To answer the question of whether car bike racks are universal or not we need to establish which type of rack you would like to get:
- Trunk (mount) bike racks are universal nine times out of ten. The only obvious limitation that comes to my mind is cars with a rear-mounted spare tire (which would require a special spare tire rack). Other than that, they are universal across different makers, models, and body types (sedan, hatchback, SUV, van).
- Rooftop bike racks are completely universal since these guys are getting installed on roof racks or crossbars. As a result, as long as your car is equipped with any of before mentioned installation systems, you are good to go.
- Hitch bike racks are absolutely universal as well. There are indeed different sizes of hitches, and your bike rack may not be compatible out of the box, but this problem will be easily solved with the help of an adapter.
However, some other factors may affect the answer to your question so you’d better read bike rack specific type compatibility guides.
You might be wondering how it is possible for trunk bike racks to fit not only different models but different car body types as well. The answer is that trunk bike racks are consist of adjustable parts (rack frame itself and usually 6 straps). So to say, you will be able to adjust both of them to be able to fit sedans, hatchbacks and SUVs.
However, please keep in mind that even though trunk bike racks are all cars compatible most of the time, sometimes they do not fit specific models. As a result, you need to check your car’s compatibility before buying this type of rack anyway, just to be completely safe.
Also, as I have mentioned earlier, the only major reason that your trunk bike rack might not fit your car is that the car has a spare rear installed on the trunk. However, even if this is the case, some trunk racks are compatible with rear-mounted spare tire cars. As a result, you need to check the compatibility on the manufacturer’s website.
Do Roof Top Bike Racks Fit All Cars?
To transport your bike on top of your car you will need these two main elements:
- An installation system, which is going to be either a roof rack system (for bare roof or fixed mounting points cars) or crossbars (for raised rails or flush rails cars).
- A roof bike rack itself, which is going to be installed on roof racks or crossbars.
Answering your question, all roof bike racks fit all cars as long as the car has got at least some installation system equipped, which was produced by the same maker as the bike rack. Even though the makers of the installation system and the bike rack are different, they will fit almost always anyway (I would check the compatibility in this case).
On the other hand, installation systems are not compatible with all cars. There are 4 roof types: bare (naked), fixed mounting points, raised rails and flush rails. Each roof type requires a specific installation system. As a result, you have to make sure that an installation system fits your car.
Once you have chosen a compatible roof rack or crossbars on which you will mount your bike rack, you can easily install on it basically any roof bike rack.
The last thing to mention here is that, let’s say, a Thule installation system plus a Thule bike rack will be perfectly aligned, whereas, for example, a Yakima installation system and a Thule bike rack will fit in 99% of cases (anyway, it is always better to check the compatibility), but might not fit absolutely seamlessly (though you are going to be fine anyway).
Do Hitch Bike Racks Fit All Cars?
All hitch bike racks fit all cars, eventually. The only exception is rear-mounted spare tire cars. This type of vehicle requires a special hitch bike rack since there is not enough space to fit a normal one.
It is true that trailer hitches are different in terms of their receiver size and loading capacity:
- Class 1 Hitch: 1-1/4-inch receiver size (cars and crossovers)
- Class 2 Hitch: 1-1/4-inch receiver size (cars, crossovers and minivans)
- Class 3 Hitch: 2-inch receiver size (crossovers, vans, SUVs and trucks)
- Class 4 Hitch: 2-inch receiver size (trucks and SUVs)
- Class 5 Hitch: 2-1/2-inch receiver size (dually and chassis cab trucks)
However, the absolute majority of hitch bike racks fit trailer hitches out of the box. This is the case because basically all trailer hitches installed on cars are either 1-1/4-inches or 2-inches. The same can be said about hitch bike racks, which go with the same size of either 1-1/4-inches or 2-inches.
Even if, let’s say, you have got a 1-1/4-inch trailer hitch installed, it won’t be a problem to connect it with a 2-inch hitch bike rack. The only thing you will need is an adapter.
The bottom line is that in most cases car bike racks are universal. However, given that there is always a small chance that it won’t fit, you need to check the compatibility anyway. The good news is that it is normally an easy task since the majority of racks makers provide an opportunity to check the compatibility with a particular car’s model and year on the official website.