Survival Gear Review: Rooftop Cargo Box

A review of the Yakima Skybox and Thule Atlantis 2100

In any type of disaster situation, there is a chance that you will be forced to bug out.  If you end up bugging out, you will want to take as much food and supplies as your car or truck will carry.  An option for improving your carrying capacity is the Rooftop Cargo Box. 

Overview:

These boxes provide several advantages for your bug out vehicle over the traditional “strap stuff to the roof” option.  The 1st thule-yakima-cargo-box-comparisonadvantage being that these boxes are weather proof.  The contents of your box are protected from rain, snow, sleet, and the sun.  The 2nd advantage is your contents are somewhat safe from thieves.  In a SHTF situation, if you have to leave your vehicle unattended for a period of time, these boxes provide an extra level of security over the back seat of your SUV or Truck.  While the trunk of a car would probably provide the best place for your gear, if you own an SUV or a Truck, these locked hard plastic boxes will deter a “smash and grab” of your gear and supplies.  If someone really wants to get in the box and they have time and tools, the box will not hold them back.  The 3rd  advantage to using these boxes is that they are aerodynamic.  While this is not a huge advantage, in a SHTF scenario every mile per gallon will count and with their sleek design, wind drag is reduced verses a traditional cargo bag on top of your car.  The 4th advantage to these boxes is that they are capable of opening on either side of the vehicle.  This is a nice feature that makes accessing equipment quick and easy for both sides of the car or truck.  The 5th advantage is that they hold a lot of gear!!!  Looks can be deceiving, these boxes look long and thin but at 21 cubic feet of storage, I have been able to pack 5 suitcases in my cargo box for road trips.

I have actually owned both brands of these boxes so I feel that I am uniquely qualified to review both of them.  I owned the Yakima Skybox 21 a few years ago and I now own the Thule Atlantis 2100.  These are the larger versions of the rooftop cargo boxes made by both of the respective companies.  They both add about 21 cubic square feet of cargo space to your vehicle.

My experience with the Yakima Skybox 21:

The overall useability of the Yakima Skybox was excellent.  Yakima has locking crossbars and a system where you could get the same yakima cargo box reviewkey for all of your locks (box & the cross bars).  The clamps that attach the skybox to the cross bars are very robust and easy to operate from inside the box.  I took the Yakima box on many camping trips and snowboarding excursions in the Northwestern United States and never had one problem with my gear getting exposed to the elements prior to me opening the box.  I really enjoyed using the Yakima box and felt it was a quality product.  The one painful experience I had with the Yakima Skybox was with a large sticker they put on the side of the box.  I am not sure what the deal was with this sticker but I tried every substance known to man to remove this sticker and ended up scratching up the side of the box.  I took the box back to REI and asked them if they could remove the sticker.  They took the box in the back and after an hour they came back and offered to give me my money back because they could not get the sticker off either.  I have never seen anything like it.  It seemed like the sticker was baked on to the side of the box.  They told me that they would report it to the Yakima rep and see if it was an ongoing issue.  I have not heard of anyone else having that same problem so it was probably either corrected or maybe I got a weird sticker.  Either way, I was irritated with the time I wasted trying to get it off and decided to get my money back go with another product.

My experience with Thule Atlantis 2100:

After my sticker experience with Yakima I decided to go with the Thule Atlantis 2100.  I have to say that I have been less thanthule rooftop cargo box review impressed with the Thule rooftop cargo box.  I have had a number of issues that may or may not be my fault but I expect my gear to be tough enough to with stand a few bumps and bruises.   The first issue I had was that I broke the key off in one side of my Thule box, so now I can only access gear from one side of the box and I only have one key.  I also dropped the box once while trying to put it on my SUV and one of the clamps broke that attaches to the cross bar.  I feel that the clamping system on the Yakima is superior to the Thule system which I feel is more fragile.  The next issue I had was with the “Effortless Opening System” on the Thule.  This is a system inside the box that assists you in opening the box and holds it open while you load your gear.  I can’t remember how I broke this system, but it broke and now have to use a 2 x 4 board to prop open my box.  Other people may have had a better experience than me with their Thule box and I will admit that I am tougher than most on my gear since I spend a lot of time in the mountains camping, hiking and snowboarding.  As for the quality of other Thule products, I also own a Thule trailer hitch bike rack for my mountain bike which has been great, no complaints.

Summary:

These boxes can provide a ton of extra secure storage space for a SHTF event.  They are light weight and can be stored in a variety of rooftop cargo box reviewplaces.  They also come in handy for vacations, camping trips, moving, skiing and hauling items around that you don’t want in your car/suv.  These boxes may be the perfect solution for city dwellers who own smaller cars and are forced to flee with limited room for gear and supplies.

The Rooftop Cargo Box Review:

Pro’s

Element protection of your gear
21 cubic square ft of added cargo space
Aerodynamic
Modest security for your gear
Light weight and durable
They come in different sizes to suit your car and needs
Quick loading, you can literally throw things in

Con’s

Expensive ($200 to $600)
The larger boxes can be awkward to mount by yourself
If overloaded they can make your vehicle top heavy (rollover danger)
Reduced fuel efficiency


Photos by:
SurvivalCache Team
RackOutfitters

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Lee May 21, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I had to purchase something for rooftop cargo recently for a family vacation. We purchased the soft rooftop bag called Keeper 07203 from Amazon.com. I had my doubts about it at first, but it really paid off. It was only $35, so well worth the money and held three full size roller bags, two small suitcases and more.

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TINDERWOLF May 21, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Good article. I have have often wondered about getting something like this for my jeep…But overall I would rather have a four door truck with a topper. I can see how these would be good for city folk.

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2ndafe May 23, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I have the Yakima Skybox Pro 21. I've mount it to the stock crossbars on my '07 4Runner V8 Sport.

You can mount a roof rack with crossbars to a pickup cap (topper, whatever) and then mount the skybox to that. This will give you all kinds of protected storage space.

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Chefbear58 May 21, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Like TINDERWOLF, I to drive a JEEP, a Wrangler to be specific. I love my JEEP, but it doesn't have a monstrous amount of room for gear/supplies. For example, when I head to "deer camp" in the fall, there is barely enough space for one of my friends, both of our hunting gear, we usually take a few weapons each (usually a rifle, shotgun, bow and pistol or two each), food/water/beer and myself. I have a soft-top, so a roof-rack is not really an option for me. I was considering getting one of the hitch-mounted racks, with an all-weather box bolted down to it, but I haven't really heard/read anyone's opinions of them. I see the hitch-mounted racks every now-and-then, especially when I go surf fishing in VA Beach (folks usually have a cooler mounted to them), but again I haven't really heard anything positive/negative about them. They aren't cheap, so I would like to hear some opinions before I invest the $200+ to get one… Does anyone have a hitch-mounted rack? OR Does anyone have another idea of how to expand my JEEP's carrying capacity (as on-the-cheap as possible)? Thanks guys!

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CaptBart May 22, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Chefbear58,
I've used a 'Hitchpacker' on my Suburban to good effect. Carries about 300 lbs easily. Only issue is to remember I'm a tad longer than usual. Since it has no sides everything has to be properly secured but it is extra space. You might consider the Army's solution of a 3/4 ton trailer for the Jeep. It worked very well for us in Germany.

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Chefbear58 May 22, 2011 at 7:50 pm

I was considering a trailer, but the problem I keep running onto with the idea is that it would severely diminish my JEEP's off-road capability having one tethered to the back. If I could find one with better ground-clearance, it might help; but then I would have to sacrifice having larger, heavier tires, which (at least in my mind) could rob my vehicle of power, and if they start caking mud, gravel or whatever, they could slow in their rotation and become no better than just having big, odd-shaped stones in their place… In my mind there just doesn't seem to be a good option for a trailer, while trying to maintain my mobility (which is kinda the whole point behind having a JEEP.. well besides how much fun it is to drive with the top down… and my girl loves it!)

Sorry if my logic seems "off" the last few days, I am on some pretty serious meds (antibiotic, pain meds, and about 5 others) which seem to be "fogging" my thought process!

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CaptBart May 23, 2011 at 9:03 am

Chefbear58,
I do understand pain meds. I hope your finals are over. I agree with your comments about civilian trailers. You might take a look at military surplus trailers, made for the jeep and should not reduce the off road capability very much. We never had a problem with them in Germany when I was there but that was three decades ago so I don't know the current status. I have seen trailers made from pickup beds and rear axle that sit high on 20 inch tires but I don't know how that would effect a jeep. I trust you will be well soon.

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Rescue7 May 23, 2011 at 10:28 am

Hey Chef. I have a hitch rack. It’s great for carrying cargo boxes, bleeding animals, fuel cans, trash, and firewood. To me the biggest benefit beyond the 500 lb capacity is that the messy and stinky stuff you don’t want in or on your vehicle stays outside. You can also use it around the camp as a table or bench. Mine came with a bike rack attachment. I saw one with Adirondack chairs mounted on it… Now that’s camping. I got mine for $100 w/ shipping.

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BamaMan May 24, 2011 at 8:16 am

I have a cargo basket that hooks into my trailer hitch. I mainly use it for taking deer to the processor. They are easy to store in your garage and not to heavy considering they usually hold 300 lbs and up.

I have not used mine for lugage or anything of value but more for things that would get my SUV dirty or smell bad.

I would recommend a very good system of tie down and lock down for anything not on the roof since people will steal anything.

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Chefbear58 May 25, 2011 at 1:11 am

I was thinking of attaching a metal tool-box to the hitch-rack, to provide some measure of security. I was thinking of bolting it down, with the bolt-heads inside the tool-box, and lock-tight to make it a little harder to loosen the bolts. I have a box that I used to have bolted into the bed of my old truck that I would likely use. I used to keep my emergency gear in there (DC powered air-pump, jumper cables, chain/tow rope/strap, tie-downs, entrenching tool, folding short-handle pick, short-handle axe, flashlights, first aid kit, etc.), but I was thinking of the kind that look like a shelf rather than the basket style ones. I have seen people use both for hauling deer home/check-station, they seem to work pretty well, but I have noticed that they do tend to strap anything in there down like it might get up and run away! I imagine the straps/tie-downs would be especially necessary if you were hauling light-weight or unusual shaped (in comparison to the square/rectangle basket/shelf) items.

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BamaMan May 25, 2011 at 10:44 am

I would not recomend the ones that are flat with no sides. You want at least 4-6 inch high sides to keep things from sliding off, otherwise you will need to do a really good job of tying things down. Mine has a rail that runs the perimiter and about six inches high. All I have to do in make sure it won't bounce off.

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Tim Bowman May 24, 2011 at 11:18 am

I went with the Jeep Unlimited w/ hardtop back before they went Barbie on us with the POS 4 door! With the back seat removed, there really is a ton of space that can be used. I also found an ATV reciever mounted basket that came with two male recievers, one straight and one with a slight upward angle to relieve some of the ground clearance issues. Works great for up to 100 lbs. The only roof style or over the roof system I would trust with the Jeep tops have a skeletal frame and are EXPENSIVE. However with your rag top, they would give you so many options and look cool too. All you'd need then is a Hatari paint job!

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Tim Bowman May 24, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Try this websit for some ideas on added cargo on your jeep. http://www.quadratec.com

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Chefbear58 May 25, 2011 at 1:15 am

Thanks Tim, I am gonna check-out that link in the morning. I am kinda worried about trying any roof rack, because I have seen them destroy a sof-top (caused wer spots in it… Have you seen the price of a new soft-top?! CRAZY!) and because I keep my top down almost any time it's not raining, including winter… Have you seen any that let you retain the use of the sunroof in the soft-top JEEPS?

I have to agree with you on the new 4-door version of the Wrangler, they look TERRIBLE! To me they look like the bastard-child of a Wrangler and a H3! Personally I drive an '09 Wrangler X Sport, basically a standard JEEP with a few options that I liked, but not a whole lot of the "bells & whistles" they are throwing into them for some reason these days… I love my JEEP!

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badvoodoodaddy May 21, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Sounds like a great idea. I have a truck so I can't put one on top of that but it is still a great idea. I know these are used by a lot of people here in Utah for getting extra room for camping stuff and for vacation too.

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T.Rapier May 22, 2011 at 12:25 am

I had to chuckle when I saw this article , I used to live in Maine and every summer everybody scatters to the 4 winds for the outdoors every chance they get . No joke , every third vehicle on the road has one of these on it . Mainers and roof boxes go together like Canadians and duct tape . I even saw a beat up old VW beetle with one on it . They are handy and up there , the weather there changes quickly .

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Chefbear58 May 22, 2011 at 12:57 am

I did forget to mention that a couple years ago one of my buddies modified one of those roof-top cargo-boxes into a tent that would fold down from the box. I am not quite sure what all he did to achieve this, but I know that he purchased a couple old military surplus canvas tents and broke them down into giant sheets of canvas. He then sewed the pieces back together, and rigged support poles out of small diameter (maybe 1/2" schedule 40?) PVC pipe and 2×2" boards, which would secure to the canvas by putting pins on the end of the poles through "grommets" which were sewn into the canvas, the pins were held onto the canvas walls/ceiling through the use of large cotter-pins. When he had it set-up, the passenger side of his Nissan X-terra was the back wall of his tent, and in the open portion of the tent he could fit 4 cots with a card table in the center. If the weather wasn't to bad, you could pull up one of the tents walls (usually the right side), and extend it to cover the cooking station from the sun/light rain. It was a pretty ingenious and cheap system that he came up with, because you could easily access the passenger-side doors of the vehicle and with the right wall extended and propped-up you could get into the hatch without getting wet (as long as it wasn't raining to hard), it could sleep 4 people comfortably with room to spare, had plenty of room for the card table in the middle for everyone to eat at; On a fishing trip at the beach the temperatures got over 105F, we figured out that if you open the doors and turn on the A/C in the truck you could keep the tent nice and cool, but even better than all of those reasons why it was an ingenious creation was the fact that the basic tent only cost about $200 (for the USED box and materials) and roughly 20 hours of work to put it all together! We later installed power-inverters in his truck, so on long "camping" trips we would bring a TV and DVD player. We would usually take his rig down to Sandbridge VA, where you used to be able to camp on the beach… It was pretty awesome having that set-up out there, especially on long trips. It would take about 5-10minutes to set up the tent, and then you could take your time setting up the interior; We eventually even devised a raised-floor system, which was assembled from old shipping pallets that we topped with sheets of plywood which in turn were covered with a roll of old carpet. The flooring system all fit into a small 6'x8' trailer which we also as the kitchen, which would be backed up to the tent so we had everything right there. The boards/pallets/carpet would be stacked into the center of the trailer and strapped into place, around the walls of the trailer we built counters from old stainless steel counters from a closed-down restaurant, we had a sink with running water, and even had an oven, stove, microwave and fridge that were mostly salvaged from an old RV (the fridge was one of the "dorm sized" ones from wal-mart). When it was all said-and-done, the simple pull-out tent that started from the idea of "everything you need for camping in a cargo box", turned into a mobile apartment! The only thing that we couldn't figure out a simple, cheap and ingenious solution for… was a bathroom! We figured out a toilet, but a closed-off shower was a bit more tricky! Eventually we even had a small portable generator which was kept in the trailer to power all of the gadgets, and the TV, video game system (on the rare occasions that we would bring them both), and the fridge/microwave… It was REALLY cool getting to play video games while enjoying a huge gourmet breakfast (courtesy of my skills!), while watching the sunrise over the ocean! I have some awesome memories as a result of the "Frankenstein RV" (as we called it), not just from the camping trips we would take, but all the fun of constructing everything and trying to solve the little problems we came across in the process!

It's a pretty fun, and useful project for anyone who is handy with a sewing machine, power-tools and likes to figure out ingenious solutions to simple problems. I imagine that it could turn almost any sport-utility-vehicle into an effective "bug-out-vehicle" and even serve as a temporary/mobile "bug-out-location", not to mention the fun camping trips you can have with it! If anyone would like more info about this unusual, yet incredibly fun project that my friends and I started a few years ago, I can probably find pictures somewhere, and I have all the dimensions, materials list and a few technical drawings of how we did it.

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CaptBart May 23, 2011 at 7:27 am

Chefbear58,
A great idea but if you're doing something like that, I'd suggest you add a separate battery like the RV's do so that you don't drain your prime mover battery over night or some such. Charge it off of solar panels or the engine when running ( a simple charger circuit can keep things charged without draining the starter battery). The RV's I've rented allowed you to cross strap the RV batteries to the engine battery to start the vehicle with it but you could not run the RV internal DC stuff from the engine battery. That way you always had juice to turn over the engine.

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The Jolly Survivor May 22, 2011 at 4:58 am

I like this idea of these roof top boxes. I didn't know a lot about them before this article.

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LesStroudfan May 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Personally, I have always wondered what are those boxes were whenever I saw them on SUVs or cars. Overall, I believe these container units would be invaluable to have in a survival situation. If I had one of this units, I would keep a larger vehicle survival kit in it so that I would always feel prepared for anything.

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Chefbear58 May 22, 2011 at 8:09 pm

A problem with that idea is that they tend to offer less protection than having the gear/equipment/supplies stashed in your vehicle. It doesn't take much to break the locks on them, a decent screwdriver, a hammer and a motivated criminal can get into them pretty quick! Not to say that it's not a viable option for storing emergency supplies/gear, just that you should be aware and try not to store anything very valuable or that would make a nice "target" for someone with ill-intent (like electronics, firearms, expensive clothing, etc.).

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T.Rapier May 22, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Your correct about that . Also depends on where your at , how much you have to consider theft . In normal , non -SHTF situations …. I mentioned above living in Maine , I wouldn’t worry too much there , …..They are some of the most honest , resourceful people I have ever met in my life , most would rather starve than steal . I miss that . I now live in Arizona ……and you cant trust ANYBODY you dont know , sometimes not even that .

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Chefbear58 May 25, 2011 at 1:27 am

I know exactly what you mean, I have seen the town where I live literally "explode" with growth over the past 10 years. Before it "blew-up", folks wouldn't think twice about leaving their house unlocked, or their keys in the ignition while running into the store… Not anymore!

Actually I know of a case where you can't trust those that you know either… A former good friend of mine (we played football in HS together, he was a Marine, like a brother really), broke into a friends house 2 days ago looking for money, and pain medication (he knew the guy just had shoulder surgery)… This was after he left his own grandmother's house where he "lifted" money out of her purse, his grandfathers service pistol, and whatever pills he could find in her medicine cabinet (anti-depression meds, water retention pills, even cough suppressants!)… FEAKIN' SAD!

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CaptBart May 23, 2011 at 9:07 am

T.Rapier,
Not arguing your point but I wonder if it is the location change or the changing times that you are seeing. I've seen theft go up everywhere and places that were 'safe' no longer are. Maine may be different, I'm told there are places in the 'big sky' country that are like that but with the way the world is changing, I think Regan's advise to 'Trust but verify' is probably a good way to go.

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T.Rapier May 23, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Yes its probably worse now but I would tend to bet that by in large , most likely not too terribly much . People up there always have been on the poor side even in the best of times and backward . Its the transplants and foreigners from 3rd world that were causing a problem in Portland when I left ( 2yrs ago )

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T.Rapier May 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Dont get me started on who we let into the country .

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JimBob May 23, 2011 at 9:37 am

Food for thought – make your own if you have the time. My dad built a watertight but non-lockable one many years ago out of wood, tin, and canvas that fit on top of the family Chevy. This article makes me want to break out the tools and build a lockable watertight one that incorporates the luggage rack on our small SUV. It would never be a featherweight model but it would keep out all the "honest" people that are "curious" about what's in the box. Sounds like it could be a long weekend kind of project once the design is finalized and the materials are purchased. Wouldn't be as pretty and maybe not as aerodynamic as the products mentioned above but just as useful and far more secure.

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CaptBart May 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Not being as pretty might be an advantage. Obviously if you HAD to make your own you probably don't have anything worth my time breaking in for!. Doing your own would give you the chance to add security features to it. It might be a really good thing for what I used to call 'pioneer tools'. Shovels, axe, rope etc. as well as immediate need camping stuff.

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Ben228 May 24, 2011 at 5:24 pm

I tend to agree that the homemade rooftop box might be left more alone the the spiffy commercial box. With alittle planning you could increase the aerodynamic properties of the box. ( angle the front, round corners, taper the box so it was slightly more narrow at the back [like an inch or so]. Additionally you are free to customize it to more suit your needs.

Another option is the off road trailer. I have seen the 3/4 ton jeep trailer on Gov auction sites for less than $150. The problem I run into is the location of the auction is usually something like 5 days of driving (round trip). Most of the ones seen had the canvas covers like the trucks have ie: hoops extending to the height of the top of the HMMWV.

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Chefbear58 May 25, 2011 at 1:36 am

I think the home-made roof-box might be the way to go as well! Depending on the wood you choose to use, you could make it fairly light (i.e. use pine instead of oak). If you wanted to make it more aerodynamic as Ben228 mentioned, you could even make that into a separate box, with a little imagination/skill you could design and build it to suit whatever storage/security needs you can imagine! If you are using wood, you could even beef-up the security by using household dead-bolts… 2-3 of those heavy things on your box, a sheet metal lining and some heavy-duty hinges would make it tough for anybody to get in, even with power-tools!

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Tamia January 16, 2012 at 7:23 pm

My Yakima box …….one of the clamps is broken

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Mike January 10, 2013 at 12:21 pm

These are awesome. You can get a rebadged Thule at Sears for a lot cheaper. They are called the Sears X-Cargo. I got the Sport 20 on a daily deal for $99 and it retails for $229.99.
http://www.sears.com/shc/s/p_10153_12605_02872020…

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manfit September 18, 2013 at 1:58 am

Thanks for the update about the cargo boxes that can indeed be of great help while in the case of an emergency. Besides, it can also be used to hold gear and other necessities for a road trip too, thereby having comfortable vehicle space inside.

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