Car roof boxes can be a lifesaver during those last desperate moments as you’re packing up your car for a trip.

Instead of playing a high-stakes game of Tetris trying to fit your boxes, bags, food, skis, and miscellaneous kids and dogs into the back of your vehicle, you can practically double the space you have available by taking advantage of the free real estate on your roof.

Roof boxes are best for awkward gear that takes up a lot of space, but isn’t that heavy. That includes equipment like skis and sleeping bags and extra clothing.

Of course, the price, footprint, weight capacity, security, and waterproof-ness of your box varies widely from brand to brand and model to model.

Here’s our guide to finding the best roof-top box to meet your needs:

6 Best Car Roof Boxes

The Best Overall Car Roof Box: Thule Motion XT Rooftop Cargo Carrier

thule motion xt rooftop cargo carrier
  • Weight: 42 lbs.
  • Capacity: 16, 18, or 22 cubic feet
  • Type: Hard Sided
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Lock: Yes
  • High Points: Highest capacity in terms of space, easy installation, high-quality construction, lightweight, aerodynamic
  • Low Loints: Some manufacturing inconsistency, expensive, doesn’t fit all vehicles
Why it’s a Top Pick:

This box is big enough to fit even the longest skis. It comes in several sizes to fit most vehicles and most peoples’ needs. It’s compatible with almost all factory-installed crossbars and aftermarket Thule bars.

Thule offers consistently high-quality products with high-quality standards, and it shows in every detail of the construction.

Compared to a Yakima box or other similar products, the Motion XT has much less drag. It blends in seamlessly with your vehicle. It is also virtually silent even at high speeds, and is made of lightweight fiberglass that makes it easier to load even with the big footprint.

What the Experts Think:

This is a dependable product. Reviewers report using it for thousands of miles in the worst hurricanes without leaking or any damage.

Unlike other competitors, it uses clamps with knobs which spin to lock. Those are much more convenient than U-bolts once you get the hang of it. It looks streamlined, but is well-designed, and looks expansive inside.

The grips on the bottom of the box slide back and forth until you tighten it down. That makes it easy to quickly adjust to fit the spacing of the bars on your roof. It can be easily accessed from either side of your vehicle.

Features and Considerations:

The fact that is has so much capacity can actually be a drawback: you’ll need to be careful loading it because there is so much room that you can easily overload the cross bars’ weight limit.

It’s big enough that you’ll need two people to install it safely and comfortably. The plastic is thin, which makes it lighter, but it is still fairly heavy, making the bigger version a better choice for SUVs and other larger vehicles.

It does seem to scratch easily, and the caps on the back can come loose, but these are both cosmetic, rather than functional, drawbacks.

The capacity inside is bigger than similarly sized models.

Runner-Up for Best Overall Roof Box: Yakima Skybox Carbonite Cargo Box

yakima skybox carbonite cargo box
  • Weight: 75
  • Capacity: 12, 16, 18, or 21 cubic feet
  • Type: Hard sided
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Lock: Yes (sort of)
  • High Points: Aerodynamic carbonite, available in multiple sizes
  • Low Points: Doesn’t fit all cross-bar configurations. Flex in the plastic makes it feel cheaper and makes it harder to close
Why it’s a Top Pick:

This is an equally well-made, slightly less expensive version of the Thule Motor XT. It’s very sturdy, has a large capacity, and is available in multiple configurations to fit your needs.

The vibration and noise while driving are minimal, and it is generally easy to install and durable.

What the Experts Think:

This is another popular option, though it lags behind the Thule because even though they are at roughly similar price ranges, it feels a little bit flimsy or at least not as perfectly constructed. The locking mechanism in particular is fragile and hard to use.

Features and Considerations:

It is possible, though difficult, to install with only one tall person. Make sure to not carry anything in the box which is sensitive to temperature changes, as it can get more than hot enough to melt ChapStick or even thin plastics if you leave it in the sun for long enough.

The rear hinge can be flimsy if you jerk it open – the pro is that Yakima usually has good customer support for their products and is happy to repair or refund depending on the situation.

Best Soft-Sided Roof Bag: RoofBag Waterproof Car Rooftop Storage Bag

roofbag waterproof car rooftop storage bag
  • Weight: 7 pounds
  • Capacity: 11 or 15 cubic feet
  • Type: Bag
  • Waterproof: No, but “weather-resistant”
  • Lock: No
  • High Points: Easy to store when not in use, inexpensive, easy installation
  • Low Points: Sometimes leaks, have to be careful with packing, no security, not that aerodynamic.
Why it’s a Top Pick:

If you don’t mind unloading this bag every time you reach a destination, and don’t want to shell out hundreds for a roof box – especially if you don’t already have a roof rack – a bag like this one is an excellent option.

It’s inexpensive, has a relatively large capacity, and attaches to virtually any vehicle with straps alone, that fit through the doors instead of attaching to a rack (though it will still work if you have roof bars, and the company offers several sizes to accommodate different vehicle sizes).

Compared to other bags on the market, it’s very sturdy and durable, even on long trips and over repeated uses.

What the Experts Think:

Many people find that this box fits way more stuff than you’d expect. It can comfortably hold multiple suitcases, backpacks, pillows, and more – it’s not quite long enough or well-suited for things like skis or fishing poles, but for luggage and boxes, it works quite well.

For the price, it’s hard to beat the functionality. Unless you drive through very heavy rain, it stays pretty rainproof, with some minor leaking during a torrential downpour. It’s very popular online and the company has a solid reputation for returns and customer service.

Features and Considerations:

There are no security features, and you will need to make sure to load heavier stuff near the back of the bag.

It does come with a protective mat which goes between the bag and your vehicle, preventing damage.

It also tends to have a greater impact on gas mileage due to the bulky profile, but if you are loading your vehicle up with people and stuff on a long trip, you will likely notice some difference anyway.

You may find that it collects some debris on the front over long trips. It’s much easier to hose this off before you unload all the stuff, since once the fabric is lying flat, it’s hard to get anything off the fabric.

Best Soft-Sided Option For the Budget: Keeper Waterproof Rooftop Cargo Bag

keeper waterproof rooftop cargo bag
  • Weight: 5.25 lbs.
  • Capacity: 15 cubic feet
  • Type: Bag
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Lock: No
  • High Points: Lots of space, installs easily, inexpensive, water and sun proof
  • Low Points: No security, fabric wears faster than plastic, not aerodynamic
Why it’s a Top Pick:

Lightweight, durable, and waterproof – this is one of the best options out there when it comes to going with a cargo bag. It’s also much less expensive than virtually any of the other options on this list, clocking in at less than a quarter of the price of the least expensive hard-sided box.

15 cubic feet is more than enough space to hold a lot of gear, and the low weight is especially helpful when it comes to carrying a lot of heavy stuff like loaded suitcases.

What the Experts Think:

You will likely notice some drawbacks with the low price tag.

Some reviewers note wear and tear after not many miles put on the bag. If you load objects like cardboard boxes with corners, you will likely note small tears and creases in the front of the carrier.

It can also affect both the handling and the gas mileage of your car, especially at highway speeds. While this is to be expected of any roof-mounted object, the bulky profile of this option is especially problematic when it comes to noise and handling.

There are no security features.

In short, you do lose durability and some of the better features that you’d get with a more expensive option. Still, most people see it as a budget-friendly option that’s also user-friendly and does what it’s supposed to.

Features and Considerations:

The way you load the bag has a significant impact on how your vehicle handles, your gas mileage, and how well your bag ages. Loading it all the way with soft stuff helps it keep its shape and last longer, so it doesn’t flap around as much with loose fabric.

Some people use it with straps alone, and no rails, attaching the straps to the body of the vehicle. This isn’t a great long-term solution, since it can cause rubbing on the top of the car, but it can be the cheapest way to make a quick fix for a road trip.

Adding a luggage lock or two to the zipper openings might add a little security deterrent (though someone could just cut through the fabric if they wanted to badly enough).

Especially considering that you could buy more than 10 of these for the same price as some of the Thule options on this list, the trade-offs may be more than worth it for you.

Best Hard-sided Car Roof Box For the Budget: JEGS Performance Products 90098 Rooftop Cargo Carrier

jegs performance products 90098 rooftop cargo carrier
  • Weight: 28 lbs.
  • Capacity: 18 cubic feet
  • Type: Hard-sided
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Lock: Yes (kind of)
  • High Points: Inexpensive, sturdy, decent capacity, waterproof
  • Low Points: Won’t fit all cross-rail configurations, some quality defects, looks lower quality than it is
Why it’s a Top Pick:

At sale price, expect to pay about a quarter as much for this as for another option. It’s lightweight and easy to access, and requires no tools to install.

What the Experts Think:

This is among the most popular, best-selling options out there due to the price point and overall functionality.

While you get what you pay for, this cheaper option still does the job decently well for the price. The cheaper construction is obvious in the flimsy feeling of the plastic and imperfect alignment – you may have to do some finagling to get in installed, especially the first time.

Features and Considerations:

It can be annoying to lock it, since the mechanism is quite stiff. The supports which hold the lid open during loading and unloading are also annoying.

It can be confusing to see how it’s supposed to attach to the top of your vehicle; it’s worth setting it up once beforehand to make sure you can see how it goes first.

If it doesn’t line up with your crossbars out of the box, you’ll need to drill holes in the plastic, but this is fairly easy to do, since the plastic is soft enough to make it easy to get through.

While there is a lock, this acts more to keep it from popping open than to keep someone else from breaking into it. The plastic is thin enough that someone could conceivably get through it. There are spaces to add additional locks on either side, which could increase security.

If you don’t mind doing a little wrestling or DIY work, this is a solid, functional hard-sided option that offers many of the same benefits of more expensive models at less than half the price.

Best for Odd-Sized Gear: Inno Shadow Rooftop Cargo Box

inno shadow rooftop cargo box
  • Weight: 42 lbs.
  • Capacity: 11 cubic feet
  • Type: Hard-sided
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Lock: Yes
  • High Points: Lightweight, low-profile, aerodynamic, great for long gear, fits almost all vehicles
  • Low Points: Expensive, locking mechanism weak, some wind noise at high speeds
Why it’s a Top Pick:

The extra-long configuration can hold 6-8 skis, an extra-long golf club set, your pool cues, deep-sea fishing poles, or any other extra-long gear you can think up. The material is lightweight, but still durable.

It offers many of the same benefits of the Thule and Yakima iterations, but with a better streamlined, more aerodynamic profile.

What the Experts Think:

One of the most popular features of this model is how easy to install it is – it’s actually a similar weight as the Thule, but its design makes it easier to lift onto your roof’s crossbars, even with only one person.

It’s remarkably roomy given how unobtrusive, sleek, and low-profile it looks. It looks a lot more expensive than it is, though to be fair, it’s one of the pricier options on this list.

It has a reliably well-built construction, is completely waterproof, and is among the longest models, well-equipped to accommodate skis and other long gear. Its clamps are adjustable to work with most vehicles.

Features and Considerations:

The locking mechanism works, but can be annoyingly stiff, making it harder to open the box, especially when your hands are cold.

There’s also no drain inside, and since it’s so waterproof, this can be a problem if you put gear in wet, since it can puddle and stay wet and then mold, or freeze.

If you’re a skier, like to carry around fishing poles, or have other longer gear, and don’t mind shelling out a few more dollars, this is one of your best options.

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The Complete Car Roof Boxes Buyer’s Guide

What to Look for: Factors to Consider in Your Search for the Best Roof Box

Here’s an outline of some things to think about as you plan and sift through your options:

What kind of gear are you toting?

Roof racks are a great option for anything from skis to sleeping bags to the extra boxes you don’t have room for in your back seat.

They vary widely in shape and size. Some are long and narrow, designed specifically to tote snowboards, skis, and other long gear. At the other end of the spectrum, roof bags can really only carry smaller, soft-sided light miscellaneous gear.

While you want to look for something big enough to carry everything you want it to, bigger isn’t always better – the shape and height of your rack affect your gas mileage and how easy it will be to take the rack on and off your vehicle.

Generally, look for something that is as aerodynamic, lightweight, and small as possible, but can still hold everything you need it to (in terms of both weight and cubic feet).

Box or Bag?

Roof containers can either be hard or soft sided. Most of the ones you see on the road are the more traditional hard sided boxes made of fiberglass, plastic, or sometimes carbonite or metal.

Boxes have a few advantages. Namely:

  • Better waterproofing and protection from the elements (zippers leak more than hard shell containers)
  • Security (it’s hard to lock a bag)
  • Durability and security (bags can rip)
  • Better gas mileage (it’s easier to shape the nose of a box than a soft bag)

On the other hand, they are also heavier, harder to install, only work with roof racks, and are much more expensive – sometimes 10 or even 20 times more expensive at the high end.

In general, boxes tend to be a more permanent, reliable solution, and better if you’re worried about security.

If you have a lot of soft-sided gear and only need a temporary fix – say, for an upcoming move or road trip – a soft-sided bag can do the same job for significantly less money. They’re also your only option if you don’t have an existing roof rack and don’t want to install one.

How permanent a solution do you want?

Some people find it works well to just leave their roof box on their vehicle most of the time – if you have a locking, hard-sided, weatherproof option, this can work, but you’ll most likely want to take your box off when you’re not using it for the sake of reducing wind resistance and wear.

Boxes vary in terms of how difficult they are to attach and detach – you may need multiple people to safely lift the box overhead without scratching the roof paint on your vehicle.

Some brands offer quick-release clamps which will make it much faster to install and remove your box, but this feature does come at a premium compared to the conventional U-bolt mounts.

How big is your vehicle?

Roof boxes work with most vehicle types, as long as your roof is strong enough to support their weight and you have a way to install a rack, if you don’t already have one.

If you already have roof rails and cross-bars, most options should be fairly plug-and-play, but you may find that certain racks designed for your vehicle may fit more easily.

The amount you can safely carry does vary depending on your vehicle. It’s generally not a good idea to carry heavy stuff on top of your car.

The max weight you can carry is usually determined by the roof’s weight limit, rather than the box; even if your box is rated to 300 pounds, if your roof is only rated to 150, you can only load 150.

Owners of smaller hatchbacks and smart cars will need to look for smaller boxes as a general rule.

Do you need to access the box from both sides?

Some models sit on one side of the vehicle, which makes them easier to access from that side, but annoying to reach from the other.

Bigger boxes can be reached from either side, but still typically only open from one direction in a clamshell orientation.

Some of the more expensive options will open from either side – whether this is important enough to you to pay for depends on how you’ll use the rack.

How much weight can your roof hold?

The weight of your box can come with some trade-offs.

You’ll need to subtract the weight of the box itself from the weight limit of your vehicle’s roof – since some of these models come in over 50 pounds, this can be a significant consideration as a trade-off between durability and weight capacity.

Lighter boxes put less strain on your roof and have less of an impact on fuel economy, but they are also less durable. So, depending on your needs, you’ll want to consider:

  • Durability
  • Weight limit
  • The weight of the box itself

Is security an issue? Do you need to leave stuff unattended on your vehicle?

If so, a soft-sided bag is likely not the best idea, since even the most well-constructed canvas can be pretty easily sliced open or the straps cut.

For hard-sided boxes, you’ll need to make sure that the top locks down and that the whole thing can be secured to your roof rack. Most, if not all, high-end options come with some form of locking mechanism, but this varies widely in terms of quality.

Often, the “lock” is flimsy and easily broken or picked, making it useless as a security feature or even an annoying hindrance to your own use.

If you live or travel in a high-theft area, or just want an extra layer of protection for your gear, making sure you pick a box with a good lock is essential.

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Selection Criteria: How We Ranked Our List of Top Picks

As is likely clear by now, you have a lot of options, and probably care more about some of these factors than others.

If you just want an easy way to carry your kid’s stuff to their new dorm room, your needs are clearly different than if you’re trying to load up your SUV for a fishing trip.

When ranking our list, we looked for versatile options that would appeal to different people, considering the previous experiences other customers have had with these models. We looked, broadly, for value for the money, durability, ease-of-use, and for popular, crowd-pleasing options.

More specifically, here are the criteria we used:

Ease of Installation

Most boxes can be snapped on and off your car roof rack easily; locking options can add a layer of difficulty, and some racks can require two people to safely install it without scratching the roof of your vehicle.

If you’ll need to take it on and off quickly, this is even more important – for example, if you need to park in a low-clearance garage or load/unload quickly at a campsite, you’ll want to make sure it’s easy and fast to uninstall your box.

Note: if you’re worried about height clearance – perhaps look into a hitch cargo box, instead.

The ease of installation for any rack varies depending on what’s already on your car, but in general, we prioritized options which most people reported having no difficulty installing and removing.

Roof Box Weight & Capacity

As mentioned previously, the weight of your box comes with some trade-offs.

The lighter your box is, the more it can carry without exceeding weight limits, and the less it will affect fuel economy. It will also be easier to lift onto your roof.

On the other hand, the more weight it can hold, the more effective it will be for most people (though in most cases, the box can hold more than your roof, so this is a secondary consideration).

We included a variety of sizes and material types, but generally looked for the lightest, sturdiest options which still provided a good value for the investment.

Roof Box Weight of Box (lbs.) Capacity (in cubic feet)
Thule Motion XT 42 16, 18, or 22
Yakima Skybox 75 12, 16, 18, or 21
RoofBag Waterproof Car Rooftop Storage Bag 7 11 or 15
Keeper Waterproof Rooftop Cargo Bag 5.25 15
JEGS Performance Products 90098 Rooftop Cargo Carrier 28 18
Inno Shadow Rooftop Cargo Box 42 11

Footprint and Available Space

The design of the rack affects both how aerodynamic it is and what dimensions of gear can fit within it. Skis, snowboards, poles, golf clubs, and other relatively lightweight but awkwardly shaped gear can be challenging to fit inside a vehicle or on top of it.

Some of the options on this list prioritize length in order to accommodate this kind of gear or keep a lower profile to reduce wind resistance and stay more aerodynamic.

Others are designed to accommodate bulkier boxes and other gear – the one that is best for you varies based on what you’ll be carrying (as well as your car roof box storage system), so we included a range of shapes and sizes, but left off any models which people reported a lot of frustration with during loading and unloading standard cargo.

Security Features

We also considered whether models had functional, adequate security measures in place both to keep the contents of your box safe and keep the box itself securely on your vehicle.

Compatibility

While most cars will accommodate some kind of rack, they don’t all accommodate the same sizes. We looked for options that would fit both extremes of the spectrum as well as more general options that will work for the majority of people.

You should always double check to make sure the dimensions will work for you, but in general, we prioritized models which fit more types of vehicles.

Can I buy a used version?

Unlike some other gear we review, roof boxes tend to last awhile and retain their value.

You may still get better ROI by buying new and reselling when you want to upgrade, move, or don’t need your rack anymore.

Craigslist and other online bidding sites do sometimes see good-quality racks pop up; just make sure that the rack you’re buying has all the attachment hardware in good working order – the last thing you want is for the attachments to come loose on the highway.

You’ll also want to carefully inspect any locking mechanisms, open/closing mechanisms, and weatherproofing seals, as these tend to go first.

Weatherproofing (Sun and Water)

Especially if you’re going to be leaving your rack on top of your vehicle long-term, you should expect it to be exposed to the elements.

Most racks should stand up to UV and water damage, but they do vary substantially in terms of how waterproof they are – some will be fine in a light rainstorm, but have seams that will leak over time, which can damage the contents.

Some of the less durable options (especially the soft-sided bags) can also degrade after extended time in the sun, weakening the fabric or causing the contents to heat up.

This may not be an issue for you if your first priority is price, or you don’t plan to leave the box on your car when not in use. The options on this list should be pretty much waterproof, but here’s a quick comparison:

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Will a box affect my fuel economy?

Yes – how much it affects it varies based on your vehicle’s height, the height of your rack and how it’s shaped, and how much weight you carry.

Adding anything to the top of your car increases the front area. Even if it’s aerodynamically shaped, it’s never going to be as well-engineered as your vehicle, which has been extensively engineered and tested in wind tunnels.

If you have a large rack and a smaller vehicle, you can expect to lose 10 mpg or more off your mileage.

Minimizing the amount you carry and its height reduces the impact, as does avoiding the boxiest options, which have more drag, but still expect to lose a little efficiency in exchange for the convenience of carrying your gear.

How much can a roof box actually carry?

While this varies widely, the biggest boxes can carry around 22 cubic feet; the biggest soft sided bags may have a little more “give” when it comes to packing them full, but they can generally hold less weight.

Will a roof box damage my vehicle?

Probably not. It can, though, if you install it improperly, overload it, or aren’t careful when lifting it on or off.

Sometimes, installing an aftermarket roof rack can cause damage if you aren’t careful, but the box itself shouldn’t cause damage.

How can I tell if a box will work with my existing roof rack?

If you have rails (front-to-back) and crossbars (side to side) hardware in place, you’ll be fine.

If your roof has neither, you won’t be able to fit any roof box, except maybe some of the bags that attach to your door frames, which isn’t ideal.

It’s fairly easy to install your own roof rack, or cross bars, if you already have rails, but you’ll need to do some DIY work with a kit.

Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that factory-installed rails typically have a lower profile than anything you can add after the fact. Even high-end aftermarket crossbars from Thule, Yakima, Inno, etc., need a mounting clamp on top of the crossbar, which makes them sit higher, which can be an issue both for fuel economy and if you need to squeeze into a garage with low clearance.

Does name brand matter?

Yes and no. Thule and Yakima are definitely the big names when it comes to most gear accessories, and do tend to offer the best quality. In addition, they do often look better than alternatives.

Thule especially tends to be very expensive, so whether springing for the name brand is worth it for the reliability to you depends on your needs. Other brands offer similar functionality but without all the features.

Inno, Malone, and other brands, while less well-known than Thule, also offer high-quality options.

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