Best roof bar 2022: Carry a roof box or bike rack from £42

Stuart Milne
28 Sep 2022

The best options for increasing your car’s carrying capacity

Roof bars represent a cost-effective and convenient way of boosting your car’s carrying capacity. They enable you to transport longer or more bulky loads, and are a must if you need to mount a roof box or roof-mounted cycle carrier.

While a trailer might offer the ultimate in flexibility, they’re big and inconvenient to store. Roof bars can quickly be fitted, removed and stored until required next time. There’s a wide range on the market, from universal sets to roof bars which are model-specific, so it’s essential you do your homework to ensure the set you choose will fit.

Which type you choose will also be governed by whether or not your car has factory-fitted roof rails: they’re common on estate cars and SUVs, less so on hatchbacks or saloons. And you should also consider how often you’re likely to use them: a cheaper, heavier set might be better for occasional use, but if you’re using them frequently, a lighter, more aerodynamic set could fit the bill better. Either way, read on for our top picks.

READ NEXT: The best car roof boxes for storage and security

Best roof bars: At a glance

How to choose the best roof bars for you

Should I spend more to get more aerodynamic roof bars?

This really depends on your budget and how frequently you’ll use them. Roof bars can significantly impact your car’s fuel economy and can generate an awful lot of noise at speed; generally speaking, the sleeker the design of the roof bars, the more marginal the effects. Of course, for this, you’ll pay extra. If you want to fit once and forget, then a set like Thule Wingbar Evo is worth paying a premium for.

Should I choose steel or aluminium roof bars?

Again, it really comes down to how you’re planning to use your roof bars, and how often. Aluminium roof bars are a great deal lighter than steel, which means they’ll have less of an impact on fuel economy. And because they weigh less, they’re just that little bit easier to install. In some cases they’ll be able to carry a little more, but you’ll need to check the specifications of each individual set.

Can I fit a roof rack to any car?

The short answer is probably not. There are some universal roof bars available: the Streetwise set we tested should fit any car with factory-fitted roof rails, but for the most part, you’ll need to choose carefully as the mounting brackets will be specific to your car. Some roof bar setups are modular, like the Thule Wingbar Evo tested here. You’ll buy a universal pair of bars, but the specific mounting kits you need vary enormously from car to car.

It’s worth noting that you won’t be able to fit roof cars of any kind to some cars. Three-door hatchbacks, for example, may not have any way of actually mounting the rear bar.

How secure are roof bars?

Most roof bars have locks included in the set, or available as an optional extra. Without them, a thief could easily remove them with simple or even no tools. If you’re carrying expensive kit, or plan to leave the roof bars on as a permanent fixture, investing in a set of locks is highly recommended if they aren’t supplied.

READ NEXT: Our pick of the best bike racks for your car

The best roof bars you can buy in 2022

1. Best aerodynamic roof bars: Thule Wingbar Evo

Price: £130 (plus £146 fixings) | Buy now from Halfords

It should come as little surprise that the most expensive roof bars in our rundown are the best all-rounders. They come from Swedish firm, Thule, which is one of the best-known brands in this marketplace. It’s very obvious, from even the most cursory of examinations, that the Wingbar Evo set is a very high quality product. The bars will fit a wide range of models, but the clamp and mounting kits are model-specific; in the case of the Ford Mondeo that we tested them on, they cost an additional £146.

Assembly isn’t particularly straightforward which is why Halfords offers fitting for £20. But once it’s all been put together and mounted, the package’s superb engineering is all too evident. Thule provides useful guidance as to how far apart the feet should be. When it comes to fitting, the spikes on the clamps locate in a hole at the top of each door jamb, ensuring they will only fit when in the correct position. A supplied tool is used to tension the bars, before fitting the lockable covers.

The sleek design of the bars, together with rubber strips to ease airflow above and below the rails, means that wind noise is minimal, even at 60mph.

Key specs – Width: 1,350mm; Material: Aluminium; Load capacity: 75kg; Locks included: Yes

Buy now from Halfords

2. Best budget roof bars: Summit SUP-071

Price: £75 | Buy now from Amazon

Summit is another brand with an impressive reputation for its roof bars. There’s a wide range of versions available for a range of different models. Here, we’re testing the steel SUP-071 and aluminium SUP-071A on a 2016 Mazda 3 hatchback.

In most respects, the steel and aluminium versions are virtually identical. The aluminium units are lighter, and have additional rubber trims in order to smooth the airflow, and so require a little more assembly off the car.

Without the spike arrangement of the Mondeo, fitting the roofbars to the Mazda required a little more guesswork – that was down to the car, rather than the design of the roofbars. But once you’ve got your head around the positioning of the rubber-soled feet that steady the roofbars on the car, fitment is very straightforward. It just requires a bolt to be tightened using the supplied Allen key, although it’s hard to gauge exactly what the required 5Nm feels like using a basic hand tool.

On the move, the SUP-071 and SUP-071A were both impressively quiet between 30mph and 60mph, but at slower speeds, they did generate a slight, almost musical sound as the wind passed through them. Still, it’s nothing that the radio or some conversation wouldn’t drown out.

Key specs – Width: 1,270mm; Material: Plastic-covered steel (aluminium - SUP-071A); Load capacity: 50kg; Locks included: Optional (£20)

3. Best roof bars for cars with roof rails: Streetwize Anti-Theft Lockable Universal Roof Bars 1250mm

Price: £42 | Buy now from Toolstation

Proving that roof bars needn’t cost the earth, this Streetwize set costs significantly less than £50. It’ll fit pretty much any car with factory-fitted roof rails, just as long as your car is less than 125cm wide, although Streetwize does manufacture longer bars for larger cars.

Fitting is straightforward, even if the instructions aren’t the clearest. You simply open the plastic bracket and locate the rubber-covered grips around your car’s roof rails, and tighten the securing nut from underneath. Pull the bracket down, which further tightens the grip on the car, push the lock in, and you’re done. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to ensure the bars are the correct distance apart (Streetwize says this should be 700mm) and that they’re aligned correctly across the width of the car.

They’re rated to carry a maximum load of 60kg, but it’s best to take the car manufacturer’s recommendations into account. They don’t generate a great deal of noise at low speeds, but at more than 60mph, the air whips around them to produce a droning sound. But they’re easy to remove, and come with a clip to keep them fastened together and hang when not in use.

Key specs – Width: 1,250mm; Material: Plastic-covered steel; Load capacity: 60kg; Locks included: Yes

Buy now from Toolstation

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