Using Car Top Carrier Without A Roof Rack: Tips And Advice


** Road Trip Gears is supported by readers. We may earn a commission when you buy with our links — thank you!

If you don’t have a rack on your car’s roof but need additional storage space, don’t worry. The solution is a car-top carrier without a roof rack. 

But, even though the solution is something you can purchase, you are probably not sure which ones are best, how to attach them, and how to load them. 

Here are some tips and the best options for using a soft car top carrier without a roof rack. 

Read: Why Are Roof Racks So Expensive?

Using a Car Top Carrier Without a Roof Rack: General Tips and Advice

Before we get into specific features, a few tips might make using a car-top carrier without a roof rack easier.

  • Don’t over-tighten straps, or you could tear the carrier
  • Install the carrier following the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Install the carrier with the opening away from the wind to the rear of the vehicle
  • Always follow the roof capacity guidelines from your vehicle’s manufacturer
  • Use a step stool to make it easier to reach the top of your vehicle
  • Load the carrier after it’s on the roof
  • Unload the carrier while it’s on the roof
  • Use a helper if you can

A Video: How To Attach A Car Top Carrier Without A Roof Rack

See the Rightline cargo bag from the video on Amazon

Top Five Soft Car Top Carriers 

Here are five recommendations for soft car cargo bags that you can use without a roof rack.

#1. RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier

No products found.

Perhaps nothing is more quintessentially American than a road trip in the family car. With the RoofBag cargo carrier, you can travel with the equivalent of up to five suitcases full of stuff on the roof in a safe and secure cargo bag. And it’s made in the USA. 

Constructed from heavy-duty and waterproof fabric, this bag is peel- and tear-resistant, so your stuff will stay dry and safe inside.

The set of two wide seat-belt style straps will keep your cargo secured to the roof even at highway speeds. And the included mat will keep your roof free of scratches.

Installation is a breeze, thanks to clear instructions and a simple design. Set out the mat on your roof, put the logo-end of the carrier toward the car’s rear, pass the 1.5” wide straps through the open doors of your vehicle, and close the doors. 

Instead of being sewn onto it directly, the straps loop through the cargo carrier, adding an extra degree of strength. 

You can’t go wrong with this cargo carrier with customer service based in San Diego, California, and a two-year warranty against defects.

Pros

  • Multiple size options
  • Secure, simple fastening system for almost all passenger vehicles
  • Made in the USA, USA-based support
  • Waterproof
  • Protective mat and storage bag included
  • Works with or without roof racks
  • Quiet at highway speed when installed properly

Cons

  • Slightly more expensive than some other models
  • Not all sizes/styles are 100% waterproof

#2. Sailnovo Car Roof Bag and Cargo Carrier

No products found.

This cargo carrier from Sailnovo will allow you to store between four and six suitcases worth of stuff on the roof of your vehicle. It works without a roof rack or with one.

The six adjustable straps sew right to the softshell fabric, and the zippers are all covered by flaps to keep things secure and as water-tight as possible. 

Two additional straps come with the cargo carrier for additional fastening as needed. Just open the doors, loop the straps through the car, pull them tight, and click the seat-belt style connectors. Close the door and hit the road. 

Though designed to be very sturdy and resistant to water, this bag is not 100% waterproof, especially in crazy weather at highway speeds. It also doesn’t come with a roof mat to protect against slipping and scratching.

And the sewn-in straps potentially create a stress point that could lead to tears down the road.

Pros

  • Competitive Pricing
  • Works with almost any passenger vehicle
  • Simple installation
  • Extra straps

Cons

  • Sewn-in straps create stress points and may lead to rips
  • Not waterproof
  • No anti-slip mat included

#3. Whistler Roof Top Cargo Carrier

No products found.

This cargo carrier from Whistler is very affordable, making it a decent choice for budget shoppers. Unfortunately, its straps aren’t as well integrated as other models, and it doesn’t hold up to claims that it is 100% waterproof.

Instead of looping through the carrier, which is the best option, or being sewn to the carrier, these straps simply tighten over the bag after looping through the car’s doors, just like the other bags. But, it never gets as tight as some premium models do. 

This cargo carrier doesn’t stand up to hard use in extreme weather. The included anti-slip mat is kind of flimsy as well, but there is also a storage bag included. It also has the equivalent of four to five suitcases full of stuff. 

The very affordable price might be its best trait, but if you’re going on a short trip in an older car and need to carry some additional gear, this might be a decent solution.  

Pros

  • Very affordable
  • Simple fastening system
  • Ample capacity

Cons

  • Not waterproof
  • Not as secure as some other options
  • It moves around a bit, even when lashed tightly
  • Forcing straps to make them tighter may damage the vehicle 

#4. Fruno Rooftop Cargo Carrier

No products found.

This Fruno cargo carrier is a bit smaller than the others. Instead of having a capacity of four to six suitcases, it can only hold about two suitcases worth of stuff. While it is down on capacity, it is completely waterproof. 

When installed properly with the zipper facing away from the front of the vehicle, water won’t be able to penetrate the plastic-lined tarpaulin carrier. There are eight straps with reinforced patches to strengthen their connection to the carrier.

An anti-slip mat comes with the cargo carrier and two additional extra straps for lashing loads to the roof.

But, this carrier uses a hook system to secure itself to the roof. Sliding doors common on minivans won’t work with this setup.

And, if you have rubber gaskets around your door frames, those will need to be removed or the hook attachments to work. If the gaskets are glued in place, this carrier won’t work. 

The price is fairly competitive, and the customer support is responsive if an issue pops up. They have a one-year guarantee against rips or failure of the waterproofing. And, if you want more capacity, they also offer a larger version

Pros

  • Guaranteed for one year
  • Waterproof
  • Competitive Pricing
  • Two sizes available

Cons

  • Hook fasteners don’t work with some cars
  • The buckles and straps are fairly thin

#5. KING BIRD Aerodynamic Rooftop Cargo Carrier

No products found.

This cargo carrier from King Bird uses a hook system to attach to your car’s roof. Sliding doors and doors with permanently mounted weatherstripping gaskets won’t work with this system. So, make sure it is compatible with your vehicle’s design. 

The carrier’s aerodynamically enhanced design reduces wind noise, resistance, and noise. The design may even help with fuel mileage, thanks to increased aerodynamics. 

It features a heavy-duty zipper, additional velcro closures, and a large flap to keep the elements out and your gear inside dry. When installed and sealed properly, this carrier is waterproof. 

It has lots of capacity, with space for four to six large suitcases or the equivalent. Plus, it has a roof protection pad and a TSA-approved combination lock. It’s also available in a smaller capacity model.

Competitive pricing might be a good solution to your cargo-carrying needs. But, it may not last as long as some other models. The attachment points for the straps tend to wear out or tear over time or under very hard use. 

Pros

  • Waterproof 
  • Competitive Pricing
  • Two sizes on offer
  • Very aerodynamic

Cons

  • Less durable
  • Sometimes prone to tearing
  • Hook fasteners don’t work with some vehicles

Related article:

Frequently Ask Questions

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about using a car-top carrier without a roof rack.

Can you use a roof bag without rails?

Yes, it can go on the roof. You do not require a roof rack. Your car requires side roof rails to secure the roof bag’s straps.

Are rooftop cargo bags safe?

Cargo bags are safe to use as long as they are not overloaded. They should be snuggly strapped to the car. A loosely secured cargo bag may slide or let the wind get under the bag.  

How fast can you drive with a roof bag?

Whenever you drive with a roof bag, it is important to follow the speed limit and never exceed 90 MPH. 

Conclusion

You now have all the facts you need to make the right choice for a car-top carrier for your vehicle without a roof rack. You understand the features that differentiate carriers from one another and how they might best be used for you and your vehicle’s cargo needs. 

If you have a trip coming up, you can cross this shopping item off your list today with any of the top models.  

You might be interested in the following:

Terry

Hi, I'm Terry. I'm a self-proclaimed nerd who loves being curious about automotive and travel. I love sharing what I learned about the industries, hence, starting this site. Hopefully, roadtripgears.com can help provide all the guides you need for your road trips.