Roof racks come in many shapes and sizes, and have evolved over the years from heavy steel cages to slim, yet durable, alloy racks. Short-wheelbase vehicles lack packing space inside their cabins, and if you’re doing extreme off-roading, a trailer may not be a viable option. When it comes to this guide, please bear in mind that weights and pricing vary dramatically for racks suited to different vehicles − a lightweight rack for a Suzuki Jimny may cost half that of a larger unit on a Cruiser. All roof racks have various pros and cons that you may want to consider before making your purchase.
Powerful engine for this price bracket
Storage capacity & versatility
Storage capacity & versatility
Odd or dirty cargo Because a rack is just a flat area to load stuff onto, any shape of item (that would otherwise be a huge pain to pack) can fit up-top. Think muddy recovery tracks, spades, bags of wood, spare tyres and the inevitable Jerry cans − items you really don’t want inside.
Accessibility Having bags and boxes on the roof provides easy access to their contents without losing any interior space.
A roof rack raises your centre of gravity
Adding heavy items like full Jerry cans and tents to the roof will change the handling characteristics of your vehicle. Rollover angles will also be reduced, and driving techniques have to be adapted accordingly.
There is added wind resistance
If you already drive a vehicle shaped like a brick (as Landy and Cruiser drivers do), you may not notice the added wind resistance very much − but you may notice an increase in fuel consumption, and reduced cruising speeds on the highway.
Even when unloaded, a roofrack may be 30cm or more higher than the roof of your vehicle… make sure that it will fit in your garage.
Although most modern racks have a wind deflectoror aerodynamic design, wind noise is a factor for all of them. This is especially noticeable in modern luxury 4x4s which have extremely low NVH levels.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Fit kits are the components which secure your roof rack to your vehicle. Each vehicle will require a specific type of fit kit, so be sure to check with both your vehicle manufacturer and the roof-rack manufacturer for suitability. Some systems (such as those for double cabs) require drilling through the roof. Check that this is done correctly.
These are the second component to most complete roof rack systems. Towers attach to your fit kit (and sometimes fit directly onto factory roof rails) to raise the rack to the appropriate level.
Crossbars, also known as load bars, are minimalist roof racks primarily used for loading sports gear and toting longer items. By using specific clamps, they can be used as a base for mounting a lightweight fullframed roof rack.
Attached to the front of the rack, these are sometimes an integral part of the rack-design to improve aerodynamics and reduce wind noise. They are not always effective. Nowadays, rack channel design is optimised to reduce noise.
Three Steps to choosing your Roof Rack
Different vehicles suit different racks. You’ll need an extremely lightweight low-profile option for something like a Jimny, whereas a 105 Cruiser will obviously be less affected by height and weight. You might also want two smaller racks rather than a single large one, depending on the configuration of the vehicle – single cab, double cab or SUV.
Raised/ Flush Factory Roof Rails
These rails are standard or optional OEM fitment, mostly on SUVS from Foresters to Discoverys, and are either raised with a clear gap between rail and roof, or flush-mounted. While a universal foot mount may work, some flush versions may require specific fitment kits – check with the supplier and, if necessary, the dealer.
Fixed points are designated spots located on the roof of your vehicle (often hidden under a removable piece of plastic or trim) and are designed to allow you to mount roof racks onto your vehicle at any time. They are found on most softroaders, and some bakkies, like the Amarok. The fit kit will be highly specific to these mounting points.
Rain Gutter Roof
Not many newer vehicles come with rain gutters nowadays. Rain gutters are a thin channel or a black strip that runs from the front window of your vehicle to its rear. These are not always designed to carry a heavy load, so the bearing surface must be spread. Defenders use this system − watch out for window stress-fractures if they are not mounted correctly.
Vehicles are considered to have a ‘naked’ roof if they are (put somewhat simply) wearing nothing on top. Roof rails can be attached to this sort of vehicle using a ‘Door Jamb’ – a clamping kit that attaches to your vehicle’s door frame.
The old galvanised steel racks were strong and durable, but also extremely heavy. Stainless steel custom examples are also out there, with both strength and anti-rust properties on their side, but most commercial racks nowadays are built out of welded or bolted extruded aluminium channel sections. This is primarily due to the strength-to-weight ratio of aluminium.
All the roof racks listed in this guide use an alloy construction, although high pressure points like mounting brackets and feet are often stainless steel, for extra strength.
Shape & Size
Hard and fast rules do not apply here, but, generally speaking, you’re going to want to find a roof rack which is as aerodynamic and strong as possible without being too heavy and obtrusive. Don’t be encouraged to purchase a full-size rack if you only ever carry bicycles on your roof – rather check out the lightweight Thule, or the Holdfast and Rhino Rack options.
However, don’t be led to believe that a lightweight rack might be suitable for extensive overlanding. You will want a heavy-duty rack with multiple tie-down points, and which has the ability to be customised to your specific needs. Front Runner, in particular, offers a huge array of accessories for their racks.
- The squarer the load bars, the more drag and wind noise.
- Longitudinal slats fare better against wind resistance than horizontal slats.
- The fewer load bars you have, the lower your loading capacity is likely to be. The non-welded options allow you to add more slats for strength.
- As with all overlanding, it’s a good precaution to keep a check on the tightness of bolts holding the rack feet to your roof, and any accessories to the rack.
Roof Rack Selection
Load capacities for all racks listed are extremely conservative estimates, and depend on the strength of the vehicle’s mounting points and its load capacity. Many of the racks listed here have been tested with over a ton of static weight.
Big Country 4×4
Price: R4500-R14 000
Fully welded with longitudinal slats, the Big Country racks offer low wind noise and high strength – a result of the dovetail design. Like the Off Grid racks, these racks also offer mounts of all shapes and sizes, including spade holders (R523) and aluminium camping tables (R2563). Big Country racks are powder-coated black.
Suitable for: A variety of Ford, Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and VW models. Custom sizes are possible
Load capacity: 250kg
Price: R12 000-R17 000
Rhino Rack is an Australian-based company which has been in South Africa since 2006, and produces a large range of racks to suit most family cars and 4x4s. The racks come in two ranges, including a lightweight alloy range and a heavier-duty Pioneer range which is suitable for off-road use. A lifetime warranty is offered on most models, and Ford offers the racks as official accessories from dealers. A variety of sizes is available, from 1mx1m square units to full roof setups, which justifies the wide weight-range.
Suitable for: Most 4x4s
Load capacity: 100-150kg
Materials used: Aluminium
Construction: Bolted and riveted
Price Range: R5690-R10 431
The longitudinal slats of these roof racks help to minimise wind noise. The racks are also fully welded in order to prevent rattling and squeaking of loosely bolted joints. Various mounts are available, ranging from things like spade holders (R475) to aluminium tables (R2330).
Suitable for: Off Grid roof racks are available as stock models for the Ford Ranger, Amarok, Fortuner and Land Cruiser Series ranges, but are also adaptable to a variety of other vehicles. Prices vary depending on the size and type of application required for your vehicle. Custom builds can also be ordered.
Load capacity: 250kg
Price range: R4995-R13 495
SA’s leading roof rack specialist, Front Runner, designs and builds its racks specifically for off-road use. They have a large range of racks − all lightweight, customisable, extremely strong and available with a bewildering array of accessories. Racks can be ordered to suit the customer’s specific needs. For example, slats can be removed individually when damaged or to create a custom solution such as a sunroof opening. Sections can also be replaced when swapping the unit over to fit another vehicle.
Suitable for: Almost any vehicle. Check out Front Runner’s website for more info.
Load capacity: 150kg-800kg (Dynamic load is vehicle dependent. Check owner’s manual for specifications.)
Weight: 20kg-44kg model dependent
Construction: Bolted assembly for added strength and ease of shipment
Price Range: R6500-R10 500
An old and legendary name in the 4×4 community, Hannibal racks have a proven track record and sturdy design. Built to suit the range of Hannibal roof-top tents, the Hannibal rack uses longitudinally aligned slats for efficient aerodynamics and quietness. Rails are detachable; and the rack fits vehicles with rain gutters, and without. The load is spread along the gutter rails for better weight distribution.
Suitable for: Almost any 4×4
Load capacity: Over 300kg, depending on vehicle.
Weight: 30kg, model dependent
Price Range: R2899-R4999
Thule offers flexible, customisable roof racks that can be fitted to any vehicle. Fully constructed pre-assembled roof racks are available, but most of their options allow you to choose your own type of rack feet (i.e. fit kits) and roof bars. Their most popular and quiet roof-bar option is the aerodynamic WingBar. Thule is a big name in the industry, but one must bear in mind that they specialise in light-duty roof bars only, and not in full roof-rack systems. The roof bars are perfect for mounting items like a canoe or bicycles. Thule caters mainly for ‘lifestyle’ vehicles like small crossovers and SUVs, and although the racks may fit 4x4s, they are not designed for overland travel and heavy loads.
Suitable for: Any vehicle
Load capacity: 50-100kg per bar
Weight: NA (extremely lightweight construction)
Price Range: From R3995
Desert Racks are a 4×4 Megaworld own brand that has been imported since 2010, becoming hugely popular due to their strong design and aesthetic qualities. The welded design, which incorporates slotted edges, slats and cross members, allows for quick fitment and ease of accessory fitment. 4×4 Megaworld supplies a range of brackets for everything from Jerry cans to gas bottle holders. The slats run front to back (longitudinally) which greatly reduces wind noise. The edges are rounded, again giving the Desert rack not only a pleasing look but also a slipstream advantage over some competitors. Sizes vary greatly depending on vehicle requirements, allowing for a host of options.
Suitable for: Most 4x4s and SUVs
Load capacity: 160kg-240kg