Relatively recently I realized that the boot on my wagon simply wasn’t going to big enough for the family holiday. Fortunately, the answer is really simple and it doesn’t involve all the hassle associated with hitching and pulling a trailer. I’ve kept that option in reserve. The simple solution is to fit a universal roof rack.
This is indeed the best solution but it turns out there are a lot of different universal car roof rack options available. That’s why I did my research and discovered the ten best universal roof rack products; so you don’t have to.
Get the Right Type
It’s easy to dive straight into a list of the best universal roof racks but it’s important to understand a few basic principles regarding the roof rack.
You can mount almost anything to a set of universal roof rack crossbars. The classic roof box will help you carry extra items and is especially beneficial for holidays. You can also get clamps to hold your bike in position or a locking system for your skis, snowboard or even your surfboards.
Alternatively, the roof bars can help you to carry a mattress to the tip or pick up a new piece of furniture.
The universal roof rack crossbars can range in price from approximately $50 to $200. This difference in price is reflected by the roof bar you purchase; it’s not just a higher price or the better-known manufacturers.
A basic universal roof rack will usually be made of steel. These are strong but heavy which will increase the amount of drag on your vehicle; reducing the number of miles per gallon you’ll get.
The best universal car roof rack will be made from aluminum. These are much lighter although still very strong. They also tend to be shaped with aerodynamics in mind; helping to reduce extra costs when driving.
You’ll also need to be aware of the design. The most basic universal roof rack will have a clamp at each end. This mounts onto the door frame of your vehicle with a soft pad on the roof. Tightening the clamp secures these roof bars in position ready for use.
In contrast, the curved bars tend to be designed to fit specific vehicle roof bars. These roof racks are designed to clamp onto the roof bars that are already mounted on the roof of your car. Most estates and SUV’s have these. They are generally referred to as “raised roof bars” and they run along the edge of your car roof for most, if not all the length.
Newer vehicles may have a similar design but use solid roof rails; there is no gap between the rail and the roof although the rail will still raise the universal roof rack cross bars off the roof by at least an inch or two.
You can also find bars that clip into fixed points on the roof of your vehicle. These can be on any type of vehicle; you’ll need to have a look at your roof or check the owner’s manual to see if this is an option. It’s worth noting that this type of mount is usually hidden under a plastic flap; to maintain the sleek profile of the vehicle.
The fixed point can actually be the hardest to find and you may need to get a specific roof bar to match your vehicle.
With that in mind it’s time to take a look at the 10 best universal roof rack options:
The CargoLoc is designed to be fitted to a vehicle with raised roof bars. It is stylish looking and aerodynamically designed. This means you’re not going to notice extra fuel consumption even if you leave the universal roof rack cross bars on all the time.
Aluminum has been used to make every part of these roof bars ensuring they are strong and will not rust out over time. They are designed to handle 150 pounds of weight; which should be enough for most purposes.
The bars have a curved design to improve wind flow and make them look more stylish; the effect works. Despite the simplicity of the design, it has some important features. The clamps are black and also made from aluminum although they are coated in black plastic and have a soft rubber mount to ensure no damage is done to your vehicle.
Built into the mounts is a locking mechanism that will ensure your universal roof rack cross bars stay firmly on your vehicle; whether driving under load or parked in a particularly dodgy area. The bars come with two keys that and the lock is situated to the side of the bar; keeping it discreet but easily accessible.
A nice touch is the limited lifetime warranty that comes with the CargoLoc 2 Piece. The bars measure 52” from one end to the other. This means they’ll fit any vehicle providing the gap between your existing raised roof bars is no more than 46 inches. These are described as a universal roof rack because they should fit any vehicle with the raised roof bars.
It’s worth noting that even if you don’t lock the roof rack onto your vehicle the clamps are exceptionally strong. This will make it difficult for someone else to remove and help to ensure your load doesn’t move when in transit.
The bars themselves weight just 8.6 pounds and measure 52” x 3“x 5.8 inches. One great thing about the CargoLoc 2 Piece is that you can install both bars in less than fifteen minutes; by yourself. However, it is worth noting that several users have commented that the lock can be a pain if you’re constantly taking the rack on and off. It is possible to remove the locking cylinder if you wish or simply leave it unlocked.
It is also important to note that you can get wind noise from the CargoLoc 2 piece roof bars. This has been reported by several customers. This appears to be due to the groove cut into the top of these bars. It’s possible that the groove is just to make the bars look better; it certainly makes it look like items can be slid across the roof on the bars.
In reality, they can’t and this groove acts as a whistle. The best thing you can do is tape up the gap; this will dramatically reduce or eliminate the whistling noise.
There is little doubt that the cargoLoc 2 Piece rooftop crossbar system is the best value for money that you can buy; aside from a few small issues which can be resolved, it’s as good as the offerings from the top manufacturers.
Available at: Amazon
This is a great offering from Apex although it lacks a little of the style that the CargoLoc 2 Piece managed to bring to the table. The Apex RLB 2301 is also designed to fit onto your raised roof bars but it has a distinctive square profile. There’s no indication that these bars have been designed to be aerodynamic and reduce drag. Instead, they are completely functionally.
The Apex RLB 2301 universal roof rack crossbars are made from steel. This is coated with black epoxy powder to give the bars a stylish finish and help protect them from the elements. If the epoxy coating becomes damage you’ll need to cover the metal underneath, steel rusts surprisingly quickly.
The Apex RLB 2301 roof bars are designed to handle loads of up to 130 pounds. This should be adequate for most things although it, unfortunately, falls short of the capabilities of the CargoLoc 2 Piece.
A good feature of this universal roof rack offering is the fact that it can fit vehicles with a width of up to 46.5 inches between the outside edge of one raised roof bar and the outside edge of the other. The rail size should be no more than 1.75” wide and 1.75” high. You’ll also need a gap of at least 1.75” between the roof and the raised roof bars on your vehicle.
The feet of these roof bars are covered in rubber to protect your vehicle and they are adjustable to ensure you can get the right angle for a strong grip on your vehicle. It’s worth noting that the square design of these roof bars actually makes it easier to load some items; the load is more evenly distributed despite the fact that the bars are not designed to take as much weight as some of its competitors.
It is impressive that these bars weight just 7.25 pounds and measures 52 inches x 5 inches x 2 inches. They are marketed towards the all-terrain type vehicle but are a universal roof rack design; ensuring they can fit any vehicle with raised roof bars providing the roof bars are not angles. The clamps will not work on this type.
Again it is imperative that you consult the manual before installing the bars. This will provide the information you need including torque settings and where the bars should be installed.
These bars use a simple clamping system. There are two sections of a claw, one goes on each side of the bar and they are then tightened into place with an easy access knob. As mentioned it is important to do these tight enough without over-tightening.
However, it is worth noting that there is no locking mechanism on this roof bar solution. The tightening knobs are designed to be easy to use but this will means that others can use them easily and remove your roof bars even if you don’t want them too. In addition, if you try to over tighten the bars you’re likely to bend them! This is a potential design flaw and a good reason why you should never over tighten them.
Available at: Amazon
It’s possible to say these are great for those on a budget but they are actually not better priced than the CargoLoc 2 Piece. Where these do come into their own is the fact that they can be put onto the roof of any vehicle and simply strapped in place.
While I can’t recommend them if you frequently travel with roof bars; they are an excellent choice for occasional use. The Apex RCB 3745 universal roof rack crossbars are actually completely universal.
It doesn’t matter if you already have raised roof bars, solid roof bars or an empty roof; you can easily use these to pick up a new piece of furniture, help moving home or even get rid of unwanted junk.
The bars are made from steel making them strong and capable of handling loads as high as 150 pounds; assuming your roof is capable of handling that level of load. It’s worth noting that the bars are actually tubular; this helps to ensure their strength and may make it easier to slide things onto your roof. You may be surprised to learn that the Apex RCB 3745 weighs just 5 pounds!
As always it’s important to follow the fitting instructions to ensure you have the correctly positioned.
The Apex RCB 3745 universal roof rack is 47.75 inches long from end to end. It has triangular-shaped feet that have a base of 5 inches x 3 inches. These need to be securely stood on your roof. It is possible to adjust the angle of the feet and to move them closer together; there are several holes on each side where the feet can be pinned to. This should ensure it can fit virtually any vehicle.
The feet have rubberized bottoms to ensure they won’t mark your vehicle and they’ll stay firmly in place as you drive down the road. Once in position, a strap that is already attached to the feet is fed through your vehicle. You’ll need to open the door and allow the strap to go between your door and roof. This will prevent any additional strain from being placed on your door.
The two straps are then fastened together with a clip and ratchet, allowing you to get them nice and tight.
It is worth noting that on a wet day the rain will travel down the straps and drip inside your vehicle. You may want to think about where you are positioning the straps before you start driving.
You also need to have at least 4 doors n your vehicle; you can’t run both straps through the front door as the rails will be too close together. The back doors have to open to allow the strap to be secured and the load carried safely.
There have been several users who have commented that you need to glue the feet to the bar to ensure they stay firm and that even then it doesn’t always work. However, this is a budget offering which is great for occasional use. If you’re hoping to use it all the time then there are better products on the market.
Available at: Amazon
This is another universal roof rack that doesn’t rate high for style but is very good at getting the job done. The SportRack Complete comes with every bit you could need to fasten it to your vehicle. It can be used on any vehicle; as long as you have 4 doors. It can even be used if you already have raised or sold roof bars.
The SportRack Complete is a square roof bar made of steel and coated in black epoxy. The bars look a little bland but are capable of holding weights up to 130 pounds. Once in position, you should be able to put your kayaks, bike, skis or anything else on your roof without worry.
The bars weigh a healthy 9 pounds and you’ll need to consult the fit guide to find your vehicle and where the bars should be positioned. The SportRack complete is 50.5 inches long, 3.8 inches tall and 5.8 inches wide. You should be aware that there are actually several different bars that can be purchased. Your best choice will depend on the vehicle you’re driving:
- SR1001 – 56” x 5.8” x 3.8”
- SR1002 – 50.5” x 5.8” x 3.8”
- SR 1003 – 45.5” x 5.8” x 3.8”
- SR 1004 – 45.5” x 5.8” x 3.8”
- SR 1005 – 45.5” x 5.8” x 3.8”
- SR 1008 – 45.5” x 5.8” x 3.8”
- SR 1010 – 50.5” x 5.8” x 3.8”
- SR 1098 – 47” x 4” x 3”
- SR 1099 – 53” x 4” x 3”
Every bar has rubber feet to protect the surface of your vehicle. The rails are adaptable for any vehicle between 2 inches and 75 inches. Obviously, a 2-inch vehicle is only going to have one roof bar.
The SportRack is a door type universal roof rack. The sturdy clamp has a rubber base to avoid damaging your paintwork and the clamp sides into the side of your vehicle above the door. In fact, closing the door helps to keep the clamp in place. You will, of course, need a 4 door vehicle in order to fit two roof bars.
You can adjust the width of the clamps on the bar to ensure they sit in the perfect position for your vehicle. You can also lock the bars into place; preventing anyone else from fiddling with the fastening mechanism and depriving you of your new roof bars.
It is important to look at the instructions before you punt this universal roof rack. The instructions will give you the distance that the towers should be positioned in. Do this before you tighten the bars and clamps and the fitting is easy. If you don’t you could end up with large door gaps and a lot of frustration.
It’s worth noting that the clamp that sits inside your car is rubber-coated; this is to protect your vehicle although it can actually be too thick to close the door properly; check it straight away. Once you’ve installed it once you’ll find it exceptionally easy to do it again.
Available at: Amazon
This is the second offering on this list that utilizes your door frame and solid clamps to hold the roof bars in place. In fact, this is a tried and tested solution which, when fitted properly, is extremely effective. However, it should be noted that while these bars are locked into place through your doors you do also need to have rain gutters on your vehicle. These are the small rails that poke out above your doors to collect water and distribute it away from the vehicle.
These gutters are necessary to anchor the feet of the Auxmart universal roof rack cross bars properly.
For this reason, it is recommended that you have the roof bars fitted by a professional. This will ensure they are in the correct position and no damage is done to your vehicle. To this end, the Auxmart universal roof rack crossbars are not actually supplied with a fitting manual.
Before you opt for this piece of equipment you need to note that your vehicle must have 40.75 inches between rain gutters. If you don’t then these universal roof rack cross bars will not fit properly or securely. If you don’t have rain gutters then this won’t be an issue providing you have between 45 and 48 inches between your car doors.
The base of the fittings is coated in rubber to ensure your paintwork does not get damaged. The clamp then slides inside the door frame and can be tightened into place. You will need a four-door vehicle in order to create the right gap between the roof bars and balance any load.
The bars themselves are square with curved edges. This provides maximum strength but also reduces drag; helping your car to be aerodynamic and preventing the bars from making any unnecessary noise.
The Auxmart universal roof rack bars look fantastic. They are well designed, surprisingly lightweight at 9.1 pounds, and measure 41” x 4.5” x 4.5”. They can handle weights up to 132 pounds and have a built-in locking system to prevent anyone from waking off with your universal roof rack crossbars.
The Auxmart bars are made from aircraft aluminum. They have a plastic base and stainless steel braces to ensure they are strong enough to handle your loads. You can even adjust the angle of the base feet by loosening the bolt on them and then retightening it in the right position. The whole kit is finished professionally by utilizing the rubber protective covers. They hide the bolts and the locks from unwanted attention and make the bars look cool.
This is a flexible and attractive option but it should be noted that several people have reported issues when putting kayaks on these racks. It appears the clips cannot handle the strain even if the kayaks are under the weight limit. But, if you’re not transporting kayaks then this is a great choice! The same thing can happen if you attempt to over tighten the clamps; it is important to get the balance right!
Available at: Amazon
The Rhino Rack Vortex SX looks good. In fact, it’s squat posture and wide, almost flat bars do make you think of a rhino! The bars are curved to allow for maximum strength and minimal drag; it doesn’t matter which way round you fit them they will help with your aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. It should be noted that these universal roof rack bars are designed to fit onto raised roof bars. If you haven’t got them on your car these are not the option for you.
It is also important to be aware that these are a lot more expensive than the other offerings on this best universal roof rack 2019 list. But, if you’re serious about shifting heavier objects and will be using a rack most of the time then this is the option you need!
These are designed to help you carry heavy objects; providing your vehicle roof can accommodate the weight. The bars are 60 inches long, 7 inches wide and just 5 inches tall. They weigh just 7 pounds but can comfortably handle weights of 150kgs! That alone can justify the price. In terms of carrying ability, the Rhino Vortex SX is a cut above all the other offerings on this list. If you’re regularly carrying loads in this sort of region then this is the only universal roof rack system you should be considering.
It’s interesting to note that the feet are actually detachable. At first, this may seem like an unusual feature but it actually enables you to use the roof bars with an array of different feet; effectively allowing you to transfer the bars between vehicles almost effortlessly.
These feet clamp around the raised rail already fitted to your vehicle. They can be tightened with a simple screw although it is important that you observe the right torque setting. You can also change the height of these clamps to list your rails higher or lower depending on what you’re carrying and what your needs are.
You’ll be pleased to note there are two locking mechanisms on the ends of each bar. One secures the bar to the clamp and the other the clamp to your vehicle. One key does it all but once locked in place you’re not going to be able to get the rack off in a hurry!
This bar has a soft strip across the top of it which will actually prevent the items you’re carrying from slipping or becoming damaged. This is important if you’re carrying furniture, your favorite bike or skies or even a priceless work of art!
The bars have no overhang and their low profile does make them look excellent on your vehicle; they are as much a style statement as a useful accessory. In fact, you can even choose your color; providing you want black or silver.
It is important to purchase the right roof bar for your vehicle. There are 7 different options and all have different lengths. Choosing the one that fits your vehicle properly is essential if you want to use the rack!
Available at: Amazon
This may seem like a surprising entry on this list but the Malone Handirack Inflatable universal roof rack is an ingenious idea.
As its name suggests this is an inflatable roof rack. The Handirack comes with everything you need to get it set up and fastened to your roof in virtually no time. In fact, it is possible to have it in position in less than 5 minutes! The pack comes with a handy bag to store the deflated roof bars, a small pump, and two straps to ensure the roof bars are firmly held in place. Of course, when it’s not in use it can be left on the roof or deflated and stored in the boot of your vehicle.
Installing the rack is surprisingly easy. You’ll need to place the two inflatable bars across the width of your roof at a suitable distance apart. Then connect the pump into the slot on the first bar and pump away. Once finished you can put the stopper in place and start on the second roof bar.
It’s worth noting that this pump is manual. At first, it would seem preferable to have an electric pump but this is probably an unnecessary luxury. It literally takes a couple of minutes to inflate a roof bar and an electric pump could easily over-inflate the bar.
Once you’ve inflated both bars you can fasten them into place. The soft ends of the bars should go between your roof and door. On the inside there are D rings built into the ends of the rack; the supplied straps go through these D rings and join together. A built-in ratchet system allows you to tighten them to the specified setting. It’s important not to over tighten them.
Repeat the process with the rear roof bar and you’re finished. All you have to do then is load and secure the items you want to carry and get going.
The roof bars are made from 420D 3-ply nylon; ensuring they are strong enough to handle anything you can throw at them. They can handle weights of up to 180 pounds but weigh just 6 pounds themselves. They are 37 inches long, 9 inches wide and 4 inches tall and come with a comprehensive 1-year warranty although it should be noted that this is not transferable.
It is essential to be aware that the Malone Handirack will fit the majority of vehicles providing you have 4 doors. However, if you have side curtain airbags this rack is not right for your vehicle. The pressure of the straps will either impede the performance of these airbags or may cause them to react as though you’ve crashed. Either scenario is not desirable.
One flaw that should be noted is exposure to heat. If you have a really nice day and you leave the handirack on your vehicle it is highly likely to deflate. Over time it is likely that this heat exposure will cause the breakdown of the air chambers and prevent it from working properly. As with the other strapped on universal roof rack bars on this list; if it rains you are likely to get drips inside your vehicle; where the water travels down the straps.
However, the convenience of carrying these in a small bag in your boot means this is the best option if you’re ever likely to need a means of carrying a load on the fly.
Available at: Amazon
Thule is without a doubt one of the most recognizable names in the car accessories market. They have built a reputation for quality products although they are at the higher end of the budget. One advantage of using a Thule system is that there is a huge range of accessories that can be added to the roof bars to give you the perfect solution; no matter what load you’re carrying.
These bars are stylish. They look almost flat although they actually taper very slightly from front to back. This makes them exceptionally aerodynamic. That’s probably why they’ve been called aeroblades.
The bars are made from high-quality aluminum with a rubber wind diffuser on the top of the bars. This helps to deflect the wind for aerodynamics and to ensure the wind noise is minimal when driving. In fact, tests show that this universal roof bar produces 13 decibels less noise than the previous best offering from Thule. In other words, it’s easy to forget the roof bars are there.
A built-in T-slot allows you to virtually effortlessly add Thule accessories; all you have to do is swing the end cap, side the accessory on and secure it into place.
There are actually 4 different versions of the Aeroblade. The only difference is the length of the bars; you can choose between 43 inches, 47, inches, 53 inches, and 60 inches. Perhaps the most impressive achievement is the load-carrying capacity of the Thule Aeroblade; it can handle a whopping 800 pounds despite weight just 5 pounds itself!
You can select any bar you ant for your vehicle, depending on the size of your car and the load you are intending to carry. However, it is important to remember that the accepted rule is not to have bars that are wider than your wing mirrors; that’s asking for trouble!
The bars also have a built-in measurement slide; it’s built into the bottom of them. This means you don’t need a tape measure to get the bars fixed in the right position.
It is important to note that you’ll be buying the bars; not the feet. Unlike most of the universal roof rack bars on the market Thule separate their products; you’ll need to purchase the feet separately. The good news is that you can choose the feet you want! It is compatible with:
- Rapid Crossroads feet
- Rapid Aero feet
- Rapid Tracker feet
- Rapid Traverse feet
- Rapid Podium feet
The foot you choose will slide into the underside of your Aeroblade. You will need to look at the manufacturer’s information in order to establish where you should position the feet. These feet can then be clamped around your raised roof rails. The bars are locked to the feet and the feet can be locked to your car rails; ensuring the universal roof rack system is securely positioned on your car. Of course, you will need to buy the locks separately.
The design is simple yet elegant; allowing you to complete the installation in surprisingly little time.
Available at: Amazon
The final contender on our list is a lesser-known brand but a surprisingly good one. Rola is actually one of Australia’s premier suppliers of universal roof rack systems and cargo-carrying equipment. They’ve been in business for over 30 years; they know what they’re doing!
The Rola 59899 comes in two sizes; 47 ¼ inches long or 51 1/8 inches long. It’s another system that is designed to fit onto your raised side rails. One of these bars will do the job if the gap between the outside edges of your raised rails is between 41 3/8 inches and 48 7/8 inches. That means it will fit the majority of vehicles currently on the road.
The bars look good. They are anodized aluminum with a black rubber strip running down the middle of the top side of the bar. The construction of them is sloped to ensure the best possible aerodynamics. Aluminum has been chosen because it is lightweight but exceptionally strong. Under the bars are the clamps which are made of stainless steel to provide strength without rusting.
The steel is coated in molded nylon and rubber pads to avoid damaging your raised rails when in use. A great feature is the locking system. The feet can be locked to your raised rails and the roof bars locked separately. This allows you to remove just one section and it makes it much easier to fit; simply position the feet and then slide the bars through.
The Rola 59899 can handle weights up to 165 pounds; that should be enough for most people. Of course, you’ll need to check that your vehicle can actually handle that much weight first. It is 53 inches wide, 4.38 inches high and 7.13 inches wide and weighs just 12.8 pounds; light enough to handle by yourself.
It is important to note that the ends of the roof bars appear to be open, creating wind noise. This is only because it arrives without the locks in position. These slot into the ends, completing the look of the bars and ensuring wind noise is kept to a minimum.
One point that needs to be mentioned is the complication of the fitting. In principle it is straightforward. However, in practice, many people have struggled to complete the task in less than 30 minutes the manufacturer recommends. The instructions are complicated and you will be best to do it with a friend; at least for the first time.
It is also worth noting that the bars have a tendency to work loose after long journeys; you will need to check the tightness of them every 600 miles or so. However, as tempting as it maybe you don’t need to over tighten the nuts; that is more likely to do damage to your vehicle than ensure the roof bars stay on properly.
You may also be surprised to see that you have eight keys with your new universal roof rack system. This is because there are different locks on each of the bars. To remove the bars you’ll need to have a key in each lock at the same time.
Available at: Amazon
The Icebeamer is another universal roof rack system aimed firmly at vehicles with raised bars. You’ll vehicle will need t to be between 36 inches and 43 inches between the outside edges of your two raised rails. This will ensure the Icebeamer 50 fits.
These rails are made of polished silver aircraft aluminum; making them extremely strong and they look fantastic! The bars have built-in locks to help ensure that they remain where they should be; on the roof of your vehicle. In addition, the locks are tucked inside the ends of the bars with an overhang above them; this protects them from the rain and potentially rusting out.
The clamps are discreetly positioned under the universal roof rack bars and will fit square bars as well as curved factory bars. This makes them a safe bet for most car owners although you should always check the fitting guide first.
The bars are 13 pounds, a little heavier than some in this list but this is merely a testimony to the fact that they are well built and extremely durable. They measure 60 inches by 6 inches by 4 inches.
A great bonus when you purchase this is the manufacturer’s warranty. It covers all defects for the lifetime of the product but only for the first owner. This shows the confidence they have in their own product.
The bar itself on this product is square; this means it provides a solid surface to handle the weight of anything you want to load. It is certified to handle loads up to 150 pounds although the square shape is likely to produce some noise and drag at speed. This won’t be an issue if you are only using it for short distances but if it’s part of your preparations for a family vacation you may wish to get one of the other options on this list.
This is a well designed and easy to use universal roof rack system but you must verify that you are purchasing the right one.
Fitting the Icebeamer 50 universal roof rack system is very easy. You simply place the bar in position and tighten the clamp around your existing raised roof bars. You can then clamp on the other side and loosen the nut for the top bar. This will allow you to ensure the bar is centrally located on your vehicle.
It is worth noting that there have been a few issues with the customer service offered by Icebeamer. While this shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve ordered it correctly you may struggle if you’ve decided it fits your vehicle ad it doesn’t. That’s why it’s essential to check the measurements first. Icebeamer will only offer an exchange or refund for 30 days after your purchase.
You may wish to note that this roof bar system actually comes with 3 keys; that’s unusual but much appreciated. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to lose all of them!
Available at: Amazon
How To Choose The Best Universal Roof Rack
There are several things that you should think about before you purchase your universal roof rack:
The first thing you need to consider is what you are intending to use your universal car roof rack system for. If you’re just thinking that it could be useful for a camping trip or picking up the odd item of furniture then you’re probably best looking at the Malone Handirack or one of the other systems that can be easily put on and off your vehicle; such as those that strap through your car.
On the other hand, if you’re always out on your kayak, bike or some other adventure then you probably need to opt for one of the top-end products; perhaps the Thule Aeroblades. This will give you the security you need to keep the universal roof rack on the vehicle at all times and the flexibility to change mounts according to your daily needs.
Of course, there are many grades between these two and plenty of universal roof rack systems to choose from.
Fittings On Your Vehicle
It is also essential that you look at what is already on your vehicle roof. You can purchase roof bars that are designed to fit on a vehicle with raised rails; unless you have raised rails.
It is not easy or cost-effective to add raised rails to your vehicle.
Equally, if you have more than one vehicle you should consider which vehicle is most likely to be used with the roof bars and whether the other one will ever be used. If there is a chance that it will be used then the universal car roof rack system you purchase must fit both vehicles.
It is much easier to fit roof bars with door jambs onto more than one type of vehicle; this should be possible even if you have raised rails. If this fits your description then you’ll probably want to choose the SportRack Complete system.
Of course, if you only have one vehicle and it has recessed fitting then you’ll choose the most appropriate universal roof rack system for that vehicle.
As an additional thought, it is worth considering how often you change your vehicles and whether you are likely to change it again soon. This may influence the type of fitting you need and your subsequent choice of rack.
Are Locks Necessary?
If you use your roof bars for a specific trip, such as your annual family vacation then they are not often in your car. Combine this with a locked garage for your car at home and the ability to remove the roof bars at your destination and you’ll probably feel safe not having a locking universal car roof rack system.
But, you should consider whether you’re likely to stop anywhere or forget to take the bars off. There are a number of possibilities that can occur whenever you take a trip; these can mean that your vehicle is left unattended.
The alternative is that you’re always using your roof rack system. In this instance there is no question; you’ll need to choose a system that is lockable. Of course, you’ll then need to decide whether the universal car roof rack system you would like to get has locks on it. If it doesn’t you’ll need to question how much extra do they cost and can they be fitted? It may be more cost-effective to purchase a more expensive set of roof bars.
Modular or Complete System
The complete system fastens to your roof and is ready to be used. You can load almost anything onto it up to the designated weight limit. However, you’ll need to devise your own method of securing the various items to ensure they are fastened properly and will not move during transit. This is a perfectly acceptable system; especially if you’re simply planning on fitting a roof box or something similar.
However, if you need to carry different things you’ll probably prefer to get a modular system; such as the Thule Aeroblades. These systems provide you with bars that fit your roof just like the complete systems.
The difference is that you can slide or clamp different accessories to the roof bars. This will allow you to easily take your skis, surfboard or bicycle with you. Modular is definitely the best for flexibility but you need to consider how often you need to be that flexible.
Reaching The Rack
One consideration that many people don’t think of is how easy is it to reach the rack? If you have a vehicle with a high roof and then you add a universal roof rack system to the top are you going to be able to reach it? Standing on the sill of your vehicle is an option but may still not be enough.
You can purchase a step that slots over one of your wheels and will give you a boost or you can carry a stool with you. The real question is what you are intending to carry; this will help you to decide how often you’ll need to reach the center of your roof and how best to do it.
Surprisingly not all roof rack systems are the same height; choosing a lower one can make your life much easier.
Whenever you’re looking to buy something you should be considering your budget. There is no point n spending a fortune on a universal roof rack system when you don’t have the available funds and a cheaper alternative will do.
If you plan ahead regarding why and when you’ll need a universal car roof rack system you should be able to budget for the exact one you want. But, you shouldn’t get carried away by brands and images; choose the one that fits your needs the best; even if it is the cheapest.
Most of the roof bars on this list will take approximately 150 pounds in weight. This should be sufficient for most needs. However, there are a few that can handle greater weights but you’ll need to check what the maximum weight allowance is for your roof.
You don’t want to load your vehicle up to find the roof starts to cave in!
You’ve probably heard of the most established and well-known brands such as Thule. But this doesn’t mean that they are the only option.
There will be a factory fit solution and any of the universal roof rack systems on this list will do the job nicely. However, you should be wary of any names you’ve never heard of before. If you’re considering purchasing a rack from an unknown manufacturer or supplier then it is important to verify their reputation first.
The best way to do this is to look on social media sites. You should be able to find honest feedback from other customers. You’ll need to bear in mind that it is very rare for any manufacturer to keep every customer happy. What you should be assessing is whether the number of positive comments outweighs negative ones and how the manufacturer/supplier has dealt with the negative ones. This can tell you a lot about their customer service quality.
You may not have thought about the profile of your universal roof rack system before but it is worth considering.
The closer the bars are to the roof the less drag they’ll create. Of course, it will also help if they are shaped to encourage the wind to go over them.
However, being closer to the roof doesn’t necessarily mean less or no wind noise. You’ll need to look at the design of the roof bars to see where air can be caught and what bits may flap in the wind.
The more you drive with the roof bars in place the more important it will be to reduce drag and noise. This is especially true if you’re about to drive a long distance.
You should also spare a few moments to consider what material the universal roof rack system is made from. Steel is very strong but also very heavy. Aluminum is a better choice while heavy-duty nylon, (like the Handirack); is light and durable but may wear quickly with items being slid over it.
Again you’re intended use will play a part in this, as will your budget but it is worth spending a few moments considering it.
Finally, you need to take a look at the installation instructions; they can be unnecessarily complex. This may not be a huge issue if you are fitting the bars once and leaving them on. But, if you intend to take them on and off you’ll want a system that is easy to put on and off.
Again social media is one of your best friends in this regard. Most universal car roof rack systems have instructions but only someone who has already used them will be able to tell you if they are any good or not.
Fitting The Roof Rack Yourself
Anyone should be able to fit their own roof rack but it is advisable to get a little help. This will reduce the risk of the bars banging on your roof and scratching it. This is really frustrating if you have an almost new vehicle!
It is vital to check the instructions before you install the universal roof rack crossbars. There will be advice regarding the torque settings and exactly where the bars should be fitted. It’s a good idea to get it right before you start using them.
Before you fit any universal roof rack you must make sure the area where it is being put is clean. Dirt and grit can seriously damage your paintwork over a few hundred miles. This is especially important if you have a door clamping roof bar system.
Another good idea is to put a little bit of copper grease on all the bolts before you tighten them. This will make it much easier to remove the rack at a later date.
Finally, once the universal roof rack is in position tighten the bolts. But, you should only tighten them to the specified torque settings. Doing them too tight is likely to damage your vehicle and the roof bars. In extreme cases, it can even cause it to fail.
Safety & Accessories
All universal roof rack systems should be manufactured to a specified standard which ensures they are safe to use; providing you follow the fitting instructions and install them correctly.
However, these instructions don’t cover securing loads to your vehicle; this is just as important. You need to make sure they are tied to the roof bars so that they cannot move in any direction. This will ensure you don’t need to worry about them if you have to brake suddenly.
There are also a number of accessories that can be purchased to go with your roof bars:
- Locks – if they don’t come with them fitted already.
- Bike mounts – to carry several bikes on the roof.
- Ski mounts – for skis!
- Roof boxes – this is generally the hard type, soft cargo containers sit on the roof of your vehicle and don’t always need roof bars.
- Clamps – some manufacturers sell their roof bars separately from the clamps. This can make it easier for you to buy the perfect one for your vehicle.
- A Rack – an open rack is not as popular as it used to be thanks to the arrival of the roof box. However, it can be a valuable aid on your journey and allows you to put a variety of odd-shaped objects on your roof.
- Cargo Nets – perfect to cover any load and help to ensure it stays where you put it.
- Cargo Box – these are great for carrying personal belongings on vacation. They increase your boot space while retaining most of the aerodynamic attributes of your vehicle.
- Lights – an extra set of lights illuminating your way can be clipped to roof bars or roof racks. Alternatively, they’ll help you to see your load when it’s dark.
- Cargo straps – it doesn’t matter how secure your universal roof rack system is if you don’t secure your load to it and your car. You can purchase a variety of straps to ensure you’re safe when traveling.
- The Best Universal Roof Rack System
The bottom line is that the best universal roof rack system for you is not necessarily the same as the one your best friend or neighbor has. You need to consider all the points mentioned regarding how to choose a universal car roof rack system. This will ensure you know exactly what you need and help avoid you being taken in by the beauty of some designs.
You will find that at least one of the universal roof rack systems on this list will meet your needs perfectly. Each of them has a place; it simply depends on what you will be using it for and how often you’ll need it to be put on and off.