The first step in car racks is knowing about the main types of racks. Read on to learn about the major types of racks, what they are best used for, and some pros and cons of each.
Roof racks are the most common, versatile (and sometimes complicated!) type of car rack. Roof racks consist of three main pieces: towers, fit system, and crossbars. For more details on roof rack components go here.
With the right mounts, a roof rack can haul luggage, bikes, canoes, snowboards, and just about anything else you can think of! A special note should be made about cargo boxes and baskets - two useful products frequently mounted on roof racks to enable you to bring a lot more gear. You can read more about roof baskets and cargo boxes here.
Generally, roof racks attach to the car’s roof at the point where a connection between roof and rack can be made the strongest. This can mean around the door frame (naked/bare roof), around the car manufacturer’s pre-installed rails (Side Rails), bolting to pre-installed mounting points (Track & Fixed Point Fit), or drilling into the roof to create new mounting points (Custom Installation).
The type of roof rack you can use will depend on your vehicle. The main roof types include:
- Naked/Bare Roof
- Rain Gutters
- Fixed Mounting Point & Tracks
- Side Rails - Flush & Raised
- Truck Canopy & Camper Top
All roof racks provide the same basic function; some roof racks look more ‘stylish’ or ‘modern’ than others, and some will have improved aerodynamics to lower wind noise and decrease fuel consumption. The price of a roof rack will depend on your personal preferences, and car model. ReRack offers new, used and return roof racks.
Hitch racks are used mostly for bikes, but can also be adapted to carry skis, snowboards, or cargo boxes. These racks are inserted into the hitch receiver on the rear of your car. Most SUVs, and some cars come with hitch receivers - you can have one installed at your nearest Uhaul. Hitch receivers are either 1.25” or 2” in size, and you need to make sure your rack will fit. Many 1.25” racks will come with adapters to fit a 2” receiver, but bigger hitch racks (holding 4-5 bikes) typically only fit a 2” receiver, because of the extra weight.
Hitch racks start off pretty affordable, and as you get fancier features - swinging arms, extra soft cradles, 4-5 bike capacity - they will increase in price. Most hitch racks will be able to fold in against the car when not in use, to take up less space.
The two types of bike hitch racks are platform, and hanging. Platform style racks have your bike tires sitting in a tray, while hanging racks hold a bike by the top tube and leave the rest of the bike ‘hanging’. Main points about hitch racks include:
- Fit 1-5 bikes
- Locks are either built-in or can be purchased separately
- Requires a hitch receiver (built into car or installed separately)
- Hanging racks typically a little more compact when not in use
- Platform racks can hold heavier bikes and are easier to load
Trunk racks are a great option if all you need is a bike carrier. They are most commonly used on sedans, hatchbacks and SUVs without roof racks.
- Affordable - prices start under $100
- Fits 1-3 bikes, depending on the model
- Compact - easily fold down and store when not in use
- No other components required - put it on and you’re ready to go!
Note that when a trunk rack is in place, you won’t be able to open your trunk to access gear inside.
Spare tire racks are for vehicles with exterior spare tires mounted on the rear door - usually Jeeps and other SUVs. They are used to mount bikes; with a spare tire bike rack installed, you can still access the rear hatch (it is necessary to remove the bikes from the rack first).
- Fits 1-2 bikes
- Moderate price
- Compact and light
- Most racks will fit most spare tire sizes
Truck racks are commonly used for bikes, canoes/kayaks, surfboards/paddleboards, and cargo boxes. Depending on what you want to bring with you, truck racks and mounts range from very inexpensive to top-of-the-line premium prices.
- Can take up most of truck bed area (lift options exist)
- Can fit bikes; canoes; kayaks; skis; boards
- Wide price range, depending on rack requirements