How to safely carry a Christmas tree on or in your car

A man loading a Christmas tree onto the roof of his car

Nicola Dowse

Posted November 24, 2022

Is it legal to tie a Christmas tree to your car’s roof? What if it’s sticking out of the boot? Know the road rules so you can take your tree home safely without copping a fine.

There’s nothing like the smell of a fresh pine tree to put you in the mood for Christmas, but first you need to get your tree home safely. 

Each month 80 tonnes of debris is removed from roads across Victoria. By learning how to properly secure your load, you can ensure that your Christmas tree doesn’t add to that statistic – and that you avoid a fine at what is already an expensive time of year.

RACV Drive School Senior Instructor, Silvia Morris, says it’s important to be prepared when going to pick up your Christmas tree and to choose with your head, as well as your heart.  

“It is crucial to plan head and make sure you are able to safely secure and transport the load,” she says. “It might be tempting to get the biggest and most impressive tree in the lot, but drivers need to first check whether their vehicle is suitable to carry the load.

“Insecure loads are a significant road safety hazard, a tree that is not properly secured could fall off and lead to a serious or even fatal collision.” 

In Victoria, an unsecured load - be that a Christmas tree or another object - can cost you upwards of $242 in fines (even if it doesn’t fall off your vehicle), with the most severe breaches taken to court. 

Securing your Christmas tree on the drive home isn’t just about the financial repercussions either. Other vehicles and road users can be damaged by unsecured loads, with Victorian workers also put at risk by having to clean up the resulting debris. 

Christmas tree being loaded into a trailer

How you decide to transport your tree home is up to you, but there are rules you follow for your safety and that of other motorists. Photo: Getty.

The rules about transporting your Christmas tree home

The average Victorian will likely be transporting their tree home in what is classified by VicRoads as a ‘light vehicle’- any car, van, ute, truck or trailer (or combination thereof, such as a car with a trailer attached) that weighs in at 4.5 tonnes or less. 

According to the National Transport Commission (NTC), the priority considerations when securing a load to a light vehicle (Christmas tree or otherwise) are:

  • Ensure it is properly restrained

  • Ensure it doesn’t overhang dangerously

  • Ensure it doesn’t exceed mass limits

  • Ensure it doesn’t obstruct lights, indicators, reflectors or your numberplate 

Your tree also shouldn’t affect your vehicle’s stability to the point where it is difficult or dangerous to drive. It can protrude from your vehicle (the maximum lengths can be found on the NTC website), but not in a way that could obstruct, injure others or damage vehicles.  

If your tree does protrude from your vehicle, Morris recommends tying a high visibility flag on the protruding ends to make it stand out to other drivers. If driving at night, use a red light with a visibility of 200 metres. 

The tree must also be restrained so that it stays securely on your vehicle during normal driving conditions – that includes acceleration, heavy braking, cornering and potentially minor collisions.

"Sudden stops or fast turns can cause the object to move and may cause damage to your vehicle or come loose,” says Morris, adding that drivers carrying Christmas trees should take corners slowly and leave a larger following distance from other vehicles.


Christmas tree sitting in the boot of a car.

It's not illegal to drive with your boot open, but the same restraint rules apply and precautions taken if visibility is reduced.

How to tie a tree to your vehicle 

How you choose to restrain your Christmas tree is up to you and will likely depend on the vehicle you’re using to transport it, plus the size and shape of your tree.  

The two main methods of restraint are tie-down (literally tying down the object) and direct (which includes containing, blocking and attaching the object). Webbing straps, synthetic ropes, chains, tarps and cargo nets are some of the objects that can be used to restrain your Christmas tree to your car. 

Tying down objects vertically (with the force of the lashing pressing directly down on the object) is more effective than horizontally. Lashings that sit at a 90-degree angle are 100 per cent effective, those at 60 degrees are 85 per cent effective, while those at 30-degrees only 50 per cent effective (the minimum tie-down angle is 35 degrees).  

No matter how you decide to restrain your Christmas tree to your vehicle, make sure you use fit-for-purpose equipment that’s in good condition. That means checking for fraying, cracks, buckling, tears and other signs that could indicate the equipment is no longer safe to use.  

7 tips to get home safely and protect your car

Now that you know the rules, here are some handy tips to ensure you (and your Christmas tree) arrive at your destination safely: 

  • Secure the load and check its measurements are legal. 

  • If carrying it on the roof, place a blanket between the tree and the car’s paintwork.  

  • Water can reduce friction between the tree and vehicle, so consider using rubber matting to increase friction if transporting your tree in wet weather.

  • Wrap straps just above the tree’s lower branches, or (if the tree is wrapped) towards the end of the stump.  

  • Ensure the base of the tree is facing towards the front of the vehicle, this will stop the pine needles flying off on the way home. 

  • Avoid high-speed roads to reduce the risk of damage to the tree and the risk of it being blown off the roof, but keep in mind that improperly restrained loads are a danger at even low speeds. 

  • It is not illegal to drive with your boot open but the same rules around restraining the object apply and steps should be taken if having your boot open reduces visibilty.