How to install a bike rack on SUV | Toyota, Honda, or Subaru

Published by Bike Scientist on

We often come across questions like how to install a bike rack on SUV or how to assemble the racks that come in a lot of parts. Most of the time the user manuals provided by the manufacturers are not easy to grasp. Either the pictures are not descriptive or all the units are not mentioned. 

In this article, we will take you through the step-by-step guides for installing a bike rack on the trunk, hitch, and roof of your SUV. For convenience, we have picked three racks randomly to explain their setup and installation on an SUV. The article is specifically helpful for SUVs such as the Toyota RAV-4, the Toyota Highlander, or the Subaru SUVs

How to install a bike rack on SUV that is trunk mounted?

Installing a bike rack on the trunk is very easy as these bike racks usually come in one unit and are mounted on the rear of SUVs with integrated straps. Let’s look into the step-by-step installation of Saris Bones EX. 

Step 1: Open the rack to set it up according to your SUV

Saris Bones Ex, a 3 bike rack for SUV no hitch, comes in a folded compact shape as shown in the figure below. It has an aluminum spline, and all the arms and feet are hanging from it. This structure must be set open for the installation and loading of bikes. 

If you want to know how to install a bike rack on SUV, firstly you have to turn the knobs counterclockwise on the rack arms one by one. This would let you slide them on the aluminum spline to position them far enough according to the top tube of your bike. Once you have placed the arms in the right position, turn the knobs clockwise for fixing the arms in position. Similarly, you will have to loosen the legs by turning the knobs, position them upwards according to the dimensions of your SUV, and then fasten the knobs again to fix the legs in that position as shown below. 

Step 2: Position the rack on SUV

Once you have set up the trunk bike rack, it is ready to be placed on the SUV and that is when you move to the second step of how to install a bike rack on SUV. Before installing a bike rack on the trunk or hatch, clean the rear surface of the SUV and the feet of the bike rack. The lower rack feet usually go on the bumper but for SUVs, the Saris fit guide recommends placement of lower feet on the license plate well. On the other hand, the upper feet should be placed around the center of the rear window. Also, make sure the rack arms are positioned appropriately. The last cradle i.e., the farthest from the car, should be the highest as compared to others as shown in the figure below. 

Step 3: Fasten the rack on your SUV

For securing the rack on the back of your SUV, attach the straps to the proper location. There are six straps, two are labeled upper, two are labeled side, and two lower. For SUVs, the upper straps usually go through the channels of the upper arms of the rack. In this way, if you have spoilers there will not be much pressure on the rear spoiler. Once you have fastened all the straps, the excess straps can be tied with the help of velcro so they do not hang behind. 

And with that, your trunk bike rack would be ready to carry bikes. Make sure you load the heaviest bikes closest to the SUV. 

Looking for a trunk bike rack for your SUV? Read the full review

How to install a hitch mount bike rack on SUV?

Installing a bike rack through a hitch requires a receiver hitch for installation on SUVs. Ensure you have the 2″ or the 1 1 4″ hitch mount bike racks installed on your vehicle before moving on to installing the bike rack. Most of the bike racks require assembly before installation. In this section, you will go through a step-by-step guide to the installation of hitch bike racks such as Kuat Sherpa 2.0. 

Step 1: Assemble the rack 

All the parts of the rack come enclosed in a box. Upon opening, you will find inner and outer tray assemblies, a hitch assembly, a foot lever, a cable lock, a rare tray mount, two threaded rods, and a bag containing tools required for installation. The tools include two different size bolts, a hex key, a hitch pin that also works as a hex key, a wrench, a hitch pin lock, a nut and washers, and a bunch of keys. It is important to understand these parts if you want to know how to install a bike rack on SUV. 

First, remove the parts except for the hitch assembly. Place the front tray assembly on the front side of the hitch assembly, meanwhile, you have to make sure that the two holes on the front tray align with the holes on the hitch assembly. Similarly, you would pick up the inner tray and align it with the holes on the back side of the hitch assembly as shown in the picture below.  

It is recommended that before installing a bike rack, perform all the assembly steps by keeping the hitch assembly in the box. Once you have positioned both tray assemblies, take the threaded bolts with washers in the end, and pass them through the holes in the rear tray mount as shown in the picture below. After that, you will have to pass the bolts through the inner tray and hitch assembly so that you can see the bolts reach the holes of the front tray. Next, you will secure the front tray hole side with the small front tray steel plate. 

This setup will not be secure unless you bolt the parts and for that, you can use the hitch pin which has a hex pin structure on one end. Tighten both bolts equally on the inner tray and then insert a bolt through the lower holes as shown in the picture below. Add washers and a nut and tighten by using the wrench.  

The last part of the assembly is the foot lever. For inserting it you will have to turn the rack upside down, find a hex fitting on the hitch assembly, and secure it in place with a bolt and hex key as shown below. 

Step 2: Install the rack into the hitch receiver 

Concerned about how to install a bike rack on SUV via a hitch receiver? Hitch bike racks can be easily mounted into the hitch receiver of SUVs. In the case of Sherpa, we recommend you adjust the hitch base to 90 degrees from the trays so installing a bike rack in the receiver would get easier. Place the hitch on the receiver and push it a little until the rack is stable. Take the hitch bolt and insert it into the hitch pin and then you can conveniently slide the rack into the receiver. Finally, you can tighten the bolt but that’s not the only security mechanism for the safety of the rack because the package also includes a hitch pin. You can simply snap it on the bolt and then lock it with the keys included. 

Step 3: Fold out the rack to load the bikes

Use the foot pedal to lower the trays and load a bike on the inner tray first and then load the second one on the outer tray. Turn the ratcheting arm of the inner tray and extend it according to the wheel size of the bike. Uncover the wheel cradle and place the front wheel on it. The rear wheel goes on the second wheel cradle that is pivoting and this makes it easier to accommodate different wheels. 

By keeping one hand on the bike, pick the ratcheting arm with your other hand, adjust it according to the wheel and position its hook closer to the bike frame but on the wheel. Lastly, secure the rear wheel with the help of the rear wheel strap and that is the solution to how to install a bike rack on SUV. You can also lock the bikes on the rack after installing a bike rack, thanks to the included cable lock. You just have to loop that cable around the bike frames and then secure it into the lock present on the outer tray. This can be unlocked with the same key that was used to lock the hitch pin. 

Looking for a hitch bike rack for your SUV? Read the full review. 

How to install a roof mount bike rack on SUV?

Roof mount bike racks require some time for assembly and installation. In this section, you will find step-by-step instructions for installing the Thule Upride roof mount rack. 

Step 1: Initial assembly of the rack 

Roof bike racks usually come with many parts that need to be assembled before installing a bike rack. You can see the parts that come enclosed in the Thule Upride package in the picture below. For your ease, we have labeled all the components.  

So if you are wondering how to install a bike rack on SUV, the first thing you need to do is to find the fastener (a) and fit it on the back strap of the rack as shown in the picture below. Then take the bracket (b) and install it on the back plate of the rack with the help of screw (c) and hex key (d). 

Once you have done that, take the three pins (e) and put them through the three fasteners (f,g,h) as shown in the picture below. The shorter fastener (f) is for the back side of the rack while the other two (g and h) are for the front side. One front-side fastener has a round hole (h) and this one will be used to install the lock. 

Step 2: Installation of the rack on the roof of your SUV

At this point, place the rack on the car roof rails, and to fix it in place you will need the three brackets (i) and the fasteners that you prepared earlier. If you are a first-time user of a roof rack wanting to know how to install a bike rack on an SUV, you should first make sure that your SUV has roof rails or crossbars. If it does not have factory-installed rails, you can get them separately. Then at the points shown in the picture below, slide down the brackets, thread the T bolts (j and k) through the brackets and screw them on the fastener. The shorter bolt (j) goes on the back side of the rack along with the shorter fastener (f) while the longer bolts (k) are for the front side of the rack and they go along the larger fasteners (g and h). 

Step 3: Prepare it for loading the bike

After installing a bike rack, for mounting your bike you will have to adjust the ratcheting tire holder. Pick up the bike, place it on the rack, pull up the front tire support until it clicks, and tighten the back wheel straps.

Looking for a roof bike rack for your SUV? Read reviews

FAQs for how to install a bike rack on an SUV

How to install Thule bike rack on SUV?

Installation of Thule bike rack on SUV depends on the type of rack and its mounting style. If you want to install a Thule trunk bike rack, you would have to unfold it, position it on the back side of your SUV, and then fasten the straps. While in the case of a hitch bike rack from Thule, you would have to assemble it according to the user manual and then insert it into the hitch receiver on your SUV. 

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Bike Scientist

S Chaudhry is the founder and the first writer for BikesRacks. He covers almost all the bike reviews after doing a lot of secondary and primary (hands on) research on the products. Apart from that he is the author of a number of how to do articles as well on the website. He is an avid road bike cyclists who is dealing in a lot of areas related to biking. Currently he has gained experience fixing bikes to retailing accessories related to them as well. His eventual goal is to build an authority site on cycling and also become a profession bike fitter.