Roof Racks Vs. Roof Rails: What Are Their Differences?

Roof Rails vs. Roof Racks: What Are Their Differences?

You may not have enough space to transport everything you want to take with you inside the car, or you want to take bigger items, such kayaks or bicycles.

Then a roof rack or roof rails provide the best solution. They can carry anything that won’t fit into your car.

While roof rails and car racks are very similar, there are a number of differences that you should be aware of before additional storage for the roof of your car.

In this article, we find out more about the differences between roof rails and roof racks. We also explore the advantages of both.

Differences Between Roof Rails And Roof Racks

Both roof racks and roof rails will allow you to add more storage to your car, so you can also carry bulky or heavy items.

Let’s take a look at the differences between these two roof storage options for your vehicle.

Location On Top Of The Car

One of the main differences between roof racks and roof rails is their location on the vehicle. Typically, roof racks run across the roof of your vehicle from door to door.

In comparison, roof rails run along the length of your vehicle from the front to the back of the roof.


Together with the different location on the roof of your vehicle, car rails and roof racks also are designed differently.

Roof rails typically use just two crossbars, while roof racks usually have more than two bars across the vehicle’s roof to hold the load.

For this reason, roof racks are often referred to as crossbars. These crossbars stabilize the load and they spread the weight across your car’s roof.

That’s why, a roof rack can carry a lot more weight than roof rails.


As roof rails only have two crossbars, they allow for much more flexible storage solutions on the roof of different vehicle types, including 4×4 vehicles and SUVs.

There are two types of roof rails: elevated roof rails and flush roof rails. Elevated roof rails feature a one or two inch space underneath, which allows you to tie any ropes or attach a rack.

Flush roof rails sit flush with the roof of the car, which makes them much more aerodynamic while driving, saving you some fuel.

In comparison, roof racks are usually used to attach a roof box where your cargo is stored. This means you are quite limited in what you can carry with a standard roof rack.


Due to their different design and location on the vehicle, roof racks and roof rails also differ in their installation method.

Typically, roof rails come pre-installed with a vehicle and you may not need to worry about installing them yourself.

However, you can also buy after market roof rails that you can fit yourself. Make sure that you buy roof rails suitable for your car roof.

In comparison, roof racks always need to be installed. The exact way of installing your roof rack does depend on your roof rack system and the roof of your vehicle.

Most roof racks are placed between the two door jambs of the car but you will also find other types of roof racks.

If you are looking for a permanent, mounted roof rack, then you will need to drill into the roof of the car. However, this should be done professionally to ensure that there is no water leaking into the roof.

Benefits Of Installing Roof Rails On Your Vehicle

Roof rails used on a vehicle roof are typically a base for a roof rack. You can use roof rails on a range of different vehicles, including vans, SUVs and cars of any size.

As roof rails can be a mount for a large range of different roof racks or roof boxes, there are very versatile.

You can also get roof rails that carry large outdoor and sporting equipment, such as snowboards, skis or kayaks.

Depending on their installation, they can be permanently fixed to the roof or removed at anytime when not in use.

Benefits Of Installing A Roof Rack

Roof racks are typically mounted on several crossbars or roof rails. They can either be a roof box or other storage options to carry all your gear.

One of the biggest advantages of having a roof box is that you can lock it up which makes it relatively safe and prevents it from getting stolen.

Another benefit of having a roof rack is that you can store a lot more in the roof box rather than inside your car. This leaves much more space in your car, allowing for more seating options for passengers or more storage.

Similar to roof rails, roof racks can be easily removed when they aren’t in use.

Thanks to their flexibility, you can use roof racks with any type of vehicle roof.

What To Consider When Buying Roof Rails And Roof Rack

When you are looking for the right roof rails or roof rack for your car, there is a large variety on the market.

However, when it comes to finding the one for your vehicle, you will not to look out for a few things.

Make Sure It Fits Your Vehicle

One of the biggest mistakes that buyers of roof rails or roof racks often make is that they do not check carefully enough whether the system fits their specific vehicle.

Usually, care manufacturers recommend specific roof rack systems that fit the exact shape and size of your vehicle’s roof.

Some car manufacturers even sell their own branded roof racks. However, you can also buy racks from third parties but make sure that they are the right fit for your vehicle.

Easy Installation

Another thing to consider when buying a roof rack or roof rails is how easy it is to install.

This is especially important when you want to install the car storage solution yourself. If the roof rails need to be installed by drilling through the roof, then this is best done by a professional to ensure that there is no leakage.

Check The Weight Capacity

In addition to the fit and installation, you will also need to find a roof rack that is suitable for what you want to carry.

There is a large range of different types of roof racks available, which may be suitable to carry your specific equipment, such as bike racks.

You will also need to check the weight capacity. How much weight can the roof rack carry? And is this enough for all your equipment?

You should make sure that you do not exceed the weight capacity as this could damage the roof rails and your gear.

In addition, an overloaded roof rack also cannot distribute the weight across the roof of your vehicle evenly which means that it puts additional strain onto the roof of your car.


While roof rails can be used for any type of oversized items, roof racks are typically a storage system with a roof box.

Although both differ in their installation and design, they both allow you to carry extra equipment that does not easily fit into your car when going on a trip.

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