How To Carry Luggage on Top of Car (Like An Expert)

When you are going on a road trip, the last thing you want is to worry about your luggage the whole time, or worse, have to take multiple cars because the luggage is taking up all of the space in your car. The obvious solution here is to carry your items on the roof. Read on as we discuss how to carry luggage on top of car, as well as suggest some good products that will make it easier for you to do.

Step 1: Check Load Capacity

The first thing you want to do is determine how much luggage you will be carrying on the top of your car. This is really important because you need to make sure that your luggage will fit on top of your car and that your car or SUV can handle the weight appropriately.

Step 2: Choose Your Cargo Carrier/Materials

Next, you need to determine how you will carry the luggage. Maybe you have a roof rack, maybe you don’t. We explore the various carrier options below.

Cross Bars (Naked Roof)

Cross bars can be used like a luggage rack, making it an easy option that doesn’t cost you any additional money since a luggage rack is pretty standard on an SUV. If this is the way you are going to carry your luggage on top of your car, then you will simply need to make sure you have the correct materials to keep everything secure. This means you will need to get cam buckle straps, ratchet straps, or rope to tie the luggage on top of the vehicle. If you want some additional support, you can also use bungee cords, but we don’t recommend bungee cords as the primary means of securing your luggage onto your vehicle.

Cargo Net – Most Versatile

A cargo net is another option for hauling your luggage on top of your vehicle. Cargo nets are typically made of webbing in a square or rectangular shape, and are tough enough to keep the contents place in the net safe and secure. You will place the cargo net on to of your car roof basket. Of course, you could also use it in the bed of your truck or on a boat. What we like about using a cargo net is that they are pretty simple and affordable. You just clamp the net onto the bottom of the basket using the hooks and make sure it is secure. If you aren’t familiar with cargo nets, a solid choice is the Grit Performance Super Duty Truck Cargo Net.

The Grit Performance Super Duty Truck Cargo Net features durable 4” mesh that will keep even your small items from falling out. It’s a 4’ x 6’ net that can easily expand to 8’ x 12pm’ depending on how much luggage you need to secure on top of your vehicle. It also includes 12 strong D-clips and metal carabiners to make sure the net stays secure to the rack.

Cargo Box – Most Durable

A cargo box, or roof box, is a way to store your luggage on top of your car while providing them protection from rain or other weather conditions that could damage the things inside the rooftop cargo carrier. Another advantage of using a roof box is that you are able to lock the box, making sure that your belongings stay safe from someone who may want to steal them. Roof boxes are probably the most durable of the carriers, but they can also be expensive. Yakima is known for producing high quality racks and outdoor accessories, as well as rooftop boxes.

The Yakima RocketBox Pro is a great cargo box that is incredible versatile since it is 11 cubic feet. The design is long and narrow so that you will still have room on your crossbars if you need it. It has dual-side openings so that you can access the box and your belongings inside from either side of the vehicle. The box stays secure with SKS lock cores, too.

Roof Basket – Best Budget Option

Roof baskets are a good option for carrying your luggage, in particular, roof baskets works well if you pair it with a cargo net. If you are not concerned about water getting on your luggage, then a roof basket with cargo net could be a more affordable option than spending the money on a roof box. Alternatively, you could use a weatherproof bag with your cargo basket rather than a cargo net to keep the rain out. Roof baskets sit on top of your vehicle and are usually constructed of steel so they are certainly sturdy enough to carry any item. You will just want to make sure that their weight capacity will hold your gear since there are a variety of different size baskets. To keep your luggage safely in place on the basket, you will want to make sure and strap the load down securely. A favorite amongst users and a roof basket we can highly recommend is the MaxxHaul Roof Rack.

The MaxxHaul Roof Rack is very easy to assemble and install, with all the mounting hardware that you will need included. Though we wish it was pre assembled, we can’t argue with the incredible affordable price this roof rack is offered at, especially compared to other baskets. It can attach to most cross bars using U-bolts. But don’t worry about the U-bolts damaging your items, it includes rubber caps to cover the bolts. The basket also features a rust resistant finish so that it can withstand any weather conditions.

Cargo Bag – Most Compact for Storage

Cargo bags are pretty simple in their design and functionality. A cargo bag, or car roof bag, sit on top of your vehicle, attached to your cross bars so they don’t require anything else, other than straps. But a lot of cargo bags actually include the straps you need to secure it, which is a plus. One less thing to buy. Most roof bags are waterproof, making them a nice durable option for a road trip. And, depending on the size, you can usually pack the roof bag down with a large amount of gear. For a long lasting, high quality cargo bag, we turn to MaxxHaul again.

The MaxxHaul 70209 Hitch Mount Waterproof/Rainproof Cargo Carrier Bag is solid construction, made from PVC material with polyester reinforcement and UV coating. The seams are welded and it includes heavy-duty zippers with large holes so that you can place a padlock in the zipper if you want to have added security. The zipper is around three sides of the bag and is covered with hook and loop flaps to help keep water from getting in the bag. It has a maximum volume capacity of 11 cubic feet and comes with (8) 1-1/2″ wide polypropylene straps to keep the bag secured to the rooftop cargo carrier. When you don’t need it, it can be folded up for easy storage. If you have a bicycle included, you can check our recent article about best hitch mounted bike rack covers.

Step 3: Secure Your Luggage

Once you have the carrier you will use to keep the luggage on your car roof, you need to secure your luggage. Depending on which of the storage options you choose for your items, the process of securing your luggage will look a bit different. If you choose to simply place your luggage on the roof with none of the carriers we listed above, then you will need to use a safety strap on your cross bars. Again, we recommend using bungee cords only as a secondary means of securing your luggage.

Cargo boxes, or roof boxes, probably require the least amount of effort because once it is attached to your cross bars, you just load it with your items and close it up. If you use a cargo bag or cargo basket to carry your items, you will need to put in a little more effort because you will want to use safety straps to secure your load to the bag or basket on your car roof. Keep in mind that you should first secure whatever carrier you choose to your vehicle before adding on your load of luggage.

How To Tie Down Luggage on a Roof Rack

You will need to use ratchet straps or tie-down straps to secure your luggage to your carrier. In order to do this, you can wrap the straps beneath the crossbar on both sides of the vehicle, and then you can tighten the strap buckles. You can also attach a strap to the anchor points.

You may also like: Thule vs Yakima Cargo Boxes


How do you tie luggage on top of your car?

You can tie luggage on top of car with simply tie down straps or top if you have cross bars, as many SUVs do. You will need to secure the straps over your luggage and wrap them around your cross bars, tightening them down for security.

If you’d like to use a rooftop cargo carrier, you can use any of the items we mentioned above. You may also want to check out our post on the best rooftop cargo carriers.

How can I put luggage on top of my car without a roof rack?

If you do not have a roof rack on top of your car, it is possible to put your luggage on top. Before placing anything on top of your roof, you may want to lay down a blanket first though, to try and protect your roof from any damage. You will need to run the tie-down straps through the doors of your vehicle and ideally secure the hooks together inside of your vehicle. Our article about the best inside car bike racks may also interest you.

Can you carry stuff on top of your car?

Yes, you can carry stuff on the roof of your car. There are a number of ways to do this, depending on your budget and other factors like how big a load you are trying to carry as well as any weather concerns. Confused about what roof racks to choose? We have put together 7 best kayak roof racks on our recent post.

How much weight can you put on the roof of a car?

It really depends on the car. It’s important to check your car manual to see what its weight capacity is. Like jeep wranglers can carry more especially when mounted a bike rack, we do have a separate article that talks about best bike racks for Jeep Wranglers. You will need to keep in mind that if you choose a roof rack to carry your items, you will need to account for not only the weight of your load, but also the weight of your carrier. Also, if you want to know everything about storing your bikes, you can check our recent post garage bike rack reviews. We have also put together some of our favorite roof mounted bike racks that would help you carry your bikes safely on your next outdoor trip.

You may also like: Hitch Cargo Carrier Reviews

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Austin Mills

Austin Mills in an outdoor enthusiast. He's been featured on some of the top outdoor & fitness blogs sharing his expertise in order to help others. In his free time, he likes spending time with his dogs enjoying the outdoors.