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Pack your car for safe driving on a road trip.
Make it safe. Make it easy. Make it fun.

There are a lot of things to balance when heading out for a road trip. It’s easy to leave packing until the last possible minute. But loading up the wrong way could put you and your loved ones at risk. Make time to pack and boost driving safety with these simple guidelines.

Keep driving safety first

Turns out, your Dad was right. There really is a “right way” to pack a car. Believe it or not, every vehicle has a load capacity. (Between 900 and 1,600 pounds for most SUVs.)1 Excess baggage affects vehicle safety as well as passenger comfort.

Be sure all passengers always use seat belts and age-appropriate car or booster seats. While you’re thinking safety, make yourself a vehicle safety checklist. Inspect tire pressure and make sure there’s plenty of tread. This is no time to head out on tires that have seen better days. A loaded car is heavier than usual and requires more time for braking.

How to pack a car

Start by loading the largest and heaviest items, keeping most of the weight towards the center of the car. This distributes the load more evenly over both front and back wheels, allowing the fully loaded car to handle as normally as possible.

Loading the heaviest items on the floor also keeps the overall center of gravity lower. If you have to stop suddenly or have an accident, this will help reduce the chance of a rollover.

Make sure items are secure. The last thing the driver needs is a beach ball in the face. (Definitely not the way you want to start a road trip.)

Need extra room?

Car top carriers can hold an additional 75 to 250 pounds.2 When using one, brake in plenty of time to avoid any possible shifting. The extra weight up high may affect handling.

Plan ahead for easier packing and easier travel

Plan in advance who will sit where. This will affect comfort levels, communication and safety. It’s safest for children to ride in the back. Animals should travel in a crate on the back seat or third row of seats if the car is a wagon, van or SUV.3

Add the extras that make the trip fun

Make stuff easy for everyone to reach. It’s safer than handing things back and forth between seats. Have a consistent place for everything during the trip so kids and adults can find what they need.

The main console between the front seats is a good place for essentials. Stash electronic chargers, tissues (which can double as toilet paper), wet wipes, a flashlight and car safety items. Store a simple first aid kit, bug spray and sunscreen in a car door pocket within easy reach.

Behind the forward headrests is a good place for DVD player screens. Many vehicles now have brackets there to hold tablets.

Give each kid a bag for personal stuff and don’t expect them to share, especially as the hours wear on. It’s easier to keep the peace and ensure safe driving if the back seat doesn’t become a battleground. Directly behind the front seat console pack a cooler, blankets and a garbage bag.4

Tip: Bags on the seat between kids define private space and provide a little bit of a bickering barrier.

Fun and games

Just like adults, kids get bored on long road trips. Games, books and magazines, tablets, DVDs and satellite radio may rank among your most important car safety items. Listening to an audio book together is another way to pass the miles.

Some games can engage everyone and become memorable family experiences. “Mad Libs” is a perennial favorite.5 Little ones like “I Spy.” Be careful of “Punch Buggy” or backseat violence might erupt..

Game choices are virtually endless. Find your best choices among Spot It! Games and Take N Play Anywhere games. Also, check out 15 Easy to Pack Games for Any Family Trip.6

Keep food within easy reach

Everyone’s happier when not thirsty or hungry. Plus, having snacks on board means fewer expensive stops at restaurants and less fidgeting.

Fill a soft-sided cooler with bottled water, snacks and treats. Cheese sticks, crackers and pretzels, fresh fruit, granola bars and nuts, and simple sandwiches can all work double duty as a snack or light meal. Better yet, give everyone a refillable water bottle.7

If space allows, take along folding chairs and a small table. You’ll be ready for impromptu meals when the mood strikes.

Learn More

How to Pack a Car Safely (Travelers.com)

Sources

1 Keys to Smart Car Packing (ConsumerReports.org)

2 Five Tips for Packing the Car for a Road Trip (Adventure.HowStuffWorks.com)

Traveling with Pets (Roadtripamerica.com)

4 How to Pack Your Car for A Roadtrip (Stuffedsuitcase.com)

5 Kids Travel Bag Activities A to Z Packing Tips (Stuffedsuitcase.com)

6 15 Games for Family Travel (Stuffedsuitcase.com)

7 Food Ideas for Road Trip Power Snacking (Vacation-Lists.com)

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