live in this thing. If you can afford it, this rooftop cargo carrier is the perfect choice for everything you’ll need.
As we’ve seen, you don’t need a car fitted with roof bars to have a rooftop carrier, but if you’re going to be using this more than a couple of times a year, it’s probably worth having them fitted.
While I may personally not be overly enthusiastic about the roof ‘bags’, they are a great (and cost effective) solution for winning a little extra storage on odd occasions. I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase any of these products here, I guess the biggest deciding factor is how much space do you need, and how much money do you want to spend.