Can You Use a Roof Rack Without Crossbars? Explained

No, roof racks typically require crossbars to provide proper support and load distribution for safely securing items to your vehicle’s roof. Without crossbars, the stability and security of the load could be compromised.

Can You Use a Roof Rack Without Crossbars?

A roof rack is an essential accessory for many vehicles. It provides added space to carry luggage, sports gear, or other bulky items. However, not all cars come with crossbars, which are horizontal bars that sit on the roof’s top and support the weight of the load. Many people wonder if using a roof rack without crossbars is possible.

So, can you use a roof rack without crossbars? The answer is it depends. You can do it to bind luggage depending on its size. In that case, lengthwise rails can help you. But there’s no denying that crossbars make things perfect. Crossbars can provide superior safeguards.

Apart from the lengthwise rails, there are also several ways to use a roof rack without crossbars. In this article, we’ll discuss that. Let’s begin –

How to Use Roof Racks without Crossbars?

You have to pay added money to some car brands (e.g., Toyota, Ford) for roof racks. Nevertheless, many people have no idea how to use it. According to car experts, using roof racks without crossbars is not a wise decision. However, you can use it anyway.

Here are some ways to use roof racks without crossbars –

Option 1: Buy a Roof Rack that Comes with Crossbars

Roof Rack With Crossbars

If your car doesn’t come with crossbars, you can purchase a roof rack system that includes them. Nowadays, many manufacturers offer modular roof racks. Hence, you can customize them to fit your vehicle’s roof.

Notwithstanding, this option is pretty expensive. But it will guarantee the best fit and security for your gear. Before making a final move regarding a roof rack, check its weight capacity, adjustability, and compatibility with your car’s roof type.

Option 2: Use Roof Racks that Don’t Require Crossbars

Roof Rack Without Crossbars

Another possibility is to look for roof racks that don’t need crossbars to attach to the roof. These systems usually rely on clamps or suction cups that grip the roof’s edges and keep the rack in a proper place.

However, this option comes with some cons. For instance, it may steadily damage the roof’s paint, leave marks, or gradually decrease the aerodynamic performance. Moreover, it may not be suitable for heavy loads or long trips.

If you’ve to travel frequently to long distant places, it’s recommended to avoid this procedure.

Option 3: Make DIY Crossbars

Make DIY Crossbars

If you’re handy and budget-conscious, you may consider making your own crossbars. This option requires some tools and materials, such as two metal or PVC pipes. However, these metals or pipes must fit the width of your car’s roof. Further, you also need some clamps or brackets to hold them in place.

By doing these tasks thoroughly, you can save some money and have complete control over the rack’s design and strength. However, DIY crossbars may not be as sturdy and safe as commercial ones. The reason is simple. You can’t make a state-of-the-art rack for a short amount of money! Is it?

I also have experience building DIY crossbars in 2018 for my Ford C-Max Energi. It worked well when I traveled to New Mexico for a business purpose. I put two pieces of PVC pipes onto the car’s roof, ideally.

Then, I use clamps to hold them. It didn’t bother me since I took a small amount of equipment.

In addition, you should test them before loading any valuable equipment. Since they’re not sturdy enough, testing before using them will give you a clear idea of whether it is usable.

Option 4: Transport the Load Car Inside

Finally, if you don’t want to use roof racks or crossbars, you can always find other ways to carry your gear. For example, you can fold down the rear seats and put the items in the trunk or cargo area. Depending on your vehicle and preferences, you can also use a hitch-mounted carrier or a trailer. This way may be more comfortable, secure, and fuel-efficient, especially for long trips or adverse weather conditions.

Yes, it might narrow down the car’s inside space, but it will still be useful without a roof rack.

Impact of Roof Rack on a Vehicle’s Performance

Roof racks can have several effects on the performance of a vehicle. Here are some of the key considerations:



Roof racks create additional drag on a vehicle. It can negatively impact its aerodynamics. The increased drag can reduce fuel efficiency significantly. Moreover, it can also increase wind noise when you’re driving on the street.

Further, the effect on fuel efficiency can change depending on factors such as the roof rack design, the load being carried, and the vehicle’s speed. Generally, the more streamlined the roof rack and the lighter the load, the lesser the impact on aerodynamics.

Stability and Handling

Roof racks raise the center of gravity of a vehicle. Hence, it massively affects the vehicle’s stability and handling traits. With a load on the roof, the vehicle’s weight distribution changes. It’s widespread.

Additionally, this change leads to a higher risk of rollovers, especially during awkward maneuvers or in unfavorable weather conditions.

It’s essential to consider the weight limits and load distribution guidelines specified by the vehicle and roof rack manufacturers to maintain stability.


Roof racks can generate additional wind noise while driving, especially at higher speeds. The noise level can vary depending on the roof rack’s design, the shape of the load being carried, and the vehicle’s overall aerodynamics.

Consequently, some roof racks come with features like wind deflectors or fairings that help reduce wind noise.

The fact is that those features can reduce wind noise. However, you’ll still hear noise, maybe a little bit.

Access and Clearance

Access and Clearance

Sometimes, you could face problems when you’re about to enter a parking garage or a place with many tree branches. Therefore, it’s essential to consider the vehicle’s height with the roof rack and the load to avoid any potential clearance issues.

Cargo Protection

Roof racks can provide additional storage space for bulky items such as bicycles, luggage, or sports equipment. However, securing the load properly is crucial to prevent it from shifting. It could damage the vehicle or other road users if dislodged.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Crossbars?

Crossbars are horizontal bars installed across the vehicle’s roof to create a stable and secure platform for attaching to cargo carriers, such as bike racks, roof boxes, or kayak mounts. They typically span the width of the vehicle’s roof and are mounted onto the roof rails or fixed mounting points.

Are All Roof Rack Cross Bars Universal?

No, not all roof rack crossbars are universal. Crossbars can vary in size, shape, and mounting mechanism. It means they may not be compatible with all vehicles or roof rack systems.

Which Roof Rack Is Perfect For You?

There are three types of roof racks available. They’re A-Racks, B-Racks, and C-Racks. A-racks are very cheap, and they’re generally mounted on the rear bumper. B-racks are a bit costly and they’re sturdier. On the other hand, C-racks are premium-level roof racks. They’re the sturdiest and designed precisely for cars without rails.

Final Say

Using a roof rack without crossbars is possible. However, it depends on your car, budget, and needs. If you don’t have crossbars, buy a roof rack with them, look for crossbar-free systems, make your DIY version, or choose other ways to transport the load.

But, you should always check each option’s safety and legal requirements, whether you’re loading bikes, skis, kayaks, or camping equipment. Remember to read the manuals, and follow the assembly instructions. Further, adjust the load to the weight and size limits of your vehicle and roof rack. Happy travels!

Automotive products are like an addiction to me. Years ago, I started my job at a Roof Box installation co. Then I realized that I have a passion for cars. It is a perfect scope to share my different experiences about automotive products.