FARGO – An estimated 84 million Americans will flock to tree lots across the country this year in search of the perfect Christmas tree. While finding just the right one may seem like the hard part, getting it home safely is where the real challenge begins.

Just like moving furniture, appliances or other large objects, transporting a tree is no different. If not properly secured, a tree can cause vehicle damage such as scratched paint, torn door seals or distorted window frames. Even worse, it could fly off or out of the vehicle and become a danger to other drivers.

A new survey from AAA found that 44 percent of Americans who plan to purchase a real Christmas tree this year will use unsafe methods when transporting it home – such as not using the roof rack or placing it in the bed of a pickup truck unsecured.

Losing a Christmas tree on the drive home would no doubt put a damper on the holiday season. But, more importantly, a tree that comes loose from a vehicle could also cause an accident. Previous research from AAA found that road debris caused more than 200,000 crashes during a four-year period, resulting in approximately 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths.

The roads can be treacherous enough during the holiday season with increased congestion and winter weather conditions without the addition of flying Christmas trees. Luckily with a little preparation, the right tools and the right vehicle – transporting a Christmas tree is easy with these tips from AAA:

• Plan ahead – before heading out to buy a real Christmas tree, make sure to bring strong rope or ratchet straps, an old blanket, gloves and of course, the right vehicle. One with a roof rack is ideal but a pickup truck, SUV, van or minivan can work just as well.

• Wrap and cover it – once you’ve found the perfect tree, have the lot wrap it in netting before loading it. Loose branches can also be secured with rope or twine to help protect the tree from damage. Also, 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 trunk facing the front of the car. If the vehicle does not have a roof rack and is large enough, 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 nylon 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 – once tied down, give the tree several strong tugs from various angles to make sure it is secured in place and will not come loose.

• Nice and easy – drive slowly and take back roads if possible. Higher speeds can create significant airflow that can damage your tree or challenge even the best tie-down methods.

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