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Reduce Car Clutter for a Safe Ride

Help make your ride cleaner—and safer—with these organizing tips.

car dashboard with a cell phone and cup of coffee.
Avoid having objects, such as cell phones and coffee cups, on the dashboard when the car is in motion.
perfectlab / Shutterstock

When you keep your vehicle clean and orderly, you're doing more than maintaining appearances. Clutter causes dangerous distractions, and loose items can turn deadly in a crash. Make your ride cleaner—and safer—with these organizing tips.

Secure all items.

"People aren't the only things that need to be restrained in a collision," says AAA auto safety expert William Van Tassel. In a 30 mph car crash, even an object as light as a one-pound tablet can morph into a deadly missile. Small items like phones and garage-door openers can slip under your brake or gas pedal, so stow them in the car's center console, not on the dashboard or loose on the passenger seat. Secure weighty objects—laptops, gym bags, and groceries—in the trunk.

Stash your trash.

A coffee here, a lunch there, and soon your car is looking like a rolling garbage bin. Clear up visually distracting clutter by keeping a trash bag in your car and emptying it every time you fill your tank.

Assign storage spots.

Phone charger in the center console, grocery bags in the seatback pocket, emergency kit in the trunk. Find a dedicated spot for the things you always keep in your car so you can find them quickly when you need them. For other items, adopt a two-week rule: If you haven't used something for 14 days, ask yourself whether you really need it in the car.

File important papers.

The glove compartment isn't a safe place for sensitive information. Instead, take a picture of your vehicle registration and your insurance card, and ensure the images are on every driver's phone. You can also put copies in your wallet for additional peace of mind. Keep the originals at home in a secure location, such as a safe.

De-junk the trunk.

Rid your cargo area of seasonal items, such as tire chains and beach chairs, unless you expect to need them. Store must-haves, such as flashlights, first-aid kits, and jumper cables, in sealable plastic storage bins or a dedicated cargo organizer.

Head off trouble.

It's common sense, but some items simply don't belong in vehicles. Pricey electronics, butane lighters, personal mail: If it's valuable, flammable, or private, don't store it in your car.

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This article was first published in January 2015 and last updated in August 2022.