Fitting everything you need for your summer road trip into your car can feel like a real-life ‘Tetris’ game. We’ve got some cheat codes to make it more fun and less of a challenge.
Prepare before you pack
Prioritize heavy items
Avoid parcel shelf packing
Pack it up top
Keep most weight low
Avoid packing luggage
Pump up your tires
Don’t overload it
Remove your valuables
A week before the actual trip begins, gather together in one place everything that needs to be packed. This gives you an idea whether or not your vehicle will actually fit all of the “essentials” you’re planning on bringing, and helps you decide what items, if any, might need to stay behind, or whether you want to consider a rooftop carrier.
Clear the trunk of unnecessary items. This not only frees up valuable space, it reduces weight and helps maximize fuel economy.
Pack the heaviest items first, in the trunk or on the floor behind the front seats. This helps to keep your vehicle’s centre of gravity low and reduces the effect of extra weight on its handling. And make sure it’s secure: you don’t want items sliding around, which is, at the very least, annoying and, at worst, potentially dangerous.
Never pack anything on the rear (and badly named) “parcel shelf” beneath the back window or above the line of the seatbacks: they’ll block the driver’s view to the rear, and can become lethal projectiles under sudden, heavy braking or in a collision.
If the trunk and rear seating areas aren’t big enough, consider a roof rack or a roof box. These can be handy for lighter, bulky items like tents or sleeping bags. Loading heavy items on the roof is never recommended, as they will upset the car’s balance under acceleration, cornering and braking.
Be careful: oversize items on the roof could also put stress on the rack or box mounts, causing them to weaken and possibly break, thus distributing your possessions along the highway or in the ditch. If you use a roof rack, remember the ropes and straps used to tie things down can sometimes come loose, so plan to stop regularly to inspect them.
If you still find yourself short on space, ditch the suitcases. They take up a lot of room and because they’re inflexible, don’t allow you to use all the space that’s available. Instead, pack clothes and other items you’d normally put in luggage into duffel bags or laundry bags that can be easily fitted into tight spaces and around restrictions such as the rear suspension mounts.
Depending on how much you’ve packed for your trip, you may be putting more than a little extra weight on your vehicle’s suspension, which might make it necessary to inflate the tires to their maximum pressure. You can determine this by consulting your owner’s manual or by checking with the place where you bought the tires. (Remember to re-adjust the tire inflation once the vehicle is unloaded.)
It’s also important that you not exceed your vehicle’s maximum permitted weight, which is based on the capability of the chassis, tires and suspension, and which includes everything in and on the car, including the driver and passengers. Again, consult the owner’s manual for that information.
If the journey is long enough to involve staying overnight along the way, remember that loaded vehicles in unattended motel parking lots may attract unwanted attention. You might want to consider unloading at least the most valuable contents from the car at the end of each day and taking them inside with you, or at least tucking phone and GPS cables out of sight.