Are you in the market for a new car roof cargo box? Your choice will more than likely boil down to two brands: Thule vs Yakima.
These two companies are to car roof boxes what Coke and Pepsi are to soft drinks. They dominate the market.
Swedish-built Thule boxes are so popular that, in many parts of the world, Thule is used as an eponym that describes any roof box. Their cargo boxes are not only well-engineered. They are also sleek and elegantly designed.
Some models can seem more like car upgrades and accessories. However, this comes at a price. Thule products tend to be significantly more expensive than the competition.
Yakima roof boxes are produced in Washington State. They generally put more focus on rugged functionality than aesthetics and advanced features.
Yakima’s roof cargo boxes might be a bit lacking in the looks department when compared to Thule products. However, they are generally less expensive and easier to install.
For this comparison article, we have handpicked a couple of the best cargo boxes from both manufacturers. We pitted them against each other in a head-to-head competition.
We looked at them in a variety of categories. In the Thule corner, we have the Hyper XL and Motion XT. Representing Yakima are the Skybox Carbonite and RocketBox Pro models.
Quick Look: Comparison Table
Cargo Box Material
Both Thule and Yakima use up to 80% recycled materials for their boxes. Therefore, you can rest easy knowing that your cargo box is kind to the environment.
All of the models in our comparison are made from thermoformed ABS plastic. It is extremely durable and lightweight.
Thule and Yakima cargo boxes are all waterproof and relatively impact-resistant. However, they do vary in shape and finish.
The Yakima Carbonite has a textured finish similar to carbon fiber. The RocketBox is rather plain looking. It has a standard matte finish.
The Thule Hyper XL is made of five-layered ABS Plastic. That makes it super strong and resistant to the elements.
In addition, this box has silver acrylic highlights. They give it a sleek, modern and even executive look.
Both the Thule boxes have heavy duty steel reinforcements. They help reduce any wear in high stress areas in the base of the box.
ABS plastic is extremely lightweight. That is great news when mounting, or lifting & storing your cargo box. It does not take a lot of strength to maneuver onto your car.
The material is quite thin. The overall rigidity of the box depends heavily on the shape and design.
Yakima boxes, when open, tend to have a more flimsy feel than Thule. However, this does not affect performance when closed.
Modern cargo boxes are by and large a breeze to install. More often than not they require no tools. You just need to have the right kind of roof rack.
Your choice of cargo box will also influence what kind of roof rack you should buy. Not all racks and cargo boxes are compatible. Your safest bet is to stick with the same manufacturer for all your car accessories.
Of the two manufacturers, Yakima roof boxes are slightly easier to install. All you need to do is open the pre-assembled box. Then, release the mounting levers. Loosen the thumbwheels by hand to open the attaching clamps.
You then slide the box onto your rack until the clamps engage the bars. Tighten the thumbwheels and close the levers. You are good to go.
Thule boxes are a bit more complicated to install, but not significantly so. One distinct advantage of Thule mounting systems is that there is a sound that indicates complete installation. That way, there is no guesswork involved.
The innovative Thule PowerClick system makes a distinct ratchet click sound. That lets you know the box is properly installed.
Aerodynamics is an extremely important factor when it comes to choosing a roof box. More air resistance leads to higher fuel consumption. That can cause irritating vibrations and increase cabin noise.
The shape and design of your box also influences the performance and overall stability of your car. That is especially the case at high speeds and windy conditions.
Both Thule and Yakima strive to make their boxes as aerodynamic as possible, and this is apparent just by looking at them; the front of each roof box is sloped forward to cut through the air.
When it comes to customer reviews, some users reported that some wind noise was noticeable when using Yakima boxes, but only at high speeds. For both manufacturers, customers have noted that fuel consumption increases have not been drastic, with reported losses of between 2 and 4 miles per gallon at 75 MPH.
Opening and Closing
The cargo boxes of yesteryear were notoriously difficult to open and close, and more often than not you had to remove the lid completely. Loading and unloading cargo boxes has since then become a breeze thanks to advanced hinges and opening mechanisms.
All the boxes we have listed are easy to operate and do not require any significant force to open and close. One thing to consider, however, is that cargo boxes have a limited angle when they are open.
That is because hinges hold the lid in place. This can make storing bulkier objects a bit of a challenge. There is no significant deviation in maximum lid angles when the boxes are fully open.
Both Thule and Yakima boxes all have dual side opening mechanisms. Those allow you to open the box either from the driver or passenger side.
Some models come with push button openings near the bottom of the cargo box, while others open via conventional handles. Push buttons are quicker and simpler to operate, and allow you to open your cargo box with one hand.
If you have a taller vehicle and/or you are short in stature, reaching the lid to close it can be a challenge. A convenient feature to have is a strap on the inside of the lid that lets you reach it without having to clamber onto a step ladder or do some similar acrobatics.
All Thule boxes include these pull chords, while some Yakima boxes do not, so you should check before purchasing.
Cargo boxes are usually cumbersome, clunky, and dare I say ugly additions to your car. Luckily, the two manufacturers we are comparing put a lot of thought into the aesthetics of their boxes. You can choose from matte, glossy or even carbon fiber finishes to match your car.
In my opinion, the looks of both Yakima and Thule cargo boxes reflect the core values and image of each company respectively. Yakima boxes have a rugged, functional no-nonsense look that looks really sporty and outdoorsy. On the other hand, Thule boxes have a sleeker and more urban look that is at home in both urban and natural environments.
For those looking to make a visual statement, the Thule Hyper XL looks like more of an upgrade than an addition to your vehicle. Its two tone design is bold, sleek and futuristic. If a sporty look is what you are looking for, the Yakima Skybox Carbonite’s carbon fiber finish adds a touch of lightweight high performance to your vehicle’s look.
One final thing to take into consideration considering the looks of your box is how well it will react to scuffs, dirt and damage. While a shiny, high-gloss finish looks great on a squeaky clean roof box, it might show dirt and grime more than a less flashy cargo box.
When it comes to car roof cargo boxes; size matters. The ideal size is dictated by both the size of your car, and by how much stuff you will need to store.
As a rule of thumb, car boxes come in four generic sizes. They are medium, large, extra-large and XX-large with capacities of approximately 13, 16, 17 and 21 cubic feet, respectively.
All of the boxes on our list come in several sizes, so there is very little to set one manufacturer apart from the other when it comes to available dimensions. Thule and Yakima offer special shapes and sizes to fit different needs, including versions that are specifically for carrying skis and snowboards.
Security and other features
All the boxes on our list have security systems in the form of durable locks. Yakima boxes come with an SKS, or Same Key System. That can be super useful if you have multiple Yakima products such as bike hitch racks because you can use the same key for all of them.
Thule boxes have a similar one-key system, and all locks are designed so that the key can be removed only once the lid is closed, which reduces the risk of losing your keys. The Thule secure Lock system automatically locks your box once the lid snaps shut.
While all the cargo boxes are decently secure, if someone really wanted to break into it they could do it without too much effort. This is why the best security you can have is to keep an eye on your car and remove your expensive gear when you leave it unattended.
A feature that sets the Thule Hyper XL box apart from the others on our list is its inbuilt LED light that automatically comes on once you open the box. This is an extremely useful feature for when you are using your box at night or in lower light conditions.
However, some reviewers have reported that the light is not secure and is prone to dislodging, especially when they fill the box to the brim.
While Yakima and Thule cargo boxes can differ slightly on many factors, durability is not one of them. Their materials are extremely similar, as is the opening hinge hardware and other features.
Each box on our list passed the wind and rain tests with reviewers, many of them praising the cargo boxes for keeping their gear dry, even in torrential downpours. All the boxes stand up well to regular wear and tear, but careful mounting and removing from your car should minimize scratches and dents.
Reviewers did not report any discoloration of the cargo boxes, indicating that the UV-protected plastic actually does what is says on the box, no pun intended. Some users noted slight material fatigue on the hinges, for both Thule and Yakima boxes, but only after prolonged harsh use.
Where there are some differences is in the floppiness of the lid, with Yakima boxes being slightly more wobbly. This is not a major downside, however, as it is only noticeable when the lid is open, and does not adversely affect the overall functionality or performance.
Without a doubt, both manufacturers make a high-quality cargo box that will get your gear safely and securely from point A to point B. When it comes to ease of installation and use, they match pretty evenly, and the same goes for safety features.
Yakima’s cargo boxes might lack the sophisticated looks of Thule boxes. They not come with as many non-crucial features. However, they are generally cheaper.
If you are looking to save a bit of money, and want a no-nonsense, average looking box that gets the job done you might well be a Yakima person. The best bang for your buck award goes to the Yakima Skybox Carbonite Cargo Box. It provides rock solid performance at a reasonable price.
Ultimately, it all boils down to personal preference. If looks are important to you, and you are willing to pay for style, Thule is the way to go.
The Thule Hyper XL is hands down the best looking cargo box, but you need to be willing to fork out serious bucks.
If you place a high value on style, it might be a smart investment. Seeing as Thule offers a lifetime warranty, and a wide range of supporting products (like a Thule box lift), it may well be the last cargo box you will ever need to buy.