Car Roof Rack Systems and Roof Types

Roof rack systems (sometimes called crossbars or rails) are devices that allow you to carry items on top of your car, and they are really cool. The most common use is for carrying:

  • bicycles (you will also need roof bike racks, not only a roof rack system itself), 
  • kayaks (with the help of a kayak rack), 
  • roof boxes (are installed on a roof rack system as well), 
  • skis (a ski rack is required), 
  • snowboards (a snowboard rack is required), 
  • or even fishing rods.

As you can see, roof rack systems are absolutely required to install any of the abovementioned items (bike racks, roof boxes, etc.). So to say, buying and installing a roof rack system is a necessary step to be able to carry basically anything on the roof of your car. This is the case because, let’s say, a roof box can not be installed directly on the roof of car. It must be attached (in most cases) to a roof rack system.

Why roof rack systems are so great:

  • Carrying such bulky items on top of the car will save you a lot of space inside,
  • Moreover, it will keep all dirt outside, which is another big reason to use roof racks,
  • Roof racks are cross items compatible meaning that you have to buy just one roof rack systems to carry all above mentioned outdoor equipment (not at once, but some of them can be mixed together),
  • You can carry, let’s say, two bikes and a roof box at the same time (or skis and a roof box, etc.),

Some cars come with roof racks installed from the factory while others need to be purchased separately. The installation process typically takes less than an hour and can be done by a common person without much experience if they follow the instructions and consult with a professional if there is any doubt.

Are roof rack systems universal?

In general, roof racks can be installed on any type of car, but there might be some restrictions depending on the make and model of the car. To be more precise, the roof type of your car is the only thing that matters at the end of the day.

There are 4 car roof types, and each of them requires a specific roof rack system:

  • Bare (naked) roof cars,
  • Fixed mounting point roof cars,
  • Raised rails roof cars,
  • Flush rails roof cars,

Don’t worry if you are not sure what all this means. I will go through each roof type further in the article (with images) explaining which roof rack systems are compatible.

Before moving further, I would like to tell you that in general roof rack systems are roof type universal. It means that if you have a raised rails roof rack, it will fit all cars that have raised rails roof type.

For example, let’s say you have a Nissan X-trail (comes with raised rails roof) and your wife/husband has a Toyota Rav-4 (raised rails as well). It means that if you buy a roof rack system compatible with one of these cars, it will be compatible with another car as well, or any other car that also has raised rails roof type.

Bare (Naked) roof cars and compatible rack systems

Here is how a typical bare (naked) roof looks like. 

As the name suggests, it is just a bare roof, no mounting points, no rails (neither raised nor flush), nothing. So if your car has this roof one, then make sure that you are buying roof racks that are bare roofs compatible.

Fixed Mounting Points roof cars and compatible rack systems

Here is how a typical fixed mounting points roof looks like.

As you can see there are several holes in the car’s roof. A roof rack system will be installed exactly where the holes are situated. Moreover, fixed mounting points roof racks come with pins that will be connected to the mounting points. That way the whole construction will be sturdy.

As you have figured out, there is no way to install fixed mounting points racks on, let’s say, bare roof cars because they simply won’t fit since there are pins sticking out.

Raised Rails roof cars and compatible rack systems

Here is how a typical raised rails roof looks like.

As you can see there are two rails, one on each side. A roof rack system will be installed on the rails, not directly on the roof as it takes place with bare and fixed mounting points racks.

Flush Rails roof cars  and compatible rack systems

Here is how a typical flush rails roof looks like.

Flush rails roofs are very similar to raised rails roofs in the sense that both of them have two rails. The only difference is that when it comes to flush rails they are not raised. As a result, you would not be able to install raised rails racks on flush rails roofs, and vice versa.

Things to consider buying a roof rack system

  • Make sure that the roof rack system you are about to buy is compatible with the roof type of your car,
  • Different roof racks have different load capacities (normally, around 150-170 lbs) so make sure that the roof rack system will be able to carry your loads,
  • Consider aerodynamics since it can affect your MPG and noise level,
  • Some roof racks are universal in the sense that you can install on them any devices (such as roof boxes, bike racks, etc.) of any manufacturers while others are not (for example, on a Thule roof rack system you will be able to install only Thule bike racks).


How much do roof rack systems cost? The cheapest roof rack systems start from $150. Roof racks of decent quality will probably cost you around $350-$500. Since you can easily assemble and install roof racks on your own, it does not imply any extra costs.

Are roof rack systems easy to install? Some roof racks come preassembled so it won’t take you longer than a few minutes to install them. Others are required to be assembled before you can install them. Even if this is the case, it won’t take longer than half of an hour.

Can you install roof racks yourself? You absolutely can do it yourself since it is not rocket science at all. Just follow the instructions and you are going to be fine.

Are car roof racks removable? Yes, they are not permanent and can be removed within a few minutes. Moreover, it is advisable to do so since even empty roof racks will negatively impact your MPG.

How much weight can roof racks hold? A typical roof rack system can carry around 140-170 lbs (63-77kgs) so keep in mind. There are some limits to how much weights roof racks can carry and if you overload them, they can get broken and damage your car or other vehicles on the road.

Will roof racks affect MPG? Even empty roof racks will reduce your MPG up to 10% (depending on some factors such as your car’s body type, your speed and roof racks model). 

Are roof racks noisy? Most roof rack models are moderately noisy so they probably won’t be annoying, especially if you go for aerodynamic racks. Some of them may be too noisy but it can be fixed with the help of a windshield fairing.

Do roof racks damage your car? A properly installed roof rack system won’t damage your car. Especially if you buy a premium segment model.


The bottom line is that if you would like to carry anything on the roof of your car (be it bikes, a snowboard or anything else), you will have to buy a roof rack system in order to be able to do so.

The main thing you will have to consider is the roof type of your car. Make sure that the roof rack system is compatible, can carry the weight you are planning to put on it.

Also, you’d better not go for the cheapest models. They will save you only $200-$250, but can easily damage your car.