How to choose the right size Rooftop Cargo Carrier for your Vehicle (2024)


Great choice on deciding to invest in a rooftop cargo box carrier! This addition will greatly enhance your vehicle's functionality. Now that you've made this decision, it's time to find the rooftop cargo box that best suits your needs.

There are several important factors to consider when selecting your cargo box carrier: your vehicle type, the style of crossbars you have, the clearance for your rear hatch, garage height clearance, the cargo boxes load capacity, and the weight capacity of your crossbars.

If your main objective is to maximize your vehicle's storage space, then choosing the largest cargo carrier that fits on your roof is the most effective way to achieve this goal. On the other hand, if you're looking for a cargo box primarily for its aesthetic appeal or plan to use it for items such as skis and snowboards, a low-profile, sleek roof box might be a better fit due to its streamlined and stylish appearance. Keeping these considerations in mind, let's move forward to select the perfect-sized cargo box carrier for your vehicle.

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Vehicle size and roof type can limit roof box options.

When it comes to choosing the perfect rooftop cargo carrier for your vehicle, it's a logical starting point to consider the type of vehicle you own. The size of your vehicle and the roof type are essential factors to take into consideration.

Your vehicle's size directly influences the dimensions of the cargo box that would be most suitable. Cargo boxes come in various sizes, with variations in length, width, and height, offering a wide range of rooftop cargo space tailored to your lifestyle and the activities you enjoy.

If you're behind the wheel of an larger SUV equipped with 3rd-row seating, selecting a relatively large sized roof box will blend well with the vehicle's roof and is unlikely to obstruct your access to the rear cargo area.

Conversely, if you have a smaller crossover SUV or a compact car, choosing an overly lengthy or sizable rooftop cargo carrier might not only appear awkward on the roof but could also come into contact with the rear hatch when you're trying to access the cargo area. This contact could potentially result in damage to both the vehicle and the cargo box.

Crossbar Roof Rack: How it plays intricate role in transporting Cargo Boxes

The compatibility of a cargo box with your vehicle largely depends on the type of crossbar system you have and how you’re able to position them on the roof of your vehicle. When evaluating whether a cargo box will work well with your vehicle, these factors, in addition to your vehicle's size, are among some of the most crucial considerations.

Leading brands such as Thule, Yakima, Inno, and Malone produce some of the finest rooftop cargo carriers available. They are renowned for their user-friendly design, attractive aesthetics, and exceptional quality. Most cargo carriers from these brands come with universal mounting hardware, making them compatible with nearly all types of crossbar roof racks on the market. However, the spacing between your vehicle's crossbars is a critical factor. If the spacing is too wide or too narrow, it may limit your choices when selecting a cargo box that fits perfectly on your vehicle's roof.

In certain instances, specific vehicles are equipped with adjustable roof crossbars. This adjustability allows you to reposition the crossbars along the roof's edge, providing greater versatility to accommodate larger and longer cargo boxes that suit your particular vehicle and needs. On the flip side, when crossbars are fixed in place, they have the opposite effect, limiting your choices when selecting a rooftop cargo carrier.

However, it's important to note that most cargo boxes come equipped with adjustable mounting hardware that can smoothly slide along an internal track. This functionality grants you the flexibility to position the cargo box further forward allowing for better hatch clearance. This internal tracking system allows roof boxes to adapt to crossbar spacings ranging from 24 inches to 35 inches apart, offering a broad compatibility range for various crossbar roof rack setups and vehicle combinations.

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Hatch Clearance:Too Big? Or Just Right?

Determining the optimal roof box size for your vehicle can prove to be quite a challenging endeavor. Fortunately, some of the industry's leading cargo box manufacturers, such as Thule, Yakima, and Inno, have thoughtfully created hatch clearance charts encompassing their entire range of cargo carriers.

To make use of these hatch clearance charts, the initial step often involves measuring from the center of your vehicle's front crossbar to either the point where the roofline splits at the hatch seam or to the area commonly referred to as the spoiler on the hatch, depending on whichever is closer. If your front crossbar is adjustable, make sure to position it as far forward as the allowable limit to obtain the most optimal hatch clearance measurement for your setup.

With this measurement in hand, you can consult the hatch clearance chart to identify suitable cargo box options that will seamlessly fit onto your vehicle's roof rack without any unwanted contact with the rear hatch.

In most cases, shorter roof boxes will clear the majority of vehicle rooflines with ease. However, bigger cargo boxes offering increased storage capacity, or cargo carriers that tend to be longer and narrower, particularly those designed for transporting skis, are typically the culprits behind these hatch clearance challenges.

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Cargo Box Capacity: What you need to know

The storage capacity of cargo boxes can significantly impact their overall dimensions. Each brand offers an assortment of cargo box styles, with sizes categorized into types like Alpine, Medium, Large, Extra-Large and even a few in the XXL category.

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Alpine Cargo Boxes

Typically, winter sport-oriented cargo boxes come in sizes ranging from 11 to 16 cubic feet and feature a sleek, elongated profile often labeled with names like "Alpine," "Sport," or "LO."

For example, some popular choices for winter sport ski cargo carriers include the Thule Motion XT Alpine, Thule Force XT Sport, Thule Pulse Alpine, Thule Vector Alpine, Yakima GrandTour LO, Yakima SkyBox 12 Carbonite, and the Inno Wedge 11. These roof boxes are perfect for transporting downhill skis, cross-country skis, snowboards, ski boots, poles, and various other winter gear.

Among these options, the Force XT Sport, Pulse Alpine, and SkyBox 12 Carbonite stand out as narrower cargo boxes, providing the potential to transport additional items alongside them, such as a bike or kayak, on your vehicle's roof rack. However, the feasibility of this largely hinges on the length of your vehicle's roof rack crossbars.

Besides being excellent for transporting winter sports equipment, these models also provide the benefit of increased storage space during the summer season. This makes them well-suited for stowing compact camping gear, such as sleeping bags, cargo bags, smaller duffel bags, backpacks, tents, and more. However, it's crucial to consider the hatch clearance concern, as a lot of these winter sport cargo boxes have longer dimensions

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Medium and Large Cargo Boxes

Medium and Large cargo boxes generally provide increased height and width, while reducing unnecessary length to offer a capacity of approximately 14-16 cubic feet of gained storage space. Most people in the hunt for a roof boxes, this size category has proven to be the ideal choice. These boxes offer versatility year-round, whether it's for a family road trip in the summer or a mountain excursion in the winter months. Some models in this category can accommodate skis and boards up to 181cm, making them suitable for most people's equipment, given the trend towards shorter skis in recent years.

Hatch clearance issues with these rooftop cargo carriers are generally less worrisome within this size. Among our top choices in this category, the Thule Force XT L, Thule Pulse L, Yakima SkyBox NX 16, and SkyBox 16 Carbonite excel not only for their adaptability as cargo carriers but also for their competitive pricing relative to other models in this size category.

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Extra-Large and XXL Cargo Boxes

Finally, we offer two sizes of cargo boxes that go beyond the standard: extra-large and extra-extra-large. These spacious roof boxes range from 18 cubic feet to an impressive 22 cubic feet in capacity. When considering these larger cargo boxes, it's essential to keep fitment in mind.

The extra-large cargo boxes are ideally suited for mid to larger SUVs. On the other hand, the XXL roof boxes are best reserved for the largest SUVs, such as the Chevy Suburban, Chevy Tahoe, Lincoln Navigator, and Ford Expedition. The primary benefit of these cargo boxes is their ample storage capacity. They can effortlessly hold a diverse range of items, including various ski sizes, golf clubs, lawn chairs, strollers, cargo bags, duffel bags, and more.

However, it's worth noting that greater storage capacity comes with a higher price tag and a more noticeable impact on both fuel efficiency and the overall height of your vehicle. It is essential to remain mindful of your vehicle's height prior to hitting the road to prevent any unexpected incidents such as your cargo box being dislodged due to entering a parking garage with insufficient clearance.

Vehicle and Cargo Box Height Clearance

A common problem arises when individuals inadvertently damage rooftop cargo boxes by encountering low-clearance structures like garages and drive-throughs. This occurs more frequently than one might imagine.

The first essential measure to avoid such accidents is to stay aware of the cargo box on your vehicle's roof and your overall height. Since cargo boxes are typically not within your direct line of sight, it's surprisingly easy to overlook, or forget about the roof box. While there's no foolproof way to guarantee these incidents won't happen, a practical reminder placed on your dashboard, or near your garage door opener would be a good start.

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Crossbar Load Capacity: Bigger isn’t always better

The maximum weight capacity of the roof rack to which you plan to mount the cargo box is another crucial factor to take into account. Most aftermarket roof rack crossbar systems typically offer a maximum load capacity of around 165 pounds, and this can vary depending on the specific make and model of your vehicle. Additionally, factory-installed crossbars may sometimes have a lower weight capacity due to the use of lower-quality materials or weaknesses in the hardware.

Why is this consideration so crucial? Well, in certain situations, a lower maximum weight capacity can significantly restrict the practicality of a rooftop cargo carrier. For instance, let's assume we have a crossbar system with a load capacity of 130 pounds. We've installed a Thule Motion XT XXL cargo box weighing 55 pounds onto the vehicle. Since the cargo box weight is carried on the crossbar system, it must be factored into our overall load capacity. Subtracting the 55 pounds from the boxes weight, we are left with a capacity of 75 pounds of cargo that can be placed inside the cargo box. Depending on your intended use for the cargo box, this might be sufficient.

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Decision Time

Here we are, and you now possess a wealth of knowledge to help you make an informed choice when selecting the perfect cargo box for your vehicle. By following these guidelines, the next steps in acquiring your new cargo box should be much smoother. We understand that the market offers numerous cargo box models, and the entire process can be challenging, but you should now have the confidence to navigate it. If you ever find yourself still unsure when examining cargo boxes, please don't hesitate to reach out to our team of Rack Experts! Our experts are real individuals who are ready to assist you in simplifying your decision-making process and provide you with their expert insights. You can get in touch with us at 800-272-5362 or via email at

How to choose the right size Rooftop Cargo Carrier for your 
Vehicle (2024)
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