The inefficiency of a cluttered car

We have given some tips on keeping your car uncluttered in the past. Recently, this aspect of clutter popped into my head again when I rode in a car that was unbelievably packed with anything and everything the driver had brought into the car over the years. I’m not exactly sure why some people feel the need to use their vehicle as a trash can, but the back seats of the vehicle I rode in were rendered useless by the amount of junk that was strewn about them.

In this 2007 article, Karen Youso of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune raises some valid concerns that extreme car clutter can cause for a vehicle:

“No matter the reason, however, operating a cluttermobile has some real drawbacks.

‘All that junk adds weight, and that affects fuel economy, especially in town, with its stop-and-go driving,’ said Bruce Jones, professor of automotive engineering technology at Minnesota State University, Mankato. The heavier a car is, the more force or torque is needed to get it going again once it’s stopped, he explained.

And, in turn, it takes more effort to stop a moving junk car. The brakes won’t last as long…

…More important, however, is safety. The stuff inside cars can become ‘weapons’ in a crash, and not just in a roll-over or a serious collision. Hitting something at 30 miles per hour might stop your car, but it doesn’t stop all the stuff inside from flying around. If anything strikes an occupant, it can severely injure and possibly kill them, Marose said.

In addition, when the airbag deploys, it comes out at about 200 miles per hour. Any object in its way is ejected at nearly the same speed, with the same consequences, he added.”

Whether you work out of your vehicle or you have a few children to tote around, make sure your vehicle is clutter free. The safety of yourself and your passengers may one day depend on it.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

14 Comments for “The inefficiency of a cluttered car”

  1. posted by Mike Stankavich on

    The Discovery channel show Mythbusters covered loose items becoming projectiles during a crash in episode 37. If I recall correctly, the tissue box was not life threatening, but heavier things were. It’s definitely food for thought.

  2. posted by Mike Stankavich on

    ARGH, it was episode 36 not 37.

  3. posted by Hayden Tompkins on

    I always keep my car picked up after what happened at work. The one time I vacuumed out my car and got it washed the next day my attorney needed a ride somewhere and I couldn’t believe how close I’d come to having him see a messy car.

  4. posted by jmanna on

    Containers work just as well in a car as any living space. I have two containers. Trunk items (My reusable shopping bags, a gallon of water, jumper cables, emergency blanket) and items I keep behind the drivers seat because I access them more often (window washer fluid, dust wipes and a few odds and ends I could probably cull from the container. The great thing about the container behind my seat is I have something that I can just pick up and put in the trunk if someone needs to sit in the seat behind me. I also hang a plastic shopping bag from my shifter for garbage. It’s convient for me and if I have a passenger I can simply put it behind me or in the trunk. Also makes the garbage easier to throw away.

    No more of that sheepishly pushing clutter and trash into shopping bags or to another seat to make room for a passenger.

  5. posted by verily on

    I make a habit of cleaning out my car when I go to the gas station to fill up my gas tank. I have sisters who never throw anything away and it’s disgusting; I always wind up the designated driver because I don’t want to ride around in that!

    My trunk looks cluttered and could use a little organization. However, on a stuff level, it really only contains an emergency kit for the car, umbrellas, and the occasional oddbit that I acquire during the week and forget to take out.

  6. posted by Penny on

    One trick I use seems to really help. Every time I use the car, I aim to take one extra thing out.

  7. posted by Carrie on

    I drive a four-door Jeep Wrangler Sahara and have limited hidden storage options.

    I bought a plastic, portable file box with secure lid that fits perfectly behind my passenger seat. (The box is 11-1/8″W x 14-7/8″D x 11-5/8″H.)

    The box allows me instant access to drop in receipts I need to keep, important papers, paycheck stubs, gadget chargers, a few office supplies, or whatever else I don’t want cluttering up my truck but need close at hand or organized.

    I also have an awesome (and stylish) trash container with straps that attaches to the headrest posts of the passenger seat and hangs behind it.

    Both the file box and trash container are quickly relocatable if I will be carrying additional passengers.

  8. posted by ari_1965 on

    I try to clear out the car when I’m at the gas station, too. However, I’ve never seen a gas station in Minnesota that has recycling bins. I don’t want to throw paper in the trash, even if it’s just a little receipt I don’t need to save. I no longer buy water in bottles on a regular basis, but if I do buy one, I don’t want to throw that in the trash, either. So I end up not being able to clean out the car entirely when I’m at the gas station. So, being me, I drive around with various recyclables all over the car until I finally get a wild hair up and decide to clean out the whole car at home where I have recycling bins.

    I heard a song once that said something about the state of the interior of someone’s car was an indicator of the state of his mind (it was not a compliment, in this case). If that’s true, I’m in trouble. A friend gave me her old crockpot. That was last spring. It’s still in my car. And the dog hair! In addition to dog hair from my two, I have dog hair in the car from dogs I fostered a year ago.

    Local parks in St. Paul and suburbs just this summer finally put in recycling bins near the trash bins in the parking lots. This is great, but I can’t believe it didn’t happen until this year. I wish the gas stations would follow suit.

  9. posted by Greg on

    I try to never leave anything in my truck. All trash, miscellaneous stuff – everything is taken out when I get out. And I have told the kids when they get out “take everything with you”. It has seemed to work.

  10. posted by Darren on

    @ari_1965: I’m a firm believer in the car as an indicator of the person; the way I’ve heard the expression is:

    “A man cares for his car the way he cares for himself.”

    It’s very much true. Every friend I have that keeps an immaculate and well-tuned car is also a fit and well-groomed person. Those who keep a messy “beater” car tend to be unfit and unkempt. Those (like me) who keep things more-or-less tidy and more-or-less maintained tend to be a touch overweight and not quite fit. 😉

    I think it’s because the same state of mind that makes keeping a clean car important also makes keeping one’s person maintained. I have personally found that committing to having less car (and house) clutter has helped me lead a healthier life in other ways as well.

  11. posted by Connie on

    Spoil yourself and once a year have your car detailed. It will motivate you to keep it clean for the rest of the year : )

  12. posted by jo martin on

    Point is well founded but the incorrect spelling in the title is disappointing

  13. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    Thanks for pointing out our error. We’ve since made the correction.

  14. posted by Anne Stockwell on

    I try to keep my truck decluttered because a) I like a neat truck and b) My grandmother ended up with a permanent dent in her scalp after she and my aunt were in an accident in my aunt’s camper. The only thing in the cab that was loose, beside their purses, was…a tissue box. But it was a heavy plastic tissue box and it landed on my Gram’s head.

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