Buying and Installing A Roof Box

Regular Hiking Lady readers probably saw my post last month: All About Roof Bars, Roof Boxes, and my Thule story. After checking that out, be sure to visit Hiking 101: Roof Boxes, where I have an in depth look of how to select what will best suit your needs. I’m confident that after you read the Hiking 101 piece, you’ll be able to narrow down some options. However, that’s just the start. Warning: finding the right components you’ll need isn’t as easy as it should be.

What Roof Bars/Racks/Boxes Will Fit Your Vehicle?

You’d think that this step would be easy, right? Well it isn’t, but I’ll help you! Let me walk you through my experience to guide you through your purchase.

After I decided on a combination of Aerodynamic Cross Bars and a cargo box for my Jeep Grand Cherokee, the next step was deciding what specific products to get. For years I had heard of Thule’s great reputation, and I am very pleased with the quality and durability of our Thule strollers and Thule Guidepost backpacking pack. We opted against square and round cross bars, so that narrowed it down to aerodynamic cross bars. I liked the look and noise reduction benefit of the Thule AeroBlade Edge roof bars, but how did I know what size to get?

Find the cross bars you need with the Thule Fit Guide.

You have to go to the Thule Fit Guide, and enter info about your vehicle.

Thule fit guide, step 1
Thule fit guide, step 1 – click to zoom in

Review what will fit your vehicle

Once you have your vehicle info entered, multiple options will show up with the complete package. In my case, there were 3 packages. Keep in mind that Thule is VERY expensive (but this is cheaper than buying a bigger car ).

Thule Fit Guide, Step 2
Thule Fit Guide, Step 2 – click to zoom in

What is nice is that they have partnered with REI, one of my favorite retailers, so it is easy to add it to your REI cart.  In my case I already had Factory Tracks that run the length of the roof of my Jeep, so I needed 2 cross bars, and a Thule Fit Kit (#3142 for our vehicle). These fit kits are all vehicle specific, and cost $120. Keep this in mind if you are planning on switching vehicles soon. You’ll have to buy another fit kit…

Decide on your roof/cargo box

What roof box should I buy? That is a tricky question, and you’ll want to go through this Hiking Lady perfect cargo box checklist to help you decide.

  1. Do you really need a roof box? Will a roof bag or roof rack work for you instead? Before you continue down the checklist, revisit the Hiking Lady Hiking 101 Roof Rack/Bag/Box article to be sure, since roof boxes are the most expensive option.
  2. What size cargo boxes will fit on your car? Start here, because there is no point in researching ones that are too big! Thule and Yakima both have online tools to help you figure it out.
  3. What will you be storing? Most camping and hiking gear will fit fine in a short, stumpy shaped box. But if you are a skier, then you’ll want something long enough to transport skis for the tallest member of your family.
  4. Fuel efficiency? The more aerodynamic the box (think shorter and sleeker, the better the fuel efficiency). If you take long road trips, this may be more important for you than if you plan to use it infrequently.
  5. Ease of mounting the roof box? Unless you are using it all the time, you’ll want one that is fairly easy to get off your vehicle. Since it isn’t recommended that you drive around with an empty roof box, you’ll want one that easily attaches and detaches from your roof bars. Thule branded boxes are the hands down winner in this category. Some choices I looked at were the Thule Motion XT L and the Thule Force XT L, and I ultimately decided on the Thule Force XT L because it was more economical.

    Receiving Your Roof System

    The roof systems are large, so unless you pick it up at a store and install it on the spot, you’ll have it shipped to your house. Mine were ordered through REI Co-op, but were shipped directly from Thule to me. Here’s where I got disappointed with the process: the delivery! Despite being ordered together, the 4 components (the two AeroBlade Edge cross bars, the 3142 Podium Fit Kit, and the Thule Force XT L roof box all arrived separately.

    First, the Thule AeroBlade Edge cross bars arrived via UPS. Both boxes were badly damaged, but luckily the bars were in good shape.

    Badly damaged AeroBlade Edge boxes from the delivery process; luckily nothing was damaged!
    Badly damaged AeroBlade Edge boxes from the delivery process; luckily nothing was damaged!

    Then the 3142 Podium Fit Kit arrived separately in great shape. Phew! But then the day came for the scheduled delivery of the Thule Force XT L roof box.
    A large white semi truck pulled up (Thule’s third party delivery company for my area). The driver apologized profusely, but let me know that my box (containing the Thule Force XT L Roof Box) had been smashed by an 800 pound safe falling over in his truck. Ugh!

    The Thule Force XT L Roof Box - it survived being smashed by an 800 pound safe in the delivery truck!
    The Thule Force XT L Roof Box – it survived being smashed by an 800 pound safe in the delivery truck!

    Luckily most of the dents could be popped out, and it still opened and closed! That’s one durable roof box! But cmon’ Thule, figure out a safer way to get these to customers!

    Installing Your Roof System

    With all the parts in order, a ladder, and some patience, the process began of following the steps to get the roof system installed on my Jeep Grand Cherokee.

    First, we had to assemble the AeroBlade Edge cross bars. The instructions were entirely pictures (since Thule ships these things all over the world). It was fairly straightforward, and definitely easier to do the second cross bar.

    Then, the cross bars had to be secured to the roof of my vehicle.

    The AeroBlade Edge Bar
    Unboxing one Thule AeroBlade Edge cross bar
    Unboxing one Thule AeroBlade Edge cross bar
    Specs of the Thule Force XT L roof box
    The Thule Force XT L Roof Box
    The Thule Force XT L Roof Box after most dents were fixed up
    Hiking Baby helping install the Roof Rack!
    Hiking Baby helping to put together the first AeroBlade Edge Barthe Roof Rack!
    Affixing and cutting the rubber strip to the AeroBlade Edge cross bars
    Preparing the AeroBlade Edge Cross bars per the instruction manual
    Putting on the Thule Podium Fit Kit
    Hiking Toddler helping out
    Hiking Toddler helping out
    Removing the screws from the factory installed track on my Jeep Grand Cherokee to prepare for the installation of the AeroBlade Edge cross bars
    Installing the bars on the factory installed tracks
    Locking the AeroBlade Edge bars securely into place
    Thule AeroBlade Edge Crossbars
    Hiking Lady’s Jeep Grand Cherokee with the Thule AeroBlade Edge Crossbars freshly installed
    Hiking Toddler unlocking the Thule Force XT L roof box so we can access the claws to secure it to the AeroBlade Edge cross bars
    One of the four claws inside the Thule Force XT L roof box that secure the box to the AeroBlade Edge cross bars

    Once the AeroBlade Edge cross bars were in place, putting the roof box on was simple. You open the Thule Force XT L, and there are 4 Thule QuickGrip clamps that grab the cross bars from the inside of the roof box. Simply turn the knobs counterclockwise until the grips on the underside of the box are open, put the box on your vehicle (get help if you can – a roof box is an awkward 40 pounds to hoist on an SUV by yourself), then line up the QuickGrip clamps on the cross bars and turn them clockwise to lock them in place. It is a very secure and safe attachment method. Yay Thule for a good design idea with the QuickGrip clamps!

    Hit the trails with your roof system!

    Have you purchased a roof box system and installed it? I’d love to hear your stories, especially any delivery mishaps like I experienced!

    Happy trails!

One comment

  1. Donna says:

    Hello Hiking Lady,
    Great detail about your experience with your new Thule roof system. It was cute seeing Hiking Baby helping!

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