It's time to send your kid off to college, but how can you get all of the stuff she'll need into your car? Before you make countless trips to stores to stock up on school supplies and dorm essentials, read our tips below. They can make packing easier—and safer. 

These days, college necessities aren’t just clothes and toiletries. They include computers and other electronics, furniture, and small appliances. You’ll want to make sure you pack your car in a way that doesn’t block your view and keeps items from becoming projectiles.

How to Pack Your Car

1. Prioritize. It’s tempting to bring everything your kids think they might need, but you should focus on items that can't be easily acquired near their school. Hit the local grocery store and mall once you’re in their new town to handle the stuff that doesn’t need to come from home or that might be bulky. Remind your kids that they don’t need their whole wardrobe, just enough for the appropriate season. They can swap lighter clothes for winter coats and sweaters during the Thanksgiving break.

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2. Know your limits. Just because you have an SUV or a minivan doesn’t mean you should pack it to the roof. Check the vehicle’s load capacity, which is detailed in the owner’s manual. If your cargo weighs more than your vehicle can safely handle, it can have an impact on your car’s handling, steering, tires, and fuel economy. And check the vehicle's tires before you hit the road to make sure the cargo hasn’t altered the pressure.

3. Place heaviest items up front. Keep them as far forward in the cargo area as possible, and on the floor. In all vehicles, and SUVs in particular, you’ll also want the heaviest items toward the center of the vehicle. This helps keep the overall center of gravity lower, reducing the likelihood of a rollover. Too much weight in the back could compress the vehicle’s rear springs and reduce the weight over the front wheels, affecting your ability to steer or brake.

4. Secure all loose items. Cargo can fly across the cabin if there’s a sudden stop, so pack smaller items into boxes and strap down larger ones using the car's cargo anchors. Secure the boxes and larger items in the cargo section to prevent them from striking passengers. Don’t put anything loose—large or small—on the top of the final cargo pile, because they can become dangerous projectiles in a panic stop or crash.

Car-Packing Tips for Heading Back to School
An obscured rear window makes driving difficult and creates a high risk when backing up.

5. Rear visibility is important. Don't stack belongings so high that you can't see out. An obscured rear window makes driving difficult and increases risks when you’re backing up.

6. Keep essential items at hand. Pack a roadside emergency kit. It should have basic items including a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, flares, and a flashlight. And don't forget your charging cables.

7. Maximize space. Use an overhead carrier if the space inside your car is too crowded. Just be aware that roof racks reduce fuel economy by about 5 percent. Take it off when not using it. And remember not to exceed your vehicle’s load capacity.

How to Pack Your Car Like a Pro

Ever feel like you just don’t have enough cargo space in your car? "Consumer 101" TV show host Jack Rico gets safe car-packing tips for maximizing space from a Consumer Reports expert, Jennifer Stockburger.