Vacation Packing 101: How to make your vehicle road-trip ready


Before you stuff your minivan floor to ceiling for a cross-country trip to, say, Mount Rushmore, there are a few things you should think about to make sure you get there in one piece.

Although there are some obvious things you should do to make sure your vehicle is road worthy – check your tire pressure, change your oil, top off your fluids – you may not realize that how you pack for that vacation could affect your car’s ability to drive safely on the road.

Packing too high or too heavy could keep you from steering properly, from spotting cars when changing lanes or from protecting your children in the unfortunate event that you are in a car crash.

So today – instead of chatting about speeding, texting while driving or bringing a lap dog along in the car – here are some pointers for making your vehicle road-trip ready by packing correctly.

Did you know?

  • Packing suitcases and duffle bags higher than the back seat can be dangerous. Not only does it decrease visibility, but it also puts passengers at risk of a serious injury in a collision. While a seat belt may stop you from hitting the windshield at 45 miles per hour, there’s nothing to stop that suitcase from hitting you at that same speed.
  • Poor visibility in vehicles already leads to dozens of children being hit in driveways and parking lots. Estimates by the child advocacy group Kids and Cars, put that number at 50 children a week. Incorrect packing could put you at risk of hitting one of those 50.
  • Plopping too much weight on your vehicle, either on a roof-mounted luggage rack or in the trunk, can affect your driving. It can impair steering, destabilize your vehicle around turns and cause your tires to deteriorate because of excessive heat.

How to protect yourself and others:

Start with the suitcase: Smart packing is the first step to not overloading your vehicle. Be selective about the clothes you bring. Figure out how many changes of clothes, and the kinds of clothes, you will need for the trip. Then stick to that list. Try to pack accessories, such as shoes or belts, that match multiple outfits. Packing tip: You can fit more into a suitcase by rolling your shirts and pants. If you have an extra pair of shoes, stuff your socks inside.

Load heavy items first: Make sure that your heaviest items are placed firmly against the back seat, closest to the floor. During a crash, the weight of these items can be magnified exponentially. Packing them low and tight can decrease their penetrating power.

Think about visibility: Don’t stack your suitcases above the seat line. If you have duffle bags or other soft items, stuff them between heavier objects to better utilize the space. Consider using spaces beneath passenger seats, as well. The better you can distribute your luggage weight, the better gas mileage and better vehicle handling you will have on the road. Word to the wise: Keep items away from the driver’s seat. During an emergency, these objects can slide beneath the driver’s feet and keep the pedals from working properly.

Think about flying objects: Even if your suitcases are stowed safely beneath the seat line, avoid placing objects such as laptops, books and cell phones in places where they could become projectiles during a collision. People are frequently hurt, or killed, by flying objects.

Enjoy your trip: Once you are satisfied that you are safely packed, load the family and enjoy your vacation.

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