Keys to smart car packing

Whether you are going on a road trip, moving to a new house, or need to pick up your student from college, it's important to keep driving safety in mind when packing up your vehicle.

Not all SUVs and minivans are created equal

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. For small SUVs, capacity can span from 825 pounds for a number of models such as the Ford Escape to 1,155 pounds for the Mitsubishi Outlander.  Among midsize SUVs, the Nissan Murano only can carry 900 pounds, while the Chevrolet Traverse tops out at 1,405 pounds. Minivan capacities can vary significantly, as well. The load capacity is specified in the owner's manual.

Put the heaviest items up front

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Make sure the heaviest items are put as far forward in the cargo area as possible, and keep them on the floor. In all vehicles, and SUVs in particular, it is important to keep the heaviest items towards the center of the vehicle. This reduces 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.

Secure loose items

To prevent cargo from flying around during a sudden stop, pack smaller items into boxes and strap down larger ones using the car's cargo anchors. Make sure items from the cargo section will not strike passengers in an emergency situation. Refrain from loading large items—or even small, loose items—on the top of your cargo pile, as these can become dangerous projectiles in a panic stop or a crash.

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 in to—even a child.

Keep essentials handy

Make sure your roadside emergency kit, cell phone, and maps are readily accessible, just in case. Be aware that you may need to unload the cargo area to gain access to a spare tire.

Tire maintenance and pressure is important

Visually inspect your tires before preparing for a trip. Make sure there are no sidewall bulges and there is no indication of tread damage or extreme wear, such as chunked tread, exposed steel belts, punctures, or sidewall cuts. 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 of 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 sidewall. See our latest tire-pressure Ratings and buying advice.

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