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20 car packing tips

Nov 12, 2021

So, you’re finally heading off on that road trip. One small problem – you can’t quite imagine how you’re going to get all your things into the car!

Knowing how to pack a car properly is one of the basics of being a responsible and safe driver. Not only will it mean a more comfortable journey for you and your fellow passengers, it could also have a positive impact on your safety on the road.

As you know, careful driving could mean a discount on your new driver insurance premiums. Careful packing is just another element of being a good driver.

Read on for our 20 top tips for perfect packing.

car park

1. Plan, plan, plan

Good packing starts with good planning. Make a checklist of everything you’re going to pack, and where you plan to stow it in the car. This will help you to keep down to a manageable amount of things – and to pack what the car can actually take.

Start with the essentials, before moving on to the nice-to-haves. That way, if it turns out that you’ve gone over and above what your car will accommodate, you can start striking things out from the bottom (non-essential) items and work upwards.

2. Draw a packing diagram

It may sound a bit elaborate, but a rough diagram of the vehicle and its various spaces – boot, footwells and so on and what you plan to put in them can be a really good way to visualise how much space is available to you.

You can then fill in what’s going where – duvets, suitcases, cat carry cases – whatever’s on your list.

3. Start with the boot

It may sound obvious, but the boot is where the vast majority of your items, especially bulky and/or hard ones, should go. Avoid putting large items near passengers or on their laps. These could prove fatal in a bad accident, essentially becoming missiles that could be thrown through the car.

4. Don’t overload

When you think of packing up a car, especially before, say, a long camping holiday, the mental image will probably be of yourself grunting and groaning as you try to squeeze that last toiletries bag or box of cereal into the boot. In reality, this sort of scenario shouldn’t happen.

Overloading the car is a bad idea, on various levels. For one thing, it will handle unpredictably. Your car’s response to your steering changes may be slower, and – just as crucially – stopping distances may be lengthened.

Your fuel economy will also suffer, while suspension, tyres and brakes will be overworked, meaning that they will wear down faster.
You may even end up breaking the law – travelling with an overladen car can carry a variety of sanctions, typically a £300 fine and three penalty points on your licence.

What’s more, if anything were to happen to you and your car during the trip, there is a strong chance that your black box insurance wouldn’t pay out, because the car’s overloaded state would have made it illegal and unsafe.

But how do you know if your car is overloaded? Your owner’s manual will give a maximum carrying weight: you should stick to this. Don’t forget to include whatever people and animals you are carrying, including yourself

5. Make sure you’re driving with the correct tyre pressures

Your car manual (or a sticker on the inside of the driver door) should tell you the correct pressures for your tyres, depending on how many passengers and how much luggage you are carrying with you. Driving with the wrong tyre pressures could invalidate your black box insurance in the event of a claim. It will also make handling the car much more hazardous.

If you do need to change a tyre, we’ve written a handy guide to help you.

6. Pack in the right order

Packing a car effectively is not just about getting the right amount of stuff in there. It’s also important to pack things in the right order, so that anything you are likely to need during the journey can be easily accessed without you searching around and becoming distracted.

As a rule of thumb, you should pack any hard items, and/or things you are not going to need immediately, right at the bottom of the boot, or tucked away in any other hard-to-reach places. Camping chairs, large toys, sleeping bags, any cases that you won’t be needing things from: these can all be stowed away first.

 Other essential items – snacks, phone chargers, spare clothes, nappies, coats, medicines – should go on the top of the pile, where they will be easy to grab when the time comes. Trust us, you don’t want to be unloading the entire contents of your boot in a service station car park, looking for that elusive phone charger.

Car parking meter

7. Put heavier items towards the middle of the boot

This will be better for the car’s stability: having one side of the car heavier than the other can cause it to list in that direction.

Also, put your heavy items as far forward, and as close to the boot floor, as you can. This will keep the car’s centre of gravity low, and will also reduce the weight over the wheels.

8. Think carefully about where you put your passengers

For example, anyone who tends to suffer from car sickness will have a much more pleasant time if they are able to see out through the front windscreen. Elsewhere, follow the laws around which passengers are allowed to sit in the front seat and make sure you have all the necessary child car seats or booster seats.

9. Consider investing in a roof box

If it’s proving a struggle to get everything in the car, a roof box may just be your saviour. These roof-mounted luggage boxes are surprisingly spacious – you’ll be able to get a lot of your surplus stuff in there.

Just be aware that roof boxes have to sit on their own roof bars or rails, and that there are many different rails out there, each type only suitable for certain car makes and models. Allow a bit of time to research the right rails and roof boxes for you, and to book an appointment at your local motoring accessories store to have the rails and box fitted by a professional.

If you do invest in a roof box, inform your insurance provider. In most cases, the box is unlikely to affect your insurance, but some insurers may class it as a modification and tell you that your policy has therefore changed. In either case, it’s best to be transparent at all times where insurance is concerned.

10. Stay safe

Remember, your car will drive differently when it’s fully loaded, so it’s a good idea to try one or two short practice drives with a full complement of kit and/or people, just to get used to how the car handles. That will keep you safer on the road when it comes to the big trip itself.

11. Check your visibility

Try to keep things away from the back window, to give yourself a clear view through it to the following traffic. Keep all windows clear of obstacles, in fact, in order to give you maximum all-round vision.

Also try to avoid having heavy things loose in the back, where they could roll around – causing harm to passengers or distracting your concentration. Your black box insurance will monitor your driving style, so accelerating or braking sharply may count against you.

12. Give the car a good clearout before you pack

It’s best to start packing with a completely clean and clutter-free car. Not only is a clean car a much more pleasant place to spend time in, it may also alert you to items that have been sitting around in the car for some time, which you really don’t need taking up much-needed space.

Have a good look in the boot, in particular – do those old wellington boots that you keep for occasional walks really need to be in there? Remember the more you carry, the more fuel you’ll use, too.

13. Avoid using cardboard boxes

If you’re moving house with the help of a removal van, cardboard boxes will be just the thing – they will keep your valuables safe and, in that cavernous van or lorry, space really isn’t at a premium.

However, when it comes to the much more restricted storage area within a car, boxes really aren’t ideal. They do take up a fair amount of space and can’t be squeezed or compressed to fit those smaller, awkward spaces that you’ll find around the vehicle. More flexible storage containers are a much better choice. Which brings us onto…

14. Try some soft power

When it comes to storing bags in the hold of an aeroplane, suitcases are the answer, as they are sturdy and will withstand being bashed about.

In the boot of a car, however, the situation is different. Here space is at a premium, while sturdiness isn’t so essential. As a result, suitcases – like cardboard boxes – aren’t always the best way forward. A soft sports bag or holdall may be a better option, as it can be squeezed into smaller spaces.

Strong shopping bags can also be used for heavier things, while clean plastic shopping bags will do for clothes. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll get in the car this way, and how efficiently you’ll use every last cubic centimetre of space.

15. Consider vacuum bags for your clothes

If you’re moving home or moving to uni, you might have a lot of clothes to shift. You just pack your clothes in one of these clever bags, attach the little vacuum and watch as that extra air is sucked out, making your clothes more compact than ever.

16. Fill up every space

Your car will have quite a range of little spaces, cubbies, nooks and crannies. You can get things into the footwells (except the driver’s footwell – that must be kept clear so that you can reach the clutch, brake and accelerator easily); the spaces under the front seats; the space around and even inside your spare tyre; the glove compartment; and more.

If you’re not carrying passengers, remember that most cars will allow you to lower those back seats to create a large, relatively flat loading space – like an extended boot. Just remember, when you’re busy filling every last little gap, not to put things anywhere where they are likely to obscure the driver’s view.

Parked car

17. Hang things in the back

Again if you’re not carrying passengers you may be able to hang some items from the grab handles in the back. Make sure they can’t slide off, though, and cause a distraction or hit the driver in any way.

18. Store food correctly

If you’re heading off for a long trip, it’s a very good idea to have a cooler bag or box full of snacks and juice that your passengers can get to easily. That will save you those unplanned stops to retrieve food from the boot, or that time and money spent at service stations.

19. Keep some spare clothes within easy reach inside your car

These may come in useful in the event of any spillages or other accidents – or anyone getting carsick. Have a plastic bag handy alongside these spare clothes, so that any dirty clothes can go straight in and not mix with the clean stuff.

20. Bring some bags for your rubbish

After a few hours of that long road trip, the interior of the car can start to look a bit worse for wear, with crisp packets, sweet wrappers and plastic salad boxes discarded everywhere. Bringing along a few bags for your rubbish will help keep the car feeling tidy and safe. Don’t let rubbish build up under your foot pedals.

The most essential item of all: black box insurance

At Smartdriverclub, our specialist black box car insurance monitors your driving style. That means that, if you can prove you’re a careful driver, you could see a drop in premiums when it comes to renewal.

Contact us today to find out more about black box insurance.