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How to safely carry things in your car

There are good places to carry items in your car and bad places.

The boot

Other than a trailer, a boot is by far the safest place to carry items, although there are things to be aware of if you want to carry very heavy items:

  • They can damage the boot floor – this is often a weak wood or composite product that sits over the spare tyre
  • They can overload the rear suspension or make the rear of the vehicle more likely to slide.
  • If there’s a lot of weight on the rear, you might find that the car understeers (tries to go straight ahead rather than turning)
  • Heavy items with high point-loading can break through the rear seats in a crash, injuring passengers
  • Getting heavy items into your boot risks damage to the boot lip and, if they slide sideways can cause damage to body panels.
  • Getting heavy items into your boot risks injury to you as you lift them over the lip of the boot.

However, the boot is very well designed for light-to-medium loads which can be packed up against the rear seats, blocked by other objects so they can’t move or restrained using ratchet straps attached to the anchor points that are usually found in either the floor or the sides.

This car comes with four tie-down points in the boot

Pack the heavier items against the seats rather than at the rear of the boot as it will help with weight distribution.

If you need to fold the rear seats down to fit items in the boot, you should strap them down.

Don’t load over the level of the top of the seats in a station wagon or hatchback unless you have a cargo barrier.

Non-slip mats can help stop items sliding around in the boot
Cargo nets don’t provide much load restraint, they just stop items sliding around
Check if your car has additional features to help restrain items

Don’t use bag hooks for load restraint – they’re designed to keep your shopping bags upright.

The glovebox and other binnacles

The glovebox (a small, lockable compartment usually in front of the front passenger) is the best place for smaller items like your phone, and miscellaneous items that you don’t need every day.

Some cars have small trays under the front of the driver and/or passenger seat and other small compartments which are good for small emergency items.

Behind the seats

You can pack items low down behind the seats such as your laptop and shopping. You can even trap a small gas bottle between the back of the passenger seat and the lip of the rear seat to keep it steady. Take care with how visible these are to potential thieves, and don’t store anything here which is temperature-sensitive.

Roof racks and trailers

A roof rack or trailer keeps your items outside the passenger cabin, but you need to be aware of weather exposure, centre of gravity, towing, load security and more.

On your lap

This is the worst place you can carry an item. It can fall off and get under your pedals.

On the front passenger seat

This is fine for items that are light and won’t roll, for example a jacket or small bag, but it’s better if you can put the bag in the passenger footwell, not on the seat.

Bag hooks in the front passenger area are not common

On the rear seats

This is a bad place. If you stop quickly, anything on the rear seats will fly forwards and either hit the rear of your seat or come between the seats and hit the dashboard. If it’s a pet, it’s going to be seriously injured or killed.

Held by a passenger

Unless it’s very light and deformable, anything a passenger is holding if you have to brake (or you hit something) could cause them injury if the airbag deflects it.

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Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

Posted in Advice
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