As I make updates to streamline some of my web pages and menus, I found myself with orphaned information about my hitch-mounted cargo carrier. I used it a lot on earlier cars, but not so much with my GTI. I still have the carrier, but I don’t use it as much now that I have the rooftop cargo box and trailers as other options. How did I use my hitch carrier? Why did I stop using it? What do I use instead? Continue reading for my answers and to learn some pros and cons about hitch-mounted cargo carriers.
I started using a 20×60″ hitch-mounted cargo carrier by Hitch-Haul when I stubbornly refused to put a roof rack on my Mk3 Jetta TDI. Even if I had been open to the idea of putting a rack on my roof, I did not have the money for a cargo box and baskets did not appeal to me. Needing extra capacity for a 6300-mile road trip with my wife and pets in 1999, I decided to take the hitch-mounted cargo carrier route. The hitch carrier worked great, although it did cause the rear end to sag and drag in uneven driveways. I learned a lot during that trip. For starters, I don’t load the carrier as heavily as I did back then. I eventually replaced it with a 20×48″ hitch carrier by Pro Series that has a three-inch rise to keep the load farther above the road and away from hot exhaust gases. It appears to be discontinued, but it is very similar to this carrier by Curt. I chose the Pro Series carrier over less expensive options because its platform is one-piece and very strong. I’ve had it since 2004 and its finish has held up excellently.
I continued to use the Pro Series carrier with my Mk6. I can’t stand to have cargo in the passenger compartment. If our cargo doesn’t fit entirely in the trunk, then I’m inclined to carry it outside, one way or another. On this trip (in the photo), we were traveling with our teenage daughter and our geriatric cat. The cat spent the majority of her time sleeping on a folded seat back. She also had run of the trunk where her litter box was set. There was a duffel bag and computer bags in the trunk, too. All of our luggage for the three-day weekend was on the carrier in a weather-resistant bag. Keep in mind that I had a trailer at my disposal for about 20 years at this point. But the cargo carrier was more compact and easier for driving and parking… cheaper on the toll roads, too.
When I switched to my GTI, I initially used the cargo carrier for bicycles or the occasional strange item. But I noticed something different when I loaded a cargo bag for local testing and photographs: The license plate was completely obscured! Unlike my Jettas, with their license plates mounted on high trunk lids, the Golfs and GTIs have their plates mounted below the bumper top. This is no good for cargo carriers, in my opinion. Driving with an obscured plate is begging for unwanted attention. I’m supportive of our police and highway patrol officers, but I don’t want to talk to them for ANY reason when I’m on a drive, especially when I have a schedule I want to keep. Sure, I could temporarily move the license plate to the carrier, but I don’t want to deal with that as often as I had installed/removed the carrier. The bag in the photo also interferes with the tailgate differently than it did on a Jetta (shorter throw on a trunk lid).
The time came for our first family trip in the GTI. Not only was my daughter older, but we were traveling for Thanksgiving and bringing drinks and desserts. We were driving nearly 900 miles and arriving Thanksgiving Eve. So, there was no time to shop and prepare everything at our destination; it had to travel with us. That meant our tiny trunk would carry food, drinks, and a freezer while our luggage rode outside. I was eager to use my “baby trailer” on a road trip, but our hosts lived in a downtown area with limited parking. Thankfully, I had plenty of time to plan and was prepared to finally buy my first rooftop cargo box.
I’ll spare the details about the rooftop cargo box, but I will close by saying that my hitch-mounted cargo carriers had a good run and served a purpose for 20 years. I’m less inclined to use the hitch carrier now that I also have a rooftop cargo box and two trailers. The other options are simply better or more convenient now that I have them. I kept the hitch carrier because it’s still great for transporting a pair of bicycles. I’ve drafted a list of pros and cons between my three cargo carrying options. I was going to include the list below, but I’ve decided that it’s comprehensive enough to stand on its own. I will share it soon. Until then, here are the pros and cons of the hitch-mounted cargo carrier:
- Least expensive option if you already have a hitch (regardless, hitches are inexpensive)
- Wet items are free to dribble on the ground instead of in a container or on the rooftop
- Keeps cargo in the car’s draft with almost no impact on fuel economy
- Relatively quick/easy to mount and dismount
- Easy to load, unload, clean, and store
- Does not touch or scratch the paint
- Completely silent
- Cumbersome to lock to the hitch receiver (requires contortion to reach the hitch pin)
- Cargo is not protected from weather unless packed in weatherproof container or bag
- Tall loads may obscure the tail lights, which would necessitate additional lighting
- Cargo is more vulnerable to theft unless packed in a lockable container (weighs more)
- “Invisible” to inattentive drivers when unloaded (yes, mine’s been hit a few times)
- Difficult to judge backing distances when reversing in tight parking situations (crunch)
- Rear camera is useless; cannot see rear edges of the carrier when it is loaded
- May obscure the license plate and draw unwanted attention from police
- 100% of extra weight is focused on the rear tires
- Can tend to rock or jiggle in the receiver
- May interfere with trunk/hatch opening
- People will inevitably sit or stand on it
More Info – Despite the specs that say the carrier can hold 300+ lbs, the hitch is the limiting factor for weight capacity. Most passenger car hitches are Class 1 and rated for 2000 lbs of towing with a 200-lb tongue limit. But the car’s tongue limit is often less. Do your research! VW’s passenger car tongue capacity is 175 lbs. The cargo carrier weighs ~40 lbs and cantilevered weight on a carrier amplifies the force applied to the hitch. A prudent driver should consider limiting the carrier’s load to 100 lbs, including whatever container is used to hold loose cargo.
Not Enough Capacity,
PS: Here are some photos of the carrier in use…