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What Is The Difference Between Roof Racks And Crossbars

What Is The Difference Between Roof Racks And Crossbars

What is the difference between roof racks and crossbars? This is a tricky question. Because they both share similarities and also have differences.

For starters, crossbars and roof racks are both roof rail systems for vehicles. They are both used to transport goods or items with your vehicle.

What Is The Difference Between Roof Rack And Crossbars
Rhino Modular Rack

Since they are similar in terms of function, their differences tell them apart. Understanding their differences makes them a lot more user-friendly. Also, this will make you maximise their benefits to your advantage.

Roof racks and crossbars are part of vehicle railing systems that are used to carry items. They are usually known as roof racks, roof bars, and roof rails. This guide looks to explore the similarities and the differences of both vehicle load mounting systems.

Roof Rails

Roof rails are usually mounted on large vehicles such as minivans, and SUVs. It is absent from coupes and sedans. Roof rails cannot be installed on vehicles that do not have them.

Alone, they are not luggage carriers. However, they can be used to mount different other products for carrying cargo like crossbars, and so on. It can also be used to support cargo accessories such as cargo boxes. It secures and stabilises them. In a nutshell, roof rails are used for mounting different roof systems. They can support roof racks and crossbars.

Roof rails are categorised either as elevated or flush roof rails.


Crossbars are a pair of aluminium or steel bars. They run perpendicularly to the width of the vehicle. They can be used for mounting activity-specific systems. Crossbars make the mounting of skis, canoes, kayaks, and bikes.

Roof Racks

Roof racks are sometimes referred to as crossbars. They are usually factory-mounted from the dealerships. Importantly, roof racks are treated to carry more weight. They are also harder load carriers compared to roof rails.

Roof racks usually come with a solid, steel framework that is fixed on the roof of the vehicle. Roof racks are used to mount various accessories like a bike, cargo, and different other equipment like rooftop tents and awnings.

The Differences Between Roof Racks And Crossbars.

These are all types of vehicle roof cargo carrier systems. The best way to explore their similarities and differences is to contrast them concerning certain parameters.

1. Direction

The main difference between roof racks and roof rails is their direction. Roof rails run along the length of the vehicle. This is from the front part to the rear area. Roof bars (crossbars) and roof racks sit side-ways on the car roof. They run from the passenger’s seat to the driver’s side.

2. Performance And Function

Roof rails are usually seen as designs on a vehicle. They are presented in various ways and styles. Some roof rails are presented in an elevated style that leaves a gap between the vehicle roof and the rails.

Other designs are installed flush against the roof of the vehicle. Roof rails are not loaded carriers. Their primary aim is to support the roof racks. They are mainly mounting points on your vehicle.

On the other hand, roof racks act as a carrier for goods and luggage. They are designed as roof bars or crossbars and are a sort of rack system or platform.

In this case, the platform can be a bike rack, a cargo box, or a kayak rack. They can even be seen as a modular rack mounting system. Crossbars or roof bars are mounted onto existing rails that are on your vehicle.

Roof racks and roof bars spot a difference. The crossbars or roof bars are a collection of bars (usually two in number) that are mounted across the top of the vehicle.

By comparison, a roof rack features several crossbars. They are usually over two crossbars in a roof rack system. In some cases, roof racks have fixed formats and several roof bars or crossbars.

In some cases, roof racks are mounted to the points where you have existing rails. This means that you will need to take out these rails. Only then will you be able to mount the roof racks. This is usually the case for vehicles that have flush roof rails.

The process of installation of the roof racks depends on the existing roof rails on your vehicle. Another element that will also affect your installation process is the category of roof racks that you have purchased.

3. Installation

When it comes to roof rail installation, this isn’t much of a hassle. This installation is usually a simple process. This is because roof rails come fully pre-installed on your vehicle. Roof rails are presented in two distinct styles: the flush rails and the elevated roof rails.

4. Elevated Vehicle Roof Rails

These are the types of vehicle roof rails that are raised from the roof. These rails make it easy for you to connect or clamp your crossbars to them. The rails are supplied with a gap which has an approximate distance of two inches between the car roof and the railing system. Elevated vehicle roof rails may not be good in terms of aerodynamics in comparison to flush rails. However, they present a surface whereby you can easily tie on your rope.

5. Flush Rails

Flush rails are the other types of vehicle roof rails. Except that they are fixed to be in a flushed position against the roof of your vehicle. Compared to the elevated type, flush rails are more stylish in design. They spot excellent aerodynamic curves which enhance the flow of air when the vehicle is in motion.

This type of vehicle roof rail is ideal for anybody looking for fuel-efficiency. One disadvantage of this railing system is that they are usually removed for the roof rack to be installed. Flush rails do not work with ropes. It is impossible to ropes to them.

You will have to install the roof racks. These systems are sold and purchased separately from the car. However, any roof racks that your case will depend on two things: the purpose of the roof rack and the vehicle. The installation of roof racks differs based on the car roof.

6. Cars With Bare Roofs

Cars with bare roofs do not have any type of roof racks. However, there are universal roof racks that are made from an empty root system. This option usually clamps to the doorjamb of your car.

They are used to safely secure the crossbars. The crossbars have a universal design. However, the clamps that are used to connect the crossbars are designed especially for certain brands of vehicles.

Also, roof racks can be installed onto vehicles with bare roofs. This is done by performing a simple drilling operation. This process of installing roof racks is permanent and tricky. This is a technique that makes it easy for you to directly attach the roof racks to your vehicle. It can produce a sturdy result. However, if this isn’t done properly, it can create complications like water damage.

7. Rain Gutters On Vehicle Roofs

Some vehicles come with rain gutters on their roofs. These are little channels or grooves that are created from the hood to the trunk of the vehicle. These grooves can be used to mount your roof racks. They usually require a clamping system to mount the roof racks.

The mounting set will be clamped to the rain gutter of the car as well as the door jamb. This clamping system is used to safely hold the roof racks firmly. Many previous brand models featured roof gutters. However, it seems that this practice has since been discontinued.

8. Flush Or Factory-Mounted Rail Systems

Some vehicle roof racks connect to certain points on the vehicle. These points have been pre-installed in the factory. These points can be found under flush rails, weather strips, or under certain roof covers. To access these mounting points, you will need to peel off existing flush roof rails or weather strips. The rack system can then be bolted onto these points. These types of roof systems are a common feature in Toyota 4runners and Tacomas.

9. Raised Rails

Raised rails are also part of vehicle roof rack systems. The roof bars are clamped onto any existing rail systems. And this is such a simple installation process that is done in just minutes. A benefit of this type of system is the fact that it can be uninstalled easily. This is an advantage that makes storage and cleaning fuss-free and easy.

10. Carrying Luggage

If you were to haul off items like surfboards and kayaks, roof rails will not be sufficient. They seem to lack the sturdiness or stability bro support heavy goods. Any load you carry will be flush with the roof. This would deface the paintwork with scuffs and dents.

Moreover, the roof itself may buckle under the load of the gear. This means that items like kayaks or fishing rods will be tethered across the vehicle.

The goods may create projections that may not be allowed. This is unsafe as it can snag on lampposts and trees. Hauling your carriage this way will increase the total drag on the vehicle. If it creates drag, it will affect the handling and fuel consumption of your vehicle.

Then again, you have the minor problem of not being able to tie bungee cords or ropes to the flush rails.

This way, it can be difficult to tie down your luggage. And you can’t leave the items loose on the roof. This is hazardous and illegal. And this makes it difficult for your items to spill off the roof as you drive.

Roof racks are carriers. They are attached to the rails or roof of the vehicle. These mounting systems function by evenly spreading the weight of the item all around the roof. This way, the roof of your vehicle will not buckle downwards.

With roof racks, you can easily raise the luggage on your roof. This will prevent damage and scratches to the paintwork. While trying to suspend your items, these systems are used to increase the aerodynamics of your load. By increased aerodynamics, we mean that it improves airflow during movement. This ensures that vehicle handling and fuel consumption are at the best levels.

These types of vehicle roof racks provide different places for goods to be attached with a cord or rope.

When you secure your luggage, you can keep yourself and other road users safe. The last thing you want is to cause an accident on your way to having fun.

Differences Between Roof Racks And Crossbars: Types Of Roof Racks And Crossbars

Ruling out the fact that roof rails have limited use, there are specifically numerous categories of roof racks and crossbars. They all come with their unique advantages.

These various categories emphasize the purpose of these carriers. This makes it easier for anybody to choose from the products. Products can be chosen based on personal style preferences, the purpose of the purchase, and so on.


Crossbars are important for mounting certain equipment and gear to stop the vehicle roof. Crossbars are a very practical and convenient option to use for your vehicle.

Crossbars can be used to provide the mounting and storage option for all the accessories that are too large to be used inside the truck.

Many crossbars are rated with a load limit of 450 pounds. This carrying capacity is sufficient to handle any accessory for your gear. It is the ideal load rating for carrying surfboards, canoes, kayaks, or bicycles.

When it comes to crossbars, there are plenty of types to choose from. These categories depend on the way or the location where they are mounted.

Some Common Types Of Crossbars

The Grab-On Cross Bars

The Grab-on bars are a popular type of crossbar that is easily mounted to the roof rail of the vehicle. These types of cross bars are simple installation bars and can be set up in a matter of minutes. These types of cross bars can be easily adaptable, adjustable, and modifiable to your mounting preferences.

If you are installing these types of crossbars, you do not need any modification or drilling. They have a simple and fast “Grab-on” function on the roof of the vehicle. They can be secured with a simple lock system.

The Bolt-On Crossbars

Bolt-on crossbars are another type of crossbars that are not installed by using a fitting roof rail mechanism. They can be attached to any available mounting points which can be found on the roof.

Existing mounting points in the roof provide more durability and security. This makes it easier for the bolts of the cross bars to be screwed down to the vehicle. Similar to the Grab-on bars, you can easily set up and remove the bolt-on crossbars. This installation task will require you to have some basic DIY tools.

The Gutter Mount Crossbar

Load bar kits or gutter-mounted cross bars are similar to bolt-on bars. However, this type of crossbars is installed in the rain gutter of the roof. They are installed almost at the side of the vehicle.

These types of crossbars are provided with long legs which make them look taller and levitated from the roof. Many branded gutter mount crossbars come with various gutter mounts. This makes them compatible with various vehicles.

Clip-On Roof Bars

Clip-on roof bars are similar in profile to the Grab-on cross bars, however, they seem to lack roof rails. These crossbars are installed by clipping them and locking them onto the side railings of the vehicle. They can be installed and uninstalled quickly.

They also offer enhanced roof bar stability and security by way of screw and lock mechanisms. Some brands ship this product with protective pads to prevent scratches and marks on your vehicle.

Truck Bed Load Bar

The truck load bar is a good example of a crossbar. They can be identified easily. These are special types of load bars or cross bars. They can only be attached to the bed railings of your truck. They are very compatible with exclusive pickup vehicles with beds.

These load bars are special carriers that serve as an extension of the roof of your pickup truck. If you are looking at buying these buys, you will need to consider the height factor.

How high is your pickup roof from the truck bed? Truck bed load bars are offered in various bar heights to suit any personal style.

Roof Racks

Roof racks are the most versatile system of roof carriage for all types of off-road rides. Roof racks are also known as platform racks. You can easily mount them onto almost any type of platform. They are readily compatible with almost anything such as outdoor equipment and accessories.

They offer a load capacity that is anywhere around 750 pounds. These roof racks are used to provide a complete solution to any type of storage condition.

Full-Sized Roof Rack

When it comes to roof racks, there are various types of arrangements. Some types of roof racks are meant to cover the entire vehicle roof. These roof racks come with a full body that runs from the front of the vehicle to its rear.

This full-sized roof rack is suitable for mounting rooftop tents. It can also be used to mount various other outdoor items and accessories like recovery gear, coolers, and jerry cans.

Basket Racks

These are known as platform racks that have elevated corners on each side of the rack. This makes it have a basket-like appearance. These are the types of racks that are preferred for carrying heavy-duty cargo.

Also, this type of rack system supports high-speed driving. It allows you to securely mount your gear and go at any speed you like. The elevated sides of the basket provide anti-slip support to firmly hold all the items on the roof.

These are suitable roof racks that provide additional stability and security during movement. The side railings in the roof rack work like some type of boundary. They stop any part of your cargo from moving loosely.

Bed Racks

Truck bed racks are another type of roof rack. They are a type of platform rack that is made specifically for vehicles with beds. Bed tracks provide an extra cargo capacity for the truck. They also provide the platform for you to add a rooftop tent to your vehicle.

One more feature of some types of truck beds is that they can be adjusted to come at any height. This makes it a lot easier to choose your prefered height. These are suitable truck platform racks that are known as Adjustable Bed Racks.

All-In-One Packages

There are some special types of roof rack/cross bar combo systems that come with universal elements. These are integrated tower and crossbar roof rack systems.

These special products need specific kitting accessories to function optimally. They can be installed easily and are durable. However, such products are limited in terms of the vehicles that they are used on.

Accessories For Safer And Easier Roof Bar Loading

When it comes to loading your roof racks and cross bars, there are various accessories available. Accessories help us enhance the efficiency of our roof racks and mounting systems. When it comes to the loading of roof bars, various accessories can be used. They are:

Load Stops

Load stops are the accessories you need if you are looking to support extra materials or ladders.

Ladder Clamps

They are used to safely hold your ladders to guarantee extra security.

Rear Rollers

Rear rollers make it easy for you to easily load your items onto your roof. They are usually added to the roof bars of the vehicle. Many rear rollers are custom-made to suit vehicle specifics like the roof height.

Pipe Tubes

Pipe tubes help you to ensure that your materials are dry and safe. They are supplied in lengths of 2 metres or 3 metres. They are also offered with their ends open. You can choose between two end openings or just one end opening.