Unsecured Christmas Trees Do Serious Damage

Millions of Americans fail to properly secure Christmas trees in transport.

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Traffic Safety

DENVER (Dec. 1, 2020)  - An estimated 20 million Americans who purchased a real Christmas tree between 2015 and 2018 did not properly secure it to their vehicle, per survey data from AAA. That's no joke: Vehicle damage resulting 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 dangling off the roof and twine looped through the car's door jambs or open windows," said Skyler McKinley, director of public affairs for AAA Colorado. "As convenient as it might seem in the moment, failing to secure your Christmas tree can do serious damage – both to your vehicle, and to others on the road."

Road Debris
Previous research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that, in a four-year period, road debris was a factor in a total of more than 200,000 crashes nationwide, resulting in approximately 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths. About two-thirds of debris-related crashes are the result of items, including Christmas trees, falling from a vehicle due to improper maintenance and unsecured loads. 

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.

Vehicle Damage
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's frame. 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. 

How to Safely Shop for Your Christmas Tree

  • Don't visit a tree lot if you or anyone in your immediate circle has tested positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing COVID-like symptoms.
  • Call the lot ahead of time and ask about their policies for visiting. It's likely they'll have reduced operating hours, or are limiting the number of people who can visit the lot at one time. Ask when they're slow and visit then, when crowds should be smaller.
  • Although most lots are located outside, wear a face cover and practice social distancing. Bring hand sanitizer and keep it nearby while shopping. 

Transporting Your Tree
Before you head out to purchase a real Christmas tree, make sure you have:

  • Rope or hatchet straps.
  • An old blanket
  • Gloves
  • The right vehicle: A vehicle with a roof rack is best, but a pickup truck, SUV, van, or minivan can also do the trick. 

Once you've found the perfect tree, secure and transport it safely without causing damage to the tree or your car: 

  • Wrap & Cover It: Have the lot wrap your tree in netting before loading it. Loose branches can also be secured with rope or twine to help protect the tree from damage. Prior to loading the tree, cover the roof with an old blanket to prevent scratches to the paint and protect the car from any damage. 
  • Trunk First: Place the tree on the roof rack or in the bed of the truck with the tree trunk facing the front of the car. If the vehicle does not have a roof rack and is large enough to accommodate, place the tree inside.
  • Secure It: Tie down the tree at its bottom, center, and top using strong rope or nylon ratchet straps. Avoid using the lightweight twine offered by many tree lots. Use fixed vehicle tie-down points and loop the rope or strap around the tree trunk above a branch to prevent any side-to-side or front-to-rear movement. 
  • 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.
  • Take it Easy: Drive slowly, and take the back roads, if you can. Higher speeds create significant airflow that can damage your Christmas tree and challenge even the strongest tie-down methods.

About AAA – The Auto Club Group

AAA Colorado is a proud part of The Auto Club Group (ACG), the second-largest AAA club in North America with more than 14 million members across 14 U.S. states, the province of Quebec and two U.S. territories. ACG and its affiliates provide members with roadside assistance, insurance products, banking and financial services, travel offerings and more. ACG belongs to the national AAA federation with more than 60 million members in the United States and Canada. AAA’s mission is to protect and advance freedom of mobility and improve traffic safety. For more information, get the AAA Mobile app, visit AAA.com, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Learn more.