Pros and Cons of Various Cargo Transport Methods

As I wrote about my hitch-mounted cargo carrier, why I bought it, and why I stopped using it, I felt compelled to create lists of the pros and cons of each cargo transport method that I have at my disposal. Each has its merits, drawbacks, and levels of planning required before use. Oddly enough, my “baby trailer” is the most convenient go-to option if my ball mount is already installed. Here is my list of  pros and cons between my three cargo carrying options, hitch-mounted cargo carrier, rooftop cargo box, and a small utility trailer. I’ve included price examples using the least expensive options available online as well as what I paid for my own selections. Keep in mind that these prices are for the cheapest combinations available, but don’t include tiny trailers from discount stores due to their dismal 45-mph speed rating. I suspect most will prefer more sturdy options, which are more expensive. I’ve also created a lengthy YouTube video, which I eventually broke into smaller segments linked below:


HITCH-MOUNTED CARGO CARRIER (9 minute video on YouTube)
(starting as low as $207 including hitch; my combination was $375)

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • 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
  • Cargo is more vulnerable to theft unless packed in a lockable container (weighs more)
  • Difficult to judge backing distances when reversing in tight parking situations (crunch)
  • “Invisible” to inattentive drivers when unloaded (yes, mine’s been hit a few times)
  • Tall loads may obscure the tail lights, which would necessitate additional lighting
  • 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 and suspension
  • Can tend to rock or jiggle in the receiver
  • May interfere with trunk/hatch opening
  • Easy to overload… just keep stacking

More Info – Despite the specs that say certain hitch carriers can hold 300+ lbs, the car itself 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 hitch carrier’s load to 100 lbs, including whatever container is used to hold loose cargo.


ROOFTOP CARGO BOX (9.5 minute video on YouTube)
(starting as low as $504 including rack; my combination was $1180)

Pros

  • More cargo space than a hitch carrier bag, depending on the model selected
  • Cargo is secured against casual theft by hard case and locks
  • Distributes extra weight more evenly across all four tires
  • Weatherproof, for the most part (but not entirely)
  • Parking footprint of the car is unaffected
  • No limitations to maneuverability on the road
  • Rear camera is unobscured

Cons

  • Extra attention required to keep roof paint clean due to rack pads
  • Larger cargo boxes can be difficult to mount without assistance
  • Size/shape of cargo is limited to size/shape of the cargo box
  • Wind noise may be bothersome, especially at higher speeds
  • Requires the most time to mount/dismount completely
  • Overhead clearance may pose problems on tall vehicles
  • Fuel economy is reduced, especially at higher speeds
  • Overhead lifting of cargo may be difficult for some
  • Off-car storage may be a challenge

More Info – Roof weight capacity on most VW’s is 165 lbs, including the weight of the cargo box and roof rack. Most roof racks have a capacity to match that, but some have a lower capacity. Do your research! In short, the larger the box, the less weight it can hold. A 21 cubic-foot box may weigh sixty pounds or more, limiting the cargo itself to less than 100 lbs. The capacity is even lower if the cargo box isn’t riding alone on the rack.


SMALL UTILITY TRAILER (small, but not tiny) (14 minute video onYouTube)
(starting as low as $710 including hitch and lighting; my combination was $800)

Pros

  • Wet items are free to dribble on the ground instead of in a container or on the rooftop
  • More aero than a cargo box (if cargo is covered) since the trailer is in the car’s draft.
  • So many uses that owners will trailer items more often than expected
  • Can carry bulky items that might not fit in a cargo box or on a carrier
  • All but ~10-15% of cargo weight is off the car’s tires and suspension
  • Very good security, depending on precautions taken
  • Quickest to connect/disconnect (believe it or not)
  • Silent most of the time (except for over bumps)
  • Highest cargo capacity of all options
  • Does not touch or scratch the paint
  • Widest variety of load capabilities
  • Easy to load, unload, and clean

Cons

  • Requires maintenance on hubs, paint upkeep, and lighting inspections (inexpensive)
  • Requires practice/skill to reverse the trailer (rear camera is ineffective here)
  • Requires new tires every five years, regardless of mileage (less than $150)
  • Less expensive trailers are more likely to rust or come with cheap tires
  • Greater cargo capacity may compel drivers to bring too much stuff
  • Cargo is not protected from weather unless special effort is made
  • Speed restrictions in most states (do your research)
  • Requires annual registration in nearly all states
  • Parking away from home may be a challenge
  • Extra axle commands higher toll road fees
  • Adds ~300 lbs or more to the total load
  • Storage at home may be a challenge

More Info – Towing capacity is often not published for passenger cars. Limiting total trailer weight to 1000 lbs is generally safe, as is limiting travel speeds while towing. Brakes are not required on lightweight trailers (<1500 lbs) in the majority of states. Check the law in your state. Load heavy items over the axle (slightly forward of it) and balance the load to achieve a tongue weight of ~10-15% of trailer weight. Many small trailer tires are speed rated to only 65 mph. Some small trailers, particularly the bolt-together specimens found at discount stores, are “speed rated” to just 45 mph. Do your research! Read this article for more information on my claim that a small utility trailer can be quieter and more fuel efficient than a rooftop cargo box.

Too Much Capacity,

Scott

About Scott

I grew up near Houston, TX and served in the U. S. Coast Guard for over 30 years. I have an electronics background and continue to work in the electronics engineering field. I taught myself the basics about automotive systems as well as how to perform some of my own maintenance (cars and bicycles). I became involved with Amateur Radio and computers in 1995. The explosion of technology has made my job and several of my hobbies quite interesting. My hobbies include Volkswagens, bicycling, photography, electronics, amateur radio, web management, and reptiles. Visit my websites to learn more.
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