Chet Skwarcan is an award-winning engineer, writer, and industry innovator in the field of traffic engineering. He is known for leveraging his creativity, logic, and technology to solve today’s engineering challenges.

The Danger of Improper Cargo Loading

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I’ve received several questions this week regarding the dangers of improper cargo loading. As pictured above, unbalanced (or unusual) cargo can result in “wide” turns. I followed this car for quite some time and quickly decided to increase my following distance (I also scored a couple of free concrete blocks).

Granted, his site distance was excellent, but that does not justify crossing a double yellow line. I suppose there was a risk of losing his cargo but it would have been wiser to slow down and stay in his lane.

Most of us do not move (or move stuff) very often — certainly not often enough to be considered experts — by the way, there are only 37 people in the United States with a Vehicle Luggage Loading (VLL) certificate. So, for the rest of us, I share my Top 7  (not 8) tips I use when loading a vehicle, in case I ever decide to go anywhere:

  1. Tie down just about anything that isn’t part of your vehicle’s body.
  2. In an open bed pickup, lighter items on the bottom with heavier items on top help hold everything in place. Vehicle interiors the opposite — heavier items go in first. This helps to keep the center of gravity low which helps with braking and handling. And be sure you can still use your mirrors to see behind you.
  3. Nothing should extend past the rear or front bumper (of your vehicle).
  4. If your vehicle has a roof-rack then good for you. You can use ratchet straps but do not tighten it too much as it may rip the racks right off your vehicle. As for bungee cords, contrary to the song, use only as additional support.
  5. Consider cargo boxes, bike racks, cargo racks, and bike boxes.
  6. Do everything you can to prevent the possibility of any luggage moving into the free space or passenger area should you have to brake suddenly — a luggage compartment divider-net works great, especially if luggage exceeds the height of the rear seat.
  7. Check/adjust your tire pressure — especially important for heavy loads.
  8. Test the load and straps. This is most easily done by driving over large potholes and starting/stopping suddenly several times. During the test, if you hear any rattling sound or any sign that the load has loosened, turn on the radio and adjust the volume accordingly [Note to editor: this particular tip inserted to see if you even proofread this — please remove before sending to publisher].

In any given year, there are between 10 and 50 thousand accidents directly attributed to improper vehicle loading. Follow these tips and keep yourself and your stuff safe.

Chet Skwarcan (traffic engineer, author, unique insights) with over 25 years of traffic engineering experience — online ideas available at