How to Pack a Car

Follow these smart tips on how to pack your car this summer for safety, space, and organization.

a man helps a woman pack her car with the help of a conveyor belt, image

You may not need a conveyor belt, but you can learn how to pack a car for a trip.

Want to learn a secret that could save your life in a car crash? Protect your back? And keep your flip-flops handy? It's knowing the smart ways to pack your stuff in the car before you take off on a road trip this summer.

CHECK THE KID SEATS FIRST Between 80 and 90 percent of children traveling in cars are incorrectly restrained. Before you put anything in your car, make sure that the safety seats are properly installed. It's a wise idea to reread your car and safety seat owner's manuals and to have an expert check your installation. You can locate an inspection station near you by visiting aaa.com and going to the Education & Safety area.

SECURE YOUR STUFF In a crash, even relatively lightweight items can be deadly. "A box of Kleenex can become a brick," says Melanie Sadek, manager of AAA's Traffic Safety Department. Pack as much as possible in an enclosed trunk and try to tie or strap down everything in the cargo area. Then make sure all the seat belts are functioning so your passengers will be properly restrained.

GET ORGANIZED Cars have lots of nooks waiting to be packed with small items you want handy, and at auto supply stores you can find clever products to help keep them safe and organized. Caddies that you can strap to seats have pockets where you can stow items like maps, phones, and drinks. Fill one with kids' treats and toys for the backseat, and have another in front for the adults. Visor organizers hold maps, CDs, and directions.

STOW A SAFETY KIT Before loading up the baggage and beach toys, reserve a prime spot for some roadside emergency gear: a bright flashlight with fresh batteries, towelettes, jumper cables, a blanket, a first-aid kit, and some energy bars and bottled water. Also check the air in your spare.

BEAT THE HEAT If you're heading somewhere hot, set aside a corner of the cooler for meltable items, such as lipstick and crayons, and for fluid containers that might leak, such as sunblock bottles. Use frozen gel packs or freeze some box drinks—both stay cold longer than ice cubes.

DIVIDE AND CONQUER Instead of a huge piece of luggage, suggests Anne McAlpin, author of Pack It Up, load smaller totes that are easier to carry. Color code them—if you don't have different- colored bags, use stickers or ribbons—so you'll know which bag to grab: blue for the beach, red for camping gear, yellow for sports equipment.

COMPRESS AND COLLAPSE You can save space by using compression bags (available at AAA Travel Stores, 888-386-5386) that will reduce your cargo volume by as much as 50 percent. Also look for collapsable crates and coolers that fold up when you're not using them.

Photo Illustration by William Duke

This article was first published in July 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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