Last Updated on February 5, 2023 by Will Sabel
While most renowned brands like Thule, Yakima, Mont Blanc, and Whispbar don’t manufacture universal roof racks, some lesser-known manufacturers do. So, what do you say? Are roof racks universal or are they not?
Since the car models are different in size and shape, one universal rack doesn’t fit them all. That’s why most roof racks from the top brands aren’t universal. However, you can always find some universal roof racks in the marketplace. Still, you might have to modify your specific car roof to fit them.
If you’re wondering why most brands don’t opt for the one-rack-for-all solution, here, you’ll get the answer. Walk with me to learn more on this topic and discover which roof rack your vehicle needs.
Why Aren’t Most Roof Racks Universal?
While installing a roof rack, you need to take care of a bunch of factors, including the type of your car’s roof rail, vehicle model, manufacturing year, roof size, etc. Since different car models have different requirements, making one universal roof rack that fits them all is impossible.
Here are the main reasons why most popular brands don’t manufacture universal roof racks-
Varied Roof Type
On the roof of your vehicle, there might be metal rain guttering or threaded fix points for roof rack installation. Some also have raised roof rails or clamps to mount the rack. As the mounting system on the roof varies from car to car, one single roof rack of the same shape and design wouldn’t fit them all.
Diverse Rack Systems
The roof rack system of your car consists of mainly three components: Load Bars, Feet, and Fitting Kit. As the name suggests, cross bars are two metal bars running across the width of your car’s roof. The feet support the bars to sit in place.
Lastly, a fitting kit contains foot pads and brackets, allowing the feet to attach to the crossbars. Now, fitting kits are always specific for the vehicle. This means you must pick them as per your vehicle model and manufacturing year.
Hence, you’ll definitely need different rack systems for different car models.
The difference in Roof Size
Not all vehicles have the same size and shape. You need to check the size of your car before installing a roof rack. Otherwise, you might end up with a smaller or larger rack that doesn’t fit your car roof.
So, manufacturing only one universal roof rack for large and small vehicles isn’t practical at all.
Are Roof Racks Interchangeable?
Roof racks are interchangeable among vehicle models of the same brand manufactured in the same year. If the two vehicles’ crossbar length and fitting kit are the same, roof racks can be used interchangeably.
However, chances are very thin that you’ll be able to use the same roof rack for various car models. It might be possible if your vehicles have a naked roof and you purchase an adjustable roof rack. Otherwise, you might have to drill or trim it to fit it on different vehicles.
What Type of Roof Rack Does Your Vehicle Need?
It’s the type of your car roof that decides which roof rack you have to choose. For roofs with raised rails, pick raised rail racks. If the roof has mounting points, you’ll need fixed-point rails instead.
The four most common roof types include-
1. Raised Rails
Here, two raised bars run across the length of your car roof. There’s a small gap between the two bars. You must get a suitable foot pack or feet that simply attaches to the raised rails. In this case, you won’t need any vehicle-specific fixing kits.
2. Flush or Solid Rails
This type of rail is somewhat similar to the raised rails, except that these flush rails don’t have a gap between the bars. For flush rails, you’ll need a vehicle-specific rack system with foot towers and fixing kits.
3. Fixed Mounting Points
Some vehicles like BMW and Volkswagen feature fixed mounting points for roof rack installation. These points are usually covered or hidden with plastic doors or tabs. Such vehicles will require specific roof racks to ensure a perfect fit.
4. Naked or Bare Roofs
If your car roof has no rails, attachments, or anything at all, you have two options to mount a roof rack. You can purchase a custom-fit rack system and clamp it into your car door jamb. Or, go for a permanent roof rack as suggested by the manufacturer.
So, are roof racks universal? There you have the answer. As different cars have different roof types, it’s difficult to manufacture universal roof racks that fit without any modifications.
However, you’ll find some universal roof racks in the marketplace that can be adjusted depending on your roof size and shape.