I came to Modula with a background in dirt bikes and customer service in one hand, deep seated confusion about how strapping tents to cars worked in the other.
Everyone else who works here has at least some background in cars, and it was super intimidating coming into that environment when I didn’t know how to spell tonneau let alone what purpose it served.
So I’m here to give people like me a breakdown of the basics! No question is stupid, trust me, I’ve already asked it.
Some roof rack companies have an obsolescence program, meaning if you buy a roof rack second hand, depending on how old it is, you may not be able to get the part you need to fit it to your vehicle because they’ve clicked over the timeframe of their obsolescence program and changed how the parts fit together.
Hold on, I’ll back up.
Most rack kits come in three parts. There’s the part that’s specific to your vehicle, the fit kit, a part called the leg that connects the other two bits, and the crossbar. All three parts work together to give you a stable base for carrying… things.
All three components have to be from the same brand, as they’re all pretty proprietary and don’t like playing nice with one another.
The benefit of this modular (see what I did there?) system is that you can take the legs and the crossbars off one vehicle, pick up a different fit kit, and put it on a new one! The only stipulation there is that the crossbars need to be the right length for the new vehicle.
Now about that obsolescence program I mentioned earlier…
Roughly every 4 years or so (the length of a lease, you’ll note), companies like ones that rhyme with Ghule and Wakima completely change how the fit kits, legs, and crossbars talk to each other.
This means that unless you know the year of manufacture, you can’t swap the fit kits from Car A to work with Car B. Even if you do know the year of manufacture, you then have to find the fit kit for Car B that was manufactured in the same year span before they changed how they go together. They also charge more for lock cores and keys to secure the rack to your vehicle.
Super convenient, huh?
The most simple is a bare roof! There’s no sort of rail running front to back, just smooth metal. Sometimes there will be indents, filled with black rubber or aluminum; this is the gutter that stops rain from running into your doors when you’re getting in and out.
This is still considered a bare roof, as we’re looking for raised rails vs no raised rails.
Bare roof aftermarket crossbar kits come in three parts:
The rubber pad and clamp that is specific to your vehicle
The leg that connects from the pad and clamp to the crossbar
And the crossbar itself
The pad and clamps are designed to mold to vehicles within a certain model and year span, changing when the body shape changes. They protect your vehicle and prevent the metal of the rack from scraping up your paint.
These are interchangeable, and for the most part will talk to the universal legs from the same manufacturer. The crossbars are also universal, with the caveat that they have to be the right size to span the width of your vehicle. You can oversize the bar by one bar up, but more than that and the hardware used to mount them to the roof won’t reach down the end of the bar to secure it to your roof. That’s no bueno.
Then there are flush rails. These are raised from your roofline, but they touch the roof the whole way along.
There are a couple systems that work with these. The first is a clamp style that has pegs on the inside clampy-doo. These line up with notches on the inside of the flush rail, and keep the crossbars secured.
The second style is what’s called a Fixed Mount Point (FMP) kit. On some flush rails, there are little trap doors that are covering mount points, and these kits use those to attach to.
Some bare roof kits use these as well, but I didn’t want to confuse you more than I already have.
For raised rails, that’s for rails that you can wrap your fingers all the way around, there are, imagine that, raised rail kits.
There’s a few different options, depending on how thick the rails are, but for the most part they’re the closest thing to ‘universal’ that is still sturdy enough for a heavy-duty load.
The only real weight capacity you’ll see published for most roof racks is 165lbs. This is highway safety standard, and refers to your Dynamic Weight Capacity, dynamic being in-motion. This is in place so in the event of an extreme crash, if the load isn’t secured properly to the crossbars, it (hopefully) won’t turn into a missile.
We’ve used the crossbars brands we fit (Rhino-Rack, Thule, and Yakima) in applications much, much heavier than that, so you’ll be totally fine to put a rooftop tent up there and spend the night.
No matter what it is you’re trying to carry, you’re likely going to want some sort of accessory piece up there to secure it. Tents come with their own mounting hardware (typically a set of u-bolts), as do awnings (typically and L-bracket), bikes need a rooftop bike rack, canoes want a saddle or a good set of well secured pads, kayaks want a j-hook, skis and snowboards want a clamshell carrier, etc etc etc.
The reason we fit crossbars that overhang the edge of the roof/the front-to-back rails, instead of the more sleek OEM style, is that the overhang creates a compressive load. The bars are pushing down on the supporting legs rather than the bolts holding them in place to the rails like the factory ones do. This is much safer when carrying a heavy load like a tent or a canoe, as the full weight goes more onto the roof of the car than solely the bolts holding the rack in place.
Another benefit of this overhang is that some accessories, like the Thule Hullavator, need that extra few inches to work properly. Well, work properly, and not scratch the heck out of your car.
If you’re looking to carry a canoe, a kayak, a paddleboard, a long and wide thing designed to go into the water, a very important thing to note is that roof racks are designed to support weight pressing down, not pulling up. Anything hanging over the hood of your car is going to act like a big ol’ sail, and unfortunately your Honda CR-V is not designed to be a windsurfer.
Luckily I have a solution for that too! Aren’t I great?
Rhino-Rack makes something called a Bonnet Anchor Strap, which is a-
… yeah, that – that shuts in your hood and gives you a tie point. You can also tie your improvised sail down at the back using the same method in the trunk, though if you’re doing highway speeds backwards, I have other questions.
This doesn’t cover everything, but it’s enough to give you a basic understanding of how roof racks work and why we install the style we do.
I’m hoping to turn this into a series, covering things like hitches and wiring, rooftop tents, bike racks, all sorts of things to give people more of a layman's perspective. If you have any specific questions, give us a shout on Instagram or Facebook, or even our email (email@example.com), and I’ll do my best to address them in a blog post in the near future :)
For now though, happy trails, and leave nothing behind!