Roof Rack Decision Matrix

Every situation is different and deciding which roof rack is right for your particular situation can be difficult. This decision matrix incorporates some of the reasoning we use when helping folks decide which roof rack to buy. Hope it helps.

One of the most important issues is wind noise from non-aero racks. When round and square bars are empty, no cargo or cargo carriers, they can make a loud howling noise. If you intend to install the racks when you need them and take them off when you don't, "On and Off" then this howling may not be an issue. Otherwise, you may want aero bars or a fairing.

Racks On All the Time

Roof Type Reputation Value Price
Bare Roof
Thule Traverse AeroBlade 500 Rhino Aero or Aero RS 400
Rhino Euro w/Fairing 350
Inno SU w/Fairing 350
SportRack w/ Fairing 250
SportRack w/bungee wrap
Raised Rails
Thule CrossRoad AeroBlade 400 Rhino Vortex SX 350
Yakima Railgrab w/WindJammer 350
Inno FR w/Fairing 300
Inno AR w /Fairing 250
SportRack w/Inno Fairing 250
Flush Rails
Thule Podium AeroBlade 500 Yakima Railgrab w/WindJammer 300
Rhino Euro w/Fairing (as Bare roof rack) 350
Inno SU w/Fairing (as Bare roof rack) 350
SportRack w/Fairing (as bare roof rack) 250
Fixed Points
Thule Podium Aeroblade 500 Rhino Aero or Aero RS 400 SportRack w/Fairing (as bare roof rack) 250

Racks "On and Off"

Roof Type Reputation Value Price
Bare Roof
Thule Traverse Aeroblade 500
Thule Traverse square bar 400
Rhino Aero or Aero RS 400
Rhino Euro 300
Inno SU 300
SportRack Frontier 150
Raised Rails
Thule CrossRoad Aeroblade 400
Thule CrossRoad square bar 350
Inno FR 200
Yakima Railgrab 250
Rhino Vortex SX 350
Inno AR 150
SportRack SR1009 150
Flush Rails
Thule Podium Aeroblade 500
ThulePodium Square bar 400
Yakima Railgrab 250
Rhino Euro (as bare roof rack) 300
Inno SU (as bare roof rack) 300
SportRack (as bare roof rack) 150
Fixed Points
Thule Podium Aeroblade 500
Thule Podium Square bar 400
Rhino Vortex SX
Rhino Euro (as bare roof rack) 300
Inno SU (as bare roof rack) 300
SportRack (as bare roof rack) 150

Cargo Advice for Some Specific Scenarios

Dear Cargo,

I just need to get a rack on my car to carry a roof cargo bag. We need the bag for vacation we are probably going to take the rack off when we get back. We might use it to get some stuff at the lumber yard now and then, and we will probably use it for vacation again sometime. We really aren't going to use it much and want to pay as little as possibel.

Thank You.

Dear Thank You,

1) If you have a car with a bare roof, get an inexpensive square bar rack.

Most economical, ~$200: SportRack Frontier and Highland Waterproof bag ( The rack takes some care and effort to install. The Highland bag is square, flaps easily and is more difficult to load than some, so you need to stuff it full (sleping bags, towels, pillows, etc) to keep it from flapping, but it very tough and the fabric and seams are waterproof. (note: there are bags that work without roof racks, they strap through the car, but we are concerned about their use with side curtain air bags.)

Alternate Choice ~$375: Inno SU rack or Rhino Euro Rack and Seattle Sports Kanga Hurricane or Rightline Gear Sport Jr cargo bag. Both racks are solid and easy to install, both bags are higher quality, more substantial and easier to load, but still need some stuffing.

2) If you have raised siderails, get a good cargo bag that works with siderails only.

Thule, Seattle Sports and Rightline Gear all make bags that will attach to the siderails without crossbars ~$100.

Hope this helps,

Dear Cargo

Dear Cargo,

I have always used Thule, I had three racks in the past and never had any problems. I have some older carriers for my recumbant bikes and I need a rack for my new CRV with a bare roof.


Dear Regards,

Get a Thule Traverse square bar rack. Foot pack 480, LB50 Crossbars, Fit Kit 1691

Hope this helps,

Dear Cargo

Dear Cargo,

We have a 2008 BMW X5. It has rails on the roof that run down each side of the SUV but not across. We have a kayak, ski gear (skis and one snow board), and bikes we'd like to haul around. It is a high car so we were thinking of a hitch bike rack, but we currently don't have a hitch. We are also interested in a hard shell carrier (wet a lot of time) if the skis would fit too. With the kids in college we are trying to economize where we can.

Most appreciated if you might have some recommendations for the X5.

Many thanks

Dear Many Thanks,

Regarding the bicycles.

Putting bikes on the roof of an SUV is not much fun, pretty much you have to lift them over your head by the wheels, set them in the rack, hold them, and with your third hand secure them to the rack. So, we typically recommend a hitch rack, but the X5 looks to be difficult to put a hitch on. Many are easy, but this one looks like trouble. You have to cut the visible trim of the car among other things.

If you are just going to be taking them on vacation, load them up, drive there and take them off, you might want to consider a trunk rack, you may need to strap the bikes together and pad a pedal or the like, but you don't have to get a trailer hitch. You can get a trunk bike rack for $100-$200, get a Thule. (A trailer hitch and hitch rack will cost way more.)

Roof Cross-Bars.

Get an Inno FR rack or a rockymounts Flagstaff Ouray combo. Both a great racks, easy to install and won't hurt your BMW. The FR Rack is a square bar rack so it will make some noise if it is up there with nothing on it, the Flag Ouray is an Aero rack so it will be much quieter when not loaded, it is about $60 more than the FR.

Kayak Mount:

We would recommend the Inno INA450 Kayak mount, it really is a good thing, the included multi-cradles can be used without the post for canoes, SUPs and other gear too.


Snowboard and skis, get a large ski carrier. The rhinoRack large 27 inch loading area is a nice ski rack with a good price. It also can be installed around the crossbars or to the T-slots, so if you went with the rockyounts rack you could do a super clean install.

Cargo Box.

The best place to buy them can be craigs list. They are a little like treadmills, expensive, too big to ship and many people hardly use them.

Hope this helps,

Dear Cargo

Dear Cargo,

I need to carry 2 Kayaks on the Thule roof rack I bought a few years ago.

Previous Customer

Dear Previous Customer,

We are going to assume you have square bars, maybe 50 or 58 inches long.

Some things to think about:

1) How many kayaks fit on my roof?
2) Loading: am I big and tall? Will I always have help?
3) Do I want a couple of 16 inch tall kayak rack up there all the time?

Basically you can carry your kayaks flat, at an angle or vertically (on edge). You probably will not get 2 kayaks up there flat, unless you have very long crossbars.

So you will need to carry the kayaks at an angle or on edge. Both methods are strong and secure.

Loading: On an angle: The J style carriers really need the kayak to be lifted up higher than the lower end of the Js and then set in the Js. They don't work so well with: kind of get one end up there and then shove the rest of the kayak up there, or put the kayak up there on the bar and then get it into the J. The bottom of the J can be pretty high up on anything but a car. But if you can lift your kayak this high, then you can set it in the Js, and it will be stable there and you can strap it down, AND TIE OFF THE BOW AND STEARN.

On edge: It can be a little easier to get the kayak up there because you can use the cross-bar for wrangling the kayak up. But once up there you have to again be very tall and coordinated to keep the kayak on edge and strap it down without it slipping back to the ground again. You may need a friend to hold the kayak in position while it is secured.

What about when I am not using them? The post (on edge) folds down when you are not using it. The Js generally don't.

The hybrids (go with one of these, unless you are going to take the kayak mounts off when you are not using them, or you like the Js up on the roof look):

Thule makes a J that folds down, but not all the way it still sticks up some, the long arm doesn't go past the short one.

Inno makes a post with cross-bar pads. It allows for a little more wrangling than the J. The pads are pretty high friction so they help hold the Kayaks in place while you secure them, but you may need a friend. It also folds down, pretty flat, but not flat.

Hope this helps,

Dear Cargo

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