Car roof box reviews

They’re great at growing your car’s storage capacity, but mind how you drive.
 
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01 .Introduction

Car roof box

Test results for eight car roof boxes from $319 to $895

Car storage can sometimes be quite difficult to find on a road trip, with your boot stuffed to the brim or certain items that just don’t fit. Car roof boxes are designed to fit onto the roof bars of a car to solve this lack of space and dimension. We had a look at eight models, priced from $319-$895, and found that their ease of use varies substantially.

The boxes we looked at range from small to large; based on a combination of volume, length and carrying capacity. We scored on usability issues like ease of fitting, loading and locking. We also tested a variety of areas related to car handling such as cornering, braking and a double lane change as well as conducting rain and noise tests, but we found little difference between the boxes and so didn’t score these aspects. We also checked the largest box for its effect on fuel consumption.

Brands tested

  • Rhino Rack Probox 310 (A)
  • Rhino Rack Probox 420 (A)
  • Rhino Rack Carver Carry All 8.4 (A)
  • Rola Velocity VLB320 (A)
  • Rola Odyssey OLB450
  • Thule Ocean 80 (A)
  • Thule Pacific 200 (A)
  • Thule Atlantis 780 (A)

(A) Discontinued.

 
 

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The following models scored the best results in our test.

What to buy
Brand Price
Small
Rhino Rack Probox 310 $319
Medium
Thule Pacific 200 $649
Large
Thule Atlantis 780 $895

Results Table

Full results for all models are shown in the table below.

  Performance
Brand / model (in rank order within groups) Overall score (%) Fitting score (%) Loading / unloading score (%) Lid opening / lock score (%) Price ($)
Large
Thule Atlantis 780
www.thule.com.au
83 90 60 100 895
Rhino Rack Carver Carry All 8.4 (A)
www.rhinorack.com
55 50 60 55 840
Medium
Thule Pacific 200
www.thule.com.au
70 80 50 80 649
Rhino Rack Probox 420 (A)
www.rhinorack.com
67 70 70 60 460
Rola Odyssey OLB450
www.rola.com.au
53 30 60 70 499
Small
Rhino Rack Probox 310
www.rhinorack.com
57 60 50 60 319
Thule Ocean 80
www.thule.com.au
53 60 40 60 399
Rola Velocity VLB320
www.rola.com.au
43 40 40 50 399
 

  Features Specifications
Brand / model (in rank order within groups) Opening side Straps Dimensions (cm, L x W x H) Weight (kg) Claimed volume (L) Claimed maximum load (kg)
Large
Thule Atlantis 780
www.thule.com.au
Passenger / driver 3 196 x 78 x 44 17.7 480 75
Rhino Rack Carver Carry All 8.4 (A)
www.rhinorack.com
Driver 2 215 x 90 x 40 19.4 502 80
Medium
Thule Pacific 200
www.thule.com.au
Passenger 0 (B) 175 x 82 x 45 12.3 460 50
Rhino Rack Probox 420 (A)
www.rhinorack.com
Rear 0 150 x 99 x 40 14.6 420 50
Rola Odyssey OLB450
www.rola.com.au
Passenger 2 175 x 82 x 45 12.0 450 50
Small
Rhino Rack Probox 310
www.rhinorack.com
Rear 0 134 x 79 x 38 10.7 310 50
Thule Ocean 80
www.thule.com.au
Rear 1 (B) 133 x 86 x 37 9.2 320 50
Rola Velocity VLB320
www.rola.com.au
Driver 2 132 x 78 x 36 7.9 320 50
 

Table notes

(A) Discontinued, but may still be available in stores.

(B) The manufacturer says two straps are now supplied with this model.

Prices are recommended retail, as of March 2010.

Overall score This is equally made up of:

  • Ease of fitting to roof bars
  • Loading/unloading
  • Lid opening/lock access

Features See Handy tips for more details. 

How we tested

  • Our testers checked how easy the car roof boxes were to fit to roof bars. We used a medium-sized station wagon to fit the boxes and assessed what method was used to fit the boxes, whether bolts or clamps.
  • Loading and unloading the boxes was assessed with a variety of different sized items. This is affected by the height of the box from ground level.
  • Our testers assessed lock/lid opening access based on their location. For example, a lock/lid opening on the driver’s side may seem intuitive, but stopping by the side of the road means you would be opening on the traffic side.
  • We also tested performance: how the boxes affect cornering, braking, double lane change, how noisy they were, whether rain got inside the boxes and we checked the influence of the largest box on fuel consumption.

Profiles - What to buy

Small car roof boxes

Rhino Rack Probox 310

Rhino Rack Probox 310Price: $319

Good points

  • Fairly easy to fit to the roof bars.
Fairly easy to fit to the roof bars.

Bad points

  • Fairly difficult to load/unload the box.
  • The lock/lid access is from the rear which is not as safe as passenger-side access.


Medium car roof boxes

Thule Pacific 200

Thule Pacific 200Price: $649

Good points

  • Very easy to fit it to the roof bars.
  • The lock/lid access is from the passenger side which is a safe option.

Bad points

  • Fairly difficult to load/unload the box.

 

Large car roof boxes

Thule Atlantis 780

Thule Atlantis 780Price: $895

Good points

  • Very easy to fit it to the roof bars.
  • The lock/lid access is from both the driver and passenger sides, which is the best alternative.

Bad points

  •  Fairly difficult to load/unload the box.

 

Profiles - the rest 

Small car roof boxes

Rola Velocity VLB320

Rola Velocity VLB320Price: $399

Good points

  • Nothing in particular.

Bad points

  • Very difficult to fit it to the roof bars.
  • Fairly difficult to load/unload, and the bottom part of the box is too flimsy so it bends under the load.
  • The lock/lid access is from the driver side which is the least safe option.

Thule Ocean 80

Thule Ocean 80Price: $399

Good points

  • Fairly easy to fit to the roof bars.

Bad points

  • Fairly difficult to load/unload which is not helped by the presence of ribs on the bottom part of the tray.
  • The lock/lid access from the rear which is not as safe as passenger-side access.

 

Medium car roof boxes

Rhino Rack Probox 420 (A)

Rhino Rack Probox 420Price: $460

Good points

  • Easy to fit to the roof bars.
  • Easy to load/unload which is helped by the width of the box.

Bad points

  •  The lock/lid access from the rear which is not as safe as passenger-side access.

Rola Odyssey OLB450

Rola Odyssey OLB450Price: $499

Good points

  • The lock/lid access is from the passenger side which is a safe option.

Bad points

  • Very difficult to fit it to the roof bars and it needs two people.
  • Fairly difficult to load/unload the box. 

 

Large car roof boxes

Rhino Rack Carver Carry All 8.4 (A)

Rhino Rack Carver Carry All 8.4Price: $840

Good points

  • Nothing in particular.

Bad points

  • Not particularly easy to fit to the roof bars and it needs two people.
  • Fairly difficult to load/unload the box.
  • The lock/lid access is from the driver side which is the least safe option.

(A) Discontinued, but may still be available in some stores.

Fitting the box to the roof bars can be quite a chore in itself, depending on the height and width of the car and the type of fasteners supplied. Both the medium and large Thule boxes were the easiest to secure to the roof bars as they have intergrated clamps.

Five of the other boxes require U-bolts to be pushed around the bars from beneath the box and secured with nuts from the inside. Both the medium Rola and large Rhino boxes need two people to attach the box to the roof bars. The small Rola has four U-shaped hooks permanently fixed with nuts which had to be pushed in and straightened from inside the tray. This can be done with one person, but access is difficult.

The more difficult a box is to put on, the more likely you’ll leave it on permanently – not a good solution as this may increase fuel consumption. Fitting the boxes to the station wagon used for the test was already quite difficult, so those planning a box for a 4WD may need a ladder to help attach it to the roof.

Opening it up

An ideal situation when opening the box would be if it opened and locked from either side. Only the large Thule had this feature. The next best possible option would be to have the lid opening on the passenger side, away from traffic. The medium Rola and Thule had this type of lid. The small Rhino and Thule and the medium Rhino had the opening and lock on the rear; less than ideal for reach. Access and locks on the driver side only is the more dangerous option if you can’t pull off the street.

Filling it up

The boxes have to be loaded once they’ve been fixed to the car, and none of the boxes makes this particularly easy to do. The narrower the box, the further you have to reach to push your load in. That means lifting your piece of luggage up till it’s eye level with the edge of the box and sliding it in. It did help that the medium sized Rhino was considerably wider than the others and hence the side of the box was closer to the edge of the car. It may be simpler to mount the box to one side if the instructions allow for it.

Some boxes have straps for securing items. This can be useful since constant braking and accelerating can move around the contents inside the box, especially on long trips and when the box isn’t fully loaded. The small and medium Rhino and the medium Thule did not have any securing straps (but Thule has informed us that they now provide two straps with this box). 

Driving

Our tester found that driving with a fully loaded car roof box changes the centre of gravity, and the car handles differently. This slightly affected cornering and braking. He found the same outcome with a double lane change (swerving out of one lane into another, and then back). While all fully laden boxes affect driving, the difference between the boxes was too marginal to score. The difference in noise was also too slight to score.

We tested fuel consumption by driving over 800km without a car roof box attached and then the return trip with the largest (empty) car roof box over the same stretch of road. The overall weight of the car was the same on both trips. We found that 11% more fuel was used when driving with the box. This is indicative and will vary depending on the car roof box and your speed.

None of the boxes allowed water to enter the inside during our rain test.

Handy tips

  • Installation The weight of the boxes in our test ranged from 8 to 19kg, but they are large. If you plan on lifting them onto a car, get some help to avoid any damage to yourself or the car. Securing them can be difficult due to the fixing mechanism and the height of the bars from ground level. Using a stepladder can mitigate some of the risk associated with installation. The height addition should also be taken into account when parking in a covered car park.
  • Auto carwash Most of the roof box manuals warn against putting the roof box through an automatic carwash.
  • Lock/lid location Look for a car roof box with access and locks on both the passenger and driver side, allowing easy retrieval of luggage whether stopped by the side of the road or at your final destination.
  • Loading/unloading Putting the heavier items in the boot of the car and the lighter items in the car roof box will make sure the centre of gravity is not changed too much and you don’t need to lift up the heavier items. If you have to put heavier items in the box, evenly distribute and secure them with straps if possible. If you have a slim box, or a wide car, the box will sit further away from the side of the car, making loading and retrieval of luggage more difficult. Look for a box that has smooth covers over the inside of the fastening mechanism. If the fasteners protrude into the box, take care not to pack anything over them that could be damaged.
  • Handling of car Our tests showed slight variations in handling when a fully laden box was attached to the car; the feeling of the extra weight did make a difference during cornering and emergency avoidance maneuver. You may find that you have to adapt your driving to compensate for these differences.
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