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Shopping Guide for Best Cargo Boxes

Does it seem like there’s never enough room in your car for everything you want to take on your vacation? If so, you may be interested in purchasing a cargo box.

A cargo box attaches to the top of your vehicle, increasing your storage space while leaving plenty of room inside the car for passengers or more luggage and equipment.

If you’re shopping for a cargo box, it’s important to realize that these valuable additions to your vehicle aren’t all the same. You’ll find cargo boxes of different sizes and construction materials. Some come with several handy features; others are rather plain.

It’s important to get a cargo box that fits not only your car but also your vacationing style.

And that’s where we come in!

The first time you install your cargo box, spend extra time reading the instructions and follow them carefully. There’s nothing worse than driving down the road and realizing the box is loose.

At BestReviews, we’re devoted to creating honest, unbiased product reviews you can turn to when you need help making a buying decision.

We researched the cargo box market and spoke with our expert consultant Dale, who has over 40 years of experience in the automotive industry, in order to bring you the up-to-date info you need.

If you’re ready to buy a cargo box, check out the matrix above for our top recommendations.

For general information about cargo boxes, please continue reading this shopping guide.

Dale
EXPERT CONSULTANT

Dale brings over 40 years of automotive industry experience to the BestReviews table. An avid DIY guy, he has worked with, rebuilt, and led maintenance on a variety of vehicles. He’s also well-versed in fleet management and vehicle operations. Dale’s past experiences include distinguished service as an officer in the US Army.


Dale  |  Automotive Super-User

Who Needs a Cargo Box?

If you do a lot of car traveling, you might find that a cargo box enhances your enjoyment of your vacation.

You can pack what you need without having to stress about space in the car. And with the added storage, you can minimize any fears you might have about leaving something important at home.

If your travels require a large amount of gear or you have a large family with plenty of luggage to accommodate, a cargo box is almost a necessity. It’s also a good option for people with little trunk space.

EXPERT TIP

Use extra caution in areas of high wind, as a cargo box can affect your ability to control your vehicle.


Dale  | Automotive Super-User

Types of Cargo Boxes

If you’re going to buy a cargo box, you’ll need to choose between a sport cargo box and a luggage cargo box. Alternatively, you may wish to consider a cargo bag.

Types

Sport Cargo Boxes

Sport cargo boxes are designed to carry sporting equipment. Some can fit skis, kayak paddles, and other oversized gear. Other, narrower boxes are designed for smaller sporting or gaming equipment. If you use a smaller sport box, you may still have room on the roof of your car for a kayak or bike rack as well.

Because of their design, sport cargo boxes can impede the hatch or trunk from opening on some vehicles.

FOR YOUR SAFETY

Be careful if you’re putting a cargo box on an SUV. The box can affect gas mileage and may cause the vehicle to sway if not properly installed.

Types

Luggage Cargo Boxes

Luggage cargo boxes are typically shorter than sport cargo boxes. They’re designed for holding suitcases and other items that may be bulky but are not necessarily that long. Nevertheless, some luggage cargo boxes can also impede a rear hatch from opening.

Types

Cargo Bags

A cargo bag is similar to a cargo box, except it is soft and made of durable, weather-resistant fabric. Cargo bags are lightweight and easier to remove when you’re not using them. However, cargo bags are not quite as durable as cargo boxes.

DID YOU KNOW?

If you travel frequently in rain or snow, stay away from a cargo bag. They tend to leak and may not be stable in high winds.

Attaching a Cargo Box to Your Car

Nearly all cargo boxes require the car to have a roof rack with crossbars. If you don’t have a roof rack, you can buy one, but make sure you get one that will properly attach to your car.

Cargo boxes come with mounting hardware. But before you buy, make sure that your chosen cargo box will connect with the crossbar on your roof rack. Your vehicle may have a square, round, factory, or aerodynamic-style crossbar.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Thule Force Cargo Box

Large and Quiet

At 56 pounds, the Thule Force Cargo Box is a fair lump to move around, but you can put an awful lot inside of it. Despite its obvious size, many owners comment about how quiet it is while in transit and how little it affects the ride of their vehicle.

Cargo Box Features: What to Consider

Considerations

Size and Volume

Most cargo boxes come in small, medium, large, XL, and XXL sizes.

  • Small, medium, and large cargo boxes typically work best for luggage and other conventionally sized items.

  • XL and XXL cargo boxes are usually best-suited for oversized sporting equipment.


The difference between cargo box sizes comes down to volume, which is measured cubic feet. Most cargo boxes range from 11 to 22 cubic feet. Obviously, the more cubic feet that a cargo box offers, the more stuff you can fit inside it. However, larger boxes are also heavier and create more wind-resistance for your car.

EXPERT TIP

A cargo box creates a drag, which affects your fuel economy. If you’re not using it, take it off.


Dale  | Automotive Super-User
Considerations

Weight Limit

Every cargo box has a specific weight limit designated by the manufacturer. Most cargo boxes can accommodate between 90 and 110 pounds. Always check the manufacturer’s specifications to make sure your chosen model can hold as much as you need it to. Never exceed the quoted weight limit.

Considerations

Ease of Access

The best cargo boxes allow you to easily pack and unpack your items. For the easiest access, consider a cargo box that opens on both sides.

Always be wary when purchasing a cargo box used. Double check that all the hinges are in good condition and that anything touching the car is like new.

Staff
BestReviews
Considerations

Gas Mileage

Some cargo boxes can affect your car’s gas mileage because they add weight to the vehicle and increase wind resistance.

If you’re concerned about your gas mileage, look for a cargo box with an angled front. An aerodynamic, streamlined shape can help cut down on wind resistance.

EXPERT TIP

If gas mileage is your primary concern, look for a cargo box with an angled front. Flat fronts disrupt the aerodynamics of the car and will lower your fuel efficiency.


Dale  | Automotive Super-User
Considerations

Car Compatibility

Even if a cargo box is the right size for your needs, it won’t do you any good if it’s incompatible with your car.

Some cargo boxes are better for certain vehicle types than others. For example, a small box is difficult to access on top of a large vehicle, while a large box may block the rear hatch of a small vehicle.

Check the manufacturer's recommendations to see if your chosen cargo box will work with your particular car.

When packing your cargo box, put in heavier objects first then lighter objects on top.
Considerations

Use Frequency

If you travel frequently and need a cargo box on your car most of the time, you probably won’t be overly concerned with the ease of installation because you’ll leave it on the car for prolonged periods. In such a scenario, your primary concern should be how easy it is to open and close the box. Look for a cargo box that offers one-handed opening and stays open once you unlock it.

However, if you only need to use your cargo box a few times a year, you’ll undoubtedly want one that’s easy to install and remove. Cargo bags are often a good option for infrequent travelers because they’re lightweight and easy to mount.

DID YOU KNOW?

While it may seem like common sense, never put any living animals in the cargo box.

Cargo Box Prices

Cargo boxes vary in price based on size and constructions, but you can typically expect to spend between $100 and $600 for a good one.

Cargo bags are the most affordable option, though they won’t be the right choice for everyone.

  • For a small cargo bag, expect to pay between $100 and $120.

  • For a medium cargo bag, expect to pay between $120 and $135.

  • For a large cargo bag, expect to pay between $135 and $150.


Cargo boxes cost more than cargo bags, and as you might expect, price goes up with the size. The following is a rough guideline to cargo box prices:

  • For an extra-small cargo box, expect to pay between $300 and $450.

  • For a small cargo box, expect to pay between $450 and $470.

  • For a medium cargo box, expect to pay between $470 and $490.

  • For a large cargo box, expect pay between $500 and $525.

  • For an XL cargo box, expect to pay between $530 and $575.

  • For an XXL cargo box, expect to pay between $575 and $600.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Thule Sidekick Rooftop Cargo Box

Convenient and Easy to Use

Featuring a passenger-side opening, the Thule Sidekick Rooftop Cargo Box is very easy to load and unload; it even offers one-handed access. The lid stays in place when open so you can easily access your gear. Installation is straightforward because the box can mount to most removable and factory roof racks, including Thule rack systems and round backs, without many tools.

Tips

  • Never exceed the manufacturer’s stated weight limit. Overloading a cargo box could cause damage to your car. It could even lead to an accident.

  • Distribute weight evenly. In general, it’s best to pack your lighter items in your cargo box if you can. That said, your heaviest items should go in first to ensure that the weight is evenly distributed.

  • Pack your items tightly. Avoid throwing loose items into a cargo box. Smaller items should be tucked securely inside something else.

  • Check visibility before driving. Sit behind the wheel and check that the packed cargo box doesn’t affect your side and rear visibility.

  • Keep spare securing supplies. It’s a good idea to bring extra supplies along for the cargo box like straps to secure it in place. That way, if a strap should snap along the way, you can easily replace it.

  • Watch your head. Be careful of overhead clearance when you have a cargo box on your car. It can add extra height to the top of the vehicle, so you may have issues going through drive-thrus, entering parking garages, and crossing bridges.

After using your cargo box, rinse it off with a hose and store it properly so that it’s in good condition and ready-to-go next time you need it.

FAQ

Q. Does a cargo box work with any car?

A. Your car must have a roof rack in order to support a cargo box. If your vehicle doesn’t already have a rack, you’ll need to have one installed before you can mount a cargo box on top.

Q. How much weight can a cargo box hold?

A. The amount of weight that a cargo box can support depends on the model, so be sure to consult the manufacturer’s specs to determine how much you can load into it. Most boxes can hold up to 110 pounds.

Q. What features make it easier to load and unload a cargo box?

A. You’ll have a much easier time packing and unpacking a cargo box, particularly larger styles, if it opens from both sides. That way, you won’t have to reach across the box when you’re loading or unloading your gear.

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