Loading your car

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

You will probably need to adjust tyre pressures to suit the heavier load

You will probably need to adjust tyre pressures to suit the heavier load

Whether you're taking a student back to university, visiting a DIY store or going on holiday, packing a lot into a small space can be a challenge. Here's what you need to know to keep it safe, both for yourself and others on the road.

You will probably need to adjust tyre pressures to suit the heavier load. Check the handbook, and remember to adjust them back again after the trip.

Bear in mind that heavy loads are likely to affect the car's handling and performance. Stopping distances will be increased.

It's important that you don't exceed the Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM)/Maximum Permitted Weight (MPW) for the car. This is the maximum allowed based on the capability of the chassis, tyres and suspension. It includes everything in and on the car (the payload), the driver and passengers. You can find the figure for your car on the 'VIN plate' under the bonnet or in the handbook.

Inside the car

Make sure everything is secure

Stuff sliding around or tipping over whenever you brake or turn will be irritating at best and dangerously distracting at worst. A box, bag or plant may be better wedged into a rear foot-well rather than left sliding around in an otherwise empty boot.

Empty boxes or plastic crates can be useful in the boot to stop smaller loads sliding around - or shopping bags spilling at the first corner.

Keep the parcel shelf clear. Loose items like a first-aid kit or golf umbrella will fly forwards in a crash and could seriously injure someone in the car. In fact, any loose object in the car can become a dangerous projectile in a crash.

Keep the front foot-wells clear. Loose items rolling about on the floor are distracting and very dangerous if under the driver's feet or pedals.

Keep larger/heavier stuff low down

It makes packing easier if you put bigger stuff in first and then pack smaller items around. This also helps to keep the centre of gravity low and reduce the affect of weight on handling.

If you're loading heavy items like cases of wine/beer or DIY materials, push them tight up against the back of the rear seat. This will reduce the risk of them bursting through in a crash and gives better weight distribution and handling.

Can you still see?

Try to keep a clear view to the rear by not packing above the line of the seat backs. Anything packed higher than this is at risk of flying forwards in a crash anyway.

If space is limited then 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.

Passengers come first

If you have to fold seats to get a large or awkward load in the car then leave passengers and collect them later rather than risk carrying them unrestrained.

Fit child restraints first as this might be harder to do after you've packed everything else. But try to leave plenty of room around children as stuff packed in tight around them is likely to make for an unhappy journey.

It's a good idea to keep a bag handy for things you might need during the journey.

Plan for a puncture

Think about how you will get to the spare in an emergency. Using several soft bags rather than throwing things in loose will make it much easier to get to the spare wheel if you or an AA Patrol needs to do so in an emergency.

On the roof

Roof-racks and boxes are a great way of carrying very large or awkward items.

You will need to check the handbook, and ideally weigh everything you're going to carry, to make sure you don't exceed the maximum permitted roof load. Remember to include the weight of the roof-rack and bear in mind that the limit may be lower than you expect and probably easily exceeded by something like a couple of items of flat-pack furniture.

It's generally better to carry bulky but light things on the roof and heavy items inside the car.

Loads on the roof must be attached securely. The Highway Code states simply that "you must secure your load and it must not stick out dangerously".

At speed the airflow will be trying to lift the front of any long load so a secure fixing holding the front of the load down is important. You'll need a fixing to the rear as well to stop a heavy load sliding forwards under braking. Ropes/straps can work loose so you should aim to stop regularly and check them.

Height

If you do carry a load on the roof don't forget the extra height. You may well find that many covered car parks are out-of-bounds with a roof-box on the car.

Booze cruises

AA Patrols are often called out to overloaded cars breaking down on their return from the Continent.

When you're shopping, bear in mind that carrying five cases of wine is equivalent to having another passenger in the car.

Overloading can damage suspension, cause punctures or uneven wear on tyres, or even cause the driver to burn out the clutch. Repair bills can easily exceed any savings on the shopping.

(5 December 2011)