How Do I Buy My First Car Rack?

Commandment #1: Know thy options

Jul 29, 2015
Outside Magazine

There's a convenient way to carry your gear, no matter what you drive.    Photo: Yakima


Bryon Dorr, founder of the website Exploring Elements, knows how to build an adventure rig. He currently lives in a Dodge Ram 2500 outfitted with a custom camper he designed to hold six kayaks, two bikes, a kiteboard, and climbing gear—with room left over for a bed and small kitchen. Plus, the camper weighs just 1,289 pounds (empty), which helps ensure his truck will have enough power to get up gnarly four-wheel-drive roads.

With this kind of experience, we thought he’d be the perfect person to give us some basic tips about how to buy a car rack. Here are his six top suggestions.

1. Figure Out What Fits Your Ride

Racks attach to cars in different ways. Some slide onto your rear hitch. Others clamp onto your roof bars. Others latch into the rain gutters above your doors. Inspect your car so you know your options. Tip: Roof racks from companies like Yakima and Thule fit most factory bars, but there are two different hitch sizes, so make sure you buy the right one for your car.

2. Decide What Toys You Want to Carry 

If you just want to haul bikes, buy a bike-specific rack like the Thule Sidearm 594XT. If you haul multiple types of gear, you’ll need a customizable system like a roof rack. If you want to haul bikes, kayaks, and skis at the same time, you might need a roof rack and a trailer hitch.

3. Buy the Right Rack for Your Terrain

“Where you live matters,” Dorr says. If you live where trees might hit a bike on your roof, use a rear hitch system. If you’re out in steep, rocky terrain like Moab, where you might smash your hitch, buy a roof system like the Yakima Frontloader

4. Consider Convenience

If you’re too short to reach the top of your car or can’t lift your bike that high, don’t buy a roof rack. Go with a hitch instead. We like the Yakima TwoTimer because it carries both road and mountain bikes.

5. Don’t Rule Out a Trailer

Trailers are convenient because they double as gear sheds. If you leave them loaded up and ready to go, you don’t have to worry about packing. Take note: Trailers, like a GO Easy, work best if you can store them in your garage so they don’t get banged up or stolen. 

6. Less Is More 

Some car racks are more aerodynamic than others. If you need to carry four bikes, consider a rear hitch with four slots. This takes up less room and has less drag than four individual bike slots on your roof rack. 

Filed To: Car Racks, Gear Guy

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