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Roof Rack or Hitch Rack: What’s the right choice?

A brief overview of the different types of equipment racks, including hitch-mounted racks and roof racks.
Views: 1.079 Created 05/19/2008

For many people, their car is an extension of their personality.  It helps show the world what that person cares about or is involved with.  Whether it is a highly tuned hot rod, an off-roading 4X4 machine or a load-towing diesel monster, our cars help us enjoy life when we can find the time to stop and smell the roses.  Extreme sports have become increasingly popular since the early nineties and have sparked an evolution among adrenaline junkies.  Whether you are romping down a mountain on rough-terrain bicycle, surfing the rip-curls along the coastline, or carving through blankets of powder, bets are you’ll find plenty of company to join you in your all-terrain madness.  Hauling all the bikes, skis, snowboards, and surfboards is tricky if you don’t have a truck or trailer.  Thankfully there have been many developments in mount racks, giving the enthusiast the ability to choose the right rack for their application.  There are two main types of rack mounts: Roof Racks and Hitch Mount Racks.

Roof racks are a popular for hauling sports equipment.  They are made for loading snowboards, skis, bikes, kayaks, cargo, and more.  They are above the car, so the driver’s vision is not impaired by the equipment.  However, it is important to remember that the vehicle is now taller and has less overhead clearance.  This is especially true when carrying bikes as they can reduce overhead clearance by three or more feet when mounted to the roof.  It can also be difficult to load equipment on the roof of a vehicle, depending on the height of the vehicle and how tall the owner is.  Finally, roof racks create more resistance in the wind and can actually hurt the vehicles average miles per gallon (MPG).  Depending on the vehicle, the reduced fuel economy can be upwards of a 10% loss in MPG.

Hitch racks are racks which are mounted to the vehicle through the trailer hitch.  This is the other rack system available in the marketplace.  Hitch racks are good for hauling skis, snowboards, bikes, and cargo.  They do require a trailer hitch for mounting, which is an important cost consideration when searching for the best rack system.  Since the equipment is mounted behind the vehicle, this can make loading the equipment fairly easy for anyone, but accessing the trunk and negotiating parking lots can also be very difficult.  And be prepared for the lack of visibility through the rear window as mounting equipment behind the car will hinder the view.  Hitch mounted racks do not have a noticeable effect on fuel economy as they do not change the aerodynamics of the vehicle.

For the adventurous person who is constantly trying new activities year-round, a roof mounted rack system is going to offer more versatility and will ultimately be a better investment.  For the person who is passionate about only one sport for most of the year, a hitch mounted system may offer more utility and be easier to live with.  There are obvious pros and cons to each rack system and only you can know what is best for your application, but hopefully this article will help you quickly choose the right system so you can get out there and tear it up on the snow, water, or land.

Click on the following links for more information about the utility of the Bike Rack, including the Thule Bike Rack and the Hitch Bike Rack.

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