There is plenty of room in my 12 passenger van to hoist up my bike and slide it into the cargo area for transport. However, I plan to buy a new, smaller car soon and will need to use a bike rack. So after starting the search for vehicles, I began to wonder:
Can bike racks go on any car?
A given bike rack usually won’t fit every car on the market. Different types of racks work better for different car body types. There are four main types of bike racks available: hitch racks, roof racks, trunk racks, and truck racks. And each type of rack may work better if you drive a sedan, SUV, truck, etc.
Next up, I’ll cover each type of rack and which ones work best for popular car body types, so that by the end of this article, you can be confident which type of rack will work best for you.
Table of Contents
Types of Racks
1. Hitch Racks
A hitch rack is a bike rack that fits into a hitch on the back of a truck or car. There are definite advantages to this type of bike rack. They are more aerodynamic than other types of racks. They are also a little lower to the ground, making it easier to load and unload bikes.
Hitch racks come in various styles, and some can hold multiple bikes at a time. But, of course, you will need to have a hitch on your vehicle to use this type of rack.
If you ride a carbon frame, you will want to find a hitch rack that does not grip the frame to hold it. Instead, look for a rack that grips the wheels, so you don’t damage your frame over time. Frame damage is less of an issue for bike frames that are made of aluminum or steel.
2. Ceiling / Roof Racks
A roof rack is a type of rack that fits onto the roof of your car (hence the name). You can usually carry anywhere from 1 to 6 bikes on this type of rack, depending on how much room there is on your car roof. And you may need to purchase an additional rack system to fit the rack to your car’s roof.
Some roof racks require that you remove the tires of your bike to secure them properly.
The dangers of these types of racks are that you could easily damage your bike by running into a low bridge, drive-through roof, or sign, so you’ll want to keep a close eye on how much clearance you have over your bikes.
Roof racks are the least aerodynamic type of bike rack. You’ll also need to be able to lift your bike onto the roof to attach it. Putting your bike on the roof could also be difficult for shorter people and you may need to carry a ladder with you to make it possible.
3. Trunk Rack
In some cases, a trunk rack could be a good solution. Trunk racks connect to the back of your car but don’t require a hitch. Instead, a trunk rack sits on the trunk or back of the vehicle. These racks are held in place by several straps that connect to the bumper and trunk.
A significant downside with this type of rack is that they are the type most likely to cause damage to your car’s paint job. So keep that in mind if the chance of scratched paint is a deal-breaker for you.
In addition, a trunk rack doesn’t usually work well with tandems or special frames, and you can’t open the trunk. Worse yet, this type of rack may obstruct the view from your rearview mirror, making it difficult to back up. Depending on your set-up, it may also obstruct the license plate of your car, causing you to get pulled over.
On the other hand, trunk racks are also the least expensive bike racks, they’re easy to put on and take off, they’re lightweight, and will fit multiple car models.
Spare Tire Rack
If you drive a Jeep or SUV with a spare tire on the back, you might also want to consider using a spare tire rack. The rack mounts onto the spare tire on the back of a car.
4. Truck Rack
You won’t be surprised by this, but a truck bike rack is specifically built for hauling bikes in a pick-up truck.
If you have any other type of car (other than a truck), you wouldn’t use this type of rack, so I’ll keep this section brief.
There are a few different versions of this kind of rack, but they all hold (at least part of) the bike(s) inside the truck’s truck bed. Some models look like a public bike rack, but it’s just positioned inside the truck-bed up against the cabin. Another version hangs the front wheel of the bike over the tailgate.
If you’re a truck owner, then you can skip down to this section to learn more.
Which Racks Fit Common Car Body Types
Given that there are a variety of options for bike racks, how do you select the best one for you?
Well, I think one of the best ways to make that choice, is to look first at your car’s body type, and then to consider the options that work best with the shape of your car. Here’s a breakdown of which bike racks tend to work best with the most common car body types.
If you drive a sedan, a bike rack will definitely make transporting your bicycle much easier because fitting a bike into your trunk or back seat can be very challenging. Some sedan examples include Toyota Camry, Chevy Cruze, or even an old Dodge Charger.
- Hitch rack. You can only use a hitch rack on a sedan if you have a hitch installed, which is not common.
- Roof rack. You can only use a roof rack if your sedan has crossbars. If your sedan does not come with crossbars, you can get them installed.
- Trunk rack. Trunk racks are compatible with sedans and they do not require add-ons (i.e. a hitch or crossbars) in order to install. Just keep in mind that they have downsides, like risk of paint scratches and blocked visibility.
Best Rack Type
As a general rule, the best rack type for sedans is a trunk rack. Sedans often do not come standard with roof racks or hitches, so unless you want to spend extra money to equip your vehicle, a trunk rack is probably the most straightforward solution.
Consider trying the Allen Sports Deluxe 2-Bike Trunk Mount Rack here (*FYI: we get commissions at no extra cost to you).
A few examples of hatchbacks are the Subaru Imprezza, Volkswagon Golf, and the Chevy Bolt EV. A hatchback has more cargo space and opens right into the car’s back, rather than having a separate trunk space like a sedan.
The challenge of putting a rack on a hatchback is that the back of the car often has a large windshield and no roof rack. Here is the compatibility breakdown for rack types:
- Hitch rack. If you have a hitch on your hatchback, you can use a hitch rack. Otherwise, you’ll have to get a hitch installed or use a different type of rack. A hitch-mounted bike rack is ideal for your hatchback, provided that you have a hitch installed.
- Roof rack. A roof rack is a great option for hatchbacks if you have the rails to put them on. That being said, you’ll want to make sure the hatch has plenty of clearance to open with the bike roof rack in place to prevent damage to your car, bike, and rack.
- Trunk rack. A trunk rack will work well if you can purchase one with a glass windshield adapter. Otherwise, the rack may put undue pressure on your rear windshield and cause it to break.
Best Rack Type
A roof rack typically works best for a hatchback because it avoids putting pressure on the rear windshield, and it’s not particularly common for hatchbacks to have a hitch.
Consider trying the Thule UpRide Upright Rooftop Bike Rack, which allows you to attach the bike to the rack without removing any wheels. Of course, you’ll always need to be mindful of your clearance when using a roof rack, and of course, you’ll have to be able to lift the bike to the top of the car.
Minivans are often the vehicle of choice for families due to their extra seating capacity and extra cargo space. Some popular minivans include the Honda Odyssey, Dodge Grand Caravan, and Kia Sedona.
- Hitch rack. A hitch rack is a great rack for a minivan. Many vans come equipped with hitches, but as usual, if your car doesn’t have a hitch you’ll need to get one installed or use a different type of rack. Also, if you will use a hitch rack and need to access the cargo area, you may want to consider a rack that folds down and out of the way easily.
- Roof rack. Roof racks used to be the rack of choice for minivans due to their stability. However, with the tall height of some minivans, this makes the clearance of the van with the rack and the bike very high. So while it is possible, it isn’t always advisable.
- Trunk rack. A few trunk tracks will work with minivans, but it takes a bit of work to double check compatibility. In addition, you may need extra straps or adaptors.
Best Rack Type
The best bike racks for minivans are hitch racks. If you do have a hitch on your van (or would be open to getting one installed), then a hitch rack is a great option. One example is The Freedom 2, which is a platform rack that will accommodate various bike types.
Some favorite SUVs include the Nissan Pathfinder, Honda CR-V, and the Toyota RAV4. SUVs are built to be a little more rugged, and they often come with a hitch and/or roof bars pre-installed.
- Hitch rack. A hitch rack is often an easy choice for SUVs because many SUVs already come with a hitch installed. You may want to invest in a hitch rack with a swing arm so that the rack can swing out of the way when you need to reach the trunk. Also, a hitch rack may not work if your vehicle spare tire is on the trunk.
- Roof rack. Roof racks also work great on SUVs, with the caveat being that your bikes are pretty high, which has reach and clearance implications. However, this will free up your hitch to be able to pull a trailer, camper, etc.
- Trunk rack. For lightweight bikes and light use, a trunk rack usually works on an SUV. However, you may not be able to use a standard trunk rack if your SUV has an external spare tire. And, of course, you’ll need to make sure that the trunk rack you choose is compatible with your vehicle.
Best Rack Type
The best rack type for an SUV is a hitch rack such as the Saris Swing Away Rack.
Pickup trucks are great for transporting bikes (among other things). Popular truck models include the Ford F series, Dodge Ram, or Chevy Silverado.
- Hitch rack. Most pickup trucks come standard with a hitch, making a hitch rack easy to use on your truck.
- Truck bed rack. A better choice for your truck bed is a truck bed rack. This rack fits into the bed of your track and will secure your bike safely.
Roof and trunk racks are generally not compatible with pick-up trucks. However, you may be able to use a roof rack in some situations if you have a cap on your truck bed.
Best Rack Type
The best rack type for a truck is a truck bed rack. This will keep your bikes safely in the bed of your truck. For example, consider trying the Heininger Automotive 2025 Advantage SportsRack BedRack (*FYI: we get commissions at no extra cost to you). This rack fits in the bed of your truck, up against the cabin. This model can hold up to 4 bikes safely. It can also be used as a stand-alone rack when it isn’t in the truck.
How to Make Sure a Bike Rack will Fit YOUR Car
Check Rack Type Compatibility (High-Level)
Before you purchase a new bike rack, always check the rack type compatibility with your specific vehicle. You can use the information discussed above as a start-point.
Then, you’ll want to confirm the details.
Confirm Rack Compatibility with Your Car’s Make and Model
Before purchasing a bike rack, you’ll want to confirm that your car’s specific year, make, and model is compatible with the rack.
Many manufactures provide an online tool that you can use to look up which of their racks are compatible with your vehicle. So, for example, if you wanted to know if the Saris Swing Away Rack is compatible with your SUV, you could use the Find My Fit tool on the Saris Website. But, of course, the Saris website will only help you find Saris racks to fit your vehicle, so if you want a different brand, you’ll have to go to that brand’s website.
If you can’t find the information on the website, you’ll want to call the customer service department and ask questions before purchasing your rack. I know, I don’t like calling customer support either, but this can prevent you from wasting money on a rack that doesn’t work or is unsafe for your vehicle.
Types of Cars that Can’t Hold a Bike Rack
There really aren’t any cars that cannot hold a bike rack if you are willing to make adjustments. For example, you might think you can’t put a bike rack on a convertible or a sports car, but if you are willing to add a hitch to the back of the car, you can successfully put a hitch rack on it.
If you drive a car with a large rear spoiler, you can have a roof rack added to it so that you can carry bikes on your roof. Other small cars, such as mini coopers and smart cars, have specially designed racks that will fit a bike. If you drive a specialty car, you’ll need to do your research and make sure you find the right rack. They may be more expensive, but they usually do exist.
There are other relevant considerations when choosing a bike rack. For example, the weight of your bike (all racks have weight limits), the material of your bike frame (especially if you have a carbon fiber bike), the number of bikes you want to carry, and your budget.
So, you’ll want to check for this type of thing also, before you make your final bike rack decision.
Although it isn’t common, car bike racks also get stolen. Learn how you can protect your new bike rack from theft hear.