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Sometimes, car, truck, and SUV features are so convenient you don’t know how you lived without them. Maybe they’re heated seats or remote start if you live in a cold climate. Or perhaps they’re automatic sliding doors on a minivan If you have kids. One such feature is a hands-free liftgate, which changes how you load and unload your SUV or minivan. You’ll pay extra for this super-handy amenity, but you won’t regret it.

What is a hands-free liftgate?

The Honda Hands-Free Liftgate makes loading and unloading easier
Honda’s hands-free liftgate | Honda

A hands-free liftgate is a power liftgate that can be opened and closed without pushing any buttons. To activate this minivan and SUV feature, you typically wave your foot under the rear bumper while the key fob is in your purse or pocket, and the liftgate opens or closes automatically. No pulling the liftgate or awkwardly reaching for buttons while your hands are full.

This SUV feature is handy for unloading and loading bulky cargo. Even if you have a power liftgate that isn’t hands-free, it can be a struggle to fumble around for your keys while your hands are full of groceries or heavy belongings. A hands-free liftgate makes this task almost effortless.

How does this feature work?

The way hands-free liftgates work is pretty simple. There are sensors in the vehicle that can read motion and work like the button that opens and closes a power liftgate. It’s little more than a power liftgate with extra sensors that tell it when to open and close.

There are a few ways to activate a hands-free liftgate. In most applications, you kick your foot under the rear bumper. However, Subaru SUVs with a hands-free liftgate let you keep both feet on the ground, and you wave a hand or elbow at the Subaru emblem on the liftgate. On Kia models equipped with the Smart Tailgate, it automatically opens after you stand behind the car for a few seconds. No waving at the vehicle is required.

What vehicles have a hands-free liftgate?

Like many automotive tech features, the hands-free liftgate first appeared in luxury vehicles. Since then, it has trickled down to mainstream models.

For example, all four minivans on the market today — the Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, Kia Carnival, and Toyota Sienna — offer a hands-free power liftgate. It’s a godsend for families who regularly load and unload cargo such as groceries, strollers, and sports equipment.

This feature is also available on most mainstream compact, midsize, and full-size SUVs, but usually in the top trims or optional packages. For instance, you must upgrade to the range-topping Platinum trim of the Nissan Pathfinder to get a hands-free liftgate as standard equipment.

A hands-free liftgate might sound superfluous if you’ve never tried it. However, it’s among the most essential minivan and SUV features for anyone who regularly uses the cargo area. If you thought the regular power liftgate was a game-changer, wait until you try it with no hands.