Picking out a Christmas Tree Is Fun; Getting It Home Can Be Dangerous

Improperly secured items that fall from cars involved in two-thirds of road-debris crashes that killed 500 people over last four years.

Boy Scout Christmas Trees
Mike Lawrence—AP

People who have purchased a Christmas tree from a store or lot know that getting it home isn't always easy.

But not planning ahead or taking the time to securely store the tree on top or inside a vehicle can be costly and dangerous, according to the AAA. The motor and travel organization is out with a survey that estimates 20 million Americans did not secure their trees properly to their vehicles in the last three years.

The unhappy holiday scenario can damage your car by scratching the paint, tearing door seals and distorting window frames, costing up to $1,500 in repairs, the AAA said in a release.

Worse, road debris, which includes objects like Christmas trees flying off of cars, is responsible for more than 200,000 crashes that led to 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths over the last four years, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. And, about two-thirds of debris-related crashes involve improperly secured items falling from a vehicle.

Here are tips from the AAA on safely transporting your tree: 

  • Use the right vehicle. Use a vehicle with a roof rack. If you don't have a roof rack, use the bed of a pickup, an SUV, van or minivan that can fit the tree inside with all doors closed.
  • Use quality tie downs. Bring strong rope or nylon ratchet straps to secure the tree to your vehicle’s roof rack. Avoid the lightweight twine offered by many tree lots.
  • Protect the tree. Have the tree wrapped in netting before loading it. If netting is not available, secure loose branches with rope or twine.
  • Protect your vehicle. Use an old blanket to prevent paint scratches and protect the vehicle finish.
  • Point the trunk towards the front. Always place the tree on a roof rack or in a pickup bed with the bottom of the trunk facing the front of the vehicle.
  • Tie it down. Secure the tree at its bottom, center, and top. At the bottom, use fixed vehicle tie-down points and loop around the trunk above a lower branch, to prevent any side-to-side or front-to-rear movement. The center and top tie downs should be installed in a similar manner.
  • Give it the tug test. Before you leave the lot, give the tree several strong tugs from various directions to make sure it is secured in place and will not blow away.
  • Drive slowly and easily. Take the back roads, if possible. Higher speeds create significant airflow that can damage your tree and challenge even the best tie-down methods.

“Twine that is wrapped around trees and looped through door jambs or open windows can cause serious damage to door seals and window frames,” said Greg Brannon, director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations. “Drivers should never secure a Christmas tree to the top of a vehicle without a roof rack.”