Buying Guide for Car Racks
By Steve Kopitz
Is packing your vehicle for a ski or snowboard trip like playing Tetris with your luggage? Is someone always crammed into the back seat and then packed in place? Perhaps its time to look into a Car Rack; a car rack will provide more storage space for your gear.
There are three main types of Car Racks; Ski and Snowboard Racks, Boxes, and Soft Top Carriers. The three types of Car Racks all allow you to make sure you have the gear you want and enough leg room to get to your destination comfortably.
Car Racks will fit on almost any vehicle, although some vehicles and racks require adaptive fit kits. The two major brands Thule and Yakima both provide online fit kit guides for customers to ensure they are purchasing the correct pieces for their vehicle and car rack system.
Ski and Snowboard Racks:
Ski and Snowboard Racks are a good way to carry your skis and snowboards on the roof of your car or SUV instead of taking up precious cargo space inside. Ski and Snowboard Racks hold multiple pairs of skis or snowboards in the locking rubber coated arms. Open style Ski and Snowboard Racks like this are typically easier to get your skis and snowboards in and out of than a Roof Top Box. Additionally, the Ski and Snowboard racks are typically lower profile leaving you with better overhead clearance than a box would provide. In turn, Ski and Snowboard Racks aren’t as detrimental to gas mileage as a box or soft top carrier would be.
Ski and Snowboard Racks do have their downsides. Ski and Snowboard racks really only hold skis and snowboards, so your poles and additional gear will still have to fit inside the car or SUV. Your gear is also exposed to the elements. Road salt is particularly bad for ski and snowboard bases. The salt dries out the P-tex material, it is important to wipe off your skis or snowboard after transport and wax regularly to keep the P-tex from drying out making your skis or snowboard slow when gliding. Additionally, be sure to watch the edges for rust.
Rooftop Boxes are enclosed cargo carriers which typically range between 8 and 21 cubic feet of space. There are several different shapes for boxes from square cubes to very elongated shapes for carrying long skis and snowboards. It is important to check dimensions of both the box you are considering and your vehicle. Extra length provides more room for gear, but may make it impossible to open a rear hatch on some SUVs and wagons.
Both Yakima and Thule make their roof top Boxes from durable plastic materials. Some boxes are available with reinforced lids for easy opening and closing. The reinforced lids typically drive the price of the box up slightly.
While Boxes are generally more expensive than ski or snowboard racks, boxes provide better protection for your skis or snowboards. In addition to better protecting skis and snowboards other gear; such as ski poles, and luggage can be stored in boxes for safe travel. The boxes are versatile and can be used for transporting gear all year round.
While Boxes do the best job protecting your gear, they are large and require ample garage or shed space to store. It typically takes two people to carry and mount a roof top box especially on a taller SUV. Due to the additional height that roof top Boxes add to vehicles most SUVs, will likely be too tall for garages and parking structures.
Soft Top Carriers:
Soft Top Carriers are essentially fabric cargo bags which mount to cross bars on the roof of the car or SUV. Soft Top Carriers are generally square in shaped and designed to house luggage and other gear which won’t fit inside the car or SUV. Soft Top Carriers are particularly useful since they can carry lots of gear and are easily folded for storage. Soft Top Carriers are much lighter than boxes and can typically be carried and mounted on the roof of a car or SUV by one person.
The draw back to Soft Top Carriers is that they aren’t waterproof like the plastic boxes are. The fabric is weather resistant which is fine in most conditions, but unpacking wet gear is never a good start to a trip. Additionally, while the fabric is durable, it can easily be cut by a knife is someone were trying to break in and steal your gear. Soft Top Carriers are generally more popular in the summer.
Car Racks will add additional height to your vehicle. You may NOT be able to pull into the garage or though certain height restricted drive thrus with a Car Rack on your vehicle. It is highly recommended to measure the height of your vehicle including the car rack so you know exactly how much clearance your vehicle and car rack needs. It is NOT the responsibility of the Car Rack manufacturers, ski or snowboard manufacturers or the retailer you purchased your gear from to replace the rack, skis, snowboard, garage door, etc. if you crash your roof top carrier into the garage… Don’t laugh; you’d be surprised how many calls we get each year about this.