Shopping for a roof rack probably seems simple enough. You just buy a rack and have it installed. Right?

Sorry, but no. You need to consider eight important criteria before making your roof rack purchase.

1. What kind of vehicle do you drive?

Your vehicle influences the type of roof rack you buy because it decides what type of roof it has. If your car, truck, van, or SUV has a normal roof, you can go with any rack, but those with roof rails require a rack that attaches differently. In quick review:

Normal roof - In this smooth roof design, devoid of roof rails or gutters, you need a rack that mounts flush to the roof with clips or hooks.

Raised roof rails – Many SUVs come with factory-fitted roof rails that make it easier to attach a rack foot to the base.

Flush/low profile roof rails – Other vehicles come with a set of low-profile or roof rails flush with the roof. You’ll need a roof rack that mounts onto the rails.

Fixed points - Some manufacturers add a fixed mounting point to their vehicles’ roofs. These are often hidden underneath metal, plastic, or rubber covers. Other designs use a roofing channel running from the vehicle's front to the rear. These require a special kit from the manufacturer to mount the rack.

Rain gutters - Older cars typically feature rain gutters. These roofs require a foot or base on the roof rack that nestles in the rain gutter/channel and clamps to the vehicle.

2. Strength Vs. Weight

Choose a design that provides strength without weighing a lot. A heavy roof rack can affect your fuel efficiency negatively. Aluminum racks weigh 30 percent less than steel ones with all of the functionality.

3. Low-profile racks

Choose a rack that works with your vehicle design. It should not detract from the aerodynamic nature of your vehicle.

4. Multi-purpose or dedicated purpose

Some racks weren’t intended for hauling canoes or bikes, so if that’s what you want, make sure you don’t purchase one meant for lightweight, small items like camping tents and sleeping bags.

Roof racks might seem the same when you peruse a website or catalog casually, but when you read the descriptions in detail, you find that some designs only fit a vehicle with fixed points or rain gutters. You can purchase the right rack right off the bat by knowing your vehicle’s roof and determining your hauling needs.

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