Pickup Trucks: How to Transport Things

Updated: May 30, 2023

Get all your building materials home safe

how to transport things in a pickupFamily Handyman
Learn the art of hauling lumber and other building materials safely, even in a short-bed pickup truck. With proper loading, you can eliminate loss or breakage - as well as the chance of accidents.

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According to AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, poorly secured loads are responsible for more than 25,000 crashes and approximately 90 fatalities in this country each year. And on top of that, there are all those nonfatal injuries to drivers behind you and damage to their vehicles. Guess who’s responsible if something falls off your truck and injures somebody? Yup, you.

We checked with experts to find the best ways to secure loads on a pickup. Then we drove our pickup to the nearest Menards home center and loaded it with common DIY materials to show you how to properly secure them. You may think our tie-down methods are over the top, but securing a load to your vehicle isn’t just about making sure it all gets home. It’s about getting it all home without harming anybody.

You can use these methods when you’re moving furniture and other household goods too. They’re just as likely to fly off your vehicle and cause injury, and you’ll be just as liable. Check out these 11 awesome truck bed hacks, too, for some cool ideas.

Know the ropes—er, ratchet straps

Get the right equipment

Rule No. 1 in safely securing your load is to buy a set (four minimum) of heavy-duty 15-ft. ratchet straps (minimum 1,000-lb. load limit/3,000-lb. break strength). Sure, rope and bungee cords work fine if you drive slow and don’t hit any bumps or get into an accident. But in the real world, you have to be prepared to swerve or come to an emergency stop, without ejecting your cargo. That’s precisely when rope, bungees and twine fail.

Stay away from wimpy straps. Buy heavy-duty ratchet straps (1-1/4 in. or wider) and store them in a box in your cab to protect them from moisture and sunlight.

Hauling is Dangerous!

  • In California, 155 people were killed in a two-year period by objects spilled onto roads.
  • In Georgia, 66 percent of road debris is the result of junk flying off vehicles.
  • In California, an estimated 140,000 cu. yds. of road debris is the result of improperly secured loads.

Wrap flimsy materials

Protect against breakage

Just about every home improvement job involves hauling 10-ft. lengths of some type of flimsy material. But things like drip edges, flashing, plastic conduit or siding will all flop around and get damaged on the way home. So while you’re at the store, buy a roll of stretch cling film. Wrap both ends. If lumber is part of the load, wrap the fragile bundle with it for added support.

Bundle long boards

Stop wood from bouncing out

If you’re hauling a large load of long lumber, don’t rest it on a raised gate—it just can’t handle that kind of weight. Start by laying out two or more ratchet straps along the bottom of the bed and load the longest and heaviest lumber over the straps. Then stack shorter lengths on top. Secure the cab end, the middle and the trailing end with the straps.

Next, anchor the bundle to the truck bed with two ratchet straps. Crisscross the ratchet straps across the load, attaching one end to the cab end anchor rings and the other end to the farthest bundle strap.

Support and protect drywall

Ratchet straps help you push the envelope safely

If you have a 6-ft. bed, you’ll have to haul a large load of sheet goods with the tailgate down. We’re showing you an extreme example by loading 4 x 12-ft. drywall in a 6-ft. bed. Start by laying out two ratchet straps across the truck bed. Then lay out at least two 12-ft. 2x4s to help support the overhang (check the load limit of your truck and the weight of each sheet). The 2x4s will also protect the drywall from any water, rocks or crud on your truck bed. We scrounged up some cardboard corners to protect the edges of our drywall (check the trash bins in the store or lumberyard). Then tighten the bottom straps to secure the bundle. Next, run two straps from the truck bed anchor rings around the back edge of the sheets and down to the bumper.

Use a cargo net for bulky loads

Stop flyaways

There will come a day when you haul bundles of light materials like insulation. Don’t just throw it in the bed and hope it stays put. It needs to be secured too. The best way to do that is with a cargo net. Buy one at a home center or online (such as the Allied No. 84067 CargoLoc Adjustable Truck Net; available through our affiliation with amazon.com). Then snap the retainer clips into the anchor points on your bed.

Tailgate can be up for light 8- to 10-ft. loads

Don’t be casual about small loads

Light loads can rest on the tailgate. But they still have to be secured. Don’t fool yourself into thinking they’ll stay put because the longest portion is inside the bed. Use ratchet straps on the bundle in two places and secure each end to the anchor rings on the bed.

Red-Flag It

After you’ve secured your load, make sure you attach a red flag on the end. It’s required by law. Most home centers provide them for free. Just make sure you staple the heck out of it to prevent it from ripping off while you’re tooling down the highway.

Required Tools for this Project

You’ll need ratchet straps, a cargo net and leather gloves