- Rack School
This section is designed to give you a general understanding of car racks and hitches. It should help you select what type of rack to purchase and where on your vehicle you should install it. If you require specifics on a particular rack, we suggest that you either contact us or consult the manufacturer’s web site.
We sell Thule, Sportrack, TracRac, Yakima, Prorack, Whispbar and Kuat racks. Thule, pronounced “too lee,” originates from Sweden with most of our product now coming from the USA. Sportrack and TracRac are made by Thule. Yakima has its roots in the City of Yakima in Washington State and is sold throughout North America. Prorack and Whispbar are part of the Yakima family. Kuat is from the USA.
We are frequently asked what brand is the best. Our answer is that they are all good. Thule and Yakima are of equal quality and similar price and only in a few circumstances would we recommend one brand over another. Your decision should be based on brand preference, visual appearance, price, features and if pertinent, what make your existing rack is. Sportrack and Prorack are marketed toward the more value conscious consumer. While they may not have as many features as Thule or Yakima, they are sturdy and functional racks and are popular with our customers. TracRac, Whispbar and Kuat fill a niche that the other brands don’t. There are other racks available on the market but we feel that they don’t fit as well as the brands we carry and don’t have a solid enough system in place for supplies, parts and warranties. We see no need to carry them.
Hidden Hitch and Curt are the main hitch brands we carry but we have access to most brands. Hidden Hitch is commonly thought to be a style of hitch but is in fact a brand. The style is referred to as a receiver hitch where the hitches are hidden as much as possible under the vehicle and only the 1 ¼” or 2” square receiver hole is readily visible. All hitch brands are high quality. Unless you have a specific request, we recommend you leave the selection up to us based on fit and value.
A base rack, commonly known as a roof rack, is required before you can carry any accessories or gear on your roof. There are six ways that can install a base rack to your vehicle.
This original method of attaching racks requires a structural rain gutter above the doors. While this was the most common rack style decades ago, most cars don’t have structural rain gutters anymore. We install this style of rack mainly on pick up truck canopies that have had artificial rain gutters added or on commercial vans. A gutter system requires the purchase of bars, towers and if desired, locks.
The advantage of this style of rack is the simplicity of its fit. The disadvantage is that it won’t work on most cars.
This is the most popular method of attaching racks to vehicles. Today’s cars have an internal rain gutter in the doorframe; the roof and door blend smoothly leaving no external gutter to attach to. This style of rack requires a tower, with a rubber pad to protect the paint, above each door and a clip that hooks into the doorframe. The towers stay the same for each vehicle but there are over 100 different shapes of clips to fit each specific doorframe. Thule and Yakima call their clips Fit Kits and Q Clips respectively. A complete gutter less system requires the purchase of towers, bars, clips and if desired, locks.
The advantage of gutter less systems is that it will most likely fit your next vehicle with the purchase of a new set of clips making the change over reasonably inexpensive. The disadvantage is that the original cost is higher due to the requirement of clips.
In order to use this style of rack you must have a factory installed track, approximately one centimeter tall, that sits flush to the roof and that runs down both sides of the vehicle’s roof. If your vehicle additionally came with factory crossbars that run side-to-side attaching to the track, you may not need to purchase anything else since many accessories will fit directly onto these crossbars. The only reason to purchase new crossbars is if yours are not strong enough or wide enough.
Your crossbars weight limit should be listed in your owner’s manual or on a sticker attached to the rack. If you are unable to find it, please contact us and we should be able to look it up for you.
If your crossbars aren’t substantial enough, are missing or are not wide enough to carry your gear, then you need to purchase new ones. This style of rack requires towers that fit onto the tracks; cross bars and if desired, locks.
The advantage of this rack type is that you can move the bars back and forth on the track for optimal spacing and accessory location.
Some tent trailers have factory tracks attached to the roof which makes carrying extra loads such as bikes a snap.
Factory Raised Rail
This is our second most popular style of roof rack that we sell. It requires a factory installed raised rail running down the edge of the roof typically anchoring to the car in three spots. If you already have factory crossbars that run side-to-side then you may not need to purchase anything else since many accessories will fit directly onto these crossbars. The only reason to purchase new bars is if yours are not strong enough or wide enough.
Your crossbars weight limitations should be listed in your owner’s manual or on a sticker attached to the rack. If you are unable to find it, please contact us and we should be able to look it up for you.
If your crossbars aren’t strong enough, are absent or are not wide enough to carry your equipment, then you need to purchase new ones. This style of rack requires towers that fit onto the raised rails; cross bars and then locks if desired.
The advantage of this rack type is that you can move the bars back and forth on the raised rail for optimal spacing and accessory location.
Sometimes we will mix rack styles to create a hybrid system for your vehicle. One such scenario would be with sport utilities and vans where the factory tracks or raised rails only occupy the rear 2/3rds of the roof. If you wished to carry a long load such as a canoe or kayak on the factory rack portion only, the load would extend too far behind the vehicle to make it safe or to allow access to the rear tailgate. In this case we would put one crossbar over the front doors using a gutter less system and then a second crossbar at the rear using your factory rack. Your canoe or kayak could then be properly centered over the roof.
A second scenario involves pick up trucks with canopies. We very often install artificial rail gutters or tracks on the canopy to carry loads only on the canopy. But if you wished to carry longer loads such as ladders or wood we would put one crossbar over your cab doors using a gutter less system and then a second crossbar on the canopy using either a gutter or factory track system.
This is a solution for those who have a truck without a canopy, and need something a little heavier duty. The rack is attached to the truck bed side rails and a variety of clips are used to keep the rack in place. Some racks have the ability to move up and down and front to back giving you great flexibility. The biggest advantage of this system is the extra weight it can carry. The disadvantage is that due to the materials being used the rack costs more than some of the other systems.
Now that you have a better understanding of base racks, it’s time to discuss bar lengths, locks and fairings.
Crossbars typically come in 3 lengths. 50” for most passenger vehicles and smaller sport utilities, 58” for vans, trucks, sport utilities and larger passenger cars, and 65” for extra large vehicles. Our fit guides will recommend the ideal crossbar for your vehicle but if you wish you may be able to use a longer bar. You can usually jump up one size if you need to carry wider loads as long as the bars don’t exceed the width of your side mirrors. You have to be careful though not to hit your head with these longer bars as you get in and out of the vehicle. Typically, you can’t use a shorter bar length. The majority of the racks we sell have the bars extending outwards beyond the towers giving you more bar length for accessories. On certain racks though, you can have the bar go between the towers but not beyond giving you a sleeker look. Bars also come in the standard round or rectangular shape or an aerodynamic shape. The advantage of the standard shape is price while the advantage of the aerodynamic is that they are quieter and more stylish.
Locks are sold as an accessory item and are not included with the racks except in a few cases. You do not require locks to attach the rack to the vehicle and are only required if you wish to secure your rack against theft. The reason they are sold separately is so that you can purchase the same key number for all of your rack components.
Fairings, or wind deflectors, attach to your front bar and are designed to reduce turbulence and consequently noise. Your rack will be the loudest if it has no accessories on it or when you open your sunroof. Once you load your base rack with additional items it typically becomes quieter. You won’t really know if you need one until you get your car up to speed. Using aerodynamic bars generally gets rid of most noise and therefore fairings aren’t required or made to fit these bars.
These racks are designed to carry anywhere from two to five bikes at a time. There are six common ways of attaching bike racks to your car.
Hitch mounted bike racks are the most popular method of carrying up to five bikes and are available in either a mast or platform style. Most mast racks have upper arms that fold down when not in use making the rack more compact. The mast also hinges backwards away from the vehicle allowing access to the trunk or hatch but only after the bikes have been removed. If you regularly need access to the back of the vehicle, and you have a class 3 hitch, you may want to consider getting a swing away rack. These racks allow you keep the bikes on as you rotate the rack away from the rear. The advantage is access but the disadvantage is the slightly higher cost. On all of these racks, the bikes hang from their top tube. If your bike doesn’t have one or the bike is too small to fit you can purchase an artificial top tube adapter.
Platform style racks are becoming more popular especially for those with complex or fragile frames. The tires sit in trays and the bike is held in place with a clamp over the frame or front tire. They come in either a 2 or 4 bike configuration and the only disadvantage of this style is that they can be larger in size than the mast racks.
Trunk mounted bike racks are great if you want to carry two to three bikes, take it on and off your vehicle frequently and or wish to spend less than the other rack styles. They consist of a series of straps or cables plus pads, depending on which system you buy, to attach it to your car. With the straps you have the convenience of being able to take it on and off very easily, but it is a little less clean looking than with cables. With the more expensive cable system you position the clamps and then tighten everything down with a crank on the side taking about 30 seconds to complete. The only disadvantage of trunk mounted racks is that without due diligence you may scratch the car paint.
This is a good style of rack if you don’t have a canopy on your truck and don’t want to purchase a bed rail bar system. There are a few different systems that will fit in the bed and they are all easy to use and affordable. The disadvantage is that you reduce the number of other goods you can put in the bed.
If you have a spare tire on your vehicle and you’re looking for a rack this is a great solution. The rack is made to fit onto the bolts that hold your tire in place. They can hold a maximum of two bikes, are lockable and are reasonably priced. You will have to remove your rigid spare tire cover though.
This style of rack is available in either a fork mount or frame/tire mount. The fork mount is what most of the hardcore road bikers use. When people are transporting their bike to the starting point of the Tour de France they use this method. You remove the front wheel of the bike and clamp it into place for the most secure grip you can have. For the rear wheel it’s a very simple strap system that goes through the spokes and secures it. The disadvantage for the average bike rider is having to take the wheel on and off so frequently.
For the average bike rider, the frame/tire mount is a simpler system to use as opposed to the fork mount. These have the same kind of clamping system for the rear wheel as the fork mount, a simple strap securing the wheel to the rack. The front is secured by a clamp that goes to the frame or the tire. It is the simplest system to use so you can get out of your garage and on the road as quickly as possible. The disadvantage is that you won’t have as direct of a link between the bike and rack on the front compared to a fork mounted rack causing a little movement. It is by no means unsafe though.
The disadvantage of roof systems is that it can be a bit of a stretch to get the bike on the roof and it limits your height clearance in garages and parkades. Plus, to carry three or four bikes it is typically more expensive than a hitch mount rack.
Kayak racks are the best way to get the boat out of your garage and into the water. There are four ways to carry kayak racks on your roof.
This is the most common style of kayak rack that we sell. The boats sit on the car in the upright position in saddles of various designs. Some saddles grip the hull to prevent movement when travelling while some allow the boat to glide for easier loading. You can also buy a combination of the two putting the sliding version at the back and he gripping version at the front. The saddles also range from a semi rigid design to a more expensive flexible design that contours to your boat’s hull shape. Typically, you can carry one to two boats side by side with cross bar length and hull shape being the deciding factors. All saddles come with straps to secure the boat.
This design is great at saving space on the roof of your vehicle. With the kayak sitting at a slight vertical angle, on its side, it cuts down on the amount of space by half. This is great if you want to go with another person because then you can usually get two boats loaded, one on either side of the vehicle. All that needs to be done is to simply get the boat on your roof and strap it down with straps provided. The disadvantage with this kind of rack is that the kayaks will be taller on the vehicle than with a saddle which will reduce your clearance in garages. There are generally two styles available, the fixed J or the more expensive foldable J with the later reducing your rack height when the kayaks are off.
The mast style is for the people who want to carry up to four boats at once or want a more economical rack. The mast style is very similar to the previously mentioned J Cradle. The only difference is there isn’t a built in support on the rack, instead the boat rests right on the load bars. With this style you can have multiple kayaks on one side of the vehicle resting beside each other.
This is by far the most economical way to carry your kayak but of course lacks the advantages of the other styles. It is perfectly safe and easy to use.
Getting kayaks on your roof can sometimes be a challenge especially if you have a taller vehicle or a larger kayak. There are many options available to assist you including bars that extend sideways or backwards on the vehicle, rollers, pads to prevent you from scratching your car paint and best of all, hydraulic lifters. With this latter one, you load the kayak into cradles at waist height and then lift the boat onto the roof with ease.
All kayaks must be secured to the front and back of the vehicle with tie down straps for safety. If your car doesn’t have anything to secure the straps to there are accessories available to resolve this problem.
Roof boxes are a fantastic way for you to take everything you want on a trip without being stuck against the window in a crowded car. Cargo boxes are great for camping, skiing or a nice vacation. They come in a variety of sizes starting at ten cubic feet of space and going up to twenty-two cubic feet. They’re all water tight, which is very important around Vancouver. Some boxes are more aerodynamic than others but if you have the radio on then no matter which box you get you will barely notice any noise. All boxes have a simple sliding feature built in to the mounting hardware so you can adjust it to where you want it to sit. The mounting hardware itself is extremely easy to use. Yakima’s boxes have a clamp where you just push down on the lever in the rack. Thule’s require you to spin a knob on the inside until it is tight to the load bars. All boxes are easy to remove when not required. For security reasons you need to unlock the box to get to the clamps. Almost all of the boxes open on either side giving you more flexibility of where to put the box on the car.
Boxes come in three general sizes. The square boxes are great for camping and are typically less expensive. The full length boxes, commonly known as ski boxes, are great for everything but if you have a smaller vehicle you may have conflict with your back hatch preventing it from opening fully. For this reason, the mid-size boxes are quite popular. This size of box is great for medium sized cars and can usually carry a multitude of items including golf clubs, baby strollers and skis or snowboards somewhere between 150 and 180 cm long. If you are concerned about vehicle and box height issues there are some models that are very low profile. These are great for garage clearance issues but of course limit what you can put in the box.
This is the most common kind of ski rack. All you need to do is strap it onto the load bars and you’re ready to roll. Most of our ski racks have universal clamps that fit a multitude of cross bars. They hold anywhere from four to six skis or two to four snowboards and come fully locking. The disadvantage of this style is that you need to be able to reach the top of your vehicle. If this is an issue, there is a model that slides out sideways allowing for easier loading.
This system is designed to hang off a pre existing hitch mounted bike rack. This is useful if you don’t want to reach all the way to the top of your vehicle or don’t have an existing roof rack to attach to. The disadvantages of this system are that you need a specific bike rack to attach to and that the dirt coming off your rear tires will be going directly to your skis.
Hidden Hitch, Reese, Drawtite, Pro-series, Curt and Valley are the main hitch brands we carry. Hidden Hitch is commonly thought to be a style of hitch but is in fact a brand. The style of hitch is referred to as a receiver hitch where the hitches are hidden as much as possible under the vehicle and only the 1 ¼” or 2” square receiver hole is readily visible. All hitch brands are high quality. Unless you have a specific request, we recommend you leave the selection up to us based on fit and value.
Hitches typically come in three classes for passenger vehicles. Generally speaking a class 1 is for compact cars, a class 2 for mid sized cars and class 3 for larger cars, sport utilities, vans and trucks. It all comes down to your vehicles frame strength and your engine/ transmission size.
A class 1 usually has a 2000 lb towing capacity, a 200 lb tongue weight and a 1 ¼” x 1 ¼” square receiver (the part where the bike rack slides into). Class 2 and 3 hitches usually have a 3000 lb towing capacity, a 300 lb tongue weight and either a 1 ¼”x 1 ¼” receiver (class 2) or a 2” x 2” receiver (class 3). The tongue weight is the downward pressure allowed on the hitch and is generally 10% of the towing capacity. To find out what class of hitch your car will accept, please contact us.
The total weight of the bikes and bike rack must not exceed 50% of your hitch’s tongue weight due to the leverage caused by the bike rack. On average the tongue weight is reduced by 25% for each linear foot that the rack hangs out beyond the hitch. So if the rack hangs out two feet, the tongue weight is reduced by 50%. A typical bike weighs 30 lbs, a downhill mountain bike weighs 40 to 50 lbs and bike rack weighs 30-50 lbs. A class 1 hitch can usually carry 2 regular bikes on a 40 lb rack (2 x 30 lbs + 40 lbs = 100 lbs which is 50% of the 200 lb tongue weight) or 1 downhill bike. A class 2 and 3 hitch can carry 4 to 5 regular bikes or 3 to 4 downhill bikes. Be aware that kid’s bikes are usually the same weight as adult bikes because they are typically made from cheaper and consequently heavier metal. It is very important to check your tongue weight rating which should be marked on your hitch especially since a 1¼ x 1¼ receiver hitch can be either a class 1 or 2.
Hitches are attached to your car with bolts. Sometimes drilling into the frame and or modifications to the lower bumper fascia is required. A hitch in no way weakens your car. The hitch models are specific to the car and are not usually transferable. The only way you can transfer hitches is if the two vehicles are exactly the same body style. Since most car manufacturers change a vehicle’s design every four years, your chances aren’t that great. If you think you are a candidate though, contact us and we will look into it for you.
I hope you have found this information useful. If you require more information or insight, we are here to help. Selecting a rack can be a daunting task so feel free to use our years of experience to help you with your selection. You can reach us at 604-987-7474 or firstname.lastname@example.org.