Roof racks and roof bars buyers guide

If you’re looking to add a little extra storage to your car, perhaps for those larger-than-life family trips or just to make room for your bikes, then you might be considering getting yourself a roof rack or roof bar. But before committing to your roof storage of choice, you’ll want to know the ins and outs of what is available so you can make an informed decision.

What are roof bars and roof racks?

Both roof racks and roof bars fill the same role, providing you additional means to store items, but which one you choose largely depends on what you are using that storage for.

Roof racks are typically modular in nature, giving you a rigid and set amount of additional space. These are excellent for those who want to use their new space for particularly heavy items, as roof racks are usually larger and stronger than roof bars, but they also, unsurprisingly, stand out more, even when not in use.

Roof bars, as you might expect, are a set of bars that run horizontally across the roof of your car. They range between two and six bars and are generally more discrete than a roof rack. The trade-off is that they aren’t quite as robust and are therefore better suited to medium-weighted items. A good rule of thumb for roof bars is to only load around 50kg of weight.

In case you were wondering (or perhaps were slightly confused), roof rails aren’t the same as roof racks or roof bars. Roof rails are typically installed when the car is built and are used as a platform to attach additional storage onto (such as roof bars). These tent to lie across the length of your vehicle, from bonnet to boot. You can get storage that doesn’t rely on roof rails, but make sure you know if your car has a set before you buy any storage, as this will be important in deciding what is best for your vehicle.

There are, of course, more choices than just a roof rack or roof bars. Take roof platforms for example. These are very similar to roof racks, but have more space for all your gear, so they’re ideal for carrying bulky cargo or extracurricular gear, such as kayaks. Then there are accessories, like roof boxes or tent platforms, that can be added either for more protection or even more space!

Additional accessories along with a range of roof racks and roof bars that are sure to be the perfect fit for you can be found at Autoparts. Check out the full selection on offer right here.

Choosing which roof system is best for your vehicle

There are a range of roof bars available for your vehicle, make sure you know which one best suits your needs before investing:

  • Square bars – These are the classic roof bars that you’ll find on most vehicles. They are made from steel and offer a sturdy framework for your luggage.
  • Aero bars – These are very similar to square bars, but are made from aluminium rather than steel, and are therefore a lightweight alternative.
  • Thule wing bars – These are unique to the Thule brand, also made from aluminium, but are more aerodynamic, reduces drag and improving your fuel efficiency.

There are also different types of roof rails. The difference are mostly cosmetic, but it pays to know the different shapes and sizes of roof rails:

  • Bare roof – Your car has no rails! That doesn’t mean you can’t use roof bars, but you’ll have to buy ones that hook around your door openings rather than to roof rails.
  • Fixed points – Your car doesn’t have any physical rails, but rather a series of screw points that are usually covered by a sliding tab.
  • Closed or flush rail – These are rails that have no gap between them and the car.
  • Open or raised rail – Similar to closed rails, but they have a small gap between the rail and the car to make attaching roof bars easier. 

Factors to consider

Finally, before you buy anything, it’s always best to double-check if your roof storage solution best suits your needs, and if your vehicle can even accommodate it.

  • Vehicle compatibility
    • Make sure your car can actually accommodate your selection – does your vehicle have roof rails? Does your choice need roof rails or does it specifically require there to be no roof rails?
  • Check weight capacity
    • Make sure your selection is appropriate for what your plan to use it for. Can it handle the weight of the storage? Or, if you’re planning on using a fraction of its weight limit, is there another more appropriate choice?
  • Consider aerodynamics and noise
    • Adding anything to your car will affect its aerodynamics – the larger, the most dramatic the difference. This will not only affect your car’s handling, but also the wind noise and its fuel efficiency.
  • Budgeting
    • The costs don’t just include the costs of the storage, you’ll need to factor in for additional fittings and accessories as well. 

How to fit a roof bar/roof rack

Getting your roof storage fitted is generally a simple process – roof bars and roof racks can in fact be installed by yourself if you’re feeling adventurous.  The process will be entirely dependent on your car – whether you have a bare roof, fixpoints in place or a raised roof fitting.

Most cars will have a bare roof and will require three separate parts: the roof bars, foot packs to attach the bars and fitting kits which connect the feet to the roof. If you have fixpoints or a raised roof fitting, you might just need the foot packs which can be fitted into the mounting points, allowing you to add the roof bars or rack.

If you do decide to go for it yourself, you should make sure you have someone to help you, the instructions specific to your roof rack, any tools or equipment you need close to hand and a clean roof so everything will attach with ease.

The easiest way though is to arrange a local garage or Arnold Clark to do it for you for a nominal fee.


Can you put a roof rack on any car?

You’ll find that most cars can have a roof rack installed. Even if you don’t have pre-installed roof fittings, you can still attach a roof bar – there are different types of fitting systems dependent on your type of vehicle.

What can you put on a roof rack?

Roof racks are very versatile – but depending on what you plan to carry, you might need additional mounts or resources. There are plenty of accessories you can add to transform the capabilities of your roof rack.

For example, they’re perfect for those who have an outdoor hobby – whether you need to carry a bike, a kayak, a snowboard or even a tent for a camping trop. Or, if you’re heading on a holiday and need extra luggage, you could add a purpose-built roof box to carry extra clothes or a suitcase. For the heavier items, you’ll need to make sure they’re either packed in the car, or you equally distribute the weight in your roof box and use straps to secure everything in place.

Will roof bars damage my car?

If your roof storage is installed correctly, it won’t damage your roof at all. However, if some screws or clips are overtightened, you might see some warping or scratches. Just make sure you follow the instructions or arrange for professional help.

Can I leave roof bars on my car?

Yes, you can leave your roof bars or rack on your car – especially if you’re constantly transporting bikes or equipment. Our products are made from durable materials so you won’t need to detach and reattach them every time you head out with your bike.

However, if you want your roof bars to last for as long as possible and you don’t use them often, it may be a good idea to remove them and put them away in storage. If they’re less exposed to the elements, you won’t have to replace them too often. Also, if you have a roof box on top of your car, you may not be able to take advantage of some car parks with height restrictions.

Will a roof rack affect fuel economy?

Even if your roof rack is made of lightweight materials, it will still add some weight to the top of your vehicle – therefore increasing the drag and burning more fuel. If you opt for aerodynamic roof bars, you’ll feel less of an impact but it’s always important to make sure their attached correctly.

If you have heavier items, we’d recommend packing these inside the car so they don’t affect the stability of your vehicle too much.

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