Tips for getting your holiday tree home securely without damaging your vehicle

A time-honored tradition in millions of households this time of year is holiday tree buying. However, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, an estimated 20 million Americans who purchased a live holiday tree in the last three years failed to properly secure it to their vehicle.

Damage resulting from improperly loaded trees can lead to serious vehicle damage, including scratched paint, torn door seals and warped window frames, and dangerous road debris.

Whether you’re at a cut-your-own tree farm or a local tree lot, we want to make sure you are transporting your perfect holiday tree home securely without damaging your car. To help, follow our handy tips and tricks below.

  • Take measurements. Write down the measurements of the space where you plan to display your holiday tree at home, as well as the size of the roof area or back seat of the car you plan to transport it in. Keep in mind that holiday trees can be deceptively wide, and “you may underestimate how much room you actually have,” says Robert Gal, a Senior Manager of Performance and Accessories at Volkswagen. “You don’t want to get too ambitious with what your home allows.”
  • Dress appropriately. Handling a holiday tree can be difficult, uncomfortable and sticky, thanks to the tree’s scratchy and sappy pine needles. To protect your hands, it’s best to pack a pair of utility gloves. Also, be sure to check the weather before you leave to your neighborhood tree lot, especially if you are planning to transport on the roof of your vehicle.
  • Bring the right supplies. Regardless of whether you plan to haul the tree inside or outside of the vehicle, you should come prepared with the right equipment, including some dedicated ratcheting straps to secure the tree and prevent it from shifting in transit. If you plan to mount the tree to the roof of your car, you should ensure that you have crossbars or roof rails installed prior to your trip to help keep the tree in place. Bars can help protect your painted roof and sunroof from potential damage and rails will add additional support. Lightweight twine, often provided for free by tree lots, should not be used to secure the tree to the roof as twine wrapped through door jams or open windows can cause damage to the car’s window frames and water seals, and could obstruct the performance of the car’s side airbags.
  • Securely load your tree. Before you load the tree into or onto your vehicle, ask the tree lot to wrap the tree in netting as tightly as possible. If netting is unavailable, contain loose branches by wrapping the tree in an old blanket or tarp. Using ratcheting straps, tie the bundled tree to the crossbars or roof rails. “People will often secure the tree, but forget to secure the tarp, and when they drive off it flies off,” says Roger Chung, Manager, Accessories Development at Volkswagen. Always travel with the bottom of the tree trunk facing the front of the vehicle while transporting on the roof and within the cabin. Taking these precautions will keep features like the Panoramic Sunroof in the Volkswagen Atlas from becoming damaged and in working shape.
  • Adjust the interior to fit smaller trees. Large SUVs like the Atlas allow for its second and third row to be folded down to allow a smaller tree to sit flat, which should be holstered with straps tied to anchor points in the trunk to keep it securely in place. Before you leave the lot, give the tree a firm tug from various directions to make sure it is properly secured. If the tree budges, pull the ratcheting straps tighter.
  • Drive carefully and cautiously. Stay on local roads and avoid driving at high speeds. Watch out for large potholes and bumps in the road. Higher speeds can create significant airflow that can damage your holiday tree and challenge even the best tie-down methods. Avoid sudden and abrupt maneuvers, such as hard braking, and accelerating quickly.
  • Spot-check the vehicle. Check for tree sap and residue in and outside the car, and, if found, clean immediately. If found on the exterior, use bug and tar remover with a clean cloth to wash.