Reader question: Rooftop Cargo Carriers

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Ao asks:  I have been thinking of getting an SUV and putting a rooftop cargo carrier on it.  I want a secure way to lock  any valuables up (on a par with a car trunk), but I can’t find any reliable information on whether or not these carriers are secure – and, if so, which one(s) is most secure. I read online they aren’t hard to break into, but I don’t know if that’s correct.  I would appreciate your expertise on whether to trust one or not. Thank you.

My reply: Depending on the vehicle (make/model) you may be able to get a factory accessory cargo carrier; if a factory model isn’t available, you will probably be able to find an aftermarket model.

In general, the factory units are preferable because they tend to fit better/are more integrated with the rest of the vehicle. Motorcycle bags (hard especially) are a good analogy. The factory hard bags – in my experience – usually fit and look better, are less prone to problems deriving from not-great fit.

On the other hand, there are also good aftermarket alternatives.

You didn’t mention which vehicle (make/model) you are considering, so I can’t be more specific with recommendations – but assuming you are looking at a popular model, you will probably find you’ve got both factory and aftermarket options available.

On security: In my opinion, so long as the thing you’re locking up – whether it’s a cargo carrier or the car itself – is secure enough to deter the casual/amateur thief, then it is secure enough. A keyed or combination locking mechanism should be sufficient. A professional thief will not be deterred by anything commonly available – and that goes for the car (or SUV) too. The most elaborate anti-theft systems are as nothing to them.

But the good news is there aren’t that many of them.

It’s analogous to the locks on your front door. A professional won’t be stopped. But 95 percent of thieves aren’t pros.

My own policy is to be careful about where I go – and where I park. I think that’s at least as important as whether the door (or cargo carrier) is locked or not!

. . .

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  1. I agree with Eric that for the most part any type of lock will keep out most people, and nothing will stop a professional thief. You could wrap a cable around the cargo box and lock it using the best cable and lock possible. But this will draw attention that you must have something worth locking up and a thief will just take a hammer to smash the box to get to the contents. So the most secure cargo box may just be the cheapest looking, dinged up box you can find that locks. A thief will just think it contains beach inflatables, kids toys or other junk not worth the trouble.

  2. Make sure that your cross rails lock onto the vehicle’s roof rails. I have a Toyota Sienna and my factory cross rails just clamp down. It would be easy for someone to just unclamp the cross rails and with two people lift off the cargo box and rails. They can then take it to someplace remote and leisurely break into the box. In other words it does not matter how good the lock is on the cargo box if the whole thing can be so easily stolen. It may be best in this case to buy aftermarket cross rails that are able to lock to the vehicle.

    Does anyone know of a lock that will work on a Sienna to lock the cross rails to the roof rails?

  3. If your SUV has roof rails built in it will probably be a good bit more secure. The nylon strap style toppers that clip into the rain gutters don’t seem very secure, neither from an anti-theft or drive-down-the-road-in-a-headwind perspective. Those types seem to me like owning a convertible, where anyone with a sharp knife can break in.

    I have a Thule rack on my Cherokee. It is what Chrysler recommends and it fits pretty well. The cross rails have rubber covered metal straps that hold them down to the factory rails. They cinch down using a long bolt with a hex head, and they are protected by lockable covers that have the hex key integrated into them which makes it easy to keep track of the tools. Thule makes a variety of different attachments for the rails, such as ski and snowboard clamps, bicycle carriers and enclosed carriers. The ski clamps are also lockable, and designed in such a way that the attachment points aren’t accessible without unlocking the clamps first.

    However, the weak point is the locks themselves. They are fairly chintzy, basically not much better than what you’d find on pre-TSA luggage or a low cost padlock. I doubt they’d survive a flat-head screwdriver. I don’t keep anything of value up on the roof for any length of time (other than the somewhat overpriced rack itself), and most of the places I’m going probably aren’t high crime areas.


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