Now that Thanksgiving is over and done with, most of us can focus on the next big hurdle: Christmas. And since all retail stores collectively have started playing Christmas music on repeat until the holiday is over, I guess we can start thinking about Christmas trees and ensuing tree transfer, too.

Before I rattle off some tips, I’d also like to take a moment and ask if you guys are bothered by the mess the tree makes on your car? My family did it once. The damned thing left needles, sap and scratches all over the top of the car. Yes, we were probably doing it wrong, but we also found it too troublesome and have been using a fake tree ever since. Please don’t scream in outrage. I’ve heard it all already.

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In fact, it seems like trees and careless or uninformed people are quite a dangerous combination, according to the ever-helpful AAA. In a new survey, it estimates that 20 million Americans who bought a real Christmas tree in the last three years didn’t properly secure it to their car or truck. You can guess what happens after if the tree isn’t secure: road debris.

Also, how you secure the tree is also important. Turns out, there’s a wrong way of doing it. According to AAA: “Twine that is wrapped around trees and looped through door jambs or open windows can cause serious damage to door seals and window frames,” said Greg Brannon, director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations. “Drivers should never secure a Christmas tree to the top of a vehicle without a roof rack.”

Yeah! Here’s what you should do:

  • Use the right vehicle. It’s best to transport a Christmas tree on top of a vehicle equipped with a roof rack. However, if you do not have a roof rack, use the bed of a pickup truck, or an SUV, van or minivan that can 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.
  • Protect your vehicle. Use an old blanket to prevent paint scratches and protect the vehicle finish.
  • Point the 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, use 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 best tie-down methods.

Say no to flying trees! Don’t be this person.