Roof Rails VS Roof Racks: What You Need to Know

Roof rails and roof racks, which is better? Roof rails and roof racks can easily be misunderstood for one another.

Now you probably have heard that these are two different things but it is quite easy to be confused when talking about either of them.

Below in this article, we will be covering the differences between a roof rail and a roof rack, the different types of attachments that can be used with them, and also different roof rack and roof rail products that you can buy.

Also, you’ll learn whether it’s necessary to have roof rails or roof racks on your vehicle.

What is the major difference between a roof rail and a roof rack?

These two things are similar in that they both allow you to carry items on the roof of your vehicle securely but one of the most noticeable differences between the roof rails and the roof rails is the ways the bars are oriented when regarding the vehicle.

The bar of the roof rails run along the length of the roof of the car from the front to the rear. The roof rails usually come already installed by the manufacturer or can be installed separately. While the roof racks are bars that are securely mounted to the vehicle’s roof from one door end to another door end (right to left).

Roof rails

Roof Rails VS Roof Racks

Roof rails can be seen on larger vehicles like the SUV, minivans, and lacking in vehicles like sedans, coupes but it is important to note that it cannot be installed in all vehicles that lack them.

On their own, they are not used as carrying items on their own but they are used to mount other cargo carrying items such as crossbars, etc or cargo accessories like cargo boxes securely and it keeps them stable.

Roof racks

Roof Rails VS Roof Racks

They are sometimes called crossbars and are added to the vehicles from dealerships. It is also important to note that unlike roof rails, roof racks are designed to handle more weight and are hardier.

Types of roof rails

There are two types of roof rails not mentioning differences in style of color.

Flush roof rails

These are sleeker and when it comes to fuel efficiency, they provide it better for your vehicle.

Elevated roof rails

This roof rail as the name implies is elevated an inch or two of the roof of the vehicle.

Ropes can be tied down on them and this really nice about it. Below are some roof rail products

Examples of roof racks

Perrycraft DS3865-B Dynasport 38” roof rack

Roof Rails vs Roof Racks


This roof rack offers a system that is quite common to factory-installed rails. With its low profile aerodynamics, the medium-duty racks provide a load capacity of 75lb when weight is evenly distributed but if you have heavier loads.

It can be combined with the Dynasport roof rails with mont blanc gripper load bars giving a load limit of about 220lbs. this roof rails can be easily resized for a custom fit

Details and feature

  • Side rails, as well as crossbars, protective roof slats, installation hardware with very detailed instructions, are included along with the roof racks
  • Very easy to install
  • It adapts easily to roof contours as the crossbars allow the side rails to pivot very easily matching the vehicle’s roof shape for easy adjustments too.
  • Requires to be drilled into the roof as it is designed to be permanently installed


  • 65*38*2,5 inches
  • Item weight: 9.63 pounds

Perrycraft AVXX48-B Aventura black 48” roof rails

Roof Rails vs Roof Racks


This is the best alternative when you have a naked roof but you also want to install your own roof rail. One of the best ideal solutions when it comes to durability.

These roof rails are compatible with almost every brand of add on crossbars. The ends of the rails are drilled into the roof of your vehicle and this is very easy to do.

The Adventura roof rail provides a sleek style enhancement to SUVs, minivan, full-size vans, pickups, CUVs.

Note; this roof rail is designed for permanent installation and they have a maximum load capacity of 220 lb

Details and features

  • Made with T-6 aluminum finished off with a durable powder coat and this will provide it with years of beauty along with functionality
  • It’s aerodynamically and sleek contour style accentuates the look of any vehicle. They are also designed to be easily cut down for custom fit if needed or when desired
  • It is very easy to install with stainless steel fasteners providing a quick no stress installation
  • It provides a great grip for add on crossbars and this roof rail does require to be drilled into the roof panel using the detailed instructions that are included


  • 48*2.5*2.5 inches
  • Roof rail weight: 4 pounds

Thule complete crossroad system

Roof Rails vs Roof Racks


This consists of a set of load bars that attach to your car factory roof rails so there is no need for a fit kit. With this roof rack, you’re sure of a custom fit and secure attachment with its rubber-coated steel straps.

Along with the roof rack, A 4 pack of Thule locks are added for security and it is worth adding that this rack system comes backed by a limited lifetime warranty.

Its friendly user design makes it eys to install with no tools necessary. Can carry weight up to 165 lbs and fits most roof rail designs


  • It comes preassembled for vehicles with existing factory roof rail
  • You’re sure of a custom fit and secure attachment with its rubber-coated steel straps and no fit kit is necessary
  • Security is important and 4 pack of Thule locks are included


  • 60*6*4 inches
  • Item weight: 14.5 pounds

CargoLoc 2-piece aluminum rooftop crossbar set

Roof Rails vs Roof Racks


With a load capacity of 150 lbs, this roof rack gives your roof rails an added extra weight capacity.

For maximum security, it is designed also with a built-in lock system and comes with a limited lifetime warranty.

This is designed to be mounted on a roof with raised cross rails and very easy to install, and when mounted it’s not permanent.

They can easily be mounted and dismounted when you don’t want to use them. Its adjustable clamp system is one of the best for this product type.


  • 3*52.5*5.75 inches
  • Item weight: 8.6 pounds

Yakima Whisp bar

Roof Rails vs Roof Racks


This roof rack with its aerodynamic performance includes four towers which give you the option of not having to mount on standard roof rails.

The 4 Smart foot mounts are cushioned and this helps prevent any scratches appearing on your vehicle.

The bars of this roof rack can be used with different mounts since the mount they came with can be removed. This roof rack has a maximum load capacity of 220 lbs which is above average.

Details and features

  • This roof rack system accentuates the appearance of your vehicle while its extended length through bar roof rack system provides carrying capacity
  • Its optimized aerodynamic profile helps reduce noise by reducing drag by up to 70%
  • You can attach and remove it in seconds. comes with an integrated lock for maximum security
  • Very easy to install and has a maximum weight limit of 165lbper pair


  • 50*7*6
  • Item weight: 1.31 pounds

Yakima jetstream crossbar

Roof Rails vs Roof Racks


This product is not only durable but it is aerodynamically designed. This roof rack can be used on vehicles with or without roof rails.

A very important thing to note, this roof rack even when mounted on roof rails is exceptional quiet making noise close to zero.

Details and features

  • The crossbars are destined aerobically with premium alloy and with an exceptional noise reduction
  • The crossbars are coated seamlessly with powder accentuates the roof of the vehicle
  • Incredibly strong, lightweight, and really quiet when on transit


  • 55*3*3.5 inches
  • Item weight: 9 pounds

It was mentioned before that some vehicles already come with roof rails installed by the manufacturers straight from the factory.

This can be seen in some wagons, some sedans, and some other vehicles. You will have to look at options for vehicles that do not come equipped with roof rails as an option

Benefits of installing roof rails

Roof rails serve as a base for roof rack mounting, below are some other benefits of roof rails

  • Roof rails can be used on different types of vehicles including SUVs, some vans, sedans, and so on.
  • They are really sturdy because they are screwed to the roof of your vehicle
  • Roof rails serve as a base for different crossbars or roof boxes/ cargo carriers.
  • Roof rails assist in the carrying of some sporting equipment like kayaks, snowboards, skis, etc
  • They are difficult to steal and can serve as a base too for steel or aluminum roof racks

Benefits of installing roof racks

This is mounted on top of the roof rails or cross bars

  • Roof racks are awesome for carrying large cargo or gear like kayaks, ski
  • There is easy access to the trunk and you do not have to worry about how to put all the cargo inside your vehicle
  • You are able to lock all your sporting gears to the roof rack to prevent it from getting stolen
  • This presents the opportunity and versatility when choosing a cargo carrier that will be used to mount all cargo thereby leaving extra space in the vehicle
  • Another benefit of a roof rack is that when not in use, they can be removed and stored until it needed again.
  • Roof racks also offer gear transportation for different seasons
    When determining the type of roof rails you want for your vehicle, you might be confused as there is a lot of different option out there and the reason for that is largely attributed to the fact that there are different type of roof of vehicles.

The possibilities the roof of your car may offer

Raised roof rails

As the name implies, these are rails that have a space between them and the vehicle, they are slimmer and are not really as popular as they used to be but they can still be seen in vehicles like a wagon.

They work with the same principle as other roof rails

Plain roof

Right now you will understand that almost all their name speaks for them. This means that there are no roof rails, raised roof rails, and definitely no fixed points and there are a few cars that this can be seen in.

It is important to note that to add roof racks to a vehicle with this kind of roof, you will be required to mount a crossbar that is raised or racks on the door jamb

Solid roof rails

This roof rack among all the others is the most durable because of the reason that there is no gap between the roof rail and the roof of the vehicle.

This might make you think that the can handle more weight when compared to other roof rails but really they are no different than any other type of roof rail when it comes to functionality.

It is found often in most of the modern cars with a sleek design

Fixed roof rails

This type of roof rails tends to be more difficult to mount roof rack on but there are found in many cars, not regarding their size.

What to consider before picking a roof rack

When picking a roof rack, it is not as simple and straightforward because there is a huge variety of a roof rack out there. But here are some things to look out for when choosing one

Look for the roof racks that fit your vehicle well before purchasing

You will want to define what you find convenient when choosing a roof rack because certain roof rack is easy to install while some need to be installed properly unto roof rails or crossbars.

Check the height and pick the one that best suits you

Check for the weight of your roof rack

In addition to the weight of your vehicle a roof rack also adds to this when mounted, so make sure to consider this and also consider the weight distribution

Pick the roof rack best suited for what you want to carry

Depending on the roof rack and whether it can be stored when not in use, look out for those that can easily it can be stored.

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