Moving is stressful—it takes a lot of mental and physical energy. Don’t make it worse by haphazardly loading the back of your pickup. You can make transporting cargo a lot quicker, easier, and safer by learning the proper procedures for how to load a pickup truck bed.
How to Load a Pickup Truck
Consider Pickup Truck Accessories & Add-Ons
Depending on the job, you may want to add some rails or added anchoring systems for extra support and protection.
Bed Rails & Rail Caps – You may want to install bed rails or rail caps on the rails of the truck to protect it from dings and dents. They can help you prevent damage, preserve resale value, and improve functionality.
Tie-Down Anchors – Truck rails and racks can be uses to tie down and secure items, but you may also need tie-down anchors that get secured to the bed floor. If you need to drill into the original metal of your truck, however, it may devalue the vehicle and encourage rust.
Bed Slides – Truck bed slides make hauling cargo more convenient. Instead of climbing inside your truck bed every time you want to retrieve something, a bed slide allows you to slide the cargo out easily.
Bed Racks – Bed rails and extenders can help with some loads, but a truck bed rack allows safe transport of long cargo such as ladders, piping, and lumber. If you are transporting a lot of lengthy objects, bed racks significantly increase your truck’s hauling capacity.
Bed Mats & Liner – Mats and liners are great ways to maintain your truck’s factory finish and prevent scratches, scrapes, and dings to the paint and metal of your truck bed. Not only will this prevent unsightly scratches, it can also prevent rusting and other problems associated with exposed metal.
Bed Extenders – If you want to increase the hauling capacity of your pickup truck, you don’t have to buy a new truck for more bed room. Instead, consider bed extenders, so you can leave the tailgate down while having the support necessary to keep the load from falling out.
Cargo Nets & Covers – Instead of using ratchet straps and bungee cords every time you are transporting a load, consider a truck bed cargo net, which can keep all of your luggage securely in place. Besides effective performance, truck nets and covers are also easier to install and uninstall, saving you time and frustration when moving things. Cargo covers can offer durable and weather-resistant protection.
Tool Boxes & Bed Organizers – For those who frequently haul groceries or need to store tools for the long-term, tools boxes and bed organizers that lock are the way to go. While cargo nets and covers are good for protecting and tying down items, if you are looking for more protection and permanent storage, upgrade your truck with permanent boxes and storage space.
Other Things You’ll Probably Need:
- Tarp and plastic wrap
- Cardboard boxes
- Packing tape
- Moving blankets
- Ratchet straps and bungee cords
The first thing you want to do is check the weight (“payload”) limits of your truck. If you are only hauling small amount of weight, you can ignore this step, but when moving any significant amount of weight, you should always check to make sure your truck can handle all the weight.
How to check payload limits:
The maximum payload (GVWR, or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) will be printed on the factory label, normally on the inside door sill on the driver’s side. The sticker label may also be found inside your glovebox. If you cannot find the label in either of these two places, check your owner’s manual.
Make sure that the amount of weight you are transporting is under the payload limit. Making multiple trips a lot better than damaging your shocks, suspension system, and risking a blowout or accident.
You can tell if you’ve overloaded the truck if the steering wheel becomes heavier as you try to turn and maintain handling.
Move Heavier Items Near the Cab
When moving lots of heavy items, such as boxes of books and masonry, move them to the back of the truck bed, near the cab. If there is too much weight on the back axle, the front axle may not have enough weight to make solid contact with the road.
By moving heavier items near the center of the truck, weight will be more evenly distributed. This take weight off of the rear axle, which can cause poor handling and potential damage to the drivetrain and suspension systems. Secure the weight near the cab with ratchet straps.
Place Large Items on Their Side, on the Sides
If you are moving large pieces of furniture, such as tables and mirrors, make sure you turn them on their sides and securely wrap any fragile materials securely. The key is to make everything as stable and secure as possible. Load your largest items near the bed rails, away from the center.
How to pack glass and fragile items:
In order to make sure glass items are protected, wrap them in packing paper and secure them with tape before wrapping the glass with bubble wrap. If you have a telescopic box (wide and thin), use it. If not, you can create a makeshift box using the cardboard from smaller boxes. Simply bend the cardboard around your glass (you may need multiple cardboard pieces) and tape it together. Label the box “Fragile” on all sides and be extra careful during handling.
Make sure any glass items are securely wrapped and placed in such a way that they cannot move. You want your glass, pictures, and other fragile items to be as snug as possible.
Load Boxes and Smaller Items in Between the Large Items
Once you have loaded your largest items and placed them securely on the sides of the truck bed, the next step is to load boxes and smaller items in the middle. If you are stacking boxes, place the larger, heavier boxes at the bottom—smaller, lighter items should go on top.
What you are trying to do by placing larger items on both sides of the truck bed (with boxes in the middle) is maintain weight balance and protect all of your cargo.
Tie Your Items Down
Even if you have a cargo net or cover, you should always use quality ratchet straps to tie down your large items. Make sure that your cargo is tied down from at least two sides. You can also tie items down in an X-shape.
Make sure you safely store your ratchet straps away from the elements (sunlight, rain, dirt, etc.).
Shop around for a high-quality cargo cover for added protection, such as protection from rain and weather, improved aerodynamics, and added security. They are an investment, but a worthy one. Most of these covers will attach to the underside of your truck bed or come with attachment anchors for your rails and sides.
After securing the large items with ratchet straps, use tarp, cargo nets, or covers to cover the entire load. You don’t want things flying out on the freeway. Always use cargo nets and covers for light materials, such as landscaping trash and materials.
For a cheaper solution, you can use an appropriately sized tarp with integral snaps, or use bungee cords to tie it down.
Plan a Safe Route from A to B
When transporting cargo in your pickup truck, you want to choose the smoothest route, avoiding high winds, rough roads, and sharp turns. If you are driving on the freeway, drive on the right side of the road and
Items left out in the open are vulnerable to theft. Do everything necessary to limit this risk.
How to prevent theft while moving cargo:
- Keep valuable tools and items in locked truck bed boxes or in the cab to keep them out of sight and away from the weather. Lock the box and truck doors to keep these items as safe as possible.
- Try to keep your items covered, either with tarps/covers or in some container.
- Park in a safe, public, and well-lit area if possible.
- Minimize your stops. Try to travel directly from point A to point B without stopping to prevent weather and theft-related risks.
Give yourself a pat on the back and admire a job well done! By properly loading and transporting your cargo, you’ve prevented accidents, hassles, and wasted time and money.
Read Transporting Cargo Safely [pdf] from the Tennessee Commercial Driver’s license Manual for more information on inspecting cargo, cargo weight/balance, securing cargo, and cargo needing special attention.
More Driving Safety Tips:
- Safety Tips You Can Learn from Self-Driving Cars
- Headlights and Road Safety
- How to Share the Road with Cyclists
- How to Properly Position and Use Car Mirrors
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