By Skyler McKinley
Special to The PREVIEW
An estimated 20 million Americans who purchased a real Christmas tree in the last three years did not properly secure it to their vehicle, per a new survey from AAA. That can have serious consequences: Vehicle damage that results from an improperly secured Christmas tree, such as scratched paint, torn door seals and distorted window frames, can cost up to $1,500 to repair.
“We’ve all seen a car leave a tree lot with a Christmas tree affixed to the roof and twine looping through the car’s door jambs or open windows,” said AAA spokesman Skyler McKinley. “As convenient as it might seem in the moment, failure to secure your Christmas tree can do serious damage — to both your vehicle and, potentially, to others on the road.”
Per research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, road debris was a factor in a total of more than 200,000 police-reported crashes nationwide, resulting in approximately 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths between 2011 and 2014. About two-thirds of debris-related crashes are the result of items falling from a vehicle due to improper maintenance and unsecured loads.
Drivers can face hefty fines and even jail time if an unsecured tree falls off their vehicle. In Colorado, releasing road debris that does not injure another person can lead to a fine ranging between $35 and $500. Releasing road debris that does injure another person is a class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense, with a potential penalty of 90 days in jail.
Per AAA research:
• An estimated 20 million Americans (8 percent) purchased a real Christmas tree in the past three years and tied it to the top of a vehicle without a roof rack.
• Millennials and gen-Xers (each 11 percent) are more likely to have purchased a real Christmas tree and tied it on top of a vehicle without a roof rack compared to baby boomers (4 percent).
• U.S. adults living in households with children (13 percent) are more likely to have purchased a real Christmas tree and tied it on top of a vehicle without a roof rack compared to households that do not have children (6 percent).
Vehicle damage resulting from improperly secured Christmas trees can cost drivers as much as $1,500 in repairs. Twine, ropes or straps can wear away paint and tear rubber seals when routed through door or window openings. Closing a door over tree tie downs may also permanently distort the window frame and tree branches often scratch the paint off the vehicle’s roof.
Typical vehicle repairs and their associated costs could include:
• Repair surface scratches: $100 to $150
• Replace the rubber seals on two doors: $220 to $550. Seal costs vary widely with the vehicle make and model.
• Repaint a severely scratched roof: $500 to $1,500. Paint color, finish type, prep work, paint blending with adjacent panels and other factors affect this cost.
Before you head out to purchase a real Christmas tree, make sure you have:
• Rope or hatchet straps.
• An old blanket.
• The right vehicle: A vehicle with a roof rack is best, but a pickup truck, SUV, van or minivan are also suitable.
Once you’ve found the perfect tree, secure and transport it safely without causing damage to the tree or your car:
• Use the right vehicle. It’s best to transport a Christmas tree on top of a vehicle equipped with a roof rack. If you don’t have a roof rack, use the bed of a pickup truck, or an SUV, van or minivan that will 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 unavailable, secure loose branches with rope or twine to protect them from damage.
• Protect your vehicle. Use an old blanket to prevent paint scratches and protect the vehicle finish.
• Point the tree 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, used 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 Christmas tree and challenge even the strongest tie-down methods.
By Skyler McKinley