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Hitch cargo carriers are some of the best solutions today when it comes to traveling with lots of gear and other luggage. These let you conveniently move your stuff without cramming them inside the car compartment or even on or under the seats, which can be a real headache if you have a lot of stuff to bring for an outdoor excursion, road trip, or tailgate.
A hitch cargo carrier is great for traveling groups so everyone can enjoy spacious back seats and the driver has an unobstructed rear view while driving. Besides, there are certain things that are better off outside the vehicle, like oily BBQ grills, spare gas cans, and dirt covered bikes. You can even use a hitch carrier for moving home, garage, and garden supplies.
That said, finding the best hitch cargo carrier takes a little more than just picking the first equipment you see that advertises itself as multipurpose. While a cargo carrier must be that, it should also be functional, and most importantly, perfectly suit your specific needs. Check out our review of the best hitch cargo trailers below:
Want to know all about hitch cargo trailers, how to find the best one, and how to make them last longer? Jump to these sections:
- Everything you need to know about hitch cargo carriers
- Hitch cargo carrier buying guide
- Bonus: how to make your hitch cargo carrier last longer
- 1 10 Best Hitch Cargo Carriers
- 1.1 Pro Series 63153 Rambler Cargo Carrier Basket
- 1.2 CURT 18153 60 x 24-Inch Basket Hitch Cargo Carrier
- 1.3 MaxxHaul 49″ x 22.5″ Hitch Mount Aluminum Cargo Carrier
- 1.4 ROLA 59119 Rainproof Cargo Carrier Bag
- 1.5 ARKSEN Folding Cargo Carrier Luggage Basket
- 1.6 ROLA 59502 Vortex Steel Cargo Carrier
- 1.7 OKLEAD 400 Lbs Heavy Duty Hitch Mount Cargo Carrier
- 1.8 MaxxHaul Hitch Mount Compact Aluminum Cargo Carrier
- 1.9 Tricam ACC-1F Hitch Mounted Aluminum Cargo Carrier
- 1.10 Goplus 500LBS Cargo Carrier Basket
- 2 Everything You Need To Know About Hitch Cargo Carriers
- 2.1 Hitch Cargo Carrier vs Rooftop Carrier
- 2.2 Hitch Cargo Carrier vs Trailer
- 2.3 The Different Types of Hitch Cargo Carriers
- 2.4 Hitch Cargo Carrier Classifications
- 2.5 Benefits of a Hitch Cargo Carrier
- 3 Hitch Cargo Carrier Buying Guide
- 3.1 Determine Your Needs
- 3.2 Carrying Capacity
- 3.3 Weather Protection
- 3.4 Security
- 3.5 Compatibility
- 3.6 Rear Hatch Access
- 3.7 Assembly / Installation
- 3.8 Other Factors
- 3.9 Cost
- 4 Bonus: How To Make Your Hitch Cargo Carrier Last Longer
- 5 Overview
10 Best Hitch Cargo Carriers
We spent hours of research at TonysTrailers, sampling, and testing dozens of hitch cargo carrier models so you don’t have to. Here, we have the ten best hitch mounted cargo carriers that will give you the best value for your money:
Pro Series 63153 Rambler Cargo Carrier Basket
Our top pick is none other than the Pro Series Rambler cargo carrier basket, a two piece construction cargo rack that boasts of a solid 500 pound load capacity that is ideal for heavy gear, bicycles and other sports equipment, and pretty much anything else that you can load up and strap down on a rack.
This one features a 60 in x 24 inch cargo platform with 5.5 inch side rails to keep all your belongings securely in place. It also features a rise shank design that effectively elevates your cargo for an improved ground clearance. Meanwhile, the floor bed is made of smart, rugged mesh in order to make cleaning up quick and easy.
Plus, it also boasts of a sleek powder coat finish that is durable and efficiently resists dusts, scratches, and the outdoor elements, while also being rust and corrosion resistant. It can fit two inch square receivers, and is designed for a two inch trailer mounted hitch. You can even upgrade it with additional bike clips, functional light kits, and more.
- Durable 2 piece construction
- Optional upgrades (sold separately)
- 2 sq. in trailer mounted receiver hitch
- 500 lb weight capacity
- Measures 60 x 24 x 5.5 in
- Limited 1 year warranty
CURT 18153 60 x 24-Inch Basket Hitch Cargo Carrier
Taking the second spot is the Curt basket hitch cargo carrier, which promises enhanced security by keeping your belongings secure as you travel, thanks to its six inch high walls surrounding the cargo basket. In fact, these walls can even be used for fastening a cargo bag or cargo net to cover your supplies. Aside from that, there are lots of other features that you’ll enjoy.
For one thing, the Curt cargo hitch carrier is highly adaptable, as it’s designed with an angled, folding shank. This means that you get additional ground clearance while also being able to fold up the cargo carrier when it’s not in use. It also features reflectors that are integrated into the frame, so you can have peace of mind from the added visibility and road safety.
Moreover, this carrier is made with strong and lightweight tubular steel with a load capacity of 500 pounds. It also has a mesh base for an easier clean up, and is finished with carbide black powder and e-coat for a better and more resilient look. To sum it up, it’s one of the best ways to free up your vehicle from all that cargo and finally get to enjoy some leg room during the ride.
- Lightweight tubular steel construction
- 6 in tall sides with mesh base
- Black e-coat and powder coating
- 1.25 or 2 in folding shank
- 500 lb weight capacity
- Measures 60 x 24 x 6 in
MaxxHaul 49″ x 22.5″ Hitch Mount Aluminum Cargo Carrier
In third place is the MaxxHaul hitch mount aluminum cargo carrier, which boasts of a heavy duty steel construction for the under support frame. It’s a basket style cargo carrier that serves as an ideal storage solution to give you instant cargo space if you’re transporting lots of cargo for camping trips and long road trips.
This one’s made from a highly durable extruded aluminum material, meaning it’s lightweight, sturdy, and requires little effort to install. It’s also resistant to rust and corrosion, and is very easy and straightforward to clean and maintain. It also features high side rails perfect for various automobiles, including RVs, SUVs, trucks, and vans.
These high rails are not only great for keeping all your cargo in place, but also for providing you with multiple points for tying down nets, covers, and the like. To top it all off, it’s designed with red colored corners for extra road visibility, and also comes with a reflector lens. All in all, it’s a great hitch cargo carrier that will give you the best value for your money.
- Lightweight (30 lb) aluminum construction
- Reflector and red corner for enhanced road safety
- 2 sq. in hitch shaft for standard hitch receivers
- 500 lb weight capacity
- Measures 49.25 x 22.5 x 7.25 in
- Easy to install, clean, and maintain
ROLA 59119 Rainproof Cargo Carrier Bag
Ranking fourth is the ROLA rainproof cargo carrier bag, which is technically not a hitch mounted carrier, but it’s definitely a superb option for keeping your cargo safe from the elements, whether it be rain, wind, or snow, so you can drive confidently and focus on having a good time. Besides, you can mount this to a cargo carrier and tie it down to secure your items.
This bag is made with high quality materials with excellent weather resistance, such as thick and durable vinyl. It also makes use of sonic welding technology to seal the seams and fully protect your belongings from the outdoor elements, and it’s designed with zippers that are concealed with rain flaps.
You’ll also be happy to know that it comes with a six strap system that is expertly engineered to keep everything in their rightful place. It’s big and spacious with a 20 cubic feet capacity, and fits cargo racks at least 60 x 24 inches in size. The best part? It conveniently folds flat when you’re not using it.
- Sonic welded seams with storm flaps
- 6 strap system for secure tie downs
- 20 cu. ft load capacity
- Fits 60 x 24 in hitch cargo carriers
- Measures 59 x 24 x 24 in
- Limited 5 year warranty
ARKSEN Folding Cargo Carrier Luggage Basket
Going back to hitch mounted carriers, in fifth place is the Arksen folding cargo carrier luggage basket, a durable folding basket carrier that’s built to withstand the test of time. This carrier promises excellent resistance to rust, grime, and outdoor elements thanks to its epoxy powder coating in a streamlined black finish.
It’s surface boasts of a steel mesh construction with six inch tube rails along with a heavy duty two inch steel hitch tube for your vehicle’s hitch receiver. The heavy duty, powder coated steel frame and the strong square tube construction all come together to make this fully welded, single piece foldable basket.
What’s more, this carrier is constructed with robot welding technology to make the seams firmer and more precise while preventing leakage. The bolted together design gives you a strong cargo platform, and the folding shank makes things more convenient while freeing up space. Given all that, this is a great solution for hauling boxes, coolers, tools, and any other gear.
- Anti-leak, high tech robot welding technology
- Mesh surface with steel mesh bottom
- 2 in receiver hitch
- Available in 7 styles and sizes
- 500 lb weight capacity
- Measures 60 x 24.75 x 6 in
ROLA 59502 Vortex Steel Cargo Carrier
What better carrier to pair up with the ROLA carrier bag than the Vortex steel cargo carrier from the same brand? It’s got a robust capacity that offers plenty of storage and really frees up your vehicle’s inside space, making it perfect for hauling camping gear, bags, coolers, and various other equipment. With the enclosed ROLA bag, you’re good to go no matter the weather.
It’s also built to last as it’s made with strong, high quality materials such as heavy duty steel complemented by a durable black powder finish that’s great in resisting the elements, including scratches and rust. It also features a rise shank design that’s not only unique but also provides you with better ground clearance while also making loading and unloading much easier.
Furthermore, this two piece assembly is easy to install with matching attachment points for your license plate, and it fits standard two inch square receivers on most small and large vehicles, from regular cars to big trucks. It can even be upgraded with a functioning lighting system. All in all, it’s a smart storage solution for your outdoor excursion needs.
- High capacity hitch mount system
- Durable and heavy duty construction
- Can be fitted with LED or incandescent lights
- Measures 56 x 23 x 5 in
- 2pc assembly on 2 sq. in receivers
OKLEAD 400 Lbs Heavy Duty Hitch Mount Cargo Carrier
We also really liked the Oklead heavy duty hitch mount cargo carrier, a steel luggage basket that lets you bring along camping equipment, bags, and other luggage for travel by utilizing the crossbars on your vehicle for an easy mounting experience. Simply put, it’s a great choice for long road trips with large groups of people.
It boasts of a heavy duty and durable steel construction with a matte black powder finishing coat to effectively resist the elements, scratches, and rust. It also has a mesh surface to prevent small items from falling through, and features raised tubular bars and side rails to keep your things in place without randomly jolting or sliding around the hauler.
To add to all that, this hitch cargo carrier is designed with two red safety reflectors so you can stay safe on the road, especially when driving at night or under inclement weather where there’s little visibility. It’s also easy to mount, fits regular two inch trailer hitch openings, keeps your load balanced as long as the weight is evenly distributed on the platform- a great deal all in all.
- Durable 1pc steel construction
- 3.2 in side rails when folded
- Fits 2 in trailer hitch receivers
- 400 lb weight capacity
- Measures 60 x 24 x 14 in
MaxxHaul Hitch Mount Compact Aluminum Cargo Carrier
Another amazing haul from MaxxHaul (pun intended) is the Hitch Mount compact aluminum cargo carrier, which is quite similar to the first one we reviewed in terms of features, but this one is a lot more compact, as the name suggests. It also features a more streamlined design, and the side rails are solid metal blocks rather than welded bars.
Now, it also has a 500 pound carrying capacity and can easily transport bulky items so they don’t take up valuable vehicle or trunk space. It has an open floor design for the platform, which is made from lightweight extruded aluminum, along with the basket. This design and construction makes the entire thing durable, not to mention easy to clean and maintain.
Meanwhile, the hitch shaft and under support are made with high grade steel and finished off with a powder coat to make it corrosion and rust resistant while also lasting longer in good condition. The solid two inch side rails are also integrated to better keep your cargo in place while offering multiple tie down points.
- Lightweight (22 lb) aluminum construction
- Fits 2 sq. in hitch receivers
- Built-in reflectors for enhanced road visibility
- Measures 49.25 x 22.25 x 3.23 in
- Available in 3 styles
Tricam ACC-1F Hitch Mounted Aluminum Cargo Carrier
You should also check out the Tricam ACC-1F hitch mounted aluminum cargo carrier, which is an easy and convenient way to increase your vehicle’s inner and outer cargo space for the next road trip or outdoor activity. It’s equal parts lightweight, durable, and strong thanks to its ultra light aluminum construction with steel fittings.
It’s a 50 by 20 inch platform that offers you so much extra storage for tailgating, work trips, hunting excursions, sporting events, camping trips, and so much more. It even has a 500 pound maximum weight capacity, so you can really bring stuff for an entire football team. The best part? It weighs like a feather at just 25 pounds.
This carrier is also really easy and straightforward to install with its one step assembly. You only have to mount the cargo carrier to your vehicle and align it to your two inch hitch receiver. That’s it! And for when you don’t need it, simply remove it from your vehicle by reversing the mounting process. Quick and easy, right?
- 25 lb weight with 1-step assembly
- Fits 2 in hitch receivers
- 500 lb weight capacity
- Measures 50 x 20 x 3.84 in
- Limited 1 year warranty
Goplus 500LBS Cargo Carrier Basket
Finally, we also have here the Goplus cargo carrier basket with its 500 pound load capacity and four inch high side rails surrounding the cargo basket at all sides. With these safe raised fences, you can be sure that your items are always securely in place while you drive, especially since they also give you plenty of locations for tying down covers, nets, and bags.
This trailer hitch cargo carrier is made with a solid steel frame and coated with corrosion resistant powder coating in sleek black. It’s strong, it’s sturdy, it’s durable, and it’s got a long service life. It’s also guaranteed dependable and reliable when it comes to carrying heavy luggage. Everything you could ask for from a trailer cargo carrier!
Besides, you’ll also enjoy the wide platform that’s great for all your road trip essentials, travel goods, and camping supplies. The basket style tray is suitable for various campers, SUVs, vans, RVs, and cars. Not to mention, it features a red reflector on the center to ensure better road safety and visibility, especially at night.
- Heavy duty steel construction
- Simple base with anti-loose screws
- Fits universal 2 in hitch receivers
- Precise welding for easy installation
- Measures 53 x 19 x 4 in
Everything You Need To Know About Hitch Cargo Carriers
If you are an outdoor enthusiast, or you like going on long road trips, or even if you’re just moving from one city to another, towing heavy cargo, luggage, sporting gear, equipment, and furniture can be really hard, especially if it’s something big and bulky like a cooler, tent, fishing gear, or even a lawnmower.
The good thing is, there are lots of easy solutions that work. Take hitch cargo carriers, for example. These things are quite affordable, easy to install on most vehicles, offer plenty of cargo storage outside your trunk, and last for quite a long time.
To help you on your journey, here’s a comprehensive guide on hitch cargo carriers, including how they differ from rooftop carriers and trailers, how they can benefit you in terms of vehicle storage and other things, the different types and classifications oh hitch mounted carriers, and how you can find the best hitch cargo carrier for your needs and budget.
Hitch Cargo Carrier vs Rooftop Carrier
Both hitch cargo carriers and rooftop carriers are excellent storage solutions for cramped and large vehicles alike. They offer plenty of space for carrying gear, equipment, and other luggage, whether it’s for a utilitarian, work, or leisure trip. These two also both take your storage outside the vehicle, so the inside doesn’t feel cramped and suffocating.
That said, hitch cargo carriers and rooftop carriers have some key differences, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Understanding these pros and cons will help you better decide which kind of vehicle storage works best for your needs.
Safety and Visibility
In terms of road visibility and overall safety, the truth is that rooftop carriers are better. While both these things are stable and keep all your items securely in place throughout the drive, a rooftop carrier simply gives you more visibility since it’s mounted on the vehicle’s roof, and is therefore not blocking your rear view in any way.
On the other hand, with a hitch mounted carrier, most, if not, all of them are rear mounted, which means you’ll have to worry about your taillights. It’s also a lot closer to your exhaust pipe, and for the most part, a hitch carrier renders your parking sensors pretty much useless.
That said, hitch mount carriers are still pretty good, especially if you will be carrying stuff that are best mounted upright or sideways, like bikes and fishing gear.
Versatility and Convenience
What makes hitch cargo carriers better than their rooftop counterparts is that they offer so much more convenience and versatility that rooftop carriers simply cannot match. While a rooftop cargo carrier may be nice and convenient, and is definitely the more ideal option if you want to maintain access to your vehicle’s trunk or rear hatch, hitch mounted carriers are still better.
And in so many ways, too. For one thing, a trailer hitch keeps things at waist level, so loading and unloading cargo is so much easier, especially when you’re dealing with large and heavy stuff. No need for a stool or ladder. It’s also better for hauling wet and dirty items as the mess won’t splatter all over your roof and windows.
However, there is a catch. Again, you’ll need to offload your luggage from the carrier if you want to open your trunk, and placing your items at a relatively low level makes them more prone to getting dirty when you drive over rough, sandy, or muddy terrain.
If you are concerned about speed, wind resistance, and aerodynamics, you’ll be much better off with hitch cargo carriers, since these comfortably sit at the back of your car. This way, the carrier doesn’t in any way change or impede the vehicle’s design, apart from adding a little more weight towards the rear.
The thing with rooftop carriers is that, even with the ones featuring the most advanced aerodynamic designs, they still add a lot of wind resistance, which then results in a significant decrease to your gas mileage, and you definitely don’t want that.
One of the many things you need to expect when buying any kind of vehicle carrier, whether it’s a hitch mounted or roof mounted one, is that you’ll need some sort of contraption to actually mount the thing, and it’s usually not included with the purchase of the carrier.
This means that you will have to purchase these additional materials separately, costing you extra money. The silver lining is if you already have one on your car, namely, crossbars on your roof for mounting rooftop cargo carriers, or a trailer hitch that’s already present on most SUVs and trucks for mounting hitch cargo carriers.
Hitch Cargo Carrier vs Trailer
Moving on, while hitch cargo carriers and trailers are quite similar in the sense that they both rest at the rear end of your vehicle and usually make use of your trailer hitch, they do have a vast set of differences that make one stand apart from the other in certain metrics, much like with hitch carriers and rooftop carriers.
This one’s a no brainer. The most important thing about owning a vehicle is whether you can actually drive it. With a hitch cargo carrier, that’s a non-issue, since it just rests aboard your vehicle like a hitchhiker or a spare wheel. To put it simply, there really are no special skills whatsoever needed, aside from, perhaps, learning to navigate with a reduced rear view.
On the contrary, with a trailer, you will need plenty of time and patience, along with lots of practice, just to confidently be able to back up your vehicle with an attached trailer. It’s all fun and good once you get the hang of it, but until you do, it can be really frustrating, and dangerous, even.
Storing your precious cargo outside the car doesn’t have to mean they are at the mercy of the outdoor elements and the unpredictable weather conditions. In fact, a lot of hitch cargo carriers come in enclosed and self contained designs to guarantee complete protection, and the ones that are open faced can always be covered with carrier nets and covers.
Meanwhile, a trailer is simply way too open and subject to the beatings of the harsh sun, strong rains, and so on. And even with a trailer cover, a trailer just sits too close to the ground, and is therefore still prone to puddle splashes. It also doesn’t really offer suspension, so it will be a lot bouncier inside the trailer, and your luggage will bounce around if they’re not tightly secured.
Unless you plan on leaving the carrier on your vehicle twenty four seven and all year round, you’ll need to figure out how to unmount it, and where to store it. For hitch cargo carriers, this is fairly easy, as unmounting is generally straightforward, and a lot of them come in foldable designs to allow for a more compact storage.
When it comes to trailers, however, these are generally unyielding, meaning, they don’t bend, fold, collapse, disassemble, or whatever trick to make them somewhat shrink in size. This means you’ll need plenty more garage space to hide that trailer for when you don’t need it.
The Different Types of Hitch Cargo Carriers
Based on their appearance, there are five general types of hitch cargo carriers- boxes, baskets, frames, bike racks, and specialized carriers. We’ll go into depth about the characteristics and benefits of each one below:
Hitch Cargo Box
A hitch cargo box is exactly that- a box shaped storage space that is durable and weather resistant. This type of carrier is designed to be mounted on specific frame styles, which then slide into a hitch receiver 1.25 or 2 inches in size. Its gear capacity is measured in cubic feet, and it’s a great choice for total cargo protection against the weather, elements, and onlookers.
If you want an all-season, all-terrain, all-weather cargo storage solution, a hitch cargo box will give you unparalleled storage space while making cargo access easy. It even has wide applications, from camping trips and road trips, to businesses on wheels.
Hitch Cargo Basket
Meanwhile, hitch cargo baskets (also called hitch racks) are a more open plan solution, as they typically feature slotted bottoms with mesh covers, along with rails on all four sides, and with an open top. These are made of some type of metal for strength and durability, and open up your options as to what types of things you can carry.
In fact, hitch baskets are better suited for bulky things that cannot fit in a confined space, such as fishing and camping gear. These open racks offer plenty of space while still keeping your belongings secure. They can also be used with a tied down net or cover to shield your stuff from the outdoor elements. Like hitch boxes, a hitch basket fits into a 1.25 or 2 inch hitch receiver.
There are also hitch frames, which can come as either a fixed frame or a swing away frame. Fixed frames are durable and easy to install on standard 1.25 and 2 inch hitch receivers. These features a seven inch rise to offer more ground clearance, while making room for extra cargo capacity. They are also mostly coated with a corrosion resistant finish.
Swing away frames, on the other hand, are designed in such a way that they can swing away and pivot up to 180 degrees from the vehicle’s rear. This is extremely beneficial as it lets you enjoy unrestricted access to your rear compartment or trunk at any time, which is a common issue with most hitch cargo carriers.
Now, when you want the frame to stay put as you drive, you can simply engage the safety pin lock or mechanism, and the entire thing will stay in place.
Hitch Bike Rack
While many hitch cargo carriers, especially the open frame ones like the racks and baskets, can be used or upgraded as a bike rack, there are also ready made hitch bike racks that are designed specifically to haul bicycles on the road. These racks have some form of slots to mount the bikes, along with buffers to keep the bikes from bumping into each other.
A hitch bike rack can be extremely beneficial to cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts so they don’t have to resort into dumping their bikes on the bed of their pickup truck and hoping for the best. That’s just a recipe for disaster that will give you a noisy ride and will leave you with some heavily banged up bikes.
Specialty Hitch Rack
Apart from the four hitch carrier types we already mentioned, there are also plenty of other specialty hitch racks that are designed to accommodate specific interests and hobbies, such as fishing, surfing, and the like. These special racks still mount in your car, RV, SUV, or truck, and make your weekend adventures and activities the best they can be.
Fishing Rod Rack
For example, if you like to go fishing on the nearby lake, river, or pond, you can get a trailer hitch mounted fishing rod rack so your rods can sit somewhere else that is not the back seat.
A rod rack can give you plenty of storage for up to six fishing rods, and it integrates to a removable cargo rack for your other fishing gear, including tackle boxes, coolers, and boating equipment. Remove the cargo rack and you can use it for other things like camping, tailgating, hunting, and other activities.
Hitch Sport Box
If skiing is more your sport, you should think about investing in a hitch mounted sport or ski box. Unlike many ski carrier boxes, sport boxes are typically not door mounted, which eliminates any structural damage that you might experience on the rear doors of your vehicle. Instead, it mounts on a typical two inch hitch receiver and prevents dinging, scratching, and other damage.
Plus, if you use it with a swing away frame, the offset design gives you more freedom to access your rear door and make use of your vehicle’s rear storage area. A ski box also offers plenty of storage capacity so you will be able to carry a few skis and snowboards, along with other equipment. And, it’s durable enough to withstand the harshness of the cold mountains.
Hitch Grill Station
There are also unique hitch racks that are made for tailgating purposes. Hitch mounted grill stations are portable grilling spaces that let you prepare and grill delicious meats while cheering for your favorite sports teams and just generally enjoying the outdoors. Most hitch grill stations come with the grill with a generous grilling space and a functional prep area.
And, like the hitch rod rack, there’s often a complementary cargo rack for other things like coolers, baskets of ingredients, and other stuff. You might even get a few helpful accessories such as cutting boards and temperature gauges.
Hitch Cargo Carrier Classifications
Hitch cargo carriers are classified into many different things based on a lot of metrics, such as their primary construction material, platform styles, flexibility, and so on. We will talk about each of these classifications below:
Based on Flexibility (Fixed vs Folding)
There are two classifications of hitch cargo carriers based on their flexibility, namely, fixed and folding carriers.
Folding carriers are great if you are lacking in storage space for the carrier when it’s not in use, since it folds up neatly to make it more compact and easier to store. A folding carrier is also a more suitable choice if you plan on using the carrier often, since not much goes in the way of its assembly, and it’s also fairly easy and straightforward to install and remove periodically.
This ease of unmounting is important, since you can’t really drive with the carrier while it’s in its folded position, aka when you’re not using it. This is because it may affect your glass, and will also likely scratch your car.
Having said that, not all cars allow for installing a folding carrier. This is especially true for vehicles with rear mounted spare tires, since you cannot really fold up the carrier behind the tire, unless you unload the tire from its spot. A folding carrier may also prevent the tailgate or rear hatch from being opened without having to lower the hitch first.
Fixed carriers are also better if you don’t mind making room for more storage space in your garage, especially if you’ll only use the carrier once in a while. Plus, a fixed carrier is almost always less expensive than its folding counterparts.
Based on Material
Hitch cargo carriers can be made from any number of materials, with most, if not all of them, being some type of metal.
Most hitch mounted carriers are constructed with steel. This metal is relatively cheap, and is great in supporting heavy weights, especially if the steel is coated with black powder, as it makes the steel more durable and more resistant to rust and corrosion. The only downside is that steel is a lot heavier than many other materials, and can therefore be burdensome.
A great alternative to steel is aluminum, which is significantly more lightweight and offers better resistance to rust and corrosion. The catch is that unless the aluminum is not paired with some steel bars for the floor, it won’t be able to carry as much weight, definitely not as much as 500 pounds. But, the good thing is that aluminum is pretty cheap, and it looks good, too.
There’s also polypropylene, which is actually very rare for hitch carriers, unless it’s the enclosed box type. Even so, this material, which is a thermoplastic polymer, is still often paired with a steel frame for added strength and durability. What’s great about polypropylene, though, is that it’s definitely lightweight and corrosion resistant.
Based on Platform
Hitch cargo carriers can also be classified based on the style of their platform, or the floor/ base of the entire thing. This can either be a flatbed, a basket, or a mix of the two. Here’s how each differs from the other:
As the name suggests, a flatbed platform on a hitch cargo carrier gives the carrier a mostly flat tray look without any high side rails and supports. Flatbeds do have some raised edges to prevent your cargo from sliding over, but these edges are mainly for serving as anchor points if you want to tie down some cargo straps, bungee cords, or nets over your cargo.
The basket platform style is actually the most popular thanks to the tail rails at the sides, which can easily go for as high as 20 inches, and are much better in keeping your cargo securely in place. Like the raised edges on flatbed platforms, these side rails also give you a convenient location for attaching cords and straps to secure your packages and equipment.
There are also mixed platform styles, such as ramp cargo carriers, which have high side rails and a folding ramp that can slide to the ground. This is beneficial for transporting anything with wheels on them, like a bike, wheelchair, scooter, and so on.
All these three platform types typically feature a combination of metal rails and mesh at the bottom in order to support all types of cargo, from the smallest and lightest luggage to the bulkiest and heaviest gear. This design makes it easier for the carrier to be cleaned as well.
Benefits of a Hitch Cargo Carrier
In case you’re not 100% convinced yet as to why and how a hitch cargo carrier will benefit you and make your life better on the road, here are some of the many reasons why hitch cargo carriers are so great:
We probably already mentioned this earlier, but the location of a hitch mounted carrier and the way it’s placed on your vehicle largely eliminates any issue you may have about aerodynamics, wind resistance, gas mileage, and fuel efficiency. This means you can still “ride like a breeze” without the carrier getting in the way.
Quick and Easy Access
With a hitch cargo carrier, your luggage and gear aren’t crammed inside your vehicle’s compartment. Instead, they are outside the car, which means they are more easily accessible, especially since everything is in one place and within reach. This way, you don’t have to go through all your stuff or even unload some just to reach one single item.
Ease and Safety
The beauty of hitch carriers is that they don’t only give you ample storage space and load capacity for all your stuff, they also do so at a convenient waist-level, which makes loading, accessing, and unloading so much easier and hassle free. It’s definitely safer than going up a step or a ladder, or desperately tiptoeing to reach your car roof.
Hitch Cargo Carrier Buying Guide
As you know by now, there are a multitude of different cargo carriers out there, with each one different from the next. Even carriers of similar types, styles, classifications, and building materials have their own unique features that make them special and help them stand out from the competition.
So, how do you go about in choosing the best hitch cargo carrier for your needs? How do you even distinguish a good quality carrier from a mediocre one that is unreliable and breaks easily? After all, even the cheapest carrier can still cost a couple hundred bucks, and that money is not something you’ll be willing to waste.
To help you make the right decision, here are the most important considerations when buying a hitch cargo carrier:
Determine Your Needs
The first and most important thing you need to do, really, is to understand and assess your specific needs, so you can end up with a cargo carrier that meets all these needs. To do that, ask yourself these questions:
Intended Purpose of the Carrier
What will you be using the carrier for? What sorts of activities do you usually engage in? What sorts of stuff will you tow on the carrier? Hitch cargo carriers are pretty versatile no matter the type, but you still need to get one that best suits your specific purpose.
For example, do you have lots of stuff to carry? A bigger carrier will be more suitable. Are you hauling valuables or delicate items that need to be completely covered and protected from the elements? An enclosed cargo box is what you need. This way, your adventure on the road will be so much easier, more accessible, and more enjoyable.
Type of Cargo
In relation to the question above, what types of cargo are you likely to carry and tow on the road? Small and lightweight stuff will do fine on a carrier with a mesh bottom, while heavier equipment will need solid metal rails. Taller, bulkier, and irregularly shaped items will also benefit from the open tops and tall side rails of carrier baskets.
Do you ski, surf, or fish? If so, you’ll need a carrier that’s designed to carry your gear. Will you bring a wheeled item, like a wheelchair, scooter, or even a lawnmower? You might need a carrier with a built-in ramp. Do you want something that is compact, versatile, and discrete? Try to look for stacked, high mounted solutions.
Approximate Cargo Weight
Again, how much and how heavy is the cargo you’ll be hauling? Many hitch mounted cargo carriers have a distributed weight capacity of 500 pounds, but that doesn’t apply to all. And, that 500 pound limit is different for a steel rack as compared to an aluminum rack, which is slightly less durable and more prone to bending.
The higher the load capacity, the bigger the carrier will be, and the price of the product will also match that extra capacity. If you’re just going to be carrying light items such as backpacks filled with clothes or some small gear, you might not even need an exterior rack at all.
Weather and Road Condition
What’s it like where you live, and where you drive? Does it rain or snow often? Does the high wind carry lots of dust? Are there lots of muddy puddles? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you’ll likely need an enclosed carrier, as an open hitch one with a trailer cover might not cut it.
Sure, covers are great for the occasional rain or that short stretch of dirt road, but if that’s more your norm than a rare occurrence, it’s best to look for a more permanent solution. And as for cargo boxes, make sure that the seams are welded properly and the material exhibits superior weather-proofing and water resistance.
Frequency of Usage
How often will you use the cargo carrier? We mentioned this earlier, but you’ll need to factor in your usage frequency and the available storage space when it comes to choosing the type of carrier you’ll buy, such as between a fixed and folding carrier.
Your Vehicle Type
What kind of vehicle do you drive? Smaller ones naturally have a lower tongue weight capacity (TWC), or the maximum vertical weight that your vehicle hitch can support (or if it can even support a hitch carrier) under normal driving conditions. The bigger your vehicle, such as with vans, SUVs, campers, RVs, and trucks, you have better chances of supporting a hitch carrier.
Your Vehicle’s Hitch Class
Aside from the type of vehicle you own, you also have to determine your vehicle’s hitch class. You may not know this, but your trailer hatch actually falls under one of the five different hitch classes, which each class based on the size and strength of the vehicle that the hitch is attached to, as well as the design and construction of the hitch itself.
Your Vehicle’s Rear Design
Does your vehicle have a tailgate, rear door/s, or no rear doors at all? How do the doors open, if there are any? The thing with hitch cargo carriers is that, as much as possible, you still want to maintain access to your rear compartment, which sometimes means having to invest in folding racks and swing away frames.
Your Vehicle’s Wiring Requirements
How are your vehicle’s electrical adaptors situated? The car’s wiring requirements will determine whether (and how) the hitch cargo carrier’s turning and braking lights, if any, can be connected to your auto system, so that the car’s and the carrier’s lights work in sync, especially when signaling and stopping.
The norm for most hitch mount carriers is a 500 pound carrying capacity. While lower capacity carriers that support 200 to 300 pounds are not as common, they are generally cheaper, and are a better option if you don’t really need the full 500 pounds. That said, the extra couple of hundred pound capacity is always a nice insurance for unexpected stuff along the road.
Aside from the carrying capacity, you also need to account for the size capacity, which is really just the inner dimensions of the cargo carrier. A nice, mid sized one would be around 48 by 19 inches and should work fine for normal cargo, but if you have lots of stuff and equipment, the standard 60 by 24 inch carrier is more ideal.
Remember, the inner measurements are what matters. For example, the 60×24” you see on the product’s title typically refers to its external dimensions, which means that the inside space is at least a good couple of inches shorter on each side.
Top Hitch Weight
It’s also important to remember that your hitch class and weight matters, as it’s what really determines how much load you can carry on your hitch carrier. For example, if you have a tiny car with a low class hitch, you shouldn’t get an extra large 500 pound hitch carrier, or if you do, you can never fill it up to capacity.
This is also where the weight of the carrier itself factors in, because if you have a heavy carrier, that weight is already being supported by the hitch, meaning, your cargo weight limit needs to be lower than what’s advertised. For example, the hitch can carry 500 pounds, and the carrier weighs 50 pounds. This means that you can only carry 450 pounds of cargo on the carrier.
Another very important thing you need to account for is weather protection- not just for your cargo, but for the carrier itself, too. This is especially important if you experience a lot of rain, snow, and mud. Aside from not wanting your cargo to get wet or dirty, you also don’t want the hitch cargo carrier itself to show signs of rust.
This means investing in a material that has excellent weather proofing and resistance to water, rust, and corrosion. Here, aluminum (and even plastic) is better than steel, even if it’s coated with black powder.
It also means inspecting the bottom design. A full pan or a tight mesh will hold water from the rain, which not only soaks your cargo but also affects the carrier’s rust resistance. Open tubes and rails, on the other hand, will expose your cargo to mud splashes, and might suck in some water, which will rust the insides of the tubes.
Since your luggage will be hauled outside of the vehicle, investing in security is important, so that the luggage won’t accidentally fall off while you’re driving, such as on rocky terrain. This can not only cause you to lose some valuables, but can also result in an accident especially if you’re driving along heavy traffic.
To avoid this, make sure to check for lockable latches for enclosed cargo boxes, hitch locks for the point where your vehicle hitch and the carrier meets, and strapping points for cargo covers and nets on open carrier baskets and racks.
Also look for lights, reflectors, and other safety features that enhance your road visibility at night and during inclement weather. You can also invest in a full light and wiring system to really make sure that you are always safe on the road, or add a couple of extra reflectors.
Most vehicle hitch receivers are at either 1.25 or 2 inches, hence most carriers are also designed for such sizes. If your carrier and receiver don’t match each other, you will need to purchase a hitch adapter. They might be an extra cost on top of an already expensive carrier, but a hitch adapter gives you the added benefit of an improved ground clearance.
Rear Hatch Access
Speaking of ground clearance, if you look in the opposite direction, a hitch cargo carrier with a straight (not curved) hitch will give you better rear hatch access. Think of it this way, high and curved carriers may give you better ground clearance, but the rise that’s built into the shank impedes your rear hatch access.
Assembly / Installation
A good hitch cargo carrier should be easy to install and assemble, and not at all be confusing to have to deal with. We say “should” because this isn’t really the reality for many cases. A lot of carriers on the market may be great in terms of quality, but assembly is a complete mess, and to make matters worse, the instructions are unclear and confusing.
As such, aside from finding a carrier made with good quality materials, you should also opt for ones with one or two piece assembly, rather than those with plenty of nuts and bolts. Besides, this way, the carrier is more convenient to mount and unmount whenever you don’t need it.
If you can, try to also factor in a few other nice to have features, such as a high pin and clip, which is something that you’ll most likely need but is rarely included with your purchase. A complementary carrier cover is also nice to have, as well as a space for mounting your license plate, since you can’t really drive with the plate blocked by the carrier.
Perhaps the real determining factor and a potential deal-breaker for most people is the cost of a hitch cargo carrier. What you have to remember is, there are cheap but good carriers, mid-range carriers with some extra features, and top of the line carriers with plenty of borderline unnecessary bells and whistles.
Bonus: How To Make Your Hitch Cargo Carrier Last Longer
Hitch cargo carriers, as good as they are, have their fair share of downsides, like those open frame carriers where you need cargo bags to hold everything down. And even with the cargo bags, they’re not really that durable and risk tearing or ripping. To avoid these kinds of issues and make your cargo carrier last longer, try these helpful tips:
- Use a trailer hitch tie-down or a hitch tightener. These are U-shaped devices that minimize or even eliminate any rattling or shifting of cargo by effectively applying pressure on the most vulnerable points of contact.
- If you have a hitch carrier with a plain mesh floor or platform, add a couple of pieces of plywood to act as rail support and make the flooring sturdier without causing it to sag or become deformed from loading heavy luggage over long periods of time.
- When assembling the hitch carrier, fix the nuts on the outer part of the carrier, and the bolts with the heads on the inside, so the sharp edges won’t tear your luggage. Or, fix it as you normally would, then cover the sharp edges with silicone.
- For cargo carriers with plastic edges, add a hitch adapter to increase the rack height, which gives you the better ground clearance and moves the plastic away from the car’s exhaust, which can melt and burn the plastic.
- If the paint on your steel carrier is starting to strip off, sand it down to bare metal and apply a fresh, new coat of black powder or protective paint to “renew” its rust and corrosion resistance.
The best hitch cargo carrier widens your horizons and increases your limits on what you can haul on your vehicle. As long as you understand your specific needs for a carrier, and know the important factors you need to consider, you’ll be able to make the right decision as to which hitch carrier brand and model is best for you.