How to Safely Pack for a Road Trip

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It's important to keep your adult and child passengers' safety in mind when stowing and securing luggage and other cargo inside your vehicle.

Know your vehicle's limits

Just because you own an SUV or minivan doesn't mean it can be loaded to the roof. Maximum load capacity, which is the maximum amount of passenger and cargo weight that a vehicle is designed to handle, varies greatly from vehicle to vehicle, even within a model range. The load capacity is specified in the owner's manual.

Keep heavy items forward in the cargo area

Make sure the heaviest items are put as far forward in the cargo area as possible, and on the floor. In all vehicles, and SUVs in particular, it is important to keep the heaviest items towards the center of the vehicle to reduce the potential adverse effect on handling that could be caused by the cargo weight. Significant weight at the back could compress the rear springs and reduce the weight over the front wheels, impacting steering and braking. Further, this strategy helps keep the overall center of gravity lower, reducing the likelihood of a rollover.

Everything should be secured

To prevent smaller items from flying around during a sudden stop, pack them into boxes, and strap down larger items using the vehicle's cargo anchors. Refrain from loading any item, large or small, loosely within or on top of your cargo pile, as these can become dangerous projectiles in a panic stop or a crash. (See how to have a safe road trip with pets.)

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Rear visibility is important

Make sure that you don't stack your belongings so high that you can't see out. An obscured rear window makes driving difficult and creates considerable risk when reversing. Without rearward visibility, there is no telling what you might run into—even a child. (How to prevent backover accidents and child injuries.)

Keep essentials handy

To avoid reaching around while driving or on a busy shoulder, make sure your maps, cell phone and even roadside emergency kit are readily accessible. Be aware that you may need to unload the cargo area to gain access to a spare tire.

Check tire maintenance and pressure

Visually inspect your tires before preparing for a trip. Make sure there are no sidewall bulges and no indication of tread damage or extreme wear. Confirm the tires are properly inflated for carrying people and cargo, making adjustments as necessary. The recommended inflation pressure usually can be found on the driver's side doorjamb, inside the fuel-filler door, or in the owner's manual. Be sure to use these inflation pressure numbers, not the maximum pressure figure on the tire's sidewall. (See Tires buying guide.)

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