If you’re worried about how to pack your car when moving across the country, then you must have decided against having your vehicle shipped by a professional car transportation company.
After all, there’s nothing quite like experiencing a long road trip that will bond the family together, provide hours of fun and entertainment for each passenger (driver included) and possibly even enable you to save on your long distance move.
Regardless of how many hours or days your relocation journey will last, it’s really important to make sure that your car is packed right so that you start off the car trip on the right tire.
The following 13 steps will show you the best way to pack a car for a move. Ultimately, your mission is to fit (understand squeeze in) all your things into the vehicle without any damage, and to guarantee a comfortable and safe car trip for all passengers.
Are you ready to learn how to pack your car properly? Here we go:
#1: Sort out your items first
The very first step when packing your personal vehicle for a move is to sort out your items really carefully. That sorting process will help you avoid one serious mistake – to pack things you won’t really need after the move.
Believe it or not, sorting out your stuff is the most important step of the entire car packing task. Keep in mind that you’re taking only the most essential things in the car while the rest of your belongings will be transported by your moving company.
The best time to set aside the things that you’re packing in your car is during the home inventory task – the one you are encouraged to do very early in the pre-move preparation. As you’re compiling that house inventory sheet, be mindful of the storage space in your own vehicle – remember that you’re only taking the absolute essentials.
#2: Determine what you will pack in the car
It’s not always easy to know exactly what to move with you on the cross-country road trip, so use the following list for good ideas about the essentials to pack in your car when moving.
Essentials boxes. Of course, the whole idea of packing an essentials box is to keep it with you at all times. An open fist box usually contains prescription medicine, light bedding, bathroom essentials, extra clothes, snacks and drinks, a first-aid kit, a set of hand tools, and even toys when moving with small children.
- Small electronics. One classic example of things to pack in your car is electronics, especially smaller electronic devices. Why? Because they are fragile and expensive, and they won’t take much room either. You probably won’t even think about packing your 48’ flat screen TV in your car simply because there won’t be enough space for it. Reputable movers can take care of your big flat screen TV after you’ve discussed with them your insurance options, of course. Still, your desktop computer, any laptops and handheld electronic devices should stay with you during the long car trip.
#3: Do not pack dangerous items in the car
Our tips for packing a car when moving continue with a warning not to pack any hazardous items in your vehicle prior to the trip. It’s imperative that your relocation journey stays 100% safe from start to finish, so you must not pack anything that may damage any of your other belongings or worse – harm the passengers in any way.
Take a look at the complete list of non-allowed items that you are strongly recommended not to pack in your car – any items that are found to be corrosive, flammable or explosive have no business with you on the long car trip.
If you plan to move your pet in your car (moving with dogs, moving with cats, etc.), then you should be perfectly familiar with the preparation steps to guarantee a safe and stress-free trip for your animal friend. Moving plants in your car, especially when moving long distance, is not recommended due to the highly perishable nature of your leafy companions. However, you can still make it work when you know what to do.
#4: Be careful what you buy prior to the move
When it comes to tips for packing a car on moving day, there are a few guidelines to follow in order to get satisfactory packing results. In addition to maximizing the space when packing your car (see below), it’s also mostly about being careful what you take with you, of course.
As soon as you know that you’re going to have to pack and move stuff in your personal vehicle, it’s time to stop acquiring new items which you will have to transport by yourself. This piece of advice is especially useful when you’re buying food shortly before the car trip – seriously, what are you going to do with so much food anyway?
Food is perishable and will most likely go bad during a cross-country trip inside your own vehicle. So, make sure you use up all of your food supplies unless your car is spacious enough to fit canned food.
#5: Clean up your car prior to the trip
There are various ways to pack more in your car when moving, and one of them is to remove all excess items from the inside of your car. You may surprise yourself how much surplus stuff you tend to keep in your vehicle – stuff that will only limit your packing and loading options now that you need to fully utilize the space inside it.
Having got rid of all unnecessary items prior to packing your car for the move, you’d better clean its interior for a much more pleasant relocation trip across the country. A handheld vacuum cleaner may come in very handy for the task at hand.
If you’re really short on time, remember that your ultimate goal is still to free up a bit more room inside your vehicle before you hit the road, so a thorough car cleaning may be best suited after the move is done and over with.
#6: Consider investing in an overhead carrier
If you wish to pack your car with a lot of stuff but your vehicle is relatively small, then you may want to consider investing in an overhead carrier.
An overhead carrier can be a great solution for you because it will allow you to transport much more items in it while your cargo will stay perfectly safe from any unfavorable climatic conditions. Opt for a carrier of the hard-case type even if that means spending a bit more money.
High-quality overhead carriers are ideal for transporting valuable and fragile items because they provide excellent hard shell protection and are lockable too. If your car is not equipped with a roof rack, you’re going to need to purchase and install that too so that the carrier can be attached to it.
#7: Pack your essential items first
Truth be told, some advice on how to pack a car efficiently may not make much sense unless you are willing to dig deeper for the hidden meaning. One such example is to pack your essential items first of all. Why would you want to do that when you would have to take everything out to reach them when unloading the car?
One good reason to do that is that you may not be able to fit all of your possessions in the car, and your most important things may then be left out. Willing to unload all the non-essential stuff you’ve already packed up just to make room for your essentials? We thought so.
Besides, having your essential items on the bottom will encourage you to unpack the entire car upon arrival and not just grabbing the key stuff and leaving the rest for much later.
#8: Avoid using large cardboard boxes
Cardboard boxes are an inseparable part of the packing process, but when you’re about to pack a small car for moving, then those large packing boxes may prove to be a problem.
Moving boxes are great for arranging and stacking up in the back of a large moving truck but not inside a family car. The best way to pack a car for moving is to keep your items out of moving boxes because those boxes will take plenty of space because they are not flexible and will not fit well around other stuff.
When packing a car for a move, it’s best to avoid large packing boxes, including most original packaging, that will take a lot of space in the car. If you have to use boxes – for transporting books, for example, use small boxes that you can arrange neatly to optimize the storage room inside your vehicle. You are recommended to pack your stuff in copy paper boxes which measure roughly 15″ x 12″ x 10″.
#9. Use plastic bags for clothes and bedding
Cardboard boxes are not flexible, but bags surely are.
Do not place ordinary clothes in cardboard boxes because those containers will take up a lot of space in your car. Instead, pack the clothes you’re taking with you inside clean plastic shopping bags or clean reinforced garbage bags so that you can squeeze them into fairly tight spaces – that is, virtually anywhere between your other belongings.
You can use vacuum storage bags to shrink any voluminous bedding and clothes you plan to take with you in the car. Such vacuum bags are inexpensive and can really shrink soft bulky items so that they can be packed among other miscellaneous items in the trunk of your car or inside the overhead carrier.
Remember that the best way to move expensive designer clothes is inside wardrobe boxes, loaded safely in the principal moving vehicle, not in your personal car.
#10. Use all hidden spaces in the car
The best way to pack a car for moving is to use all hidden spaces in the vehicle.
While the car trunk or the back of the hatch is the major storage area, your car will have a number of other unusual places where you can pack your stuff. Make sure those partly hidden spaces are used in an optimal way.
To maximize the space when packing your car for a move, consider packing stuff in 1) the spaces under the front seats, 2) the space around the spare tire in the trunk, and 3) the passenger’s foot wells – ideal for small items but you need to be sure all people in the car are comfortable as they can be.
WARNING: DO NOT place any items in the driver’s foot well because that can be extremely dangerous.
3 Bonus tips for packing a car when moving home
Now you know how to pack a car for a cross-country move, here are 3 extra safety tips to keep things running smoothly:
#11: Wrap breakables in clothes and towels. You’re going to have to move some clothes and towels with you anyway, so why don’t you use them to protect your fragile and valuable items? This way, you’ll surely save precious space in the car and a good amount of Bubble wrap too.
- #12: Keep your car windows clear. It’s one thing to try to cram as much stuff in your car as possible, yet another to compromise the safety of the car trip in the process. It’s crucial that you DO NOT block the driver’s view by packing anything above the back window. The same safety rule applies to the side windows as well. Keep in mind that the driver must have clear visibility of what’s going on behind and around the vehicle at all times while driving to the new home.
- #13: Keep your car balanced. It’s important to know how to properly pack your car when moving because proper packing techniques will maximize your fuel efficiency and give you a smoother ride. Do your best to distribute your heavier items fairly evenly throughout the car (right vs. left, trunk vs. cab) in order to keep the car balanced during the road trip.