How to choose your next roof rack 

By Evan Spence 8 Min Read

Just come back from holidays, and noticed you are struggling to fit all the gear you need to carry? You’re not alone. Perhaps you’re thinking, it’s time for a set of roof racks, or a roof platform, but you aren’t sure where to start?

What is a roof rack?

Roof racks certainly aren’t a new invention, they’ve reportedly been around and used on automobiles since the 1950s. Roof racks and platforms have come a very long way in that time though, thanks to a huge amount of research and development as well as material advancements that have gone into roof rack manufacturing. 


It’s a fact that we are all bringing more gear away with us on camping trips. Roughing it has never been so easy, with all the amazing gizmos and gadgets that have emerged in the four-wheel drive and camping industry over the last decade. But where are you going to store all these bits of kit while out exploring?

Modern roof racks have to be able to carry equipment safely, they must be quiet when driving on the highway, and let’s face it they have to look good too. They also have more accessories available to them than a Hollywood A-lister. So, how do you help narrow down which roof rack is right for your four-wheel drive?  

Cross bars VS roof rack platform 

Do you need a full roof flat tray, or will a pair of cross bars do the job for you? If you are only looking for a place to mount an awning and perhaps carry a surfboard or some mountain bikes, cross bars could be for you. They are lighter, cheaper, and are easy to remove if you need to. 

On the flip side, if you are carrying swags, want to mount a solar panel full time, and are planning on installing accessories such as camp lighting, a full flat tray roof rack is what will work best for your needs.   


There’s no right or wrong answer here, only what will work best for your needs. I personally run a full flat tray on my four-wheel drive and find it to be one of the best additions I have made to it. I use it every time I head away, and have further accessorised it heavily to suit my needs. 

Roof rack construction material 

There are two main types of material used in roof rack manufacturing. Steel or alloy. Traditional roof cages were made from steel, however, there has definitely been a shift towards alloy roof racks. Especially with the increased popularity of flat roof trays and platforms on four-wheel drives. 

Steel is cheaper to purchase, easier to work with, and is really robust. That strength however comes at the expense of weight. And weight is the enemy when it comes to four-wheel drives. 

Alloy, on the other hand, is lighter, and won’t rust, unlike steel roof racks. But it is more expensive. 

I personally don’t see the advantage of a steel roof rack these days other than being cheaper than an alloy rack. I’d love to hear your thoughts on where steel roof racks outperform, however. 

As a case study, a quick look at a few manufacturers online shows a full-length alloy roof cage weighs approximately 34kg. This same rack made out of steel, tips the scales at 50kg. When you only have say 100kg to play with, 16kg is a big chunk of payload capacity. 

Load ratings

Every roof rack on the market needs to be issued with a load rating. This is the amount of weight the actual racks have been designed and engineered to carry legally. Some roof racks and platforms are rated to carry up to 400kg. This shows that the roof platform is built to be strong. 


In saying that, there’s not a vehicle in Australia that could legally carry 400kg on its roof. To say that would be dangerous is a complete understatement. What you need to do is check with the manufacturer of your vehicle, to determine what the roof load capacity is. For example, it has been widely reported that the JB74 Suzuki Jimny has a roof load rating of 30kg. Compare that to a Y62 Patrol, which legally can carry 100kg on its roof. 

The weight of the actual roof rack must be deducted from this figure too. So again, if we use Rola’s Titan Tray in 1200x1500mm size, it weighs 20kg. This means you could carry approximately 10kg on a Jimny or 80kg on a Y62 Patrol.  

On-road and off-road ratings

Something to be aware of is many roof rack manufacturers will provide both an on and an off-road load rating. This means that the amount you can carry can be reduced in off-road conditions.

Before you decide on a roof rack for your four-wheel drive, determine if the off-road load rating (if there is one) will limit what you actually need to carry. Some manufacturers offer just one limit that applies on or off-road which certainly simplifies things. I’d recommend you do plenty of research here, and ask loads of questions before busting out the credit card and even make sure your insurance covers you offroad.

Warranty period

This applies to any purchase, the product with the longest warranty period will generally be of higher quality. Not always, but if the company backs its product with a strong warranty, it’s a damn good sign. 

For example, Rola offers a five-year warranty on its domestic roof racks, cycling accessories, snow accessories, water accessories, and luggage racks. This also applies to their trade and commercial roof racks. Luggage boxes are covered by a three-year warranty, and specific bike racks have a one-year warranty.  

Range of accessories  

Depending on your needs, most reputable roof rack manufacturers offer a range of accessories. These are designed to secure things like LED light bars and awnings. And much much more. Gas bottle holders, High-Lift jack holders, and shovel mounts are other common accessories available. Do you think you’ll use them is the question? 

For my needs, absolutely. The number of accessories available was a leading cause in choosing the roof rack system I did. I have an awning, axe holder, recover board mount, and even a table mounted under my roof rack. Even if you don’t need them, it’s nice to have the option of expanding on your roof racks carrying ability down the track.


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