Do I Need Roof Rails for a Roof Rack? Facts with Explanation

Roof rails are not always necessary for a roof rack installation, as some roof racks can attach directly to the vehicle’s roof. However, roof rails can provide additional stability and ease of installation for certain roof rack types, offering a more secure and versatile setup.

Are you planning a long road trip for camping purposes or want to carry added gear for your outdoor adventures? Roof racks can be the perfect solution for this. You can increase the storage space in your vehicle through a roof rack.

However, one common question that often pops up is whether you need roof rails to install a roof rack. So, do I need roof rails for a roof rack?

In this article, we will explore this question and provide you with everything you need to know before making your decision. Here we go-

Are Roof Rails Necessary for a Roof Rack?

Roof racks are designed to carry bulky items such as bicycles, skis, kayaks, and luggage. It provides extra storage space for your vehicle. Hence, they are an excellent addition to your vehicle, giving you more room to carry things around. 

But most people face problems when they’re about to install a roof rack. If you want to install a roof rack, it is vital to check whether your vehicle has roof rails. Roof rails are the bars that run along the length of the car roof. Moreover, they are installed by manufacturers.

If your vehicle has roof rails, you may not need additional equipment to install the rack. In this case, you only need to find a roof rack that fits your roof rails. There are plenty of options available in the market that can easily fit into your vehicle’s existing roof rails.

Nevertheless, if your vehicle does not come with roof rails, you may need to consider installing them to be able to fit a roof rack.

Benefits of Roof Rails

Are Roof Rails Necessary for a Roof Rack

One of the most significant benefits of installing roof rails in your vehicle is that they provide a secure and solid base for mounting a roof rack. Additionally, roof rails make the installation process easy and sophisticated. For this reason, you don’t need to drill holes into your vehicle to install them. 

Contrariwise, roof rails are also excellent for fastening other accessories such as cargo boxes, bike racks, and roof baskets.

It is important to note that some vehicles come with “raised side rails“. These rails may look like roof rails. However, they are not strong enough to support the roof rack’s weight. Raised side rails cannot be used as a base to mount a roof rack without additional equipment.

So, it is always recommended that you check your vehicle’s user manual to know whether your car has roof rails or raised side rails.

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

Roof Rack Without Crossbars

Are you searching for a new car or need to transport things like bikes, luggage, or kayaks? Or, have you decided to purchase a car? You might be wondering what the difference is between roof rails and roof racks.

Notwithstanding, both are used to carry cargo on the roof of your car. But they have significantly different functions and features. Understanding the difference can help you make the right choice for your needs. To make the right decision, let’s take a closer look to learn the difference between them –

Roof Rails

Roof rails are standard features on many SUVs, crossovers, and station wagons. They run parallel to the roofline of the car. Besides, they are usually raised a few inches above the car’s roof. Roof rails are designed to help secure items directly to the roof, or to mount roof rack systems on your car.

If your car has factory-installed roof rails, it means that you only need to buy a roof rack system to fasten things to the rooftop. Before purchasing a roof rack, ensure it’s compatible with your car’s roof rail system.

It’s worth mentioning that roof rails can’t be removed or attached to the car after purchase, while roof racks can be easily installed and removed.

Types of Roof Rails

There are two significant types of roof rails available. They’re –

Flush Roof Rails

Flush roof rails, also known as low-profile roof rails. They are roof rail designs that sit close to the vehicle’s roofline. These rails are designed to be sleek and aerodynamic, providing seamless integration with the vehicle’s overall appearance.

Consequently, they’re good-looking and highly efficient in terms of fuel economy.

Elevated Roof Rails

Usually, these types of rails are raised higher, around two inches from the vehicle’s rooftop. If you frequently visit for camping or vacation, these rails will be perfect for you. Since they can effortlessly convey added luggage or household equipment, they’re extremely useful for frequent travelers.

Some cars come with factory-installed rooftop racks; some don’t. For those automobiles that possess factory-installed crossbars, you don’t have to fasten any roof racks. Instead, you can go for any carrier, such as a kayak carrier.

This is because these carriers feature a wide range of attachment methods designed to fit securely onto the crossbars.

For your convenience, you can go for Malone SeaWing. It is currently the best in the market due to its more effortless loading, sturdy structure, and corrosion-resistant polycarbonate construction.

Roof Racks

On the other hand, roof racks are removable and can be mounted on any car model with or without factory-installed roof rails. They are designed to hold items such as bikes, surfboards, kayaks, or luggage. They can help free up space inside the car. As a result, they’ll give you more room to carry passengers.

Roof racks come in different types, such as bare roof racks, crossbars, rooftop cargo carriers, and ski racks. A bare roof rack system includes bars clamped to the roof of the car while crossbars attach to the roof rails.

Rooftop cargo carriers are enclosed to protect your belongings from the elements, and ski racks are fitted with clamps that hold your skis securely.

Type of Roof Rack Mounting

Roof racks can be classified into five areas. They are –

Raised Rail Mounting

Raised rail mounting is a popular type of roof rack system. It utilizes existing raised roof rails on the vehicle. The cross bars are attached to the raised rails using clamps or other attachment mechanisms. Further, this mounting method provides a secure and stable attachment.

These raised rails are commonly found on SUVs, crossovers, and some station wagons with factory-installed raised roof rails.

Flush Rail Mounting

Flush rail mounting is similar to raised rail mounting. Nevertheless, it is designed for vehicles with flush or low-profile roof rails. The cross bars are fastened directly to the flush rails using specialized mounting feet or clamps.

Hence, this type of mounting system provides a sleek and integrated look while still offering the functionality of a roof rack.

Fixed Point Mounting

Fixed point mounting involves attaching the roof rack directly to fixed mounting points on the vehicle’s roof. These mounting points are pre-installed by the vehicle manufacturer. Furthermore, they may be exposed or hidden beneath removable plastic covers.

As a result, they’re visible, and you can’t see them clearly.

Fixed point mounting provides a secure and stable attachment. They also allow for easy adjustment and removal of the roof rack.

Naked Roof

You need to buy fit kits to adjust into a naked roof. They’re usually designed to cramp into the door jam.

Rain Gutter Mounting

Rain gutter mounting is an older style of roof rack mounting. It is still used on some older vehicle models or specialized applications. Additionally, it involves attaching the roof rack to the rain gutters or channels that run along the edges of the vehicle’s roof.

The cross bars are attached using clamps that fit into the rain gutters. They provide a secure fastening point.

Final Say

So, to sum it all up, the answer to the question, “do I need roof rails for a roof rack”? It depends on whether your vehicle comes with roof rails or not. Roof rails provide a better base for mounting your roof rack, making the process simple and straightforward.

However, if your car doesn’t have roof rails, you may need to install them to secure a roof rack properly. Always check your car’s user manual to know whether your car has roof rails or raised side rails.

Note that it’s always safer to have roof rails than to use raised side rails as a base for mounting your roof rack. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure your roof rack is secure to avoid any accidents while on the road.


Do I need roof rails for a roof rack on my car?

It depends on the type of roof rack you want to install. Some roof racks require existing roof rails for installation, while others are designed to be mounted directly on the roof without rails.

What are the benefits of having roof rails for a roof rack?

Roof rails provide a secure and stable base for the roof rack, distributing the weight evenly and reducing the chances of damage to your car’s roof. They also offer additional attachment points for other accessories like cargo carriers and bike racks.

Can I install a roof rack without roof rails?

Yes, there are roof racks available that can be installed directly onto the roof without the need for existing roof rails. These types of roof racks typically use a clamping system or hooks to secure them to the car’s roof.

How do I know if my car has roof rails?

Most modern cars come with roof rails as a standard or as an optional feature. Check the top edges of your car’s roof; if raised bars run from the front to the back, those are likely roof rails.

What is the difference between roof rails and roof racks?

Roof rails are the raised bars that run along the edges of the car’s roof, providing a base for mounting various accessories. Roof racks, on the other hand, are the systems that attach to the roof rails or directly to the roof, allowing you to carry items like luggage, bikes, or skis.

Are roof rails necessary for a roof box installation?

It depends on the type of roof box. Some roof boxes can be attached directly to the roof without the need for roof rails, while others require roof rails for proper installation and support.

Can I add roof rails to my car if it didn’t come with them originally?

In many cases, adding aftermarket roof rails to cars that didn’t come with them from the factory is possible. However, the feasibility and ease of installation may vary depending on your car’s make and model.

Do roof rails affect fuel efficiency?

Roof rails can slightly impact fuel efficiency, as they may create additional wind resistance, especially when no roof rack or cargo is mounted. To mitigate this effect, consider removing the roof rack or accessories when not in use.

What is the weight capacity of roof rails and roof racks?

The weight capacity varies depending on the car’s make, model, and the type of roof rack or roof rail system you have. Always check your car’s manual or the manufacturer’s guidelines for specific weight limits.

Are there any alternatives to roof racks for carrying cargo?

Yes, there are alternatives, such as hitch-mounted cargo carriers and trunk-mounted racks. These options are suitable for cars without roof rails or for those who prefer not to use roof-mounted systems.

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.