How to Pick a Rooftop Car Awning

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What is a Roof Rack Awning?

A Roof Rack Awning is an awning that mounts on to the roof rack on almost any vehicle that has a roof rack. They’re most commonly used on SUVs but also used on trucks, jeeps, and cars.

A Roof Rack Awning is normally used for camping. If you’re camping, the awning extends out from 6′ to 8′ (depending on the model) from your vehicle and gives you a covered area to stay dry during the rain and cool during the sun. Most campers have at some point constructed a village of ‘blue tarps’ hanging from trees to provide some shelter. A roof top awning provides an easier, more reliable, and more convenient way to give you some covered space.

Many people when they’re camping with tents will often use their vehicle as a ‘separate room’. They’ll use their SUV to store supplies, as a changing room, or as a source of power for the kids to play on their iPads. A Roof Rack Awning basically serves as a patio to enter your vehicle, and also keeps dirt and muck from entering your vehicle.

Roof Rack Awning Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Creates a stable covered area to stay dry and cool at the camp site
  • Creates a ‘patio’ extending from your vehicle keeping dirt and muck out
  • Installs relatively easily

Cons

  • You need a roof rack
  • Installation does require some screwing and potentially drilling to your roof rack

How Does it Install?

L bracket for SUV awningA roof rack awning typically installs on roof racks but there are other mounting possibilities as well.

The rack essentially mounts with two little “L” brackets like seen below. You do not want to mount these through the roof of your car or SUV so this is where the roof comes into play. However, if you have a vehicle like a Sprinter Van or Ford Transit there are likely already mounting holes in your roof that you can mount these brackets directly to.

These brackets need to be installed on to your roof rack. Your awning should come with a handful of “T” Bolts which can slide into the channels in your roof rack. If your roof rack does not have any channels then you will need to drill two pilot holes through your roof rack to install the brackets.

If you have a cargo carrier installed, you may simply be able to use “U” brackets (included with many awnings) to secure the brackets. See below.


Once you have the two “L” brackets installed mounting is extremely easy and simply requires you to mount the awning to the “L” brackets with the included hardware.

What to Look For?

There’s several features you should look for when buying an awning:

  • Size – width and length
  • Material type
  • Does it include mounting hardware?

There’s not a lot of magic that goes into a car awning. They are all constructed nearly the same way.  The big differentiators are in the material type, size, and whether hardware is included or not. Every awning I have seen, no matter the price, rolls out manually opposed to rolling in via spring mechanism like you may have seen in many RV awnings.

The first thing to look at is the size of the awning. Every awning will give you both the length and the width. Generally the width refers to the width along the vehicle but be careful as some company’s may consider width to be length and vice versa.

The second thing to look at is what the material type of the fabric on the awning is. Almost all awnings will be rated in thickness according to “denier”. The larger the number before the word denier the thicker the fabric. 500-600 Denier Fabric is normal and anything below this is quite thin and should be avoided.

Finally, not all of the car awnings available include mounting hardware. Make sure that the awning you purchase included, at a minimum, the “L” brackets and “T” bolts. I have seen models of the ARB that do not include these and need to be purchased separately.

Accessories

  • Side walls
  • Mosquito net enclosures
  • Tent enclosures

There’s a number of accessories you can purchase for your awning as well which basically either extend the living space under your awning or enclose it.

The most popular accessory is a side wall like you see in the photo above. A sidewall will protect you better from the sun and also give you more privacy.

You can also enclose your awning with either a mosquito net enclosure or with full on side-walls to make it resemble the functionality of a tent. These enclosures are a very nice add-on but often cost more than the awning itself.