Roof Boxes Buying Guide
We hope that these pages will help you to make an informed choice about which roof box will suit you best.
- How to decide: Think about “shape” as well as price and features
- Different shapes for different purposes - some details
- Our 90 day exchange scheme
- Brands and quality overview: Atera, Autoform, Hapro, INNO, KAMEI, Karrite, Thule, Yakima
- Capacity versus volume: “Things aren’t always what they seem”
- Box features you can’t really see, the most important ones:
- Box features – the most visible ones:
- Locking systems
- Box to bar fitting systems
- “Dual side opening”
- Styling and streamlining
- You need roof bars
- FAQs (not covered elsewhere)
- Roof box accessories
How to decide:
The decision about which roof box to buy should mainly be influenced by what shape of box is appropriate for your requirements, which means most importantly “What width of box?” followed by “What length of box?”
Price is important but bear in mind that a roof box should be expected to last for many family holidays and weekends away; it should give many years of solid and reliable service. We don’t stock any of the really cheap boxes because there are real doubts about their safety and build quality.
It's usually quite easy to decide which shape of box to go for. Rule 1: If you want to carry other things on the roof as well as the box, either now or later, choose a box which leaves space on the roof bars. That's obvious. Narrow or Medium-width boxes will suit people who want the flexibility to carry bikes, windsurfers, or kayaks. Rule 2: If you need to carry long items over 2 metres, you'll need a long box, whatever the width. Also obvious!
Even if you don't have particularly long things to carry, it’s likely that a long box will suit you best if it's for use by a family of four or five people. Long Medium-width boxes are by far and away our most popular 'family flexible' boxes. Their particular advantages are that they can be moved around by one person, they have a very good capacity (usually 460 to 475 litres), they’re easy to load and unload, and they’re much easier than Long Wide boxes to move around and to store. There's usually space on the roof bars for two bike carriers as well, especially if you use aluminium aerobars (which allow the full length of the bar to be used for load carrying).
“Long boxes” will almost certainly be longer than your car roof and will stick out over the windscreen, but "So what?" - you won't notice the box when you're in the car.
Here are some other 'Rules of thumb' where boxes are fitted to 120cm roof bars: A family of 5 will probably buy a longer Medium-width box, leaving space for 2 bike carriers on the roof either now or in due course (or perhaps a second roof box). A family of 4 will probably buy a shorter Medium-width box, leaving room for 1 or 2 bike carriers. 3 bikes can usually be fitted on the back of the car, or 4 on a tow bar carrier.
Any box can be fitted to any car, within reason. There’s no such thing as a particular box for a particular car.
Narrow roof boxes
People usually choose long and narrow boxes if they want to leave space on the roof of a normal width vehicle for a kayak, or for two or three bike carriers.
Medium-width (Family) roof boxes
Most of our customers are part of a family and many will buy other shapes of box, so what do we mean by “Family boxes”? We mean that many families want to carry bikes as well as luggage, and they’ll usually need to carry at least one bike on the roof, often two bikes. Our “family boxes” are therefore medium-wide, leaving space on the roof bars for at least one and probably two bike carriers, especially if your roof bars include aluminium aerobars.
Wide roof boxes
Wide roof boxes impose limitations on what else you can carry on the roof. There will usually be roof bar space for one bike carrier, depending on the length of the roof bars and whether you use aerobars.
Short-Wide and Long-Wide roof boxes are so different in cost, capacity and ease of handling that we split the Wide category into Short Wide and Long Wide.
Short Wide roof boxes
You’ll find that we put all the short roof boxes into this group, including some which are only Medium-width and so allow space for a bike carrier alongside. All the Short boxes are available in roof box and roof bars package deals.
Long Wide roof boxes
These are the biggest boxes we sell. They can be ideal for general family use, depending on your overall load carrying needs. Be warned however that they are very bulky and as such are always awkward for one person to move around on their own. If you’re looking for maximum capacity as well as the flexibility for carrying other items, consider using two boxes side by side.
A roof box is a large item that is usually difficult to hide away “out of sight and out of mind”, so you won’t want to be stuck with “the wrong one”. We therefore offer a unique [90 day exchange scheme] [link]. Roof boxes are our specialist subject and we know from experience which boxes will last the pace over many years, and which ones often don’t, regardless of the manufacturers’ guarantees. We’re therefore confident about our comments, recommendations and star ratings, but if you buy from us (and we hope you will) you may well be buying a roof box model that is “sight unseen”, and if you haven’t used a roof box before you probably won’t know what to expect. We really want you to buy a suitable box first time out, but if you don’t, then “No worries”, you can exchange it.
Atera (Formula), Autoform, INNO, KAMEI (Delphin, 510, Corvara), Thule (Dynamic and Excellence - which we don’t stock) and Yakima all use essentially the same quality of plastic and are of similar overall quality. The Karrite Odysseys, Hapro Roadys and Thule Pacifics use thinner material. The other boxes fall somewhere in between, the Atera Certos and KAMEI Delphins being very similar to the Thule Motions. As a rule of thumb, "The heavier the box, the better the quality," although at the premium end you’ll see that INNO is using lightweight materials technology to reduce weight.
Atera is Germany’s premier car rack systems brand, supplier to BMW amongst others. Their boxes are made for them by Hapro (Holland).
Autoform is Sweden’s specialist box manufacturer, a top quality manufacturer who do most of their roof box business with other brands and car manufacturers. Their URBAN-LOADER is a truly innovative box concept.
Hapro is one of the three major manufacturers in this market, together with KAMEI and Thule.
INNO boxes are made in Tokyo. They make components for the Japanese car industry and their Shadow boxes have state of the art injection-moulded bases for lightness and stiffness.
KAMEI is Germany’s roof box specialist. They make the best quality boxes on the worldwide market, no doubt at all, using specialist plastics and taking a 'no compromise' attitude to design that sets the engineering aspects of their boxes above the demands of the marketing people. There are three ranges: top quality (‘Oyster’ and 'Corvara'), mid to top ('Delphin'), and mid market (‘Husky’), a cheaper range which still meets all the same safety criteria as the rest of the range. KAMEI supplies many car manufacturers with own branded top boxes, including Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.
Karrite, owned by Thule, is the UK's box manufacturer. Their boxes are very sensible, being made from the same components and to the same quality as the Thule 'Pacific' range.
Thule is the world's dominant car rack systems manufacturer; their boxes are widely sold in the UK so you'll see plenty of them about. They have 3 main box ranges - economy ('Pacific'), mid to top (‘Motion’), and top quality ('Dynamic' and ‘Excellence’), although the engineering features in the Dynamics and Excellence are not significantly different to the Motions. The Motion boxes are good value and of very good quality.
Yakima is America’s biggest car rack systems brand, and is dominant in the USA. Their SkyBox Pro range is right up there for quality and features with the INNO Shadows and KAMEI Corvaras.
We make no apologies for being very opinionated about roof boxes. Profit margins are thin at the best of times, and sorting out problems 2 or 3 years up the line (e.g. jammed locks or broken struts) always leaves us with an overall loss, as well as being a hassle for our customers.
From left to right: KAMEI Corvara, Thule Motion 800, Yakima SkyBox Pro 16, Hapro Roady 422 roofbox
At the premium end The Roof Box Company is proud to be stocking the best boxes available anywhere. The best of Atera, INNO, KAMEI, and Yakima are as good as it gets.
Don't take too much notice of manufacturers' estimates of capacity (litres). A few extra centimetres of height can make a huge difference to the nominal capacity of a roof box, but will probably make no difference to its real world usefulness, particularly if the box lid has pronounced styling. Anyway, the lower the box the less is the wind resistance. You are likely to put one layer of soft bags along the base of the box, and then coats and flatter objects on top of them; no box on the market will be deep enough for two layers of soft bags. Length and width are therefore the most important measures of usefulness. Unless indicated otherwise, all the boxes we sell will accommodate several sets of golf clubs, or a decent sized tent and sleeping bags etc. Many customers ask whether their child's buggy will fit in the roof box. The answer is that "It depends" - the size of the wheels being the usual problem. Don't forget that it may be easier to put the buggy in the back of the car, and use the roof box for other items. Hard suitcases, especially large ones, are not usually suitable for use in roof boxes; soft bags are always more appropriate.
There is also doubt about the reliability of declared box capacities. KAMEI have a reputation for being conservative about capacity, Thule and Karrite swing the other way. Look at these pictures that show (L to R) a Thule 780 (480 litres), a KAMEI Husky (330 litres), a Kar Rite Odyssey 320 (320 litres). In each case the roof box is the full size of its carton. Seeing is believing!
Boxes are on the face of it very simple products - two bits of plastic joined together with hinges, struts and locks. Most manufacturers source these raw materials from the same suppliers.
You tend to get what you pay for with roof boxes, and you certainly do when you make the jump from boxes below £150 to those above. There are some surprisingly cheap boxes being offered in the European market this year, which causes some concern. Are they up to the job? Bearing in mind (1) that roof boxes are European made, not Chinese made, and (2) that there have been massive price increases in raw material costs (oil and steel) in recent years, it's a good rule of thumb that the cheaper the box, the thinner the material, and the less robust and secure it will be. If you do intend to buy very cheap, we'd recommend that you choose a well branded product. Most families use roof boxes for a number of years, and with £25 or so being the difference between an adequate product and a good one, and £50 the difference between an adequate box and an excellent one, it does make sense to trade up market.
The thickness and quality of plastic makes a significant difference to overall box quality. Boxes are subjected to huge forces at speed, and thinner plastic boxes - the ones that feel like 'eggshell' - tend to rattle a bit after prolonged use, as the rivets may compress the thin plastic and move about. This isn't a problem with thicker plastic / heavier boxes.
Unless stated, all the boxes we sell are made from various types of UV-protected ABS plastic, and they are fully recyclable. None of the serious manufacturers uses fibreglass nowadays
Central locking is a great idea for vehicles but is often an unsatisfactory solution with roof boxes. Most central locking systems require a centrally located key to be turned and, at the same time, both the front and the rear of the box to be properly closed. This seems simple enough but will become a three handed i.e. two person operation if there is bulky gear in the box, holding up the lid – even soft coats can cause this problem - or if the base is sagging, either because it’s weak or the box has been loaded incorrectly with too much weight at the front or at the back. KAMEI’s central locking system is different; you unlock the box with a quarter key turn, but you don’t have to touch the key when locking it – you just pull the box shut until you hear a click which shows that all three locking points have engaged, at which point the key can be removed. Their Delphin range uses push button locks at each end, allowing you to lock first one end, then the other.
Box to bar fitting systems
Our experience is that all boxes are almost as quick and easy to fit to roof bars, whether or not they have 'quick fit' systems. It can be awkward to fit U bolts to Wide single side opening boxes – you have to stretch a long way to the hinge side fittings. (Note that KAMEI has special grippers which hold their U bolts in place; U bolts that fall back onto the car roof are a nuisance.)
Bear in mind also that many people leave their box permanently fixed to the roof bars, storing the two together, perhaps using a roof box hoist, so fitting time is irrelevant. And also ask yourself the question, "If I take my box on holiday 3 times a year, and the slower but often lower profile U bolt fittings take an extra 2 minutes to fit each time, does this really make any difference?"
Better quality boxes have adjustable fitting systems which accommodate unusual roof bar centres, which saves the hassle of drilling extra holes.
Dual side opening
Some of the KAMEI Delphin and Husky boxes open from the left hand side; other boxes open on the right hand side. Atera (some), INNO (all), KAMEI (Corvara DuoLift), Thule (all the ones we stock) have a dual side opening system; this is very useful on full width boxes, particularly when used on tall vehicles, but is of less benefit on narrower boxes as for ease of access these boxes really need to be on one side of the car or the other, and cannot then be reached from the other side. KAMEI's 450 and Grizzly XL boxes are entirely symmetrical so you can have the opening side on the left or the right side of the car. Placing a box in the middle of the car might look tidier but unless it's a wide box you'll end up having to stretch, balancing on the door sill and at risk of straining your back.
Quite a few people choose the opening format on the basis of where the car is parked at home, e.g. there may be a fence or a wall or a flowerbed, a hazard that makes loading much easier from a particular side.
Styling and streamlining
Quality boxes should be almost silent in use. Boxes mounted too close to the roof are likely to generate a whistling noise, so roof bars lift them at least 10cm clear of the car roof.
The sections of roof bars not covered with a roof box tend to make most noise; if you are buying a top quality box it makes sense to buy into the latest low drag / low noise technology and choose Whispbars or Thule WingBars.
Roof boxes are always fitted to a set of roof bars, a set of steel or aluminium bars going across the car, from one side to the other. Cars with factory fitted longitudinal roof rails will still need a set of roof bars going from rail to rail.
Any brand of roof box can be fitted to any brand of roof bars, whether these roof bars are supplied by us or by a car dealer. You don’t need to buy your roof bars from your car dealer's accessory catalogue, not least because 'Original Equipment' bars are often own-badged Atera or Thule bars. Of course we would like to sell you both the box and the roof bars, but there is more to it than this. It's also fair to tell you that dealer supplied bars are often "neat but impractical", being either too short to allow you to carry all you want to carry, or too weirdly shaped to accommodate anything except for a roof box; for example, you might not be able to find bike carriers that fit them. If you like the look of roof bars with closed ends, i.e. no bar ends sticking out beyond the mountings, then check whether Whispbar’s ‘flush bars’ are available for your vehicle.
Roof bars are either made from plastic-coated steel, or aluminium. 'Standard' steel bars are rectangular in section, not more than 40mm wide and 30mm deep. Aluminium bars ("aerobars") usually have a slot in the top of them, often called a "T-track", designed to accommodate special adapters, and to allow you to use the full length of the roof bars for carrying a roof box and other accessories. The potential problem with steel bars is this: if you’re aiming to carry both a roof box and bike carriers, the feet that hold the bars onto the vehicle are likely to be in just the wrong place for the roof box and bike carrier fixings, which wrap around the bars. In other words, you can usually carry a wider load on aerobars than you can carry on steel bars.
If you already have aluminium bars, or decide to order them from our site, please also order the appropriate T-track roof box adapters! These are listed as options on the roof box order pages.
Thule is the world's largest car rack systems brand, with an excellent roof bar system and fittings for almost all vehicles. We also supply Atera bars - best of the German car rack system brands - as well as much cheaper CRUZ bars. CRUZ is a top notch Spanish manufacturer which specialises in mid-market roof bars. At the very top end we supply Yakima’s “Whispbars”, wing-shaped bars that create up to 70% less drag and noise than normal aerobars – so they’re definitely worth a look! Click here to link to our roof bars pages, or see the "Roof Bars" link in the left hand menu, or click on any yellow "Find your car" link.
Customers tend to ask the same sort of questions if they haven't used a roof box before. Here are some frequently asked questions, and answers:
Do I need anything else apart from roof bars and a roof box?
No. A set of box to standard bar fittings is included with every roof box we sell, as is a set of straps to keep luggage in place. When a box is locked it can't be removed from the bars because the fittings that go around the roof bars are secured inside the box, and the box will be locked.
Which side is Left hand opening and which side is Right hand opening?
Left hand opening boxes open on the passenger side of a standard UK right hand drive car, the ‘nearside’. Right hand opening means ‘driver’s side’, ‘offside’.
I have a Long box and it seems to overhang the bars a long way. Is this OK?
Yes. These boxes are designed so that approximately one third hangs out behind the rear bar, one third is supported by the roof bars, and one third overhangs the front bar.
We have a wide range of roof box accessories; some only fit specific boxes, and are therefore shown on the product / order pages for those boxes. See Roof Boxes / Accessories for more general accessories, e.g. lights, luggage.
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We believe our Family roofboxes will suit your needs.
Boxes are bulky items so the ideal place to store them is above your car in the garage, or in a shed. Many people will leave the box attached to the bars, and also use the box for storage. If you don't want a box hoist we're offering an alternative useful item (of lower value).
More on the brands we sell and what makes them special