Factory vs Aftermarket roof rack

I’m buying a new car this week (first actually “new” one in 20 years) and would appreciate feedback on whether to drop $300 or so on the factory side rails. The car is a 2015 Mazda CX5 and it has the dumb short aerodynamic ones that click into a slotted groove along the roofline. I’ve got the Thule 450 clamps and crossbars on my Subaru now, which Thule says will fit that factory bar. I have always done that, never had a Thule tower set on any car. Would be about $300 to $400 for Thule towers, I think.

Would towers be better than the 450’s on factory rails? I have hauled kayaks and canoes tens of thousands of highway miles using 450’s on factory racks on a Volvo 850, a Hyundai Santa Fe and a Subaru Outback with no problems.

There are also aftermarket side rails for the CX5 for sale for $108 a pair on Ebay which I could install myself. Wondering if they would be reliable. Anybody have any suggestions on the best way to go? I’m not going to risk safety and several grand$ worth of kayaks to save a couple hundred bucks if that’s not a feasible option.

I would first try to use the factory
rails, and see if the arrangement seems secure for long trips. Then (although I’ve often been a tower guy, mounting them on Accords), I might go straight to your third alternative, the substitute rails. Towers are unavoidably tricky, though they can be less so if the crossbars are strutted to each other or to something else solid.

Obviously the first step depends greatly on the solidity of whatever rails Mazda has handed you. Some rails, like those on my erstwhile Outback, are rock solid. Some are just cheesy.

Weight capacity
According to my Dealer Fit Guide the 450 / Factory Rail option will allow for a 165lb. carry capacity with a 32" bar spread whereas the naked metal roof 460 Foot option is a 130lb. capacity with a 28" bar spread.

Thule 450 Crossroad = Winner!

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY



Could one have one bar on the factory
rails and the other (forward) bar on towers, with shimming to equalize height?

slotted grooves ?
If you have slotted grooves in the roof, Before you buy anything, check with a boat dealer about quick attach pads. I have Thule tracks bolted to the roof of my truck with Yakama pads for quick mount towers. With the cross bars and saddles fixed to the towers, I can unlock the rack, pull out a bracket on each end, and have the rack off in less than 2 minutes, about 3 to put it back on. That just leaves a couple bumps on each side of the roof when I am not hauling a boat.

An excellent choice
Mazda has been putting out some very nice cars since they split with Ford. I’d probably consider the cx5 if I wasn’t such a wuss about minivans and crossovers. Utility that looks good.

I’m with ez water, try the factory bars first…

dissenting opinion

– Last Updated: Mar-31-15 2:21 PM EST –

I paid $250 for Subaru factory crossbars for my 2010 Forester and NEVER use them.

Instead, I use 50" aftermarket bars from Malone that allow me the width to have two kayaks side-by-side, or single kayak with SUPs on the other half. Factory racks don't provide the width I need for multiple watercraft.

With factory bars, you'll need J cradles or stackers to carry multiple yaks.

Another view
I bought a new 2014 Suburu Forester last year and purposely hunted around for one with out the factory racks.

Then I just popped the little tabs out of the roof and installed Yakama landing pads with Yakama 78" cross bars bolted right to the top frame of the car.

I don’t trust factory racks or factory cross bars.

jack L

never use factory cross bars
I would never trust factory cross rails. I have them on the current Subaru but the Thule rack sits above on the 450 clamps.

Pretty stoked about the Mazda – getting the front wheel drive 6-speed (same gearbox as the sporty Miata) that gets 26/35 MPG, best in its class. Roof line is more level than other similar makes I looked at. Boats will sit at a bit of an angle but not too bad – never have liked how low the bows sit above the Subaru hood anyway.

By “slot” in the roof for the factory bar, it is just a recessed groove that is filled in with a black plastic strip with what look to be pry-outs for the fasteners for the rack. I will ask the dealer to let me see how the factory rails are attached which will give me some feel for how much I might trust them. Though non of my boats are terribly heavy (20 lbs to a maximum of 46) the highway wind loads concern me. I forgot to feel around under the bumpers for tie off points. Something to check for tomorrow when I pick it up.

one or the other
If I’ve already paid $250 for the factory rails, no point in buying the $108 dollar aftermarkets. Was just considering them as a substitute up front. Car has no rails on it now – they only ship them with the rails as part of a “premium” package with a bunch of other crap I would not use for $1000. So I have to pay for something one way or another.

Ford woes
Yeah, Ford seems to be anathema in its foreign car partnerships. I used to love Volvo wagons but would not touch a post-Ford version with a ten foot pole. But I guess now Volvo has ditched Ford, now if they would only reissue the 1992 740 wagon I would be in heaven…

Somebody suggested I look at new Ford wagons, but the nearest dealer has such a bad reputation that was not even considered.

2 stools
I split the difference on this. On my 2007 ford focus wagon, I installed a front yakama tower rack(which I trust) and use the OEM roof rack at the rear to attach yakama rack. The rear has less sress, and this makes a nice long rack span.


how are they attached?
Having never used the Yakima or Thule risers, how do they attach to the vehicle?

to be clear
Guess I was not clear – the car comes with no lateral side rails (which all my previous cars have had.) I have to pay $250 to get side rails (on which to mount the Thule 450 crossbar clamps.) No experience with aftermarket non-rail attached feet/towers. Don’t know how they work.

They have custom clips that pull them
down by gripping the door aperture. Surprisingly secure, though as I said earlier, a single bar on towers at the front would be more secure if strutted to the rear bar or to something else solid like the rails.

factory rails, I guess
Guess I will bite the bullet and buy the darned factory rails. They are $325 installed, quite a rip off for a couple 4’ strips of chromed steel.

I do have the dealership in suspense over whether I will finance with them or with my credit union. I may tell them that I will finance with them IF they throw in the roof rack free. They stand to make $1500 off me in financing so that might get the deal done.

The credit union is actually just a fraction higher, and I admit I am having an ethical dilemma about going with the dealer – would rather have my interest payments going to a non-profit entity that aids its local members and contributes to the community than a bloated national auto financing service. I think I would only end up paying about $300 more to the credit union over 5 years. So, is it worth $5 more in my payment each month to support my credit union? Though the dealer will throw in an additional $500 up front if I finance with them. $800 in savings is kind of harder to walk away from. Equal to a whole percent off the loan, actually.

Gawd, I hate buying new cars. I would rather deal with the strangoids who you meet while buying used from owners through Craigslist than have to deal with all the BS and posturing and paperwork from even a decent car dealer.

my subaru factory bars were rock solid
And it only took a set of stackers to carry multiple boats. But my subaru wa an 02, efore they cheaped out on the rails.

that mazda 4 cylinder is a gem
I’m rooting for them, they seem to be doing better after the split.

Get proline tracks
Proline tracks screw right onto the roof and take Yakima ot Thule quick release landing pads. The Yakima ones are very easy on and off and very good. I’ve done about four different cars with this method and have moved the yakima racks from car to car.

went with the factory rails
Got them to throw in the rails with the deal (essentially free.) Just brought the new car home this afternoon. But I plan to take it back to the dealer Friday with some concerns. It is not as smooth running as I would expect a new car to be. It has a subtle but annoying high frequency vibration you can feel through the floor and your feet while driving – don’t know if it is the car or the lousy Yokohama tires that came on it. Also noticed that it has 330 miles on it and the brakes chatter (I am NOT a heavy foot on the brakes) – wondering if it got beat as a demo or dealer personal car. I have never had a new car come with more than 10 to 50 miles on it. As they had to transfer this from a dealer 12 miles away I had not gotten to drive this exact unit before paying for it – stupid of me, I know.

The radio has a buzz in it too. Was psyched to love the new car and now I’m kind of bummed about these issues.