Traditional car rack systems were often large, heavy steel racks that were difficult to manage, install, and move around, but those times have changed. The advent of more modern and lighter rack construction materials like aluminum and carbon composites has made it possible to meet the ever-growing demand for smaller, lighter, and more versatile racks.
Foldable and portable car rack systems are now almost the norm, and it’s easy to see why once you start looking into the benefits these types of designs provide.
Why There’s a Need for Portable Car Rack Solutions
There has been a growing trend amongst consumers to break away for weekends or venture out on longer family road trips. It has grown with the need to haul additional gear, like bikes and kayaks, or extend your car’s carrying capacity by adding a hitch cargo rack or cargo roof basket.
People nowadays have diverse hobbies, including cycling, skiing, kayaking, fishing, and many others. More often than not, the gear required for these hobbies will require a specialized bike rack. Universal roof rack systems have provided a base to build from, but they still don’t cater to all transportation needs.
With its inevitable space constraints, urban living has been a strong driving force behind the design of foldable and portable racking systems to preserve space and innovatively utilize limited storage rooms in modern apartments and garages.
Key Benefits of Foldable and Portable Car Racks
Foldable and portable car rack systems solve some very specific everyday problems. Here are some of the key benefits:
a. Space Efficiency
It can be argued that saving space is the whole point behind foldable rack systems. They are easy to handle and store when not in use. If you are storing your rack in your garage, having a small foldable rack will minimize clutter and maximize your available storage space around your car.
Foldable and portable racks are often also designed to adapt to carrying different types of gear. Simple universal roof bars, for example, can be left on your car and used as a base for add-on racking components to carry cycles, surfboards, cargo boxes, and more.
If you have a second vehicle, install the same roof bars that allow you to share components and switch racking systems between vehicles. This is convenient and can save you a fair amount of money.
People with limited space often choose not to buy a bulky car rack but rent a specialized vehicle or trailer when the need to haul gear arises. Investing in something small and versatile is a cost-effective alternative. Light racks are also less taxing on your car, and the reduced wear and tear on your vehicle is an additional long-term saving.
d. User-Friendly Installation and Removal
Smaller, more nimble racking systems are much easier to install than larger ones. They quickly assemble and dismantle, making them ideal for the urban weekend warrior or anyone with limited gear-moving requirements.
e. Less Impact on Vehicle Aerodynamics
Finally, smaller or foldable racks are more aerodynamic than large ones, especially when folder away. This can reduce drag and lower wind-noise levels while traveling with the rack only. With this reduced drag comes the added benefit of better fuel efficiency.
Key Features to Look for in a Quality Foldable and Portable Car Rack
a. Material and Build
The type of material your rack is made from will determine many things, including how heavy it is and how resistant to corrosion it will be, which is especially important if you live in coastal areas. Most compact foldable bike racks are made from aluminum, with some innovations leaning towards carbon fiber and other modern composite materials.
Pick a material that is suited to your needs and environment. There is no point in opting for a material that will negate some of the actual benefits you were hoping to gain from a smaller compact system in the first place.
b. Security Features
Regardless of the rack size, whether for bikes, cargo, or whatever other gear you may be hauling, ensure that the rack you buy has sufficient integrated locking mechanisms and is designed to facilitate you in securing your load.
Several anti-theft systems are available on the aftermarket, such as bike locks and locking systems for cargo racks. Do your research and decide how to secure your gear on any specific car rack before putting down your money.
c. Compatibility with Different Vehicles
Consider your system’s compatibility with different vehicles if you have multiple cars. You can choose from universal racking systems, like roof bars, that could fit almost any car, but you will also be confronted with some very car model-specific racks. Do not rush in and buy a rack that doesn’t fit your car. Yes, you will most likely be able to return it, but it’s a lot of unnecessary hassle.
Buying a hitch cargo or bike rack is often the simplest way of sharing a rack across different vehicles. Make sure the hitch sizes on your cars are the same or at least both within the size range that your new rack can accommodate.
d. Ease of Access
Foldable bike racks are designed to tilt or swing away or towards your vehicle. They can move away mostly to provide access to the trunk or hatch of your car without removing the entire rack. On the flip side, they can often fold towards the car to be stored nearer the body to improve aerodynamics and reduce drag and wind noise.
Before buying a foldable rack, see whether the store can set it up for you to demo or try out the folding or swinging mechanism. While most are intuitive and easy to do, we have stumbled upon folding mechanisms that are so over-designed and complicated that they almost completely negate the intended benefit!
Maintenance and Care Tips
Like with any other size rack, if you want to ensure longevity and maintain the optimal performance of your rack, you need to take care of it. Here are a few basic maintenance tips that will go a long way:
Regular Inspection: Check your rack regularly for any signs of wear and tear. Look for damage and rust, especially on the moving parts and folding mechanism. Proactively replace and repair parts if you find signs of wear or corrosion.
Clean After Use: Cleaning your rack regularly is the easiest way to prolong its life. Remove dirt and grime with a damp cloth after use, and regularly wash the entire rack system with a mild detergent. This will prevent the build-up of road salt and dirt that can be abrasive and conducive to corrosion.
Lubricate Moving Parts: If you opted for a folding rack, remember to lubricate the moving parts regularly; a light application to the hinges and folding mechanisms will ensure they continue functioning as designed. Oil and silicone-based lubricants are also great in helping reduce the onset of rust.
Store Properly: When your rack is not installed on your car, clean it and store it in a cool, dry place. This will reduce moisture-related damage while not in use. If at all possible, store your rack indoors, especially if you live in a coastal environment where the elements are a catalyst to several types of corrosion.
Tighten Bolts and Fasteners: Regularly check and tighten all bolts and fasteners on your rack. Your rack can accidentally detach if any of these come undone during transit. This can cause damage to your rack, cargo, and car but, more importantly, can be a real safety hazard to you and your family and other road users.
Compact folding car racks have many benefits and many reasons for getting one. Hitch-mounted bikes and cargo racks are particularly useful by ensuring you can still access the trunk or hatch of your car without having to load and unload heavy gear all the time. These racks are versatile, easy to store, and designed to make your life easier.
You will be presented with many different designs and options when you decide to get one of these. As with any costly purchase (yes, they are not cheap!), check your specific needs and do proper research before you make your final purchase decision.