Car Cargo Carriers – How to Choose

A car cargo carrier is a wonderful way for a family to expand the storage space that their car offers when they are going to be on the road.

Rather than leaving behind important gear or clothing or making everyone in the car feel cramped or uncomfortable, investing in a cargo carrier is a good idea.

However, with so many different options on the market, it can be very difficult for a family to choose the right one for their needs. 

Because cargo carriers tend to be expensive, taking time to choose the right one is important. This will help any family, regardless of their size, choose the cargo carrier that is the right fit for them.

It will also ensure that their investment in a cargo carrier is an investment that will pay off for years to come. When shopping for a car cargo carrier, you will want to make sure to consider several different things. 

Careful consideration will result in choosing the best option for your family, saving you time, money, and frustration in the future.

One of the first things that you need to consider when shopping for a cargo carrier is how much money you have to spend. Some cargo carriers tend to be really expensive, especially if they are loaded with a lot of great features. 

While this may make you feel safe and as though your valuables are protected, these more expensive options may simply be out of your budget. It’s ok to look for a cargo carrier that is a little lower in price. 

This doesn’t mean that you need to sacrifice quality to find something that is a little more affordable. You may, however, need to spend a little more time finding the right option for you, but there are some great affordable options on the market that will meet your needs.

Type of Carrier

One of the most common and popular types of is a roof box. These are incredibly sturdy and generally very secure, which is why so many people tend to prefer them when they are shopping for additional storage space. 

Another great option, however, is a roof bag. They come with their own sets of pros and cons, which means that users need to weigh these two options carefully when they are shopping.

Hard Roof Cargo Carriers

Hard boxes are a popular cargo carrier option because they offer security and support. They are also generally waterproof and easier to lock than soft bags are. Thanks to their design and shape, these carrier options tend to be much more aerodynamic, which can help to lower the cost of a major trip.

One thing to note about these options, however, is that certain items won’t easily fit in them. Since the sides, top, and bottom are all rigid, it can be difficult to fit large or strangely shaped items in these carriers.

Soft Roof Cargo Carriers

Soft bag carriers are a great option for anyone who wants a more flexible carrier and is looking for an alternative to a hard box. They are usually very lightweight and have the added bonus of being extremely flexible, which means that they can accommodate a wider variety of options.

Some bags can easily fit on a naked roof, which reduces the expense and frustration of having to buy and install a roof rack. However, users need to be aware that bags aren’t always waterproof, especially when exposed to torrential downpours. They also don’t always offer the same security against theft as hard carriers do.

Be sure to check our full guide to Soft Roof Cargo Carriers

Type of Vehicle

Aerodynamic Thule BoxThe type of vehicle that you drive is another important consideration when shopping for a cargo carrier. Most cargo carriers fit on the top of the car, which means that you have to consider how your vehicle opens as well as how much space you have to support this box or bag.

Smaller vehicles may require a smaller carrier, as otherwise the cargo carrier can extend down the front of the car and block the view from the windshield. This can be very dangerous and can cause accidents. 

On the other hand, choosing a cargo carrier that extends too far down the back of the vehicle can make it difficult, if not impossible, to open the back of the car, especially if it is a hatchback.

It can be a fine balancing act to find the carrier that is the right option for your vehicle. Luckily, manufacturers have taken notice of this problem and now offer online tools to help buyers find a carrier that will fit their vehicle. 

It’s still important to consider the other factors on this list when shopping, as this will make it even easier to narrow down choices to find the right one.

Type of Roof Rack

The type of roof rack on a vehicle will play a huge role in what cargo carrier you opt for. Some cars have a naked roof, which simply means that there aren’t side roof rails or cross bars. While it is possible to find a great carrier to fit on a naked roof, this can be a bit tricky.

Other cars have side rails or a full roof rack. These tend to be easier to fit, as they are designed specifically to hold a carrier. It is still important to check the mounting of the carrier that you want to buy so that you can be sure that it will easily fit on your roof rack without sliding or without making installation difficult.

Check out: GoPlus Cargo Box

While some cargo carriers are only designed to fit on a specific rack, the GoPlus box is designed to fit easily on most common types. 

This makes it a great choice for many different people, as they won’t have to worry about adjusting or updating their rack system. 

It’s always important to double-check to ensure that the carrier you choose will fit securely and correctly on your rack.

Type of Storage

This is one of the most important things that shoppers need to think about, as the items that they are going to be storing in their cargo carrier will play a huge role in which carrier they decide upon. 

Skiers and snowboarders will obviously need an option that is long enough to accommodate their gear without it being in danger of becoming damaged. Fishermen will also need to look for longer boxes, as these are designed to allow the poles to rest easily in the carrier without being bent.

However, families who are just in need of a little extra space when traveling won’t necessary need a long and lean carrier. They may be happier with a shorter and stumpier option, as these are generally very easy to load and unload.

They also are better for accommodating larger objects, as they do not rest as flat against the top of the car as long and lean carriers do.

Be sure to check out our Roof Cargo Box Storage Guide.

Check out: SportRack Horizon

This is a great examples of a long and lean cargo carrier, although it is not as long as some on the market. 

The flatter design of the box helps to spread out the weight across the roof of the car and also ensures that the box doesn’t cause too much drag when on the road.

Thanks to the design of this box, it’s great for storing longer items without having to worry about bending or breaking them. It’s only 15.9” high, which means that it doesn’t have a lot of height, reducing the type of larger items that can be easily stored and transported in this carrier.

Worth a look: Car Top Cargo Rooftop Storage Box

With an impressive height of 19”, it’s easy to see how this cargo carrier can easily fit taller or bulkier objects. 

This makes it a great option for families who are going to be bringing toys and other bigger items with them on the road.

The trade-off, of course, is that this carrier is not very aerodynamic. However, it’s easy to evenly distribute any cargo in the carrier, and it’s also easy to remove the carrier from the roof. This means that users can easily take it off of the car after a trip and instantly improve their gas mileage.


Cargo carriers range in size from very small, at less than 10 cubic feet, to more than 20 cubic feet. Car owners who have smaller vehicles will obviously need to choose a smaller option, as will smaller families. 

Generally speaking, the more members in a family, the more belongings they will want to bring on a trip. This will result in their having to buy a much larger carrier option to store all of their items on the road easily. 

Be sure to take a look at our Roof Cargo Box Size Guide.

Check out: INNO BRA240BK Ridge Cargo Box

This INNO cargo carrier is a smaller option with an internal size of just eight cubic feet. While this may not seem like very much additional space, it may be all that a small family or an individual needs when going on a trip. 

The great thing about these smaller carriers is that they tend to be lighter in weight and easier to put on the car. Thanks to the small size of this INNO as well as its ability to fit on most factory racks, including Aero, square, and round racks, it’s an accessible option for a lot of people. 

It’s great for users who may struggle to open or lift a larger box and is a wonderful choice for use on smaller vehicles, as well.

Worth a look: Thule Force XXL Cargo Box

On the other end of the spectrum is this significantly larger Thule box, with an internal capacity of 21 cubic feet. 

The larger size of this box makes it a great option for bigger families or for people who are taking longer trips where they will need to bring more items.

Along with the larger capacity, however, is a heavier weight. This box can be a bit tricky for some users to put on their car. However, thanks to how aerodynamic it is, it is a good option for leaving on a vehicle in between trips, as long as it is not left indefinitely on a car.

Frequency of Use

How a carrier is mounted on a vehicle can play a huge role in how easy it is to get it back off of the vehicle. Some families are happy to mount their cargo carrier on their vehicle and then leave it there for years, while others want to be able to take it off after every trip. 

Users who want to mount it once and then leave it in place won’t need to worry as much about how easy the carrier is to mount. However, people who park in small garages with low clearance or who want to store their carrier off of their vehicle will be happier with an option that is easy to remove.

Check out: Thule Force XT

Users who want to be able to take their cargo carrier off of their car for storage without having it be a big battle will want to consider this option from Thule. 

It’s designed to be very easy to mount, thanks to the inclusion of a Power Click system. This fast-mounting system makes it easy to snap the empty box onto the roof rack. Removing the carrier is just as easy once it is empty.

It’s simple to pull the box off of the rack, allowing users to store it when not in use. Doing this will help improve the gas mileage of a vehicle, and since cargo carriers aren’t designed to be on the car when not in use, it can also help to extend the life of the carrier itself.

Worth a look: Thule Force XXL Cargo Box

Thanks to the U-bolt mounting system on this cargo carrier, users won’t ever have to worry about whether or not their belongings are safe.

Unfortunately, this secure system also makes it really difficult to take the roof box back off of the car.

The included mounting kit is easy to use and ensures that the carrier doesn’t shift position when on the road, but it is so secure that it can be a problem. This is not a great option for any user who wants to be able to easily take their carrier off of their car and put it back on without having to spend a little extra time and put forth some effort to do so.

Opening and Accessibility

Some cargo carriers open a lot more easily than others do, which means that users will have faster and easier access to their belongings. One issue that a lot of families have when choosing a cargo carrier is knowing how they are going to be able to open it.

It’s best to look for a carrier that will open easily and to consider what side of the road you will be on when you are opening your carrier. Some only open on one side, which can make using them in certain situations difficult. 

Other cargo carriers open straight up or on either side, giving users easy access to their belongings.

Check out: Yakima ShowCase

One major problem with opening a cargo carrier when on the road is that the person accessing the carrier can be in danger of getting hit.

Opening a carrier while on the side of the road can be really dangerous unless you open the carrier from the shoulder. However, opting for a box that only opens to one side can limit your options if you are camping and parked by a tree or are in a tight parking lot.

This Yakima roof box solves the problem by offering dual-sided opening. This box is designed to open quickly and easily from either side, allowing users easy access to their belongings. 

No matter where you are stopped or what the conditions are, you can easily get to your items when need be.


The safety of anything stored in a cargo carrier is also something that should be taken into consideration. It can be dangerous to leave precious belongings in a carrier for an extended period of time without considering how secure the carrier is. 

It’s always a good idea to look for an option that has an advanced locking system. This will help to ensure that all items remain safe.

Check out: Thule Motion XT XL

One of the features of this cargo carrier that really helps it stand out from the others on the market is how well it locks and how secure it is once the lock is engaged. 

Unlike other boxes that can sometimes be popped open with a little effort, even when locked, this Thule box is incredibly secure. It boasts an impressive locking mechanism.

This locking mechanism is designed to keep users from accidentally shutting the box and leaving it unlocked. The box actually automatically locks the lid in place so that users aren’t able to forget to lock it. 

It also is designed to indicate when the box has been securely closed and locked, giving users great peace of mind that they their belongings will all be protected.

Weight Limit

Some cargo carriers have lower weight limits than others do, which can limit what items can be stored in them. Families or individuals who are going to be bringing very heavy gear with them will want to look for a cargo carrier that has a weight limit high enough that the carrier won’t be damaged. 

The problem with putting too much weight in a carrier is that it can be damaged and that items may not be secure or safe.

Check out: Malone PROFILE18S

This durable cargo carrier roof box has an impressive weight limit of 165 pounds. This is great for any family who wants to be able to carry a lot of gear, clothing, or toys in the carrier and doesn’t want to worry about whether or not their items will remain secure.

Not only is it able to hold a lot of items without being damaged or without the box becoming less secure, but this cargo carrier is easy to use and features an impressive internal and centralized locking system.

This system makes it easy for users to ensure that their carrier is securely locked whenever they are on the road. Thanks to the security that it offers as well as its higher weight capacity, this box is a great choice for most any family.


Roof cargo carriers are notorious for being bad for gas mileage. Anyone who is going to be using their cargo carrier on a long trip needs to make sure that they opt for one that is aerodynamic and won’t cause too much wind resistance. 

Choosing a bulky carrier can provide more space for belongings, but often has the unintended effect of making trips more expensive, as the car will suffer from lower gas mileage. 

Be sure to check out our guide to Aerodynamic Roof Cargo Boxes.

Check out: Yakima SkyBox

One of the most aerodynamic options on the market today is the Yakima Skybox. It is designed to rest flat against the vehicle, which really helps to cut down on wind resistance. 

This makes it a great option for any family who will be taking longer trips and wants to keep their gas cost as low as possible. This box is not only aerodynamic, but it also checks a lot of other boxes on a shopper’s list.

It’s designed to easily fit on most crossbars, making its installation fast and simple. Additionally, Yakima boxes in general are known for being some of the most secure options on the market. 

This means that once you have it secured to your vehicle and it is tightly locked, you won’t have to worry about the safety of your belongings. It’s designed for use on long grips and works well for this purpose.


As you can see, choosing a car cargo carrier can be tricky and is not something that people should undertake lightly. While it can be tempting to buy the first cargo carrier on the market, this will usually result in regret in the future. 

By carefully shopping for the right option and making sure that it will meet the needs of a family before purchase, any family can rest assured that they have chosen the best cargo carrier for their trip.

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