31 Things Every Vehicle Needs for Tailgating

From cargo space to tow hooks, tailgating requires a lot of features you've probably never thought about.

Toyota Tundra SEMA Tailgating show truckToyota

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You’ve got tickets to today’s game. One of your friends just picked up an entire rack of ribs. Another has what would normally amount to a month’s supply of beverages on standby. You have your own mountain of meat and a bevy of buns ready to go, along with your beloved big screen. The only thing between you and pregame tailgate dominance is loading everything into your family sedan and driving to the stadium.

And therein lies the problem.

MINI Goal Cooper ConceptMINI

Vehicle size matters. Somewhat.

You can fit all your food supplies just fine. Or you can fit your grill. But not both. The smoker? That glorious temple of tasty, tender goodness? Fuhgeddaboudit.

For all its functionality, fuel-saving technology and comfort, a sedan—or for that matter any car—is going to place major limitations on your tailgating capabilities. There’s simply not enough space.

But tailgating requires a lot of features you’ve probably never thought about.

So you’ve got a truck, and you fit everything in the bed and head to the stadium. With your rearview mirror blocked by the same smoker that will get you unrivaled parking lot praise, you accidentally tap another vehicle. Getting out, you see a burly, hulking human being glaring at you for the personal foul you’ve just committed. And you’ll be cooking alongside each other from now until kickoff.


Tailgating is a deceivingly complex pastime. One that, as it turns out, is an excellent test of a vehicle’s overall capabilities both on and off the road.

We looked at virtually every feature available on a new vehicle today with a single question in mind: would this help with tailgating? The result? Below you’ll find 31 features and crucial specifications that you really should think about if you want the title of Top Tailgator.

If you want to see which vehicles actually come with these features and really maximize the tailgating bang for your buck, click here to see The Best Vehicles for Tailgating: According to Science.

2019 Honda Odyssey features an onboard vacuum.Honda
1. Unique Features: There are quite a few features that only exist on one or two vehicles, but that are super helpful in your quest to pull off the ultimate tailgate party. Things like Honda Ridgeline’s bed-mounted audio system, the Odyssey’s built-in onboard vacuum cleaner (shown) or the GMC Sierra’s six-position MultiPro Tailgate provide unique benefits that seem almost tailor-made to the tailgating scene. And while one really cool feature doesn’t automatically transform a truck into a tailgating king, the Ram 1500’s available RamBox storage system is essentially an ice chest built into quarter panel on either side of the bed.

2. Built-in Power Outlet: Bringing your big screen to the game is a great idea, and being the only person around with a blender will make you an MVP in some settings. You don’t want to bring along a clunky inverter or a huge generator, but you do want to watch the early game.

3. Sliding Rear Window: If you’ve ever been digging around in the back seat area of a truck to find the missing grill brush, you no doubt understand how important it is to simply pass it through the window to anyone sitting in the bed.

4. Pass-Through Rear Seat: Similarly, this makes the cut because it makes life just a little easier when it’s time to frantically search for the paper plates.

5. Power/Hands-Free Liftgate or Tailgate: Opening and closing things with your hands full is difficult. Doing so immediately after handling raw meat is downright unsanitary.

Chevrolet Teen Driver appChevrolet
6. Driver Restriction Features: As the category implies, options like Ford’s “MyKey” or Chevrolet’s “Teen Driver” enable you to restrict what the driver can do—think speed limiters and the like. That’s important so when you’re letting your friend take your vehicle to go grab more ground beef two hours before kickoff, you know exactly what they're up to.

7. The Ability to Fit Objects of Unusual Size: Let’s say you have a vertical smoker. Can you fit it without causing damage?

8. Rear A/C Vents: Hey, no one wants to eat warm potato salad. It’s good to keep cold air on it during the drive to the stadium.

9. Satellite Radio: You’re gonna be there for a few hours. You need to be able to switch back and forth between the best early games.

10. Keyless Entry: It’s important to keep your vehicle locked so no one steals anything…However, it’s almost as important to not have to drop what you’re doing to unlock it every time someone needs to grab something from the back seat.

11. Luggage Rack: Extra capacity certainly comes in handy, especially if you’re sacrificing a truck bed for your non-tailgating days.

12. Bluetooth Compatibility: Changing the game via your phone is like having a remote control for your car audio.

2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 spray-in bedlinerChevrolet
13. Washability: Can you wash out your cargo area with a hose? Or are you going to have to spend hours scrubbing grease stains from who-knows-what out of the carpet?

14. Leather or Vinyl Seating Surfaces: Cloth can stain. And smell. You’re essentially bringing an entire restaurant full of greasy and highly aromatic foods right to your vehicle. Like washability, relatively easy cleanup is key.

15. Entertainment System: Bring your TV, but your kids don’t want to watch today’s other big game? All your big screen bonus points fly right out the window if it’s showing three hours of children’s programming.

16. Privacy Glass/Cargo Shade/Tonneau Cover: Helps keep your belongings safer by hiding them from sight.

17. WiFi: Hey, you and your guests need to track scores.

18. Ground Clearance: Fun fact: Curbs in the U.S. very rarely exceed eight inches. It would be a shame if you couldn’t get to a prime grass-covered tailgating area because you didn’t have enough clearance to hop the curb.

19. Factory-Installed Spray-In Bedliner: How careful do you really think you’ll be with your grill once you realize the game starts in just 10 minutes and you still have to get inside and find your seat?

20. Tow Hooks: Anywhere in the Sun Belt, a canopy is essential. And you don’t want your canopy to transform into a projectile on a windy day, so tow hooks are a ready-made anchor point.

21. Seat Memory: Someone, somehow, is going to move your seat, and you’re not going to notice until you’re already on the highway after the game. Having it automatically return to normal is deceptively important.

22. Heated and Cooled Seats: You just spent several hours in either extreme heat or bone-chilling cold. Heated or cooled seats will be a godsend.

23. Seat Massager: Spending the better part of an afternoon in a stadium’s less-than orthopedically-optimized seating will make you appreciate this one more than ever.

24. Security System: You’re about to head into the stadium, leaving your vehicle full of valuables unattended. How much do you trust random parking lot strangers?

25. Illuminated Vanity Mirrors: Nighttime kickoffs are great, but you have to be able to check your face paint before heading in.

2019 Ford Pro Trailer AssistFord
26. Rear Parking Aids and Automatic Parking Features: There aren't many things more awkward on gameday than to bump—however slightly—your tailgating neighbor with them standing there.

27. Tow Hitch: That sweet, custom smoker-trailer you’ve always wanted isn’t going anywhere unless you have a hitch.

28. Blind Spot Monitor/Lane Departure Warning/Lane Keep Assist: Whether you’re navigating horrendous pre-game traffic or temporarily distracted while yelling at anyone who dares support your arch rivals, there’s ample opportunity for some of the more modern safety sensors to prevent potential embarrassment.

29. Maximum Towing Capacity: If you want to take your tailgate game to the next level, you need to be able to tow. If you can haul at least 3,000 pounds, you can take a small walk-in trailer to use as a command center. Starting at 8,000 pounds, you can bring along a mid-sized camper and turn your tailgate into the sporting equivalent of glamping.

30. Cargo Area: Fitting a lot in your vehicle on gameday is a big deal. For non-trucks, look at cargo area to the second row rather than to the first—you have to be able to fit at least a few friends, or it’s pointless having all that food.

31. Turning Diameter: Stadium parking lots aren’t getting bigger, just more expensive. Maneuvering into your spot with as little stress as possible is just one less thing to worry about as you start to get into gameday mode.

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Aaron Miller
As a veteran automotive journalist, I have been fortunate enough to drive some of the most desirable cars on the planet and get to know some of the most important people in the industry. Before joining Capital One, I served as the Cars Editor for a major national website, and covered industry news and analysis for well-known automotive-specific sites. I also wrote feature articles and reviews for niche enthusiast websites. I’ve been obsessed with cars since—literally—before I can remember, with my collection of die-cast and slot cars taking center stage during my formative years. Simply put, for me, working isn’t really “work.”