How to Install Roof Racks

4 min read
Last Updated: Jun 9, 2024
BY: Matt Keepnes
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How to Install Roof Racks Roof racks are tremendously versatile accessories for any vehicle. They can allow you to transport all kinds of things, including outdoor equipment such as bikes and skis, tools such as wheelbarrows, and furniture. Perhaps most crucially, you can attach storage units to them for extra luggage space on your next road trip.

Roof racks are tremendously versatile accessories for any vehicle. They can allow you to transport all kinds of things, including outdoor equipment such as bikes and skis, tools such as wheelbarrows, and furniture. Perhaps most crucially, you can attach storage units to them for extra luggage space on your next road trip.

Buy the Right Roof Rack

Your first step is to make sure that you buy the right roof rack, one that will fit your vehicle without causing damage. Even if a roof rack is marketed as universal, you still want to check out the specifications and take measurements—best to avoid headaches before you even begin the installation.

How to Install Roof Racks

Many cars (especially SUV’s) come with roof racks already installed, though on some cars, it is an optional feature, and one that may be worth paying for up front. On other cars, you may have roof rails but no rack. In this case, all you need is a set of crossbars to complete the rack.

Your particular automaker probably sells crossbars for your model vehicle if it came with roof rails. Universal models also work. Typically, all you will need to install these are a couple of basic tools found in any toolkit. Follow the manufacturer instructions carefully.

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Aftermarket Roof Racks

An aftermarket roof rack simply means that it is a roof rack that will be attached after the car goes to market, or after you bought it. Sometimes, these are available for purchase directly from your car manufacturer, which guarantees compatibility.

If not, or if you don’t want to pay those prices, don’t fret. There are many from which to choose. The installation is usually where people get hung up. Typically, to install a traditional roof rack, you’re going to need to drill into the car itself.

Given the fact that your car was probably a sizeable investment, and that a lot of people have no experience drilling into that material, this scares some people. You can take everything to an automotive center and let them do it. But for die hard DIYers, read reviews before purchasing to see which roof racks come with the best instructions. It isn’t typically a complicated process; it just requires some patience and careful attention to detail.

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Clamp-on Roof Racks, Roof Baskets, and Other Alternatives

There are alternatives to traditional roof racks for those of us who don’t want to drill into the car.

There are clamp-on options, which attach to the sides of your car. This is an especially good option for someone with roof rails. They typically do not require tools to install onto the car itself, though they may require some assembly beforehand. Follow manufacturer instructions.

In addition, you can buy cargo baskets, which are somewhat more versatile. However, they are typically most secure when you have roof rails already. They also require assembly before attaching to your vehicle. Some attach with clamps while others require straps or some combination of the two.

Cargo carriers are another roof rack alternative. These are typically easy to install without drilling, since they often come with straps that run directly inside your car. They can also attach to roof rails.

The downside to these is that they aren’t necessarily designed for sports equipment, meaning that if you want to transport bikes or kayaks or other large equipment, you might be out of luck.

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Take it to the Dealership

The dreaded dealership, where all savvy savers know that even routine maintenance costs more! That said, a dealership purchase and installation means you know it’s done correctly.

Gear Adapters

Even after your roof rack is installed, you still need gear adapters, especially if you’re carrying speciality items such as bikes or small watercraft. Buy from the same manufacturer as the rack itself to ensure compatibility.

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creator of RoofboxTop.com

Matt Keepnes

Matt Keepnes, travel enthusiast and creator of RoofboxTop.com. I share expert tips on car storage solutions for seamless travels, combining personal experiences with practical advice.

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