What’s the Difference Between Roof Racks vs. Roof Rails?

Roof racks are the load-bearing components that are attached to the roof of a vehicle, providing a platform to secure cargo or equipment. Roof rails, on the other hand, are the fixed or raised bars that run along the length of the vehicle’s roof, serving as attachment points for various accessories, including roof racks. Roof rails are typically a permanent part of the vehicle’s design, while roof racks can be added or removed as needed.

Exploring Roof Racks vs. Roof Rails

Many think both roof racks and roof rails are the same thing due to their similarity in terms and correlated functions. However, they aren’t.

Both roof rack and roof rail systems are perfect for conveying larger equipment during a trip. Nevertheless, the main difference lies in the mounting style. Roof rails mainly run along the car’s roof. Contrarily, roof racks are mounted over the roof.

Apart from the mounting style, there are significant differences in installation, design, assimilation, etc. You should know about these differences if you’re a car owner and a frequent traveler. Learning about the differences can help you determine which will be the best for your vehicle.

Now, I will show you the differences between them in this guide. Not only that, but I will also help you to learn which one will be perfect for your needs. Let’s dive in –

What are Roof Rails?

Install Roof Rack on Car Devoid Roof Rails

Roof rails are longitudinal bars that run along the roof of a vehicle. They are commonly found on SUVs, trucks, and other large vehicles. Roof rails are designed to provide a stable and secure mounting point for various cargo carriers, such as roof boxes, ski racks, bike racks, and luggage baskets.

There are mainly two types of roof rails available: elevated and flush.

  • Elevated roof rails have some space directly below them, making tying with ropes more convenient. Usually, a minimum 2-inch gap is found between the car’s rooftop and roof rails.
  • Flush roof rails are a type of roof rail system designed to be seamlessly integrated into the vehicle’s roofline. They are mounted underneath the roofline and may require special mounting hardware or installation procedures. Besides, they are usually more aerodynamic than elevated rails. Therefore, they are much more fuel-efficient and can effectively reduce wind noise.

What are Roof Racks?

Roof racks are an accessory that can be installed on the vehicle’s roof to provide more storage space for larger items. They are also known as crossbars. Additionally, they consist of crossbars that run perpendicular to the vehicle’s roofline and are mounted to the roof using specialized brackets.

Roof racks can transport various items, including luggage, bicycles, skis, snowboards, kayaks, and cargo boxes.

Some Basic Differences Between Roof Rails vs. Roof Racks

Let’s check out some fundamental differences between roof rails vs. roof racks –

Comparison FieldRoof RailsRoof Racks
DirectionFrom left to rightFrom front to rear
  MountingDirectly onto the car’s roofMounted using brackets that run square to the roofline
  Weight CapacityMade to carry a small number of weightsCan hold larger equipment or sports gear easily
  PurposeMainly add the attractiveness of a carIt makes the journey easy by conveying a considerable amount of gears.
InstallationComes pre-installedNeed to add on the vehicle
DurabilityNot so durableGood brands can last even a decade

So, it’s assumable that the main difference between roof rails and roof racks lies in functionality. Roof rails are equipment that can increase the attractiveness and aesthetics of a vehicle. On the other hand, roof racks are more practical for increasing the carrying capacity of a car.

Roof Racks vs. Roof Rails – Main Differences

Yes, both roof racks and roof rails are used as rooftop cargo carriers for vehicles, and many people think they are the same product. However, this is a wrong perception. They are not the same product, and the two have significant differences.

If you purchase one of them, you must know the differences. Let’s check some of the most significant differences between roof racks vs. roof rails –


Roof rails are a kind of permanent addition to a vehicle’s roof that runs from the front to the back of the car. On the contrary, roof racks are usually removable and fastened to the roof rails or directly to the car’s rooftop.

Serving Purpose

The serving purpose between roof racks and roof rails isn’t that different. The primary purpose of using them is to convey additional gears. Nevertheless, there’s still a slight difference in functionality.

For instance, roof rails are designed to provide a fastening point for crossbars, while roof racks are widely used to carry bulky items and sports equipment.

In other words, roof racks are the mastermind behind conveying larger items to make the journey comfortable. On the contrary, roof rails work as the supporting hand of the roof rack.

Installation Process

Now, I have come to an essential point. Many people are very interested in this matter. Between the roof rail and rack, which is comfortable for fitting? I’ll give you an example to understand to make things easier for you.

Suppose you have two cars. One is quite expensive, and the other is relatively cheap. It’s a matter of common sense that the maintenance cost of an expensive car is higher than a cheaper one. You have to spend more on an expensive car.

The same thing can go for roof rails and roof racks. Roof rails are like a supportive media for the crossbars. On the other hand, roof racks can carry a lot of equipment and is pretty expensive, it makes sense that the installation process of the rack is a bit harder than its counterpart.

Since roof rails are actually mounting systems, they come pre-installed. Besides, they add very little weight to the car. On the contrary, roof racks are expensive products and bulkier. You need to install them thoroughly with the help of a professional.

Furthermore, roof racks require various equipment to get installed, such as a screwdriver, tape, etc. So, it’s easy to assume that the roof rack installation procedure is more challenging.

Safety Measurements

Since both roof rails and roof racks are car accessories, it’s reasonable to assume that they are incredibly durable and made with high-quality materials. However, they do have differences. Are you wondering what that means? Well, let me explain.

Roof rails are mostly made of steel or aluminum material. As a result, they’re sturdy and stable and can carry small items without any problem. However, they cannot adequately protect the items against adverse weather conditions. Moreover, roof rails can cause friction to the car.

On the other hand, roof racks are made of aluminum alloy and polymer materials. They can provide sufficient security to your gear. Although roof racks cover a large portion of the vehicle’s roof, your larger items will be safe with the rack.

Furthermore, roof racks won’t cause unnecessary friction to your vehicle, making outdoor journeys more comfortable.


I’ve already addressed this in the previous discussion. The price of roof racks is much higher than that of roof rails. Since different types of roof racks are available in the market, prices can vary. However, the price usually ranges from around $300 to $2000.

On the other hand, the prices of roof rails are around $100 to $500.

Choosing the Right System for Your Needs

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When deciding between roof racks and roof rails, it is essential to consider your specific needs and the type of vehicle you have. Do you have a larger vehicle with factory-installed roof rails?

If so, you can use those rails to fasten different accessories without installing a separate roof rack.

However, a roof rack may be a better option if you have a smaller vehicle or need to carry large or bulky items.

Ultimately, choosing between roof racks and rails will depend on your specific needs and preferences. Both systems offer their advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, it is essential to carefully consider your options before making a decision.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q – Who should buy roof racks?

A – Roof racks are helpful for anyone who loves transporting items on their vehicle’s roof, such as luggage, bicycles, kayaks, skis, or other gear. They’re handy for frequent travelers and sports enthusiasts.

Q – What are the disadvantages of having a roof rack on the car?

A – One problem with having a roof rack on your car is that it can negatively impact fuel efficiency, causing the car to slow down and use more fuel. Despite this drawback, roof racks are still worth purchasing because they allow you to carry a large amount of equipment and make your journey more comfortable.

Q – How do I know which roof rack is perfect for me?

A – It depends on the type of equipment you want to carry on the rack. For example, you’ll need a snowboarding rack if you wish to carry sports gear like skis. You’ll need a cargo box if you want to carry household equipment. If you plan to transport bicycles, you should purchase a bike rack.

Q – Which is more versatile between a roof rack and a roof rail?

A – Roof racks are way more versatile than roof rails. Roof racks can carry a broader range of equipment directly on the vehicle’s roof, while roof rails mainly function as a foundation for attaching other equipment like bike racks, cargo boxes, or ski racks.

Q – Can I install roof racks or roof rails on any vehicle?

A – Not all vehicles are compatible with roof racks or roof rails. Compatibility depends on the car’s make and model year. Therefore, it’s best to consult a professional before purchasing a roof rack or rails to learn if they’re compatible with your car and ensure safe installation.

In Closing

We have come to the end of our discussion. I hope you clearly understand the differences between roof racks and roof rails. Due to their similar functions and interchangeable terms, many people think they are the same. However, from the above discussion, it is evident that their features are not the same.

Nevertheless, I want to clarify one thing: their differences are only fundamental, nothing more. I hope my write-up has helped clear the air and will assist you in making a wise decision.

A dedicated automotive enthusiast and the Co-Founder of this platform. With a profound love for cars and a keen eye for top-notch accessories, I’m thrilled to share my expertise with you.