Roof Racks vs. Roof Rails

We are often asked ‘what is the difference between roof racks and factory roof rails?’, so we're here to tell you all about it.

The Differences Between Roof Racks and Roof Rails

Roof rails and roof racks are the ideal and safe way to transport luggage, bicycles, kayaks, or a range of other items that just won’t fit inside your car. While roof racks and roof rails are similar, the main difference is the direction in which they are mounted on to your vehicle. Both will allow you to increase your cargo carrying capacity and ensure you can transport goods safely and securely. 


However, the reason we are so often asked this question is that the roof rails are often a design feature of a car but their main purpose is to be used as mounting points rather than carriers. A roof rack is a perfect carrier that enables you to load up your vehicle and carry bulky equipment from sporting goods to camping gear and a range of other items. It’s also important to remember to always secure your load regardless of the type of roof rack or rail installed to your vehicle. At Yakima, we are all about keeping the great moments from your trip long after you’ve returned home. So we want to ensure that your gear is handled in the right way.


Find out which best suits your car and your needs with our Roof Racks vs Roof Rails guide. 

Your Roof Racks vs Roof Rails Guide

Roof racks like our LocknLoad Bars run east to west across the roof of your car, giving you a more secure load. Roof racks are designed to handle more cargo weight. However, it is important not to overload the roof rack and stick to the weight guidelines to avoid the danger of an overloaded vehicle. It’s good to note that most insurance companies won’t cover you for accidents if your load exceeds the recommended limit.

roof racks


Roof rails are mounted onto a vehicle in a north-south direction running parallel with the length of the car. They also provide an aerodynamic look to your car while giving you the option to tie down items that wouldn’t otherwise fit in your car, on to the roof. As roof rails are often factory fitted the rails themselves are not able to be used on their own. However, there is a range of different roof rails accessories to help improve your load capacity and stability. Attaching roof racks to your car roof rails is super easy to do. Just make sure you read the instructions and best to have a measuring tape on hand so you can fix the racks to the rails accurately and safely.


In summary, roof rails are good for an oversized lighter weight load, as long as you use the correct attachments. Roof rails on their own act as a carrier of oversized items. So if you’re looking for a car roof transport option that gives you maximum cargo weight, stability and safety, roof racks are definitely the way to go. 


Check out Yakima's other blog posts for more info or roof racks, rails, and other tips and tricks!


Last updated: 26th October 2020

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