difference between roof rails and roof racks

Roof Rails vs Roof Racks – What Is The Difference?

If you would like to know what is the difference between roof rails and roof racks, then I would like to explain this to you in detail in this article.

There are various purposes or areas of application where you need a roof rail and a roof rack. Roof rails are fixed to the vehicle roof. The roof rails are connected to the vehicle body with stable screws and enable the transport of heavy loads on the vehicle roof.

Roofracks are connecting rods that are mounted on the roof rails and can be used to safely transport a rooftop tent, a roof box, or other loads on the roof of the vehicle.

For example, if you buy a roof box or a rooftop tent, you always need both. The roof racks are connected to the roof rails so that the load can be securely mounted on the cross braces (roof racks).

Roof rails distribute the load on the vehicle’s body

Factory roof rails mounted on a car

Many car manufacturers already equip their vehicles with roof rails. Most vehicles that do not have roof rails, can have the roof rails retrofitted.

If your vehicle does not have factory roof rails, you can also buy roof rails and mount them on the vehicle roof.

When buying aftermarket roof rails, make sure that the roof rails are made of good quality and are made of steel or other high-strength materials.

The strength of the roof rails is particularly important if you want to attach roof cross bars, for example, to transport a rooftop tent or a roof box.

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There are also roof rails that are relatively cheap, but these are usually made of thin and cheap aluminum and are not able to transport heavy loads. These aluminum roof rails are then usually only intended for visual enhancements.

Here you can see the connection points of the roof rails.

If you want to buy aftermarket roof rails for your vehicle and want to retrofit them to your vehicle, you need to find out whether your vehicle has special mounting points for a roof rail.

Only with a tight screw connection does the roof rail offer enough stability to carry roof racks, which can then later also support higher loads such as rooftop tents or roof cargo boxes.

Everything about roof racks

Roof racks are mounted on the vehicle’s roof bars and allow the installation of roof boxes or rooftop tents.

Roof racks or roof cross bars are necessary if you want to transport heavy loads on the vehicle roof. You can find roof racks or roof cross bars from different manufacturers.

When buying roof racks, pay attention to high quality and stability. For example, if you want to transport a rooftop tent or a roof box on the roof of your vehicle, the roof racks should not be made of cheap/thin/soft aluminum. There is also high-quality aluminum which is designed for higher loads. Therefore, always pay attention to the permissible load information from the manufacturer.

It is important that the roof racks are extremely stable and do not bend or even break under higher loads. This could then damage the roof of the vehicle or even lead to serious accidents while driving.

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For this reason, you should not skimp on the price when buying roof racks.


Meanwhile, there are also roof racks that are mounted directly on the vehicle roof without the help of roof rails. If these are firmly screwed to the body of the vehicle, they also offer enough stability to transport heavy loads on the vehicle roof!

When buying roof racks, always pay attention to quality and the permissible load capacity.
In this example, 165lbs of weight could be placed IN THE CENTER of the roof rack. Since the rooftop tent or roof cargo box is fixed on four spots on the racks, the weight is better distributed over the entire vehicle and the real load limit is about four times as much when DRIVING. If the vehicle is stationary, the permissible load on the roof increases again!

Here you can see an example of an aftermarket roof rack. This roof rack is screwed to the roof rails. According to the manufacturer, the load capacity is 165lbs. However, this information can quickly become confusing. Because the weight is distributed over four points on the vehicle body, it can transport four times as much when driving (4 x 165lbs = 660lbs when driving)!

In this picture, you can see that the roof rails distribute the roof load evenly over the entire vehicle body. The vehicle frame is extremely strong. The vehicle frame can withstand extreme loads, so it is also possible to mount heavier weights such as rooftop tents or large roof boxes on the vehicle roof without any problems.

For example, if you mount a rooftop tent on the vehicle roof, this can quickly exceed the weight limit of 660lbs. But this is completely ok since the load capacity is much higher when it is stationary!