8 Helpful Tips for Packing a Car When Moving

Ben Kissam
Written by Ben Kissam
Updated March 1, 2022
Couple loading car with boxes and personal items
Photo: StefaNikolic / E+ / Getty Images


  • Downsizing and packing the essentials first is a great way to ensure your necessities have room in the car.

  • Get your car tuned and cleaned to maximize space and efficiency.

  • Be creative when packing and use all of the hiding spots your vehicle has to offer.

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The idea of packing your car to the brim with all of your belongings and hitting the road toward your next home may seem exhilarating, but that’s only if everything fits in the car.

Moving is undoubtedly an exciting time, but it can also be stressful—not to mention expensive. As a homeowner or renter, you can simplify the moving process and save yourself money by packing items into your car instead of hiring movers to do the job.

Here are eight tips to help you pack a car efficiently and safely when it’s time to move.

1. Downsize Your Items

Packing like a pro will be a lot easier if you can get rid of some unnecessary items. Start by taking inventory of everything you own. Then, divide those items into three lists: items to keep, items you don’t need, and fringe items you can’t decide whether to keep. With the items in the final category, ask yourself whether you’ve used it in the past six months and whether you’ll use it within the first six months at your new place.

Here are some ways to downsize when moving:

  • Donate used clothes and kitchenware

  • Sell appliances and unused electronics

  • Sell or donate large, bulky items 

  • Determine which fragile items may not survive the trip

2. Pack Clothes in Vacuum-Sealed Bags 

Packing clothes in vacuum sealed bags
Photo: bojanstory / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Bulky cardboard boxes are inefficient for packing your car before a move. If you don’t fill each box, you’re essentially giving away space that you could use for transportation more items. If you insist on using boxes, find the right boxes for moving that are the same size so you can stack them.

On the other hand, vacuum-sealed bags are the perfect solution for transporting clothes and other soft materials. Home goods stores sell vacuum bags for between $6 and $30, depending on size and strength. You may also need to purchase the electronic sealer, which will cost about $20 to $40

3. Sort Items By Type

Efficiently load items into your vehicle by sorting them by type first. This tactic will maximize space in your car and make unpacking way easier once you arrive at your destination.One easy way is to sort items by the room they’re going in. Create a box for the kitchen, bedroom, living room, and other living spaces. 

If possible, you should also sort your objects by weight. Ideally, you want the distribution of items in your car to be bottom-heavy and evenly loaded on each half of the car. This method helps keep your vehicle fuel-efficient during the drive and is safer for passengers.

4. Pack Essential Items First

Unfortunately, even the best planners sometimes overshoot how much car space is available. Worst case scenario: You run out of room in the car for essential or high-value items, such as TVs or antiques. 

To prevent this frustrating situation, pack the things from your “items to keep” list first. Whether that means you pack them in the box they belong in or find a neat spot for them in the trunk first is up to you.

5. Clean Your Car Before the Move

You can easily free up space (and possibly further downsize) by cleaning your car before you start packing. While you should consider keeping road trip essentials like a flashlight and extra blankets in your car, everything else can go. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find some stuff worth selling under the seat that’ll help offset the costs.

To go the extra mile, get your car detailed for a fresh start before hitting the open road. Detailing your car’s interior usually costs between $50 and $125, plus tip.

6. Take Your Car in for a Tune-Up

Female auto mechanic adding oil to a car
Photo: Wavebreakmedia / iStock / Getty Images Plus

For those opting to drive their personal belongings instead of hiring local movers, it's a good idea to be proactive and bring your car in for a checkup. Many mechanics offer a long-distance drive tune-up, where they check your brakes, tires, fluid levels, filters, and other essentials. Safety is top priority when driving with your belongings in tow, so don’t skip this important step. 

7. Fill Every Small and Hidden Space

When push comes to shove, you’ll need to maximize every inch of your vehicle to ensure everything fits. Stash your possessions underneath seats, in the glove compartment, and even in the space where you store your spare tire (assuming there’s room).

Pro tip: A quick online search can tell you exactly how much storage space is available in your car’s make and model.

8. Get Creative if Space is Limited

In some instances, you may realize your vehicle can’t fit all the items you planned. If that’s the case, you may want to consider renting a trailer or an overhead carrier to transport the rest of your belongings. Unless you have way too much stuff, in which case a local moving company may be the better solution.

A waterproof roof bag is the most affordable option. You can find them for as low as $75. Heavy-duty cargo carriers typically cost between $200 to $500, depending on size and durability. Long-distance trailers can be rented by the day or per mile, but there’s typically additional charges for renting and installing a trailer hitch onto your car.

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