Traveling with Cargo – A Full Car on the Move
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Traveling with Cargo – A Full Car on the Move

How much can your vehicle carry? It’s something most of us don’t have to think about until we’re faced with a move or a big purchase, but overloading and incorrect loading can make your car or truck dangerous to drive. These tips will help you carry your cargo safely.

How Much Weight Can I Put in My Vehicle?

The maximum weight your vehicle can carry can usually be found on the tire pressure placard found on the driver’s side B-pillar. Most vehicles fall into these general categories:

Family sedans — 850 lbs.
Minivans — 1,150 lbs.
Two seat sports cars — 450 lbs.
Small vans and trucks — 1,500 lbs.
Light pickup — 2,000 lbs.

It’s not hard to reach these limits by simply filling up the seats. Add in luggage and the weight of a trailer tongue, and you can go well past the manufacturer recommendations, which can seriously hamper braking and handling.

Loading Your Vehicle

Never put anything on the parcel shelf. If you brake suddenly, these objects will move forward, straight for the passengers’ heads.

Load heavy objects first. This keeps the center of gravity low, which will improve handling. The safest spot for the heaviest objects is against the backs of the rear seats: in this position, they’re less likely to cause damage or injury during a crash.

Make sure you have easy access to your spare tire. When loading small objects, put them in bags to make them easier to lift out.

Loading a Truck Bed

Keep the heaviest material close to the cab, and try to balance objects so that weight is equal left to right. If you’re loading loose material like gravel or sand, load it near the cab and then spread it out until it’s even. Wisconsin doesn’t require tarps over loose loads, but you can still get a ticket if the contents of your bed spill out.

There are two types of tie down straps: ratchet and cam lock. A ratchet strap has a mechanism that winds up part of the strap to get tension, while a cam lock grips the strap at a single point to hold tension. Cam lock straps are fine for stationary items, but they can work loose if used to secure a vehicle with a suspension.

Most outdoor equipment and vehicles including snowmobiles and ATVs will have loading instructions in their owner’s manual. When in doubt, run the strap over the frame and away from any suspension components.

When tying down a motorcycle, it’s better to run the front strap over the suspension above the lower brace than the handlebars. The pressure from the strap can bend the bars and damage mounts to the mirrors and controls. The straps should be tightened down to a point that there is still a little suspension travel left to let the bike absorb bumps while still being able to keep the bike upright. Once everything is in place, release the clutch to let the bike roll forward and check the straps again for tightness.

Using Roof Racks

Rear-mounted racks and trailers are usually a better option for carrying extra items, but for long objects like kayaks and skis, a roof rack usually makes more sense.

Both the vehicle roof and roof rack have a maximum amount of weight that they can carry. Since the rack itself is on the roof, its weight should be included when figuring out the total weight on your vehicle. The ratings may seem low, but remember that the roof doesn’t just support the weight, it also must handle the forces put on the rack when braking or aerodynamic lift is pushing up on your cargo. If you’re loading a big, flat object like a kayak or a canoe, it needs to be tied down in addition to being attached to the rack to keep aerodynamic lift from pulling it off your vehicle.

Torqueing the bolts correctly is critical to ensuring the rack stays on your vehicle and doesn’t damage the roof. When in doubt, have it professionally installed.

Remember that the total height of your vehicle will increase, which could cause issues in low clearance issues like parking garages and drive-thrus. It also raises the center of gravity, which will make your vehicle more likely to tip, especially if you have a heavy object like a cargo container attached to the rack.

Even the Safest Practices Can’t Prevent All Accidents

Using proper loading techniques can keep your vehicle stable on the road, but it can’t completely prevent accidents. When you need your car fixed after a crash, visit Merton Auto Body. We’re an I-CAR Gold Class certified shop and our technicians are ASE certified, so you can rest assured that we have the expertise to fix your vehicle. Our Autobody Estimating Center can get work approved by your insurance company as fast as possible, so you can be back on the road in no time. For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit our website at or stop by our Sussex, WI location. We proudly service the surrounding Lake Country and Waukesha County areas, including Pewaukee, Hartland, Delafield, and Oconomowoc.



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