Roof racks and trailer hitches often perform the same tasks, but each have their own benefits and drawbacks.
A roof rack makes a hit on the car’s aerodynamics and can make wind noise even when it’s not in use, but it’s always there if you need to unexpectedly haul big items. When I still lived at home, I picked up a new screen door from the local hardware store with my Escort wagon because my parents’ much-bigger sedans couldn’t accommodate it.
On the other hand, a trailer can haul more things, bigger things, more easily. It’s really hard to put a stove on a roof rack by yourself. If you commit to trailer-only, you don’t take a fuel economy hit except when you’re actually pulling a trailer. But unless you have a purpose-built trailer for the job, some large things require their own solution. There’s no way my 16-foot canoe will fit on this little utility trailer. Backing up or maneuvering tight spaces with a trailer can also be a hassle.
For the cars I’ve shopped, the two devices cost about the same: $200 to $300 all in. When it came to my van, I opted for a trailer. Tall vehicles make roof racks less practical. My WRX, on the other hand, had both—fuel economy sucked no matter what.
We’re asking today about your choice. Obviously you’ll need a pickup truck if you’re hauling large amounts of bricks and lumber, and a trailer (yeah, or ramp truck, you wise guys) is a must for towing a race car. We’re talking passenger cars here—your sedans, wagons and maybe small vans—for everyday or recreational use.
So: Which cargo-enhancing accessory is best suited to your lifestyle?