Road Warriors: Car-Top Carriers That Bring It

You’ll find more car-top carrier choices than ever before, including versatile compact bags that also can be used as luggage. And regardless of price or style, today’s models can be attached and removed more conveniently and secured better than their predecessors were.

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Call it the new math: As gasoline prices climb, more consumers buy smaller vehicles to take advantage of better fuel economy. Of course, those models typically lack storage space. Between gasoline costs and the increase in closer-to-home vacations, it’s no surprise that man-u-facturers of car-top carriers report that sales rose during the past 2 years, although they’re mum on the actual numbers.

Consequently, you’ll find more choices than ever before, including the emergence of at least two soft car-top carriers (think: duffel bags) that are designed to be removed quickly and to double as your luggage. Manufacturers point to improvements in installation, too. “When you add a roof-top box, you increase the space in 5 minutes,” says Karl Wiedemann of Thule, which makes car-top carriers.

GETTING ATTACHED. If you haven’t looked at car-top carriers in the past 3 years, you’ll notice that more hard car-top models use quick-attach systems, says Dawn Dalto of Lakeland Gear, which sells car-top carriers. These quick-attach systems make it so it takes about 5 minutes to connect your car-top carrier to your vehicle’s roof, she says. Consequently, they’re a huge time-saver over the U-bolt systems that were standard a few years ago (and still are found on a few economy hard car-top carriers). You’ll find at least 25 quick-attach models, at prices that start at $260.

At least as important as getting your hard car-top carrier attached quickly is making sure that it attaches to the roof rack securely. Two manufacturers say they introduced technology during the past 2 years that make the installation and removal of hard car-top carriers even more foolproof and thus even faster to install, because you won’t waste time fussing over whether your car-top carrier is attached correctly.

Thule introduced in August 2011 a mounting system that it calls Power-Click on its top-of-the-line Boxter model ($940). When the car-top carrier is affixed to the roof rack, this system’s dial makes a clicking noise when it’s turned to indicate that the carrier is secured properly. The Boxter is the only model that has that audible feature, which is unique to Thule. Wiedemann says Thule doesn’t have any immediate plans to expand the feature to other models in the company’s line up.

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Meanwhile, Rhino-Rack introduced what it calls “smarter grip technology” in car-top carriers in 2009. The technology, says Tony Leix of Rhino-Rack, features adjustable clamps that fit in grooves that run along the bottom of the car-top carrier. Here’s how it works: You slide a clamp along the groove until it’s over the roof rack, turn a dial that tightens the clamp jaws around the rack, then push a button to lock the clamp in place. Rhino-Rack includes these clamps on all of its hard car-top carriers, which start at $479.

Further, soft car-top carriers from at least three companies—Rightline Gear, Seattle Sports and Yakima—now don’t require any racks at all, although, of course, they also will work on vehicles that have roof racks. These models, which range in size from 4.3 cubic feet to 18 cubic feet, attach to your vehicle via straps and start at about $60.

Typically, the ends of the straps are passed through a vehicle’s windows and attach inside of the passenger compartment, but Rightline Gear’s version uses clips (typically sold separately from its soft car-top carriers for $12.95) that attach instead to the vehicle’s door frames. But unlike, say, bungee cords or rope, these straps are flat, so they don’t interfere with the shutting of windows (or, in the case of Rightline Gear’s version, the doors) as a rounded cord or rope might. And because the straps are made out of nylon, they won’t stretch like a bungee cord will, which means that your car-top carrier is less likely to shift and the included buckles are quicker to fasten and unfasten than even the most shipshape knot-tying effort.

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