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loading your car safely

Packing up for a trip? Don't overload it.

How to pack safely – reducing risk to yourself, your passengers and others on the road

Whether you're taking a student to university, visiting a DIY store or going on holiday, packing a lot into a small space can be a challenge.

Stuff sliding around or tipping when you brake or turn can be dangerously distracting:

  • A bag or plant wedged into a rear foot-well will be more secure than loose in an otherwise empty boot.
  • Use empty boxes or plastic crates in the boot for smaller items or shopping bags
  • Keep the parcel shelf clear. Loose items will fly forwards in a crash and could seriously injure someone in the car.
  • Keep the front foot-wells clear.

Motorway queue

Keep larger or heavier things low down

Packing’s easier if you put bigger things in first and then pack smaller items around.

  • Heavier stuff first keeps the centre of gravity lower too which is better for handling.
  • Push heavy items like wine or DIY materials tight up against the back of the rear seat. They’re less likely to burst through in a crash.

Try to keep a clear view to the rear by not packing above the line of the seat backs.

If you’re tight on space think about using a roof-rack or roof-box. These are very useful for carrying lighter but bulky items like bedding and will leave more room inside the car.


If you have to fold seats to carry a large or awkward load, leave passengers and collect them later rather than take a chance by carrying them unrestrained.

  • Fit child restraints first as this might be harder to do after you've packed everything else.
  • Try to leave plenty of room around children – stuff packed tight around them could make for an unhappy journey.
  • Keep a bag handy for things you might need during the journey.
Spare wheel

If you've got a spare wheel, think about how you’ll get to it in an emergency.

  • Using several soft bags rather than throwing things in loose will make it easier if you or one of our patrols has to fit the spare.
On the roof

Roof-racks and boxes are a great way of carrying large or awkward items but you’ll need to stay within the maximum permitted roof load.

  • The limit may be lower than you think so check your handbook.
  • Ideally, weigh everything you're going to carry.
  • Remember to include the weight of the roof-rack itself.
  • It's generally better to carry bulky but light things on the roof and heavy items inside the car.
  • Don't forget the extra height. Many covered car parks will be out-of-bounds with a roof-box on the car.

Anything carried on the roof must be attached securely:

  • The Highway Code simply says: "you must secure your load and it must not stick out dangerously".
  • The airflow will try to lift the front of any long load so you’ll need a secure fixing holding the front of the load down.
  • A fixing to the rear will stop a heavy load sliding forwards under braking.
  • Ropes and straps can work loose. Stop regularly to check them.
Other things to think about

You’ll probably need to adjust tyre pressures to suit the heavier load.

  • Heavy loads are likely to affect your car's handling.
  • Stopping distances will be longer.
  • The Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) or Maximum Permitted Weight (MPW) for your car is the maximum allowed and includes everything in and on the car, the driver and passengers.
  • Find the 'MAM' on the 'VIN plate' under the bonnet or in your handbook.

14 February 2017