Enjoying the outdoors is relaxing and stress-relieving. Depending on your planned activities, it could come as an avenue to exercise. However, moving the necessary gear and other items you need from one point to another safely and conveniently can cause headaches; if you have so much to carry, cramming everything into a car can be a pain.
This is where a hitch cargo carrier comes in. For road trips and tailgating lovers, especially those who love to do it in groups, you’d understand the importance of a hitch-mounted cargo carrier.
Best Overall Hitch Cargo Carrier
The Curt Basket-Style Cargo Carrier 18153 provides stability and support that’s seen in very few carriers. It features a strong mesh platform and 6 inches high sides. This is a quality product that gets our nod for the best cargo carrier on the market at the moment.
Best Value for Money
If you’re looking for a simple, functional, affordable, and easy to clean carrier, the MaxxHaul 70422 Hitch Cargo Carrier ticks all those boxes. It has a straightforward design that contributes to it being one of the easiest carriers to install that we have seen. Great value for money.
Best Heavyweight Cargo Carrier
If carrying as much weight as possible is your main requirement, then the Rola Vortex Steel Hitch-Mount Cargo Carrier might be the solution to your problems. With a loading capacity of 600 lbs, this is a beast of a carrier. It is made of strong, high-quality, and heavy-duty steel with a black powder coating that increases its resistance to rust and scratches.
Best Cargo Cover Bag
The Rola 59119 Rainproof Cargo Carrier Bag is more than just a cargo bag. It’s a sturdy carrier that straps down tougher than most and can carry so many things in it that you’d be surprised. The Rola TuffBak is great for keeping luggage, sports equipment, and any other gear.
Not only do they free up your back seat, giving you a clear back view when driving, they are also great for packing things that are better off carried outside your car. For example, if you need to transport spare cans of gas, BBQ grills and anything that drips dirt/oil, or harmful substance. A hitch cargo carrier is multipurpose too; you can also use them in some day to day activities like moving garden supplies or your generator.
Shopping for the right hitch mounted cargo carrier is more than just choosing any cargo basket-looking equipment. It’s more about functionality, so things like folding carriers vs. fixed shank carriers, capacity, and platform style need to be considered.
Before we go into that, we have reviewed the best hitch cargo carriers below.
The Best 10 Hitch Cargo Carriers
We know that sampling numerous models to know which is the best hitch cargo basket or which gives the best value for its price will not only be tasking but both money and time-taking for you. To make it easier, we have reviewed the best hitch mounted cargo carriers.
Hitch mounted cargo carriers are not just used to transport luggage when traveling or gear for outdoor activities. They can be used to lift heavy equipment on a daily basis. If you are in frequent need of a cargo carrier, you will love one that can be folded up and left attached to your car till your next use.
Curt offers a wide range of trailer hitch cargo carriers with a variety of mounting options, including both front and backloading cargo carriers, some of which have a folding shank. The Curt Basket-Style Cargo Carrier 18153 is one such carrier that offers stability, durability, and ease of use.
The Basket-style 18153 features a 2″ x 2″ bent, folding shank that folds up against a vehicle to provide more ground clearance when not in use. 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 with 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. However, the inside of the steel tubes is not painted to protect against rust, like the outside. To make it worse, their ends are open; if used under heavy rain or snow, water could get in. Some reviewers suggested painting it with black paint or finding a way to cover it up.
Despite this gripe, the Curt Basket-Style Cargo Carrier 18153 provides stability and support that’s seen in very few carriers. It features a strong mesh platform and 6 inches high sides that prevent luggage from sliding out in transit. The high sides 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 increased safety precautions in its built-in reflectors for increased visibility and safety when driving in low-light areas.
You can mount the 18153 either at the front or behind your vehicle as long as you have the right receiver hitch. Mounting at the front is great, especially if you have need of the back end for a back rack, a second carrier, or if you need to use your vehicle to tow a trailer. This design makes installation quick and easy. With just a few tools, you can fix it by folding the shank up first for easy insertion. Then you lower the shank down while inserting the hitch pin. Its strong bolt design can hold up in long-distance travel and bumpy terrains.
Driving over speed bumps hardly affects the carrier, except if you are driving over a mammoth hill. It comes with an angled shank to lift it up the ground, enough to load cargo comfortably and protect the carrier from scrapes. It also stands out from the receiver in an upward thrust but still low enough to load the trunk of most vehicles without problems.
We don’t know about you, but we love car top carriers. However, a good number of them have a load limit of way below 200 lbs.
What if you need to carry something more weighty?
Lifting that much and loading it on a roof rack will be hard for most people. That is if you can find a roof carrier that can take it. However, the Reese Explore ProSeries 63153 Rambler makes moving of heavy cargo easier. This hitch-mounted cargo carrier takes up to 500 lbs of weight on a 60 x 24-inch cargo platform.
While the carrier is strong enough to carry that amount of weight with its sturdy metal build, don’t get too excited about lifting luggage of up to 500 lbs if you haven’t checked the tongue weight rating of your vehicle. Also, vehicle hitches have limitations; not all of them can carry that amount of weight.
If you have had experiences (or have heard of experiences) of hitch-mounted cargo carriers scraping the floor in very low cars or terrain, then you’d appreciate the Proseries 63153. It features a rise shank design that elevates the cargo for an increased distance between the ground and the carrier. Your rack is protected at all times, as it sits high enough.
Also, as you drive, there is no additional drag that reduces gas mileage, except if you overload it and your car. Another good tick this high rise design brings is the protection it offers to cargo bags and any combustible. There is more distance between the exhaust and your luggage. With some carriers, you might risk having the exhaust melt your luggage and cause a fire.
When it comes to protection while on the road, this carrier protects luggage from slipping through the sides with 5.5 inches side rails. You can also attach straps to the rails and hold down your load. The floor is a rugged mesh that is easy to clean and is very strong to support luggage.
One disappointment that we have seen in some hitch carriers is their inability to resist rust; this wears down durability. However, this is not an issue with this carrier. There is a powder coat finish over the steel that is resistant to weather elements, corrosion, and rust. It doesn’t quickly get rusted after prolonged outdoor use as most steel would.
Installing the carrier is not so tasking, it can be done within 30 minutes as long as you have a 2” vehicle receiver. If you are not mechanically inclined though, we advise that you get a torque wrench to torque the screws to factory specs. While you can do without it – with much more effort – installation is much easier with a torque wrench.
You also need to get tail lights or reflectors for the carrier. It doesn’t reflect at night, and it’s illegal in most places to not alert other motorists of the trailer behind your car. If it covers your tail lights, Rola 59516 Led Light Kit is an excellent choice for a light kit. The ProSeries 63153 has cutouts that are compatible with the lights.
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 doesn’t fall behind in the quality that Rola is known for. It does cost a lot, especially compared to some of the other best hitch mount basket cargo carriers, but be assured that it is worth it and you’d feel the impact of the quality, support, and ease it offers. If you are up for spending about $200 on a cargo carrier, then read on.
One of the most robust carriers in the market, it can carry up to 600 lbs; you can load in hundreds of pounds of bags, camping gear, coolers, and other items on its 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 for fixing in straps to hold down your cargo.
You would love this carrier if your car is not so broad or you don’t like seeing your carrier from your rearview mirror. Despite its massive weight capacity, its dimension is 56” x 23”. In fact, you would hardly notice it’s there.
If you feel nervous about having so much luggage behind you even after strapping them down to the carrier, don’t be. Its sides/rails are high enough at 5.25” to prevent your bags from sliding out. There are also reflectors to alert other drivers of its presence at night. If you prefer a full-on lighting system, buy the 20174 Red Cargo Carrier Light Kit. It’s one of the best for this carrier.
This model was done with security and ease at the forefront of design. Asides the reflectors and optional lighting, there are built-in attachment points for license plate relocation to avoid unnecessary traffic tickets due to your luggage covering your license plates.
In addition, you can drive over speed bumps and enter lots without hitting the ground as a result of its curved hitch mount. This rise shank provides better ground clearance and prevents your luggage from getting in contact with heat from the exhaust by elevating the carrier away from the exhaust.
The carrier is made of strong, high-quality, and heavy-duty steel with a black powder coating that increases its resistance to rust and scratches. It is heavy-duty, so no much surprise at its weight of 73.2 lbs. 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 slide it into any 2” receiver, and you are ready for the road.
With the five years warranty offered by Rola, the deal is even sweeter.
The Highland 1042000 Hitch Mounted Cargo Carrier may not be the overall best hitch cargo carrier, but it is one of the best (if not the best) flatbed-style cargo carriers. One major advantage of this carrier is that you can carry odd or oversized items without disturbance from the side rails.
The side rails are quite short at 2 inches so they are more suitable for carrying heavy or long packages and do not limit the dimension of what you can place on it. The inner tray/platform is 60” x 20”. You can still use them for smaller packages as long as you strap them correctly to the tie-down points that are on the side metal deck.
It incorporates a 2-piece design which means it is attached with bolts and fixed in a receiver. The use of bolts and nuts increases installation time when compared with the average preassembled carrier. Nevertheless, if you follow the manual carefully, installation should only take a few minutes.
The carrier fits any 2-inch receiver style hitch. When installed, it can take a load of up to 500 pounds supported by the 2.5 inches rails, and a mesh platform with a center metal bar for ground support. It would have been stronger if there were additional bars at other parts of the mesh platform. As it is, luggage must always be spread evenly across both sides because the bar is at the center and the sides are not as sturdy as the center bar.
Although it is quite stable for lower weight luggage, if you plan to carry heavy-weight items, you can’t have one side more loaded than the other. If you do, the platform could cave in or give off a lot of rattle or wiggle along the way. Some reviewers complain of a rattle when filled to max capacity. Get a hitch tightener or anti-rattle for extra pressure.
When it is set up and loaded with cargo, it can be driven in most weather conditions because it is made up of heavy-duty steel that is coated with a durable powder finish to protect against rust and scratches. There are red reflectors at the sides of the rails. There’s also a space for vehicle license plate if you need it.
At 34.5 pounds, it’s not a lift-and-throw-easily item. However, it is much lighter than most of the best carriers and should not pose much of an issue during installation. Even when filled to max load capacity, the volume doesn’t have noticeable effects on gas mileage.
With so much concentration on getting the right hitch cargo carrier, you may skip the cargo bag altogether. Then it rains along the way, and you realize that your precious luggage is soaked. The Rola 59119 Rainproof Cargo Carrier Bag is more than just a cargo bag. It’s a sturdy carrier that straps down tougher than most and can carry so many things in it that you’d be surprised. The Rola TuffBak is great for keeping luggage, sports equipment, and any other gear.
One great thing about this bag is that it is versatile. If you decide not to use it at your hitch tomorrow, you can install it on your truck bed or roof basket.
Being one of Rola’s flagship hitch rack carriers, it is no surprise that it is built to be rainproof with three layers of rugged vinyl exterior and rubberized interior. Both sides are strong and durable. All parts come together with sealed seams. There is hook and loop available to cover the zippers, keeping your load in tight and dirt and grime out.
No one wants their cargo stolen if the car is left outside overnight. You can get that extra security by placing a padlock in the large zippers. The quality of the waterproof materials and sonic welding make the bag able to withstand wind, snow, and rain. It is also resistant to UV rays, punctures and tears.
Setting it up on a car is very easy, but first, you’ll need a cargo carrier/tray. Although the bag has reflective strips, some reviewers have noted that it isn’t visible enough at night. You will need a tray that has reflectors or lights to alert other drivers.
Secondly, this bag has a lot of space. 20 cubic feet to be precise with a dimension of 59” x 24”. It is 24 inches tall, which is high enough to load up to six bigs bags with extra space. To fit that nicely on a tray, the tray should be bigger than the dimension of the bag, somewhere around 60 x 24 inches on the inside is good.
You also have to make sure that the weight of the luggage you place inside the bag is something that your carrier/tray can carry. When you have set your tray, put the bag on it. You’ll want to make sure that the zipper is easily accessible from the rear, especially if you need something in the bag along the way.
After loading the cargo and zipping up, the bag is tightened with the six included straps to the rail of your carrier. The straps are 65 inches long. There’s one gripe to these straps, and we (and many other reviewers) only wish this is looked into; there are no quick release buckles, so while it is strapped firmly to the carrier through the rails and buckles, you can’t quickly open them. It can turn into a tasking thing, especially if you forget to load a part of your luggage till you had fixed the straps.
Note that the bag does not take on the solid shape that you can see in the image above. Although the seams are hard, if the cargo bag is not filled up, it will not retain that shape. A reviewer suggested using a sheet of foam to keep it in that position if that’s what you want. At the end of your trip or when you come back from having fun, you can fold the bag easily into a compact size and pack it up for easy storage.
We can’t fail to mention the five years warranty before we move to the next product. This comes with most of Rola’s product. You would hardly see this from other manufacturers.
When considering the right Hitch cargo basket to buy, one thing remains clear, a cargo basket that is easy to install and supports the load is always at the forefront. Arksen folding cargo carrier pins down the easy to install aspect nicely. It is also very strong.
This is not one of those carriers that have to be held together by nuts and bolts at the metal bars for installation. It comes right out of the box fully welded. As a result of its preassembled arrangement, installation is quite easy. All you have to do is slot it into any 2-inch receiver.
Note that you will need a hitch pin, and the package doesn’t come with one.
When you have gotten a hitch pin and clip, you can fix the carrier in any of the three hitch positions. This is great because you can either set the carrier closer or further away from your car. If there’s enough space between your car and your cargo, you may be able to open your rear door even after loading (as long as your bags are not so high). Again, fixing it too far out may bring issues when packing your car in a lot.
This carrier is foldable. So after your day/weekend of activity or trip, you can fold it at the back of your vehicle. This is especially nice if you have other uses for it frequently, like conveying garden equipment. Ensure you check the manufacturer’s manual before you drive around town with it folded though; some foldable carriers can affect your rear door or glass. If it isn’t allowed, you can let down the carrier when driving.
There should be no worries of leaving it outside for so long because the heavy-duty steel that makes up this carrier is coated with black epoxy powder finish. This means protection from rust, road grime, and other outdoor elements; it also improves the look of the carrier. For longer-lasting rust resistant effect, you can add in a spray of black paint.
The steel tubes that make up this receiver hitch cargo carrier is 3/4 inches thick to make up the inner dimension of 23.5 inches wide and 58 inches long. Luggage is supported on a mesh base with further steel tube support. The rails are about 6 inches high which should protect your cargo from sliding off. If you are packing a lot of loads, you can tighten them using straps attached to the rails. Just keep your cargo below 500 lbs, which is the maximum capacity that the carrier can take.
There are reflectors on the carrier; they are built-in on the front rails to alert other motorists of the presence of the trailer cargo carrier. Some reviewers complained that the reflectors didn’t stay on for long. You could get that replaced, or better still, get light kits that you can plug into the wiring harness. It is easy to cover up your tail lights and tag when loaded. This is illegal in most places.
Aluminum cargo carriers are often flimsy and unable to hold much weight, not this aluminum carrier though. The ACC-1F aluminum cargo carrier by Tricam is made of aluminum. Not just aluminum alone, Tricam uses a blend of steel to make the ACC-1F carrier more sturdy. So, if you are up for hauling heavy cargo without much hassle, this is the carrier for you.
This carrier can carry up to 500 pounds of cargo, but don’t be decided by its capacity. It is still lightweight as is expected of aluminum carriers. At 25 pounds, not only is this easier to lift, it is also easier for just one person to take it on and off the hitch.
It works with a simple assembly system by connecting the four bolts to attach the aluminum basket to the steel frames. Both parts use rivets and come pre-assembled so no screwing and unscrewing of numerous bolts to assemble it.
Hitch and pin are also included in the package, so there is no need to buy them separately. Put that into any 2-inch receiver hitch, and you are good for the road. Assembling and installing takes less than 15 minutes. With this carrier, Tricam has brought a simple and convenient way to expand your cargo space.
Will this hold over very rough terrain? That is still debatable. One thing is clear though, it is sturdy and corrosion-resistant, and one of the best aluminum cargo carriers. With minimal care, this carrier should perform well for a long time. In addition to its large carrying capacity, its platform is 50 x 20 inches, providing plenty of space to spread gear on it.
The ACC-1F gets another good tick with its reflective tapes. They stick in well and alert other motorists in poor visibility areas.
One gripe we noticed with this carrier though is its proximity to rear vehicle exhaust of many vehicles. This may post a safety hazard if you load bags – especially those that cannot resist heat – very close to that area for an extended period.
If you really must have a hitch mounted cargo carrier and your pockets are not full, the Goplus Hitch Mount Car Cargo Carrier may just be it for you. It is the perfect example of ‘you don’t have to pay so much to get a quality item.’ Most leading carriers are above $70, but this one comes in around $56, which is cheap when compared to some of the other best hitch cargo carriers on this list.
This carrier is a long-lasting hitch-mount basket made of durable and heavy-duty steel tubular construction. Steel is more likely to be affected by rust over aluminum, but GoPlus added a coating of black powder to protect against rust and corrosion. You can also add in a spray of black paint over this for a long lasting resistance.
If one person can easily put together and install a carrier, it is always a plus. This Goplus has both good and bad sides in this regard. On the one hand, it is quite light at 22.7 pounds which is a reasonable weight for one person. In addition, there is a hitch pin and other mounting accessories with the package which is an advantage because a lot of carriers hardly come with a hitch pin and clip. There is also a relatively easy to understand user manual.
On the other hand, bolts are used to hold up the parts. You have to tighten up the bolts with nuts before you can install it. Then, there are two support beams in two different sizes. That is nice, but the attachment bolts are all the size of the bigger support beam. Note that these bolts are to be used on both support beams. Some reviewers complained that the bolts are too long for the smaller beam and may scrape the ground when driving with small cars or when entering parking areas with steep hills.
If there was extra elevation from a curved hitch, this wouldn’t have been an issue, but the hitch is straight. There are two ways around this, either you grind the bolts or leave them to do that slowly as they continuously scrape the floor. If these two options are not for you, you could consider getting a curved adapter.
Also consider that since it is a straight hitch, it may lean close to your exhaust. If this is the case for your car, aluminum foil was suggested by a reviewer.
Asides this little gripe, this hitch cargo basket is great. It fits into any 2-inch receiver and most people can fix everything up in less than one hour the first time. When you have set it up, you can place in items of or less than 500 pounds. The dimension is 53 x 19 inches. While this is not the widest or longest, it can take much. If you need something wider, consider the ProSeries 63153 Rambler.
The bottom of this Goplus Hitch Mount is rail-style (without a mesh). Just horizontal steel panels. These panels are sturdy and support weight evenly. Just ensure that your smaller items are on top of your bigger ones and strapped down. If not, they will fall through the spaces between the tails along the way. The side racks also help secure the load from wobbling or sliding off with its 4-inch height.
MaxxHaul has been around for almost two decades. This brand is known for their various transporting gear and the attention to detail in their products. The 70108 hitch cargo carrier is a good example of that. It is primarily made of extruded aluminum which is safe, tough and durable. You can drive this under the rain for a long time, and it will last longer than a plain steel carrier. It can resist corrosion and take daily abuse with ease. If you don’t want to take it out after the first use, you can leave it at the back of your car and it will still be fine.
The carrier is a basket-style that uses heavy-duty gauge steel bars instead of wire mesh. The steel is protected against rust and corrosion with a powder coat finish. This supports a load of up to 500 pounds and does not sink in. It stretches across 49.25 inches x 22.5 inches on the outside and 47.25 inches x 20.25 inches on the inside.
One major advantage that this hitch cargo carrier has over most is its versatility. It suits numerous vehicles; RVs, vans, trucks, SUVs, and even small cars. It is suitable with any 2-inch receiver, and it comes with a hitch pin and clip. Installing this hitch cargo carrier is very simple, but it does take time because you have to build up the sides before you can fix it in. Just don’t tighten the bolts so much; it is aluminum, and there are risks that it could get a dent or bend in from that.
In addition, all four corners have plastic end caps, that you insert after setting up the carrier. While this protects each end of the carrier, if it gets too close to your exhaust for a long time, it could melt. The carrier doesn’t have an angled receiver to prevent this. Caution should be taken when placing the plastic cover over the ends when done, especially if your exhaust is close to the carrier.
MaxxHaul’s solution to that problem is giving a lot of inches between the car and the carrier. This should prevent melting, but it may extend your car’s space in a parking lot. With only one hitch point, you have no choice to make this space shorter, but it protects the plastic from melting, except in very few cars.
Its 6-inch high side rails keep the cargos in place and prevent them from falling off or slipping away. There are also so many points where you can strap down your luggage.
At the end of the hitch’s shaft is a red marking; this and the two red reflectors on the sides of the basket makes it noticeable under low light.
If you want to hit the road with a simple, functional, cheap, and easy to clean carrier, the MaxxHaul 70422 Hitch Cargo Carrier ticks all those boxes. It has a straightforward design that contributes to its installation. So far, the MaxxHaul 70422 is one of the easiest carriers to install that we have seen. Just slide it into any 2″ x 2″ Class III and IV hitch receiver and hold it down with a hitch pin and clip. The package comes with all of that, so you don’t need to buy them separately.
The carrier is made up of extruded aluminum with frames of steel which makes it stronger than the average aluminum carrier. It also has a higher capacity, while still retaining the lightweight associated with aluminum carriers. It weighs just 23 pounds which is easy for one person to carry. With the easy to install mechanism, you can set it up alone without having to get extra help. The extruded aluminum is rustproof.
The side of this hitch cargo carrier is about 2.25 inches high. This cannot prevent most big luggage from sliding out, so it’s better you get straps with this one. Straps do not come with the package. The Boncas TIEDOWN1 is a solid strap to buy alongside the carrier.
There are multiple tie-down points on the carrier so you can loop and straps in as many places as you want. This is because the floor of the MaxxHaul 70422 sits six sturdy aluminum planks with spaces in between. There are also four holes – two at the back and two at the front – for tie-down hooks.
The planks are made of high-grade steel with a powder coat finish making them strong and corrosion-resistant. However, you cannot hold down very small luggage directly on the carrier as a result of the spaces between the planks, but they support cargo well.
Another good thing about them is that you don’t have to worry about dirt and debris building up inside the carrier as you would with mesh floors. This and its aluminum parts make it easy to clean after use. Just wipe it down, and you are good to go for another trip.
One good thing that makes this carrier a pleasure to use is the fact that you can still open the rear hatch in most cars, 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 or at night, there are built-in reflectors at the sides. The major gripe with this carrier, which seems to be a problem with most of MaxxHaul’s aluminum carriers is the use of plastic at the edges of the carrier. So, be mindful of its closeness to your exhaust when installing it. The space between your car and the carrier is about 8 inches when fixed in right, so check how close your exhaust may be to it.
The carrier can support up to 500 lbs of luggage weight, and it measures about 48 inches by 21 inches on the inside and 49.25 x 22.25 inches on the outside. This is not an extensive area like it is in some of the other best hitch cargo carriers that we have reviewed on this list, but for its pros, it is worth a mention.
Hitch Cargo Carrier Buyers Guide
There comes a time in the life of every outdoor enthusiast that the need for extra space for cargo is needed. Not just for outdoor enthusiasts, anyone going on a trip, moving from one area to another or moving heavy equipment to and from maintenance stores or buying new stuff. Things like generators, lawnmowers, and coolers.
At this time, it is not enough to know that there are different options out there like rooftop carriers and hitch cargo carriers or know which is the best in both categories. Without adequate information on what to consider in both and why you should go for either is very important. In addition, understanding the different types of hitch cargo carriers, and how to know what trailer hitch cargo carrier fits your need is also part of the crucial things to guide your decision.
Here is a comprehensive guide to purchasing the right hitch cargo carrier for you and the best carrier for your needs.
Rooftop VS Hitch Cargo Carrier
Since the beginning of this article, there has been an emphasis on the need for something to take out all that cargo blocking your viewing and seating space in your car. By now, you may already know the benefits of both types of carriers, but what you might not know is that there are disadvantages of using either. These advantages and disadvantages should eliminate one from your buy list or help you get both, either way, your decision process will be faster.
Convenience and Versatility
Hitch cargo carriers offer a higher level of versatility and convenience than what rooftop cargo carriers can provide. We are not just putting this out there due to this topic. Rooftop cargo carriers are nice, convenient, and a great option if you want to have access to your rear hatch or trunk (in some cars) without having to offload any luggage from the carrier.
In addition, if you are going over rough terrain and expect clean luggage at the end of the ride, a rooftop carrier may be a better choice over a hitch carrier. But again, loading your bags on rooftops are harder than hitch cargo carriers because you either need a ladder or stool. On the other hand, trailer hitches keep everything at waist-level. Also, if you are carrying dirty or dripping stuff, your hitch is a better point.
Both carriers require additional materials. If you already have one of them, your buying decision is easier. For example, if you already have a trailer hitch – comes with most trucks and SUVs -, hitch cargo carriers is your go-to. If you already have cross bars or bars that can take rooftop carriers, then that could be it for you.
A significant difference between both is the wind resistance. Rooftop carriers can decrease the gas mileage you get, except for those with an excellent aerodynamic design. On the other hand, hitch mounted cargo carriers sit at the back of vehicles. It does add a little bit of weight to the back of cars, but it will not add wind resistance so there will be very little difference to your gas mileage if any at all.
Safety, Visibility and Other Uses
They are both safe, but with hitch mounted carriers, you need to worry about visibility and taillights which is not something you need do with rooftops. Then there is closeness to your exhaust pipe and the fact that your parking sensors are useless with most hitch mounted carriers.
Regarding other uses, you can convert a good number of hitch mounted carriers into a bike rack. If you have been dreaming of hitting the road with your bike, fishing and other gear all at once, hitch mounted could be it.
Types of Hitch Cargo Carrier
There are different classifications when it comes to the types of hitch mounted carriers. From primary material to platform styles to flexibility. We will start with the material type.
Types of Material
Most hitch-mounted cargo carriers are made of steel. Steel carriers are not the cheapest and are more cumbersome to carry. However, they support weight more. If coated with black powder, they are durable and resistant to corrosion and rust for a while.
Some carriers are made of aluminum. Aluminum cargo carriers are more lightweight and may not be able to support weight as much as steel carriers, but they are rust resistant for a much longer time. If mixed with steel on the bars or floor, they can support a lot of weight. Some up to 500 lbs.
Very few carriers are made of polypropylene. These are often mixed with steel frames to make them stronger. Polypropylene cargo carriers are lightweight and more resistant to corrosion.
Type of Platform
One of the popular platforms used in most models is the basket style.
The Hitch cargo basket has rails at the sides to keep cargo secure and in place. These rails also provide a convenient location to attach cargo straps or cords to further secure smaller packages. Their bottom is either mesh or rails. Some basket style carriers have a mix of both, where the mesh is placed on the rails. Those are the best options to go for because there is better support both for heavy, light, small and large items.
Another platform style is flatbed.
These do not have high rails to support items on all sides, but they have raised edges with most of them having anchor points for cargo straps, nets, and bungee cords. You should go for them if you plan on transporting odd or oversized items frequently. Like the basket style, the bottom usually is mesh, some of them have a mix of mesh and rails, and very few use just rails.
If you plan on transporting anything with wheels, like a wheelchair, mobility scooter, or lawnmower, go for the ramp cargo carriers.
They are a mix of the basket and flatbed style. They have a folding ramp that slid to the ground for wheeling anything with wheels on them.
Flexibility: Folding Vs. Fixed Carriers
Go for a folding carrier if you don’t have a place to save it after use and/or if you plan to use your carrier often. If you use your carrier often, you don’t want to be burdened with disassembling or removing it and installing it everytime to your hitch. Note that you can’t drive around with most ‘foldable carriers folded.’ Some people complain that it scratches their car and it could potentially affect your glass. Check out online reviews in this regard.
All cars do not allow folding carriers. For cars with a rear mounted tire, you can’t fold up a carrier behind them, except if the tire is taken off. Another thing is opening your rear hatch or tailgate. A folded carrier may prevent you from being able to open it. Although this is minor, because you can lower your hitch anytime you need to open your rear hatch.
Go for a fixed carrier if you are only using your carrier once in a while or have a lot of storage space. Most fixed models are also less expensive than folding models.
Choosing The Right Hitch Cargo Carrier
Choosing the wrong carrier can become a significant hindrance to enjoying your trip or activity. If it breaks along the way, you are left with a lot of cargo with no space to transport them. The wrong one can also become a safety hazard. In some cases, it not about choosing just any best carrier from our list, it is about choosing the best carrier on our list that suits your needs.
Understanding Your Needs
So far, we have addressed some needs concerning your cargo and the type of carrier that could suit your need. Defining your other needs – not yet mentioned – is part of the essential things to consider before choosing any carrier. These are things to consider
500 pounds weight capacity is now the norm in most carriers. Few are above or below that. You may not need this whole size, maybe 200-300 pounds on your trip but having a high capacity like 500 – 600 is nice insurance, in case you purchase more things along the way. Carriers that support 200 lbs at the maximum are cheaper so if you think you don’t need something that’s up to 500 lbs, then go for a lower capacity carrier.
In addition to weight capacity, you also need to consider size capacity. If you are taking a lot during your trip, get a carrier that is 60 x 24 Inches dimension at least. There are those around that size or a little lower/higher. If you don’t need much, something that is between 48 x 19 inches will work.
Pay more attention to the dimension of the inside than that of the outside. If its 48 x 19 inches on the outside, the inside measurement will be smaller than that. If you need to carry a bag/cooler of that exact outside measurement, it wouldn’t fit inside.
Finally, look at online reviews and the manufacturer’s site. We noticed an error in a listing of one cargo carrier when we were checking out the best ones in the market. In some cases, 500 lbs could be the carrying capacity on the listing, but it carries below that.
Maximum Hitch Weight
Even if you have a 500 pounds capacity of 60 x 24 inches but your hitch cannot carry that extra weight, you either cannot use that carrier or fill it up to max capacity. If your HW is below the percentage of weight that your carrier can take, you cannot fill that carrier up. The reason is that the weight of the empty carrier counts against the weight that your receiver and car can carry. For example, if you are limited to 500 lbs and you buy a carrier that weighs 78 lbs, that leaves you with 422 lbs to load stuff on.
Just before you go for the maximum capacity in the market, check if your hitch and car can carry it at full capacity. If it cannot, the extra space is of no use except if you plan on alternating it to different cars.
Compatibility With Vehicle Trailer Hitch
If the size of your car’s receiver doesn’t match the cargo carrier, you will have to get an adapter. That is an extra cost. Your car’s receiver is either that of 1.25 inches or 2 inches. If your preferred carrier doesn’t match that and you cannot afford to spend on an adapter, you have to look at other hitch carriers. Hitch adapters asides making hitches and carriers work, some of them provide better ground clearance. This is another reason to get one: if your preferred carrier doesn’t have good ground clearance.
It is best to always take precaution when carrying luggage outside your vehicle. You don’t want it to fall off while driving and cause an accident. It can if an oncoming vehicle tries to avoid the tumbling cargo/carrier. Firstly, check for hitch locks or lockable latches. Also, check for strapping points and buy a strap if your preferred carrier doesn’t come with one.
Secondly, check for the presence of reflectors or lights to alert other motorists, especially if you are going to be driving at night or in low light areas. If there’s none, you either have to buy a full light and wiring system or reflector or look at another carrier that has one.
Rear Hatch Access
If rear hatch access is crucial for you, look towards 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 have access to your rear hatch. This is hardly possible with curved/high carriers. Note that you would be giving up better ground clearance though.
Assembly And Installation
A good cargo carrier should be easy to assemble and install. However, some good ones are confusing to deal with. To make it worse, the user manuals are not clear enough in some cases. You don’t want to buy something that fits your cargo needs, but you can’t use it because you can install it. You’d be frustrated.
When there are lots of bolts and nuts involved, you could spend up to two hours, that’s if you can assemble it. Carriers that come already assembled cuts down time and stress on assembling a carrier. If your preferred carrier doesn’t come assembled, read reviews left by other customers. That’s if you are buying online.
What are their pain points regarding assembling and installing the carrier?
Also, check the manufacturer’s website for details on this. If there is a chat feature, chat up a customer service agent.
Weather protection is vital, especially if it often rains where you live, or you would be using the carrier frequently in the spring. You don’t want rust in your carrier after a week of use. In this case, aluminum carriers have better rust resistance. Steel, on the other hand, is more sturdy and when coated with black powder, it resists rust long enough – till the paint goes off.
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 tubes are not coated with black paint/powder, it will get rusted faster. If you plan on using your carrier for years, ensure you check this out.
No matter how nice the specifications of a carrier is and how much it fits your needs, the cost is always one major defining factor. We have reviewed the best hitch cargo carriers in different price ranges, look at all of that again.
There are some other things that are not precisely deal breakers but nice to have. They include having a hitch pin and clip with the package. Not every carrier comes with them, and in most cases, you need them. A cargo bag is also nice. Having a bundle of a bag and carrier may cost less than buying them separately. A space for attaching a license plate is great, especially if the carrier blocks your vehicle license plate. It is illegal to drive in most places with your license plate covered.
Having the best hitch cargo carrier suitable for you ensures that there is little to no limit to what you can carry on your vehicle. Although we have presented the best hitch mounted carriers in the market to you on a free platter, take your time to consider your needs and what you can use. Choosing the right one may take time; it shouldn’t be a one-minute decision. We have given you tips and an outline of things to consider before making your purchase. Compare different carriers against those factors and get the one that suits your needs.