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9 best car roof boxes for your next big road trip

Create instant car storage space with these overhead roof boxes

Jon Axworthy
Thursday 03 February 2022 14:39 GMT
Our favourites were sturdy, accessible and easy to close – even when nearing full capacity
Our favourites were sturdy, accessible and easy to close – even when nearing full capacity (iStock/The Independent)

Whether it’s a staycation trip for a large family or a weekend festival jaunt for two, there’s a good chance that, before you set off, you’ll end up playing a warped game of car boot Tetris, as you try and work out how the cool box is going to fit into a space the size of a tennis ball.

Whether you already carry something on your roof – such as a bike or paddleboard – when you go away will dictate whether you need to look at narrow or medium-width boxes. If the box doesn’t have to share roof space, a full-width box will allow you plenty of storage.

You need to look at whether the box opens from a single side, from both sides, or hinges at one end, as this can make all the difference in terms of how easy it is to access the contents. After all, thinking about where the box is going to be perched, it can be tricky to get your gear in and out of one, if opening mechanisms aren’t well thought out.

The lid needs to be sturdy, the locking mechanism solid, and the box should be easy to close, even when it’s nearing full capacity. The initial mounting of the box should also be a consideration.

So, with all that in mind, here are the boxes that will ease the pressure on your packing skills, add volume and ensure you aren’t forced into a terrible choice about which child to leave behind on your next trip.

How we tested

We loaded all the boxes to their capacity limits, to see how easy they were to load and unload, and also to check the real-world capacities matched the ones being advertised.

Once we were all loaded up, we took a drive on the motorway, to see if the box changed the handling of the car at all; check there were no strange noises (inferior products can produce a whistle at higher speeds), and that everything stayed where it should.

We opened and closed these boxes dozens of times, to check for any issues with the locking mechanisms, and to ensure they couldn’t be closed but accidentally not latched shut, so the contents remained in the box, rather than all over the A303.

The best car roof boxes for 2023 are:

  • Best overall –?Kamei husky 510: ?409.95, Roofbox.co.uk
  • Best value –?Hapro roady 350: ?149.95, Roofbox.co.uk
  • Best for supplementing a small car boot –?Halfords 320l grey roof box: ?204, Halfords.com
  • Best for big families –?Thule motion XT XXL: ?880, Thule.com
  • Best space saver –?Thule ranger 90: ?190, Retaila.co.uk

Kamei husky 510

Kamei husky 510 indybest.jpg
  • Best: Overall

This 510l box opens from either the left or the right-hand side, and is supplemented with hydraulic struts so you can easily open and close with one hand. The box itself is long enough for skis and high enough for golf clubs, while the nice wide opening makes getting your gear in and out effortless. In fact, thanks to its design we felt that the box held more than the advertised 510l.

The husky’s security credentials lived up to expectations too (the box is multi-award winning) because of the manufacturer’s locking system that operates centrally without the need for turning a key – there are even further hinged catches for more security. The key can’t be removed until the box is properly shut, so you know there’ll be no nasty surprises as you’re driving. The box isn’t quite full-width either, so you would be able to port something else on the roof bar, like a bike, if needed. Finally, the box is nicely styled in matt black while its low profile is aerodynamic once you’re on the road.

This model is available to pre-order now and you should receive an email when the brand has an estimated dispatch date. Or, if you simply can’t wait, there’s a gloss version which is available to buy now (?439.95, Roofbox.co.uk).

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Hapro roady 350

Hapro roady 350 indybest.jpg
  • Best: Value

Excellent value for money for a 300l box, this nicely designed box is robust and well thought out, and is hinged at one end on springed struts, which makes opening, closing and accessing all your gear very easy. In fact, we measured the opening at 50cm at the back and 30cm in the middle, which is ample to be able to get all your gear in and out without having to wrestle with it.

The single rear-mounted lock was solid and the key couldn’t be taken out until the box was properly closed, which was an easy operation even when fully loaded. Plus, it’s a medium-width box, so there should also be room to carry a bike on the roof too.

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Halfords 320l grey roof box

Halfords 320l grey roof box indybest.jpg
  • Best: For supplementing a small car boot

Halford offers roof boxes in 470l, 420l, 360l volumes, but we really liked the 320l “online exclusive” because of its overall utility and great value for money. The single side opening mechanism was easy to operate and felt sturdy and robust, even after multiple openings.

The full-width box was straightforward to fit and we managed to cram cases, bags, a tent and even camping furniture within the interior. The box proved to have good aerodynamics when driving and we liked the locking mechanism, which was easy to operate and clicked shut securely, even when the box was fully loaded.

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Thule motion XT XXL

Thule motion XT XXL  indybest.jpg
  • Best: For big families

If you travel with a lot of kit then this cavernous full-width 610l box from Thule will ensure nothing gets left behind. For a large box, it’s easy to open from either side, so you can get at your stuff easily without being put in harm’s way (if one side of the car is facing traffic when parked). Locks and lid-lifters all worked well with smooth mechanisms, and the box put in a good performance on the road too boasting very good aerodynamics, minimal noise and no discernible drag on the motorway.

We had a lot of confidence in the build quality while the box was very robust, meaning it would keep gear out of harm’s way and stand up well to low hanging branches and other potential hazards. With one of the best locking mechanisms on test, the slidelock makes it impossible to take out the key unless it is securely latched, and when the red window is showing on the handle, you know the box is still open. Once the box is closed properly the red window disappears, so you’ll never have to worry about driving away with the box unsecured.

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Thule vector M

Thule vector M  indybest.jpg
  • Best: Premium box

Another full-width box in the Thule range that was more than worthy of inclusion thanks to its high-end finish, impressively sturdy lid and fantastic mounting system. This system, called powerclick, is an absolute breeze to use and once the box was in place, the double-sided opening mechanism allowed for very easy access.

However, it’s when the box is opened that the 360l vector M really stands out, with its felt base and the combination of an LED light and white interior making unpacking easy if you arrive at your destination after dark. The slidelock mechanism, aerodynamic styling and black metallic finish added to the overall desirability of the box, too.

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Thule force XT M

Thule force XT M  indybest.jpg
  • Best: For aerodynamics

Another dual side opening, full-width box with a bulkier back end, this one makes packing less of a chore, as you have more room for bigger items throughout the box’s length. We had no reason to doubt the 400l of claimed capacity, while the box is operated via a sturdy lock knob that doubles as a handle for lifting the lid, which overlaps the base nicely to keep everything inside dry in wet conditions.

Easy to close, even when full, the safety mechanism only releases the key when the box is safely closed and locked, so you know it’s secure for driving away. The matt black finish makes the box an attractive addition to all kinds of cars and the aerodynamics at speed were the best on test.

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Calix H22

Calix H22 indybest.jpg
  • Best: For estate cars

This is a big box with 500l of storage inside, but still leaves room for another bike on the roof, which might suit bigger families that also have a tow bar carrier. Fitting was straightforward thanks to the Calix’s Quick grip 2.0 system, and the opening struts made raising the lid a doddle (without us having to worry about it closing on us). Dual side openings make life easy wherever you’ve stopped to unload, and the locking mechanism was smooth and solid. On top of all these features was the H22s sloped styling, which seemed particularly suited to estate cars.

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Thule ranger 90

Thule ranger 90  indybest.jpg
  • Best: Space saver

This is an excellent option if you have two storage problems – home and away. For example, do you really need a roof box for driving holidays and getaways, but don’t have anywhere to store a hard-shell box at home? Well this soft box, made from water-resistant tarpaulin quality material, is a real problem solver.

We thought its soft shell was going to make it difficult to fit and pack, however, because it’s so lightweight and has a well thought out fitting system we had it secured to the roof in no time. The bag is zipped on three sides, leaving the fourth to act as the lid hinge, and the fact that the hinge goes at the front of the car protects the bag from water ingress on the motorway.

Packing the 280l box was straightforward and unpacking was even easier, especially as you can move the double zip around to get at single items, if needed, without everything else falling out, which is an issue we’ve had with some other single zip collapsible boxes. In terms of security, the double zips can be padlocked together, with the padlock tucking into a pocket to keep everything secure.

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Hapro traxer 8.6

 Hapro traxer 8.6  indybest.jpg
  • Best: For white cars

After grey and black, white is the most popular car colour in the UK, yet most roof boxes choose to be finished in the darker colours, leaving owners of white cars with little choice. The traxer comes in all three, with the white version having a gloss lid and black base, so that car owners have more options when it comes to colour matching.

Looks aside, the traxer is side opening and boasts a nice low profile for good aerodynamics, while still managing to come with a very healthy 530l load capacity. Opening from either side with a smooth movement up and down, the lid is stable when raised and fits nice and snugly over the base when closed. It employs central locking too, so you know that if you’re able to lock and release the key then the box is totally secure.

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Car roof boxes FAQs

How do I know which roof boxes will fit my car?

The main thing you need to do when considering if a roof box will fit on your car is to check your manual to ascertain the maximum load capacity for your vehicle. And, in order for it to attach onto your car, you’ll, of course, need a roof rack system, which will mean your roof box can attach to your rack.

The verdict: Car roof boxes

Combining innovative security, good styling and excellent accessibility, the Kamei husky 510 did everything needed of a roof box, and it did it well. Solidly constructed, the stand-out feature was the central locking system, which means you can close the lid with just one push.

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