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Car Safety Tips for Holiday Shopping

The holiday shopping season can be fun and fulfilling, but it is also a time when cars become treasure troves for thieves.

Here are a few car safety tips to help you get through the holiday season with all your gifts — and sanity — intact.

By parking in a shopping center's hinterlands, you can avoid the cluster of carts that can bash your car.

By parking in a shopping center's hinterlands, you can avoid the cluster of carts that can bash your car.

Lock Shopping Bags in the Trunk

You know this one: Items left in plain view are more likely to get stolen. If your vehicle has a trunk, make sure that's where you put the shopping bags.

Use a Cargo Cover

Many crossovers, SUVs, hatchbacks and wagons have exposed cargo areas. The fix, of course, is a cargo cover. If you don't have one or have lost it, order one from the dealership. If you do have one, make sure you use it — always.

Drop Off Gifts at Home

If you've purchased a big-ticket item or have completed a big shopping trip and need to go somewhere else, make a detour home to drop off your purchases. A few minutes of your time could save you a ton of money and lots of holiday disappointment.

Use Compartments That Keep Things Out of Sight

Many more modern cars have excellent storage compartments. It is not uncommon to find vehicles with two gloveboxes, an extra storage bin in the dash and a large center console. Some crossovers have a hidden storage area underneath the cargo floor.

Park Far Away From the Store Entrance

Parking far from the store or mall entrance has a number of benefits. First, you won't have to stress out or fight someone for a parking spot. Second, you will minimize the chances of your car getting dinged from a stray shopping cart or carelessly opened door. If you're shopping at night, make sure you're in a well-lit location. Be aware of your surroundings when approaching the car.

Use Remote Driver Door Unlock

Most car key remotes have a two-stage unlocking process. The first press unlocks the driver's door only, while the second press unlocks the rest. Make sure to use this function if you are traveling alone to minimize the chances of someone jumping in the passenger side.

Use Valet Keys and Valet Mode

If you don't already carry a valet key with you, this is the season to start. Whether you're valet parking at a mall for convenience or having dinner after shopping, this key will keep a prying valet or larcenous passerby from accessing the trunk of the car. If you want to keep your infotainment data private, a number of newer models from Ford and GM offer a valet mode for their systems. Valet mode locks the screen until a PIN code is entered. Read our article on car technology and privacy for more tips.

Use Back-Up Cameras and Mirrors When Parking

Holiday parking lots are a nightmare. Having a back-up camera can help you spot a child who might be in your blind spot. It's also handy for avoiding stray shopping carts. Don't make the mistake of only using the camera, however. Keep using your mirrors, and use the backup camera to get a full picture of what is around your car.

Don't Rely Only on Rear Cross-Traffic Alert Systems

Rear cross-traffic alert systems signal when traffic is passing behind you, and can be handy in a busy holiday parking lot. But if your car has this technology, don't make the mistake of relying solely on it. Testing by AAA indicates that when a car is parked between larger vehicles, such as SUVs or minivans, the rear cross-traffic systems are not as effective. In AAA testing, they failed to detect passing vehicles 30 percent of the time. The score for motorcycle detection was worse: The systems missed them 48 percent of the time. Also, rear cross-traffic alert systems don't typically work in angled parking spaces. They only work if your car is parked straight in a spot, according to the National Safety Council. As with backup cameras, it's best to use the system as a backup for mirrors and looking behind you as you exit a parking space.

Back Into Parking Spaces So You Can Pull Out Safely Later

It's not how most of us do it, but you will make a safer exit if you back into a parking space, rather than heading into it. "Pulling out of a parking spot, instead of reversing, is an easy way to increase safety and visibility in busy parking lots this holiday season," says John Nielsen, AAA's managing director of automotive engineering and repair. Just make sure the parking lot isn't too hectic so that you'll have room to back in. If you need a refresher, AAA has tips on how to reverse into a parking space.

Use Hands-Free Devices To Avoid Distracted Driving

The holiday season means driving in foul weather, putting up with kids shouting about what they want you to buy them and relatives texting you to pick up some last-minute gift. You can't do much about weather, kids and bossy relatives, but you can minimize handling the phone. Make sure your phone is synced via Bluetooth to take calls. If your car doesn't have Bluetooth, there are a number of aftermarket solutions. If you really need to reply to a text, pull over. Or, the next time you're car shopping, consider a vehicle that has a text-to-speech feature, which can read messages to the driver and understands the replies. Other systems let the driver scroll through several preset response messages.

Better yet, put the phone in the glovebox or trunk. Enjoy the peace and quiet. You'll need it before you hit the mall.