Holidaymakers issued warning for overpacking their car this summer – insurance experts share tips for safely travelling with luggage 

Read our top tips on how to pack your car safely this summer.

As we approach the summer holidays, many families will be heading abroad or planning a UK getaway to make the most of the predicted warmer weather. 

However, those planning to travel with a lot of luggage need to be mindful that they are not overloading their vehicle. Doing so could result in drivers unknowingly breaking the Highway Code, and result in improper control of their vehicle. 

With this in mind, we at Howden have shared our top tips on how to pack your car safely this summer and the measures you should take to ensure that your vehicle remains road safe despite the additional weight. 

What are the rules around overloading a vehicle? 

According to Rule 98 of the Highway Code you ‘must not overload your vehicle or trailer.’ This is supported by several pieces of UK legislation, including Section 100 of The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, which states that the ‘weight, distribution, packing and adjustment of the load’ should not endanger anyone in the vehicle, or other road users. 

Calculating your vehicle’s payload weight  

The payload weight refers to the maximum amount of additional weight that you can add to your car before it is deemed unsafe. This includes the weight of the driver, any passengers, and luggage that will be loaded into the vehicle. You can use the following formula to calculate your vehicles payload weight. 

Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) – kerb weight = payload weight 

The GVWR refers to the maximum weight of the car and its contents, while the kerb weight refers to the weight of the car if it was empty and carrying a full tank of fuel. 

The main figure to focus on is the payload weight. This should be available in your vehicle driver manual and indicates how much additional weight you can add to your vehicle. 

The maximum payload weight will vary depending on the size of your car. For smaller cars, such as the Kia Picanto, Fiat 500, and Volkswagen Polo, the maximum payload weight can be between 385kg and 482kg. Assuming you have four adult passengers, each with one suitcase and a piece of hand luggage, it becomes quite easy to exceed a 400kg payload. 

Load Individual weight Combined weight 
4x passengers 75kg 300kg 
4x suitcases 20kg 80kg 
4x pieces of hand luggage 10kg 40kg 
Total 105kg 420kg 

Top tips for travelling with additional passengers and bags

Here are some of our top tips for maximising the amount of luggage you can safely travel with when heading on holiday.  

Calculate the combined weight of passengers and luggage 

If you are concerned that you are going to surpass your vehicles maximum payload it makes sense to weigh your luggage and your passengers before the journey. If you know the combined weight of everything you are packing into the car, you can be confident that you aren’t at risk of overloading. 

Load the heaviest items in first 

Start by loading the heaviest items of luggage into the bottom of the boot first. This helps the vehicle to maintain a lower centre of gravity and should make it the vehicle easier to handle. 

Smaller items of hand luggage can be tucked under the rear passenger footwells. This prevents the boot from being loaded above the top of the back seat, which can otherwise impede the driver’s rear view. 

Keep luggage strapped down 

If you are concerned about luggage moving around during the journey, consider investing in a non-slip mat for the boot or bungee cords to keep it in place. 

If you have an unused backseat, this can also be used to hold a piece of luggage. Use the seatbelt available to help secure it in place and prevent it from moving around in transit. 

Consider using vacuum sealed bags 

If you are travelling with a lot of clothes, consider using vacuum sealed bags. While this won’t impact the overall weight of the luggage, it can reduce the overall size of the item by up to 75%, which can allow you to pack more into the boot without impacting the driver’s field of view. 

Inflate your tyres to a higher pressure 

To accommodate for the additional weight of more passengers and luggage, it is recommended to inflate your tyres beyond their usual pressure. Your vehicle handbook will indicate what PSI to inflate your tyres to, to ensure that your vehicle can still be driven safely with the added weight. Tyre pressure information is also sometimes displayed on the inside of your fuel door. 

Ensure that you are inflating your tyres to the recommended PSI before beginning your journey while they are cold for the most accurate reading. If not, underinflated tyres can affect braking distance, steering, and fuel usage. 

A member of our Travel Insurance team said:  

“With nearly three-quarters of Brits intending to go on a holiday within the UK this year, many will be planning to drive to the airport at the start of their trip.   

“It is easy to overpack when planning a holiday, especially if you have children. Rules around overpacking your car are often overlooked, but exceeding your vehicle’s payload can drastically increase stopping distance and reduce the control you have over the vehicle.” 

Sources: Vehicle payload calculation, travel trends