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How To Efficiently Pack Your Car for a Move

Default Author Icon Written by Shane Sentelle Updated 04/08/2024

If you’re moving and plan to drive to your new home, you can save money and ensure the safe arrival of your most precious belongings by packing them in your personal vehicle. Moving in your own car can be more convenient and can give you greater peace of mind than entrusting all your belongings to professional movers. Whether you want to keep a few essential items close by or need to use the extra space to supplement your moving truck, we’ll guide you through how to pack your car for a move.

Assess Your Belongings and Vehicle

Start by determining what you need to pack in your car and how much space you have. Take inventory of any belongings you would like to keep with you, such as the following:

Objects that are delicate and easily damaged like glassware, ceramics, electronics, artwork, and antiques may be safer in the passenger seat or footwell of your car. Be sure to wrap fragile items in bubble wrap or pack them in a padded box for extra protection.

You may decide to keep items with significant monetary or sentimental value close to you for peace of mind. Items in this category include important documents, jewelry, photo albums, and family heirlooms.

It’s generally best to toss perishable items out before you move. However, if you must bring them, food and items with special storage instructions will do better in the air conditioning of your car than in a moving truck. 

Most moving companies won’t move flammable, explosive, corrosive, or toxic substances. If you need to transport any potentially dangerous items, such as propane tanks or aerosol cans, you may have to put them in your personal vehicle. However, it’s important to carefully consider whether transporting them is worth the risk.

As you decide what will go in your car, consider the available space in your vehicle. Make sure to factor in sufficient hip and legroom for any passengers. Then, compare your list of items with the room left over in the trunk, back seats, and footwells. If you have bulky items, double-check that they won’t obstruct your vision while driving or cause damage. Consider installing an overhead carrier or roof rack if your vehicle allows it.

Finally, develop a final packing plan based on your vehicle type. Small cars will have limited space, but you can use vacuum storage bags and stackable storage containers to squeeze more into tight spaces. If you have a minivan or SUV, consider folding down any empty seats to free up more space for bulky items or large boxes. If you have a truck, be sure to utilize both the bed and any extra cab space.

Prepare To Pack the Car

Once you have a solid plan, focus on preparing your car for the trip. Follow these steps:

  • Gather packing supplies: Purchase anything you need to keep your belongings secure and organized. This may include bubble wrap, moving boxes, bungee cords, and plastic bags.
  • Clean the car’s interior: Dispose of trash and any unnecessary items currently cluttering your vehicle. Use a vacuum cleaner and cleaning wipes to remove dirt and debris that could dirty fragile or valuable items during transit.
  • Fold down the seats: If your car has foldable seats or under-seat storage compartments, get them ready. Make sure folded car seats are securely latched.
  • Research accessories: Shop around for vehicle accessories that will increase your storage space or organization. Options include ceiling cargo nets, back-seat organizers, rooftop car carriers, and rear cargo carriers.

Make sure you have a way to keep essential items, such as phone chargers, toiletries, and a first aid kit, easily accessible.

Proper Packing Techniques

Before you start packing items, research packing tips and best practices. Here are a few top tips:

Place heavier items at the bottom of boxes to provide a stable base and lighter items on top.
Wrap breakable items with bubble wrap or packing paper.
Label each box with its contents to make it easier to locate what you need later.
Pack items tightly, both in their boxes and in your car.
Use vacuum storage bags to compress soft items.
Fill empty space with smaller items or cushioning materials, such as foam inserts or air pillows. This will help prevent unnecessary movement.
Use bags or cardboard boxes to keep small items organized.

Load the Car

As you load your car, be sure to distribute the weight evenly. Load heavier items first, but avoid putting all of them on the same side. Instead, space them out carefully so the car does not become unbalanced during the drive. Secure larger items with bungee cords or ropes. Anchor these items to secure points in the car, such as tie-down hooks or handles.


Make Final Preparations

Do a final walk-through of your home before you hit the road. Check all the rooms, closets, and storage areas to ensure you haven’t left anything behind. Make sure your essentials box or suitcase is easy to reach, especially if you will be stopping at a hotel overnight.

Next, perform a quick vehicle inspection, just as you would for other long car trips. Check the following:

  • Documents: Make sure your vehicle registration, insurance, and driver’s license are up-to-date.
  • Fluids: If necessary, top off your oil, coolant, and windshield washer fluid.
  • Fuel: Make sure your vehicle’s gas tank is completely full.
  • Lights: Test your headlights, taillights, brake lights, and turn signals.
  • Tires: Check your tire pressure, spare tire, and tread.

Finally, finalize your travel plans. Plan regular stops to stretch your legs, use restroom facilities, and grab a meal or snacks. Confirm any hotel reservations. Make sure a trusted friend or family member knows your itinerary, including your intended route and estimated arrival time so they can check in if needed.


Knowing the best way to pack your car for a local or interstate move can save you money, preserve your peace of mind, and streamline the moving process. By assessing your belongings and vehicle, employing proper packing methods, and loading your car effectively, you can optimize your car space and transport your items safely. Remember to prioritize safety, secure items properly, and inspect your vehicle thoroughly before your road trip.

FAQ About Packing Your Car for Moving

How full can you pack a car?

To determine how full you can pack a car, follow these guidelines:

  • Do not exceed the weight limits set by the vehicle manufacturer.
  • Maintain clear visibility from all angles.
  • Ensure passengers can sit comfortably and fasten their seatbelts properly.
  • Distribute the weight evenly throughout the car.
  • Research local regulations regarding vehicle loading.

What should be kept in the front seat of the car when moving?

The following items should be kept in the front seat of the car when moving:

  • Driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance
  • Navigational tools
  • Personal items, such as your wallet, cell phone, and keys
  • Snacks and refreshments

How often should you let your car rest on a long trip?

On a long trip, you should let your car rest for about 15 minutes every two hours or so. Although a well-maintained car in good condition should not need to rest on a long trip, it’s important for the driver to take regular breaks.

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