When it comes to vehicle storage capacity, especially those with limited features, few options are as appealing as a cargo carrier. For SUV owners, it allows them to enjoy a similar storage capacity to a pickup, but without breaking the bank in the process. It just provides that bit of additional storage for truck owners, should you need it.
Hitch cargo carriers are relatively affordable, versatile, and easy to use. With a cargo carrier, you’ll find that moving items from point A to point B becomes a far less painful process.
To mention a few positives of why a hitch cargo carrier is an excellent addition to any regular traveler’s life, starting with the most obvious first, they free up your back seat. This provides you with a clear rear view when driving and increases your passenger’s legroom, over even just the possibility to have passengers in the back at all! They are also great for packing things that are better off being carried outside your cars, such as dirty equipment, harmful substances or anything that might mess up your interior, or items that are just too large to fit into your vehicle.
Alternatively, hitch mount bike racks would be the perfect choice for those only looking to transport their bicycles and prefer hitch carriers over other options.
Editor’s Note – This list of the best hitch cargo carriers was updated on January 25, 2022, to add updated cargo carrier models, remove discontinued products, and add the Tow Tuff TTF-2762KR to our list.
Folding Vs. Fixed Carriers
A folding carrier is a good choice if you use your cargo carrier often. This just prevents the hassle of disassembling and installing it every time to your hitch.
However, keep in mind that all cars do not allow folding carriers. For vehicles with a rear-mounted tire, you won’t be able to fold up a carrier behind them, except when the spare tire is removed. Furthermore, when opening your rear hatch or tailgate, a folded carrier may prevent you from being able to as it could be in the way. If you are only using your carrier once in a while, a fixed cargo carrier is a better option.
For the Best Overall Basket Style Hitch Cargo Carrier, Buy the CURT 18153
Curt offers a wide range of trailer hitch cargo carriers with various mounting options, including both front and rear mount cargo carriers, some of which have a folding shank. The Curt basket-Style cargo carrier 18153 offers everything you need; stability, strength, durability, and a lot of cargo space. And that is why it takes top place as the best overall cargo carrier and best basket cargo carrier.
The basket-style 18153 features a 2 x 2-inch bent folding shank that folds up against a vehicle to provide more ground clearance when not in use. The shank is angled upwards, providing extra ground clearance. When in use, it can carry up to 500 lbs of load weight with an inner tray dimension of 60-inch x 24 inches that is quite spacious for loading gear, motorcycles, and big cargo bags.
Cargo is held in place with heavy-duty carbide steel. The basket has a tubular construction that’s sturdy enough to support heavy luggage and withstand harsh weather elements. The outside is coated with durable black powder to resist rust, scratches, and UV damage.
The Curt basket-style cargo carrier 18153 provides stability and support seen in very few cargo carriers. It features a robust mesh platform and 6-inch high sides that prevent luggage from sliding out during transit. The high side rails also provide a convenient means for attaching a cargo net or cargo bag strap to hold down multiple pieces of luggage. The carrier also has added safety precautions in its built-in reflectors for increased visibility and safety when driving in low-light areas.
The Curt basket-style cargo carrier 18153 is designed to make installation quick and easy. You can mount it with little effort and a few tools by simply folding the shank up first for easy connection, then lowering the shank down while inserting the hitch pin. The robust bolt design can hold up in long-distance travel and bumpy terrains.
Driving over speed bumps or uneven terrain hardly affects the carrier. It comes with an angled shank that lifts it enough to load cargo comfortably and protect the carrier from scrapes and damage, but it is still low enough to load the trunk of most vehicles without problems.
The biggest concern regarding this cargo carrier is that the interior of the steel tubes isn’t protected against rust. The tube ends are open, leaving the possibility of water getting in and rusting occurring. While this isn’t a guaranteed issue, if you do want to protect your steel pipes against rust and corrosion, you can alternatively paint the inside or even plug the open tubes to prevent water from entering.
A Great Alternative
The Mockins steel cargo basket receives an honorable mention as it came in at a close second compared to the Curt 18153 cargo carrier. Its smaller basket dimensions and its incompatibility with rear-mounted spare tires kept it from nabbing our top pick.
For the Best Heavy-Duty Basket Style Hitch Cargo Carrier, Buy the Rola Vortex
Rola has been around for quite a while and has built a reputation for creating strong roof racks and cargo management products. The Vortex steel hitch mount is no different. It can easily support a cargo weight of up to 600lbs, and its heavy-duty steel framing makes it perfect for long hauls and rugged terrains. This is the best choice if you’re looking for an actual heavy-duty cargo carrier.
This cargo carrier is an excellent choice for larger vehicles such as trucks and SUV’s.
As one of the most robust carriers in the market, the Rola Vortex steel cargo carrier (59502) can carry up to 600 lbs; you can load in hundreds of pounds of bags, camping gear, coolers, and other items on its durable mesh floor. The mesh floor is further supported by steel bars to prevent the mesh from caving in when heavy luggage is placed on it. There are holes in the carrier to fix straps to hold down your cargo.
The side rails are high enough at 5.25 inches to prevent your luggage from sliding out. Additionally, there are also two light reflectors to alert other drivers of its presence at night. Buy the 20174 Red Cargo Carrier Light Kit if you prefer a full-on lighting system. It’s one of the best lighting options for this specific carrier.
This model was developed with security and ease at the forefront of design. Besides the reflectors and optional lighting, built-in attachment points for license plate relocation is also available. In addition, you can safely drive over speed bumps and uneven terrain due to its curved hitch mount. The 2-inch rise shank provides better ground clearance. It fits most Class III and IV receivers.
This carrier is made of strong, high-quality, heavy-duty steel with a black powder coating that increases its resistance to rust and scratches. Its construction enables it to take a lot more abuse than most other carriers, so if you know that you’re going to need a proper workhorse, then this is for you.
For installation, it works with a simple two-piece assembly mechanism. All you have to do is insert and tighten its bolts with nuts and connect it to any 2-inch receiver, and you are ready for the road.
A Great Alternative
The King Bird upgraded folding hitch mount cargo carrier is a close contender to the Rola Vortex steel cargo carrier and is more affordable. Its basket is a few inches longer, but it takes second place in weight capacity and overall durability next to the Rola Vortex.
For the Best Basket Style Carrier With the Largest Base, Buy the Reese Explore ProSeries Rambler
This sturdy hitch cargo carrier makes moving larger cargo easy and more efficient. It supports a weight of up to 500 lbs and has a large base platform dimension of 60” x 24” x 5”. Much larger than the average cargo carrier. This, together with its durable design and carrying capacity, is why the Reese Explore ProSeries Rambler is the top choice if you’re looking for a cargo carrier with a larger than average base!
The side rails of the Pro Series 63153 are set at a height of 5.5-inches. There is also enough space to strap to the rails and hold down your load securely. The carrier’s bottom has a mesh design perfect for cleaning and durable enough to withstand a heavy load without bending. The steel frame also is powder-coated, making it resistant to weather elements, corrosion, and rust.
If you’re worried about your hitch-mounted cargo carrier scraping the road or struggling over uneven terrain, then you’d appreciate the Pro series 63153. It features a rise shank design that elevates the cargo carrier, ensuring that it and your belongings are safe from damage.
Also, there is no additional drag that reduces gas mileage as you drive, except if you overload it and your car, and the high-rise design of the carrier protects your cargo from any damage that the exhaust may cause. In rare instances, some carriers are close enough to the exhaust that they may melt your luggage or cause combustion.
As is generally the case, installing the carrier can be done within 30 minutes. This cargo carrier attaches to a 2-inch receiver. You will also need to get tail lights or reflectors as none are included, and it is important to alert other motorists of the trailer behind your car.
If it covers your tail lights, the Rola 59516 Led Light Kit is an excellent choice for a lighting kit. The ProSeries 63153 also has cutouts that are compatible with the lights.
A Great Alternative
The Oklead hitch cargo carrier is a good alternative if you’re looking for a hitch cargo carrier with a large base but is perfect for lighter and shorter trips. Durable and versatile with its foldable rails, it just falls short of our top choice due to its smaller 400lbs loading capacity.
For the Best Value for Money Flatbed Cargo Carrier, Buy the MaxxHaul 70422
If you want to hit the road with a sturdy, durable, and easy to clean carrier, but you don’t want to break the bank, then the compact MaxxHaul 70422 Hitch Cargo Carrier ticks all those boxes. At just under $100, this small and lightweight cargo carrier is our top choice if you want to get the best value for your money.
MaxxHaul has long been one of the most popular manufacturers of recreational towing and hitch-mount products. High quality and value for money are why this brand is so respected and esteemed.
This compact cargo carrier is made from extruded, rust-proof aluminum with steel frames, making it more robust than the average aluminum carrier. It also has a higher weight capacity while still retaining the lightweight of aluminum carriers. It weighs just 23 lbs making it easy for one person to carry and maneuver.
This cargo carrier’s under-support and hitch shaft is made from high-grade steel and has a powder-coated finish.
The side of this hitch cargo carrier is about 2.25 inches high, preventing most luggage from sliding out, but not all. We suggest that you get straps as an added securing benefit; however they are not included with this carrier. The Boncas TIEDOWN1 is a solid strap to buy alongside the MaxxHaul 70422 Hitch Cargo Carrier.
There are multiple tie-down points on the carrier. This is because the floor of the MaxxHaul 70422 features six sturdy aluminum planks with spaces in between. There are also four holes; two are located at the back and two at the front, convenient for tie-down hooks. The large spaces between the base aluminum planks might be a problem if you want to load smaller items that might slip through the gaps. But for larger and heavier cargo, they will be just fine.
The base planks are high-grade steel with a solid corrosion-resistant powder coating finish. The base is also very easy to clean by spraying with water and wiping it down with a damp cloth. Because of this cargo carrier’s compact size, you can still open the rear hatch in most vehicles, as long as you don’t get to a very close break-over point when loading luggage. The break-over point is where your rear hatch may come in contact with your cargo.
For visibility in low light, there are built-in reflectors at the sides. These are made of plastic at the edges of the carrier. So, be mindful of its proximity to your exhaust when installing it as it may, in some cases, melt the plastic edges over extended exposure. When installed, the space between your car and the carrier is about 8 inches.
It has a straightforward design that contributes to the ease of its installation. Just connect it to any 2-inch Class III and IV hitch receiver and hold it down with a hitch pin and clip. The package includes everything, so you don’t need to buy them separately.
A Great Alternative
The compact Camco hitch cargo carrier (48475) is an excellent alternative to the MaxxHaul 70422. We preferred the MaxxHaul due to its lightweight aluminum design and the thicker aluminum bars at the carrier’s base.
For the Best Flatbed Cargo Carrier, Buy the Tow Tuff TTF-2762R.
Best flatbed and versatility, Tow Tuff offers something special with this 2-in1 cargo carrier, a removable bike rack. Innovative and dedicated, Tow Tuff manufactures and distributes high-quality, durable automotive and trailer management tools and equipment. And this cargo carrier is just that. If you prefer flatbed cargo carriers, the Tow Tuff TTF-2762KR with its large base platform, strong weight carrying capacity, and bike rack versatility is the top choice.
This cargo carrier measures 60” x 27” x 3”, giving you ample space to transport a variety of different cargo options. It is uniquely designed as a general cargo carrier or a 4-bike rack, making it a fantastic all-rounder.
The adjustable wheel cradle and tie-down holes will secure your bikes in place when converting the carrier to a bike rack. It has a weight capacity of 500lbs, making it perfect for heavy-duty hauling.
Robust and long-lasting, this carrier is made from heavy-duty steel. Also, it includes a durable tie-down strap, tie-down holes, pull-out bar, and four-wheel cradles that are adjustable and fit most bikes so that you can adequately secure your cargo in place.
Tow Tuff also offers a 1-year limited manufacturer’s part warranty.
Installation is quick and easy, like most hitch carriers. The Tow Tuff TTF-2462KR can easily fit all 2-inch receivers, and when you want to convert the carrier to a bike rack, simply connect the bike rack pins into the allotted openings on the hitch rails.
A Great Alternative
The Tow Tuff TTF-2762R is a great alternative to the Curt tray hitch cargo carrier (18109). If you’re not bothered about additional fixtures such as bike racks, this folding hitch cargo carrier is a great tray option for you.
The Different Cargo Hitches
When shopping for hitch cargo carriers, you’ll notice variations in both the materials used and the style in which they are designed. These variations all offer their own unique set of benefits and drawbacks. The way you intend to use your hitch-mounted cargo carrier will define what type of style you’re going to want.
Basket Style Cargo Carrier
It has railed sides to keep cargo secure and provides a convenient location to attach cargo straps or cords for added security. Baskets are ideal for transporting bulky items and are very popular as it suits people’s general transportation needs.
Flatbed Style Cargo Carrier
The flatbed design does not have high rails on the sides but has slightly raised edges, with most of them having anchor points for cargo straps, nets, and bungee cords. This is a perfect consideration if you transport oddly-shaped or large items frequently.
Ramp Style Cargo Carrier
If you plan on transporting large or wheeled cargo, the ramp cargo carrier is a perfect choice. Similar to the basket and flatbed style, a folding ramp slides onto ground level, making loading large or heavy wheeled items much more convenient.
Selecting The Right Hitch Cargo Carrier – Important Considerations
What is going to be the primary use of your cargo carrier? And what items will it be carrying? These answers should indicate whether a box, rack, or another style of hitch cargo carrier would meet those needs.
The type of vehicle that your cargo carrier would be hitched to is important to determine the tongue weight capacity of the trailer and whether or not your vehicle would be able to support it. The tongue weight capacity is the maximum vertical weight that a vehicle’s hitch can support during ordinary driving conditions.
The rear design of your vehicle will determine how suitable a specific hitch cargo carrier type is. Does your car have barn doors or a rear spare tire? Will your car’s tailgate be a problem?
Vehicle Class Hitch
There are five trailer hitch classes. Each class is based on the strength and size of your vehicle and the design of the hitch itself.
Buyer’s Guide – What To Look For In A Hitch Cargo Carrier
If you will be using a cargo carrier regularly, it is important to pay attention to certain things before buying a specific carrier.
Most cargo carriers are made from steel or some form of alloy steel. However, there are some made from other robust metals as well. The build of your cargo carrier must be of high quality.
Steel is incredibly durable and doesn’t bend under heavy pressure. Ensure that if you settle on a steel carrier, it has been powder-coated to prevent damage and rust from environmental elements.
Another popular material is aluminum which is much lighter than steel durable and can take a lot of abuse. Additionally, aluminum doesn’t rust like steel does, but it is more prone to scratches.
Rear Hatch Access
If rear hatch access is crucial for you, consider buying a carrier that doesn’t have a curved hitch for better ground clearance. Carriers that do not have any rise built into the shank could allow you to have access to your rear hatch. This is hardly possible with curved/high carriers. Note that you would be giving up better ground clearance.
Ensure that the receiver and main shaft fit correctly and that there is no wiggle room. It is important to know what the attachment mechanism of your vehicle looks like, as most carriers will be able to fit a standard 2-inch receiver. Still, bigger or smaller vehicles might have a different sized receiver.
Poor attachment may also result in road noise due to your cargo carrier rattling and wiggling on rough or uneven terrain.
Your cargo carrier should be heavy-duty and able to support the weight of whatever is loaded onto it comfortably. Generally, carriers can support between 500lbs and 600lbs.
The Weight Of The Carrier
Your hitch mount cargo carrier’s weight affects many things. The heavier it is, the more effort it will take to install it. Aluminum carriers are very lightweight and easy to assemble and install. This is perfect for single-person installation. However, steel carriers can also easily be installed with the combined help of two people.
The Cargo Carrier Base
The design of a cargo carrier’s base should be practical. The base must be strong enough to support a heavy load and properly secure the cargo without letting things fall through, and it should also not be a hassle to clean.
High side-rails are often preferred as it does a great job of securing cargo and keeping it from slipping off the carrier, especially on uneven terrain. Most commonly, the rails are set at the height of 6-inches.
Alternatively, high side rails make it difficult to load and transport oversized items that are oddly shaped or bigger than the carrier base.
Before buying a hitch cargo carrier, consider the base dimensions that best suit your needs. How much room do you need, and what sized objects will you transport?
Rear Or Front-Of-Vehicle Hitch Options
Certain cargo carriers offer the possibility of being attached at the vehicle’s front. Certain people prefer this option as it makes them feel more comfortable when they see the cargo in front of them.
The Locking Mechanism
Most cargo carriers have an anti-theft locking mechanism such as a locking hitch pin which prevents the carrier from being taken off the vehicle. This is an essential feature for many people as it gives them peace of mind that their belongings are safe and secure.
Weather protection is vital. You don’t want rust in your carrier after a week of use. In this case, aluminum carriers have better rust resistance. On the other hand, steel is more sturdy, and when coated with black powder which is well looked after and protected, it resists rust long enough.
Another thing you should look at is the bottom. If it is a full pan or tight mesh, it could hold water. This water affects rust resistance too. Another thing is if there are open tubes where water can get in. If the pipes are not powder-coated, they will rust faster. If you plan on using your carrier for years, ensure you check this out.
Hitch Cargo Carrier Safety Tips
The primary safety concerns for cargo carriers are clear visibility and proper load security.
Keep in Mind that Your Vehicle’s Length has Increased Significantly
Cargo carriers can take up as much as three feet behind the vehicle they’re attached to, increasing chances of backing up into things. With this, you must also keep in mind that your car’s rotation space has also increased significantly when turning, and it is necessary to compensate for that. Before heading out on long trips, try practicing at home and getting used to incorporating the added length in your driving and parking styles.
Always Consider the Bumps When Driving Over Uneven Terrain
It’s easy to lose your cargo when you forget that bumps are felt much harsher when your carrier crosses them. Make sure that your cargo is strapped down securely and when you do stop, check to see whether or not the straps are still tight enough. Also, make sure that no straps are flapping or hanging off or alongside your vehicle.
Check that Your License Plate is Visible
Carriers covering a license plate can result in you being pulled over and receiving a ticket. It is not legal to have your license plate covered. To remedy this, temporarily relocate your license plate to your cargo carrier using a universal license plate bracket. Take care that if relocated, it is 12-inches off the ground with adequate lighting.
Invest in a Hitch Tightener
When purchasing your hitch cargo carrier, invest in a hitch tightener or trailer hitch tie-down. This helps minimize or eliminate any shifting or rattling from your cargo carrier.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Accessories Can I Use With My Hitch Cargo Carrier?
The most commonly used hitch cargo carrier accessories are:
– Stabilizing straps
– LED indicator lights
– Hitch stabilizers
– Receiver adapter
– Cargo net
– Cargo bag
Are Hitch Carriers Legal?
Yes. They are legal, but overloaded cargo carriers may result in law violations should they collapse and cause damage or injury to vehicles or their occupants around them.
What Max Speed Can I Drive With a Hitch Cargo Carrier?
It is recommended that drivers shouldn’t exceed 90 MPH, which may result in collisions or the cargo carrier collapsing.
Are Hitch Cargo Carriers Better Than Roof Carriers?
When deciding between the two, you should consider what is most important to you in a carrier. If you’re looking for something that can be easily accessed, as well as easily packed, a hitch cargo carrier is the best option.
Does a Hitch Cargo Carrier Affect Gas Mileage?
A hitch cargo carrier has an almost unnoticeable effect on your gas mileage when driving standard speeds, especially roof cargo boxes.