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9 Different Types of Roof Racks for Cars

Track mount type of roof rack on black car.

Being unable to take massive plane trips across the world has pushed the creativity of thrill-seekers everywhere. Just because you can’t country hop doesn’t mean you can’t get out there and try new things.

Road trips are more popular than ever due to the enormous amount of things people can do outside all year long. Not only do these outdoor activities open up new adventures, but they also offer the opportunity to keep you from getting too close to everyone else. 

Having the freedom to go on road trips to unknown-to-you peaks and valleys will inevitably lead to getting invested in new equipment.

Whether you are new or just dabbing your toe into the activity pond, there’s something for every experience level and region preference. Like the cold? Climb glaciers. Like the desert? Camp under the stars. Is your star sign cancer? Try kayaking. 

The most economically friendly and private way to increase your physical comfort zone is to load up the car and head out. If you’ve got some toys to bring along for the ride, you are going to want a rack for your car.

A roof rack will be able to hold many pieces of equipment and even luggage. If you don’t have one, no problem. Here, I will go through the types of racks you can put up on your car and associated mounts.

That way, by the end, you’ll have an idea of what suits your situation and ride best.

Get your skis shined up, this blog is gonna move you!

Types of Roof Racks For Cars

Before you get your motor running and head out on the highway, let’s talk about what all you can expect with a roof rack. There is a multitude of equipment types you can load up on a rack, as well as luggage or even furniture for moving purposes.

Even if you don’t travel often, it’s handy to have the ability to securely attach something to the roof of your car. You never know when you will need to load up a new vanity or antique chair.

Not only will a roof rack make keeping something on the roof more reliable and safe, but it can also keep the surface from being scratched. The last thing you want is to use rope and lose the item or damage your car.

More on that later. For now, here is an overview of items that a roof rack can help with:

  • Luggage
  • Furniture
  • Bedding
  • Boxes
  • Storage containers
  • Surfboards
  • Canoes
  • Kayaks
  • Paddles
  • Skis
  • Snowboards

I think you get the picture. If you can move it or use it, it’s likely you can transport it via roof rack. Now, it’s time to go over the types of roof racks for cars and the mounting types to match.

1. Platform Rack

Platform type of roof rack on car with tire.

This roof rack sort of resembles a boxspring from a bed. As the name states, it offers an entire platform from which you can load an extravagant amount. Compared to bars, the platform has more space.

More space means more ability to counter the weight placed upon it. More space for weight means you have a lot of options for what all you can haul.

However, unless you have several items, it might be more expensive than it’s worth to go the platform route. It’s also quite noisy and heavy. It will require more help than the other options. Kind of a recipe for complicated.

2. Through Bar Rack

Through bar type of roof rack on black car.

If you want a quieter carry with a heavy load capacity, through bars might be a better fit. The bar is adjustable in the footpack and can poke out the ends, which will make packing more flexible.

3. Flush Bar Rack

Flush bar type of roof rack on black car.

The bar ends here. Well, at least that’s what the flush bar said to the foot. There is no overhang on these racks but they are also shorter.

This system might curtail what you’re able to bring, due to how it fits and its length. Before you decide on a style, be sure to consult the retailer with details on your ride and expectations.

4. Raised Rails

Raised rails type of roof rack on white car.

This is probably the most popular type of roof rack and mount combo for cars. You’ve likely seen them your whole life, perhaps sometimes even with a bike attached. These typically run almost the entirety of the length of the roof and look like two bars.

They are usually attached at three points on each side with some open space to use for rope if you need to type something into them. The racks that sit on the rails are adjustable.

Before going with this type of roof rack, you will want to be sure that the rails are appropriate for the size of the vehicle. It can be kind of disconcerting to have too much weight at the tail end of the car.

5. Flush Side Rails

Flush side rails type of roof rack on car with kayak.

Unlike the raised rails, the flush rails do not have the free space to run a rope through. As the name implies, these rails are more flush with the roof. They are flat with interior pinholes to slide equipment into and lock them into position.

This style of rack is also adjustable and flies under the radar. Similar to the raised rails though, you will want to be sure you have the correct length for your car size.

6. Fixed Point Track

Fixed point track type of roof rack on gray car.

These probably should probably be called flush because if you were looking across the roof, you wouldn’t see them at all. This track is part of the roof itself, instead of being mounted on it.

It’s one line on each side of the car with slots every few inches apart. A stud is used to secure the rack by being threaded into one of these slots along the roofline. You can’t really adjust where the rack sits but it does have a solid hold.

7. Door Mount

Door mount type of roof rack on white car.

Simply put, this type of rack clamps onto the door and uses the frame to stay steady. That means they are somewhat adjustable, depending on the length of an item, since it has to use specific spacing in relation to the window.

These are especially helpful when you can’t find a recommendation from your vehicle’s manufacturer and you really want to be able to haul things on your roof.

One serious thing to watch out for with door mounts is that, due to the style of hold, your paint could be in scratch proximity. 

8. Gutter Mount

Gutter mount type of roof rack on blue car.

These were more prominent in the 80s, as hauling equipment on cars was coming more and more into fashion. It’s uncommon to see these out in the wild, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your hands on some if you want a couple.

They fit into the part of the door that closes, referred to as the gutter. Since it goes into the door like that, getting it in just the right spot is quick. The rack itself allows for heavier loads. 

9. Track Mount

Track mount type of roof rock on black car.

This mounts to either tracks or a bar foot. This is probably the most flexible system between the racks and mounts together. It’s also easy to install on tracks that come installed with the vehicle.

Unfortunately, they do have a reputation for being difficult when it comes to racks being installed after the car was made.

What happens when the car has a sunroof?

First off, if you have a sunroof, it probably goes without saying that the careful attention paid will need to go up exponentially. This isn’t just about scratching paint, if something is heavy enough and dropped forcefully enough, it could break glass.

This is glass that could be above someone’s head. So, again, be aware of the weight and surroundings. So, in operation, you probably won’t want to open the sunroof. That seems obvious, but sometimes if you don’t mention it, it’s easy to forget.

Do I really need a roof rack for my car?

As stated previously, you just never know when you need to haul something. It’s better to be prepared than have to tie something to your roof and hope for the best. I know, I’ve been there. Many years ago, I was in the middle of a big move.

A friend had tied my mattress boxspring to his car, feeling extremely confident in his handy skills. When he pulled up to the new place, the boxspring was missing. He had no idea how it had slid off.

Surprisingly, no one on the road honked at him and, according to him, there was no sound that had any escape connotations. After going backtracking over his route a few times, we all had to admit our search failed.

I had to get a new boxspring. Fast forward to me taking home a new boxspring and not having a roof rack on my car either. I had to tie it on myself with extra twine lying around the store I purchased it from.

I had help from a more reliable friend to use the rope to tie it down and then close the door on the ropes. It felt firm, but can you ever really be sure?

It was a long and terrifying drive the whole way. Okay, it was probably 20 minutes, but it felt like 12 hours. I was so paranoid it was going to slip right off my roof that I held onto the boxspring with my bare hands while someone else drove. I did get a little bit of rope burn at one point as well. 

Moral of the story, if you can plan ahead, do. It’s a lot easier to get one installed before you need it than to wait until you have to have one. Do your future self a favor.