overloading your car

Packing for a trip? Don't overload your car

Car overloading is dangerous for you, your passengers, and other road users. Learn how to pack safely

Whether you're taking a student to university, visiting a DIY store or going on a road trip, loading a large number of items into your car can be challenging.

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

  • A bag or plant wedged into a rear footwell 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 footwells clear

Motorway queue

Our top tips to think about when loading your car?

Don’t overload your car – it could be dangerous for yourself and others. See our expert tips below for a smooth journey:

Keep larger or heavier things low down

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

  • Placing heavier objects first helps keep the centre of gravity lower which is better for handling
  • Push heavy items like bottles or DIY materials tight up against the back of the rear seat. They’re less likely to burst through in a crash
Make sure you have clear lines of vision

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.

Make sure passengers are safe and comfortable

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
Is your spare wheel still accessible?

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.
How should a load be carried on a roof rack?

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 from sliding forwards under braking
  • Ropes and straps can work loose. Stop regularly to check that they're still secure

There are also some laws around roof racks:

  • Any items on the roof must not obstruct the driver's vision in any way
  • Items can protrude no more than 50cm from the sides or rear of the car
  • Items can protrude no more than 15cm over the front of the car
  • Items on the roof cannot exceed more than 100kg
Other things to think about How will a heavy load affect your driving?

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
How will a heavy load affect your driving?

If you’re wondering what happens to the driving performance of an overloaded car, or what it’s like to drive with a heavy load on your roof rack, these are some of the things that you’ll encounter:

  • Your centre of gravity will be affected – heavy loads can reduce the stability of your vehicle by shifting that centre away from what the vehicle manufacturer intended
  • The additional weight will make your vehicle noticeably slower when stopping and starting
  • As a result of needing more acceleration over time to get your heavier vehicle up to speed, you’ll use more fuel. So, overloading your car will cost you more money on refuels over time

If you have low tyre pressure, your handling will be adversely affected

How to tell if your car is overloaded

If you think you might be overloading a car, there are a few key things to look out for. If you notice any of these issues, it may be better to reduce your load or hire a van to help move some of your items:

  • Your vision is obscured – if there’s so much in your car that you’re unable to see around the vehicle or have a clear view of the mirrors, you’ve crammed too much in there
  • Look at your suspension (how far away from the ground the body of your car is) and the shape of the wheel arches – if either of these looks drastically different after packing your items onto/into the car, then you’re likely to be overloaded
  • Your handling is severely reduced – if you notice that your car is much less responsive (more difficult to turn, stop and start) then it’s likely to be over-encumbered
What happens if you overload a car?

The worst thing that could happen if you overload a car is that you could lose control while driving. If for any reason you need to swerve to avoid an obstacle, you may not be able to control your vehicle. Items inside the car should also be strapped down to stop them moving in the event of a sudden stop – which could turn them into dangerous projectiles.

Overloading your car is also an offence, punishable with a fine (usually between £100-£300) and 3 points on your licence.

What is the penalty for overloading a car?

A car overloading penalty will normally consist of a fixed penalty fine of either £100 (less than 10% overloaded), £200 (between 10%-14% overloaded) or £300 (15% overloaded and over). You will also likely get 3 points on your licence.

For serious cases of overloading a vehicle (30% and above), you could receive a court summons. The most severe punishment possible would be a 2-year prison sentence if found guilty of Dangerous Driving under the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Does overloading a car damage it?

Driving with the occasional heavy load in your vehicle shouldn’t do permanent damage, but overloading a car consistently over time can cause many issues. For example, your engine, suspension, brakes and tyres will all be put through extra strain, shortening the lifespan of your car and resulting in big maintenance costs.

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  • UK drivers have consistently rated us as the best breakdown service against all other major breakdown providers
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Who is responsible if a vehicle is overloaded?

If you’re driving an overloaded vehicle for your employer, then both you and your employer can be held responsible. If you overload your personal vehicle, then you will be held responsible as the driver and owner.

Can you overload a car?

Yes, you can overload a car. Always check the owner’s manual for a vehicle before adding excess weight – it’ll tell you the maximum weight allowed for your specific car. The maximum weight is also usually shown on a plate or sticker fitted to the vehicle.

What happens if I put too much weight in my car?

If you put too much weight in your car, a number of problems could occur. You’ll suffer from reduced handling and performance, with stopping, starting and turning all negatively affected. Heavy loads can also increase the amount of wear and tear on key components within your car, such as the engine, suspension, brakes and tyres – leading to costly repairs.

Updated: 24 July 2023

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