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How to Choose a Roof Cargo Box

How to Choose a Roof Cargo Box

For most people a cargo box is the best choice for adding car storage space - it provides secure, weather-proof storage for all kinds of gear, without buying a bigger vehicle.

Yakima Cargo Box - Camping

Cargo boxes are great for road trips, camping, families, ski trips, and a lot more. But cargo boxes are not cheap - usually falling in the $400 - $800 range. It's important to know what to look for so you're getting the best box for your money. Generally speaking, the bigger a cargo box is the more expensive it is, and some models have extra features that add to the price.

Important Notes:

  • All cargo boxes require a roof rack with crossbars to be already installed on your vehicle.
  • Cargo boxes come with universal mounting hardware . This means they can attach to any type of crossbar - round, square, aerodynamic, or factory.
  • Make sure your rear hatch will be able to open all the way without hitting the cargo box. If you're unsure about hatch clearance,contact us.


There are two basic variations of cargo box shape - short and long. Most longer boxes will fit snowboards and some skis (make sure to check cargo box length against ski/board length before buying). Shorter boxes won't fit skis or snowboards - these are best used for general camping / road-tripping / climbing etc.

Thule and Yakima - the top two brands - both offer ski/snowboard specific cargo boxes that are long enough to fit any ski/board, and are low-profile.

Cargo BoxThule large cargo boxYakima SkyBox cargo box


Cargo boxes range from less than 10 cubic ft. of storage, to over 20 cubic ft. of space. If you're rocking a Honda Civic you probably aren't going to be able to use a 21 ft. sized box, while if you have a Suburban, the smallest boxes won't add much relative space to your existing capacity.

The most popular models usually fall in the 16 - 18 foot range (see pictures above). Here's a general guideline to the amount of gear a cargo box can hold:

  • 12 cubic ft. or less: fit gear for up to 2 people
  • 12-18 cubic ft.: fit gear for up to 3 people
  • 20+ cubic ft.: fit gear for up to 5 people


Dual-sided opening. Most cargo boxes on the market today open on either side, making it easy to load and unload from either side of your vehicle.

Aerodynamic shape. Some cargo boxes offer more streamlined profiles than others, helping keep wind noise down when at high speeds.

Fancy styling. Higher-end cargo box models will offer some distinctive styling - usually involving color or texture - not found on the average cargo box.

Common Issues

While cargo boxes are great, there are a few problems that can come up with your cargo box. Some of the most frequent issues include:

  • Broken keys. We see a lot of cargo boxes with snapped-off keys in the handle. Thule and Yakima make sturdy lock systems, but it's still very possible to break the key if you use too much force!
  • Broken hinges. Usually this is just normal wear and tear over the life of a cargo box. We stock replacement hinges for some - but not all - cargo boxes.
  • Overloading. If you can't fit it past the open sides of the cargo box, don't force it! This can damage the hinges, or prevent you from properly locking the lid.
  • Running into things. Surprising or not, a lot of damage to cargo boxes and roof racks happens from running into garage doors, low parking structures, and other hazards of the urban environment (damn you drive-through). Always remember that a cargo box can add up to two feet of height on your car!

Used Cargo Boxes & When to Buy

Everyone wants a cargo box in the summer or winter, so if you're on the lookout for the best deal and can be flexible with your timing, buy a box in the fall or spring. At ReRack we also offer used cargo boxes - these are available only in our retail store.


Depending on your needs, you may also think about some alternatives to a rooftop cargo box.

Yakima Rooftop Cargo Bag

Cargo Bags: A less expensive, smaller, soft bag version of a cargo box. You can load a decent amount of luggage/gear into cargo bags.

+ Cheap - Can't fit long items
+ Compact - Not waterproof (provides some weather resistance)
+ Roof rack not required (usually) - Not secure
- Not super long-lasting

Thule Roof Cargo Basket

Cargo Baskets: A moderately priced option that is just what is sounds like, roof cargo baskets are good for larger/bulkier gear, and have a lower profile than cargo boxes.
+ Can fit long/odd shaped items - Not secure
+ Moderate price - No weather protection
+ Easy loading and unloading

Thule Hitch Cargo Box

Hitch Baskets & Boxes: An open basket, or closed box, that fits onto the rear hitch of your vehicle. A great option for large coolers, firewood etc. and provides a very low load height. Usually seen on SUVs or minivans.

Cargo Box Rentals

Another great option is to just rent a cargo box instead of buying it. If you're in the Portland area and need a cargo box for a one-time trip, you're in luck! We have cargo box rentals available at our retail store - find out more and make reservations here.