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4 Differences Between Roof Bars, Roof Rails and Roof Racks

Top 4 Differences Between Roof Bars, Roof Rails, And Roof Racks

Roof racks and roof bars are like car roof rails in that they both allow you to transport goods on the roof of your car.  While they offer a similar function, they also feature many differences. Understanding the differences between these unique systems makes it easier to use. And, it will help you achieve the best results. 

Roof rails, roof bars, and roof racks work together to carry goods. In this article, we inspect how these systems differ and what makes each of them so unique. Take a look at the four differences between roof rails, roof bars, and roof racks.

Roof Bars, Roof Racks, and Roof Rails: How They Differ 


1. Direction

The primary difference between roof rails and roof racks is how they lie. Roof rails sit along the length of your vehicle, from hood to trunk. Roof racks and roof bars sit cross-ways on your car, from the driver's side to the front passenger's side. 

2. Functionality

Roof rails often come as a design feature of your vehicle. They present in a variety of different styles. Some feature a raised design that sees a gap between the rail and the roof of the car. Others sit flush against the car's roof. The primary use of these rails is to provide mounting points for roof racks. They themselves do not serve as carriers. 

Roof racks, by comparison, act as a carrier for your goods. They come as a set of crossbars or roof bars and often a platform or rack of some description. This platform can be a cargo box, a kayak rack, or even a modular rack system.  The roof bars mount to the existing roof rails found on the vehicle. 

In looking closer at roof bars and roof racks, we spot the difference in the name. Roof bars or crossbars are a set of usually two bars that run across the top of the car. A roof rack, by comparison, will feature more than two crossbars and is often modular in design. Sometimes the racks see a fixed format with a set number of crossbars. 

Sometimes, the roof rack system mounts to the points utilized by the existing rails. Here, you will need to remove the rails to install the roof racks. This type of installation usually occurs in vehicles that come with flush roof rails.  The roof racks' installation process depends on the style of rails you have on your car. The type of roof racks you purchased will also play a role in the installation. 

3. Installation


Installing roof rails is something that needs no hassle. The reason being that they come pre-installed with the vehicle. These rails come in two unique styles:

4. Elevated Roof Rails

These allow you to clamp or connect crossbars to them. They come with a gap that measures approximately two inches between the rail and the car's roof. While they are not as aerodynamic as flush rails, they offer a surface to which you can tether rope. 

5. Flush Rails

These come mounted flush against the vehicle's roof. They offer a far more stylish look and feature excellent aerodynamic properties. Perfect for anyone keen on fuel efficiency. The downside to these rails is that you need to remove them to install roof rack systems. Tethering ropes to these rails is not an option either. 

Roof racks need installation. You buy these systems separately from the vehicle. The roof racks you buy depends on the car you own and the roof racks' intended purpose. Installation of these systems will differ according to the roof of your vehicle. 

6. Bare Roof Vehicles

These cars will often make use of universal roof racks for bare roof vehicles. Usually, the set will clamp to the doorjamb of the car, securing the crossbars in place. The crossbars themselves are universal. But, the clamps connecting the bars to the vehicle are designed for use with a specific vehicle brand. One such example of a roof racks system is the Rhino Rack Vortex 2500 Silver 2 Bar Roof Racks

You can also install roof racks to bare roof cars by drilling into the vehicle's body. This installation process is both tricky and permanent. The technique allows you to attach your roof racks directly to the roof of your car. And, while sturdy, it may lead to complications such as water damage if not done correctly.

7. Rain Gutter Roof Systems

Roofs with rain gutters often also use a clamp-style system for mounting your roof racks. The set will clamp to the car's rain gutter and door jamb, locking the racks in place. Vehicles such as old school Jeeps feature rain gutters, but we don't find them in modern cars. 

8. Factory Mounted or Flush Rail Systems

Some roof rack systems connect to pre-installed factory mounted points on the vehicle. We find these points under weather strips, flush rails, or under designated covers on the roof. Removing weather-strips and existing flush rails allows you to access the mounting points. You would then bolt the rack system to these points.  An example of this system can be found on Toyota Tacomas and 4runners.  

9. Raised Rails

These rails make installing roof racks a breeze. The roof bars clamp onto the existing rails, and this takes a matter of minutes. One pro of this system is that it is simple to uninstall the roof rack system. A pro that makes cleaning and storage easy and fuss-free. 

10. Carrying Luggage


In transporting goods such as kayaks and surfboards you cannot rely on roof rails alone. They do not offer stability or sturdiness to carry goods. For example, your bags would sit flush on the roof of your vehicle. This would cause dents and scuffs to your paintwork. Not to mention the roof itself will buckle under the weight. 

You would need to tether items such as fishing rods and kayaks across your vehicle. This is dangerous for many reasons. The overhang of the goods would be far greater than what is legally allowed and may snag on trees and lampposts. This orientation also increases drag. Drag affects your car's fuel consumption and handling. 

And then, there is the minor issue of not being able to attach ropes or bungee cords to flush rails. How would you tie your luggage down? Leaving items loose on the roof of your vehicle is not only illegal; it is hazardous. And, the chances of you arriving at your destination with your articles is unlikely.

Roof racks work as carriers. They attach to the roof or rails of your vehicle. These systems work by dispersing the weight of the load placed on them in an even fashion. This prevents your car roof from buckling. 

Roof racks raise your luggage off the roof. They prevent scratching and damage to paintwork. In suspending your items, the system increases your load's aerodynamics. Improved aerodynamics keeps your fuel consumption and vehicle handling to the best level. 

These rack systems also offer plenty of places to attach your goods with rope or cord. Securing your luggage well keeps you and other travelers safe. 

In Closing

Now that you have taken a careful look at roof rails vs. roof racks, it’s clear now how they operate. Knowing the ins and outs of roof systems is imperative. It allows you to transport goods safely and prevents damage to your car. With your newfound knowledge in hand, you can feel confident in looking at the roof rack systems offered on the market. Finding a system that suits your needs has never been simpler.

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