Editor’s Note: This guide is intended to be used as a general blueprint for roof rack installation. Due to the differences among rack systems, we recommend consulting a brand- and rack-specific installation guide for a more comprehensive walkthrough.
Transporting outdoor gear inside a vehicle isn’t the most ideal adventure setup, making the use of roof racks an appealing alternative. Most cars don’t come with factory-installed roof racks, but there are plenty of aftermarket options from which to choose.
If you’d rather not pay someone to install a roof rack on your vehicle, but you don’t know the first thing about where to start, here are some tips to help you find the right rack and get it on your vehicle’s roof.
Determine the equipment needed: Assess whether the vehicle has a naked roof, factory-installed roof mount locations or raised roof rails. Vehicles with naked roofs will need a foot pack, fit kit and crossbars. Certain small, two-door vehicles with curved roofs will require a short roof adapter for improved weight distribution.
Vehicles with factory-installed roof rack mount locations will have pre-existing mount holes, likely covered by removable plastic tabs. For raised roofs, the foot pack installation varies slightly, but follows the same general concept.
Assemble the base roof rack system: Assemble the roof rails by screwing together the crossbars and side rails, then place the assembled product onto the vehicle. Before permanently mounting, measure the distance from the roof rails to the front and back of the roof and center the kit.
Drill holes if necessary: (Skip this step if your vehicle has factory crossbars.) For vehicles with naked roofs, the installation package includes a template with predrilled holes that you’ll need to drill into the roof. Otherwise, use the pre-existing mount holes.
After drilling or uncovering the mount holes, insert self-sealing screws into the end of each roof rail and tighten the base roof rack system to the vehicle. Roof rails come equipped with thumb screws which allow them to be loosened and for the rail position to be adjusted as needed.
Attach the mounts: Clamp the mounts onto the vehicle’s crossbars in the desired location, starting from the rear and working forward. Where the mounting clamps attach depends on the type of roof rack being used. Installing a ski rack differs from installing a kayak rack.
Mount the rack: After the mounting clamps are positioned, mount the associated rack or cargo carrier onto the vehicle. Make sure it looks centered and doesn’t shift or loosen when shaken. Be aware that load capacity varies from rack to rack, so make sure not to overload it.
Choose accessories: A variety of rack-specific accessories will protect gear and make it more accessible. Roof rack accessories include tire steps, tie-downs, rack pads, locks, rooftop tents, awnings and more.