Christmas road trips present a unique problem for many drivers – where are you going to put all of those presents? Dashing through the snow is a challenge when you have to stop every few miles because those suitcases you bungeed on to your car’s roof keep flying off. (Not to mention that it’s extremely dangerous to the folks in the cars behind you.) This is the time of year when many people opt to purchase a cartop carrying system – but determining which one is right for you can be a daunting proposition. Here’s a look at the different types of cartop carriers, and the things to consider if you’re looking to buy one. (We’re going to discuss carriers that are available for cars that have aftermarket racks systems like those made by Yakima and Thule, as well as those that can be used on manufacturers’ roof racks and even directly attached to your car’s roof.)
Car Top Cargo Baskets
These are metal or plastic baskets that attach to your car’s existing roof racks, or clip/hook on to the ledges on the side of your car. The positives here are that cargo baskets provide a solid base with sidewalls, which help to keep your loads secure on the roof. Luggage can be secured via elastic cargo nets or rope. The downside is that your cargo will be exposed to the elements – if you’re driving through snow, you’ll need to make sure that your luggage is waterproof, or cover it with waterproof material. If you have to cover it, you’ll need to take additional measures to make sure that the covering is securely attached – winds generated at even moderate speeds can pull those covers right off.
Car Top Carrier Bags
Soft carrier bags provide a weatherproof option for transporting cargo on your car’s roof. These bags come with strap systems that allow them to be secured to the roof (again, either by attaching them to a rack, hooking them to ledges, or running those straps through the inside of the car itself). It’s a good idea to spend a bit more on a carrier bag – don’t skimp on material quality, as flimsy bags with poor zippers can let in water or even tear. The biggest problem with carrier bags is that if they are not packed full, the bag itself will flap in the wind – which can cause excessive noise, and may even cause the straps to loosen. Carrier bags, like cargo baskets, have poor aerodynamics; this can noticeably lower your car’s gas mileage, something to consider if you’re planning on taking a long road trip.
Car Top Cargo Boxes
The most secure – and most aerodynamic – option for rooftop cargo transport is the cargo box, or cargo pod. These boxes are made of dense, impact-resistant materials (plastic, fiberglass, even carbon fiber) and most modern designs are streamlined (this allows winds to easily pass over their surface, reducing drag). Cargo boxes also either come with built-in locks or allow you to put locks on them – which means that your stuff will be safe if you pull over to grab a bite to eat, or spend a night in a hotel. The downsides: hard-shell cargo boxes can be expensive, and they do require your car to either have a manufacturer’s roof rack or an aftermarket rack to install. But if you take a lot of long road trips, buying one may be worth the investment.
There are also a few other options that you may want to consider. If your car has a trailer hitch, there are hitch-mounted cargo carriers that attach to the back of your car via that hitch. And if you need a cargo carrier but don’t want to fork out a lot of cash to buy one, many outdoor equipment retailers and even individuals actually rent them.