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How to pack automotive parts – 11 vital considerations

Ian Heskins: Last Updated 19th April 2024
Posted In: Guides and Advice | Transit Protection xx 31628

Car parts packaging

The key considerations for successful packing automotive parts

Whether you are an OEM, tier 1 or tier 2 supplier, how you pack automotive parts can significantly impact your business success and customer relationships.

To successfully pack automotive parts, you must consider their weight, fragility, value, and how the parts are handled in the supply chain. Special consideration should also be given to packaging for car electronics, decorative surfaces, and lithium batteries. You must also decide whether single-trip or returnable packaging is most appropriate.

As such, this guide provides further details on the 11 vital considerations for car parts packaging so that your procurement, production and packing teams know exactly how to pack automotive parts.



An overview of the automotive industry

It’s easy to overlook the vast scope of the automotive industry. In the UK alone, automotive-related manufacturing contributes roughly £67 billion in annual turnover. In 2021, the UK manufactured approximately 860,000 cars, 1.6 million engines, and around 73,000 commercial vehicles.

So, with a single vehicle comprised of up to 30,000 parts, selecting the right packaging becomes a considerable task.

Cars on a production line with robotic arms working on them.
The automotive industry makes up a large percentage of the UK economy.

Automotive packaging options

There is also a wide range of automotive packaging types and options. Packaging for car parts includes everything from reusable supply chain containers, large “Dolav” containers, specialist inserts and dunnage, and even printed corrugated boxes for aftermarket components.

Choosing suitable packaging, and in particular using a custom-designed solution, can enhance handling, safeguard parts during transit, and optimise production line efficiency.

11 vital considerations for car parts packaging

How to pack automotive parts

Before deciding on the most suitable type of automotive packaging for your business, it is vital first to consider a range of factors that can affect your success.

The eleven primary considerations for how to pack automotive parts are:

  • The weight of the product or part you are shipping.
  • The fragility of the components.
  • The value of the items.
  • The processes involved in packing and unpacking.
  • How the parts (and their packaging) are managed within the supply chain.
  • Whether to use single trip or returnable packaging.
  • Specialist considerations for car electronics.
  • Prevention of corrosion.
  • Protecting painted and decorative surfaces.
  • Lithium battery transportation and storage.
  • How you can minimise your environmental impact.

Product weight

Selecting suitable packaging materials and construction

The weight of your automotive parts or components is crucial in determining the appropriate packaging.

For example, and perhaps obviously, heavier items require sturdier packaging to prevent failure during transit.

Conversely, lighter items should be packed to minimise weight, thereby reducing costs and lowering CO2 emissions throughout the supply chain.

Fragility of parts

Providing adequate protection in transit

The fragility of your car parts is another factor that dictates the optimal packaging for your business.

You may need cushioning and inserts to reduce damage from handling within the supply chain, even for more durable items that may not require such a high degree of protection.

Lots of parts lined up in a factory
Fragility and product weight can have a significant impact on the most suitable automotive packaging.

Item value

Appropriate automotive packaging costs

The packaging required for shipping high-value items like infotainment units or gearboxes should differ from those used for less expensive plastic trims or ancillary components.

This approach ensures that valuable items do not suffer costly damage in transit while keeping packaging costs to a minimum for other parts.

Your packing and unpacking process

The hidden costs of inefficient packing staff

Evaluating the ease and speed of packing and unpacking your products is essential.

Does your car parts packaging involve many secondary materials like bags, inserts, or films?

Is it straightforward to pack multiple smaller components into a single outer container?

Additionally, are there any extra steps that packing teams must undertake that could potentially affect production speed and efficiency?

Expected supply chain conditions

How do transport providers handle parts during transit?

It’s prudent to consider how your items are managed throughout the supply chain.

For instance, are there numerous touchpoints where mishandling could occur? Does the packaging need to appear presentable upon reaching its final destination, such as for aftermarket parts or retail items?

In addition to considering handling practices, it’s crucial to contemplate the modes of transportation and potential environmental conditions your car parts packaging might face. For instance, will it be exposed to outdoor elements or have the risk of getting wet?

A service repair with a new product being installed by someone
New parts need to be protected to be able to service repairs.

Single trip vs returnable automotive packaging

Can you take advantage of an established supply chain

One of the most crucial decisions when shipping car parts is choosing between expendable and returnable transit packaging. So, how do you determine which option is best for your business?

Generally, the longer the distances in the logistics chain, the less feasible returnable packaging becomes. Most returnable automotive packaging is utilised within shorter loops, often with fixed arrival and distribution points.

There might be scenarios where you lack reliable return transport, the parts are intended for direct use by the end consumer (making return impossible), or it’s not cost-effective to return empty containers to your warehouse or manufacturing facility.

Additionally, it’s essential to consider the preferences of different manufacturing plants or customers. Some may lack the infrastructure to dispose of large amounts of single-use packaging and only accept products in returnable packaging, while others might specifically request expendable packaging.

How to pack automotive parts depends on whether you are using single trip or returnable packaging.
How to pack automotive parts depends on whether you are using single trip or returnable packaging.

Protecting car electronics

Preventing damage caused by static

With technological advancements, many features in new vehicles depend on electronics and microchips. Systems like telematics, navigation, driver assistance, and even infotainment units use increasingly sophisticated technologies.

However, these parts and components are vulnerable to a distinct type of damage known as electrostatic discharge (ESD).

ESD refers to the exchange of an electrical charge between two objects. While this phenomenon occurs naturally, the heat produced during this process can inflict substantial damage to microchips and electronic components.

Because of this, various anti-static and conductive packaging solutions are essential in the automotive industry. Popular options, such as Corstat, create a “Faraday cage” effect that directs any static electricity around the exterior of the packaging.

Conductive automotive parts packaging with a PCB inside
Protecting automotive parts using ESD safe packaging is vital.

VCI protection

Preventing corrosion of metal parts

A volatile corrosion inhibitor (VCI) is a material that protects metals from corrosion (i.e. rust). Vehicles use a considerable amount of metal components, so shipping these over long distances has the potential for this type of damage to occur.

Numerous VCI papers and bags are available to pack components, while others may be coated in grease or similar substances to protect them during shipping. However, all these add another process to packing and unpacking operations.

An alternative is to coat your packaging with a VCI material, which can provide equivalent protection.

Scuff protection

Considering protection for painted and decorative components

It is essential to consider protecting surface finishes on painted, polished, or decorative components (such as dashboard trims, door cards, switchgear, etc.).

Typically, manufacturers specify that their tote inserts and dividers should use specialist materials that reduce surface scuffs and blemishes.

Less commonly recognised is the fact that cardboard can be unexpectedly abrasive. However, there are coatings available for corrugated boxes that can help mitigate this issue.

A wall full of alloy wheels
Anti-scuff packaging is vital in protecting parts you might not have even considered.

Lithium batteries

UN3480 legislation and guidelines

A new challenge for automotive manufacturers and parts suppliers involves lithium batteries. Commonly found in electric vehicles, the UN classified li-on batteries as hazardous materials. This classification mandates specialised packaging that is compliant with specific regulations (UN3480) for shipping.

Potential solutions include reusable aluminium cases equipped with specialised inserts designed to contain fires in the event of battery failure or malfunction during transport.

Environmental impact

Minimising the harmful effects of your packaging

Finally, what is your packaging’s environmental impact?

Does it enable you to optimise transport efficiency, or are you shipping a significant amount of empty space? Can single-use packaging be readily recycled by your customers or the end user? Or would returnable packaging be the most appropriate choice?

With most businesses placing significant importance on the sustainability of their operations, plus considerations regarding new legislation, ensuring your packaging minimises environmental impact is crucial.


Source the right automotive packaging for your business

Whether you manage packaging at an OEM, tier 1, tier 2, or tier 3 supplier, how you pack your automotive parts is obviously vital.

But so is your automotive packaging and, by extension, your packaging supplier.

At GWP, we have more than 30 years of experience supplying commercially successful automotive packaging to businesses of all sizes. We can also offer a full design service, manufacture your packaging at our UK manufacturing facility, and provide the full range of returnable and single-trip packaging options.

Contact us today for expert advice and assistance in finding the best packaging solution for your business.

Further reading

About the author

Ian Heskins

Ian Heskins

Business Development Director | GWP Group

Ian is one of the founding Directors of GWP, using his broad knowledge acquired over more than 30 years to oversee new business strategy
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