What to Know When Renting a Moving Truck


As you might have inferred from my post about thanking friends who help you move, I recently made a move myself, driving from the East Coast to the West Coast over the course of eight days. It was an amazing trip — I saw friends and family, ghost towns, and wonderful museums (along with vast stretches of flat, brown land).

I made the entire trip — all 3601 miles (including several off-the-interstate jaunts) — in a 10-foot U-Haul truck. And after doing a lot of research into cost-effective moving vehicles, getting friends, family, and a couple of last-minute professional movers to help me, and spending over a week bringing the truck over everything from five-lane highways to gravel-kicking back roads, I've learned a few things about renting a moving truck. Here's some advice to keep in mind for your own DIY move. (See also: Pack Up Your House: Tips for Saving Money (and Sanity) on a Move)

Your Reservation Might Not Reserve What You Think

I learned at the very last minute that at some major truck-rental companies, such as Budget, your reservation might not be as firm as you might think. When I called my local Budget location on the day I was picking up my truck, the gentleman I spoke to said, "I don't know if anyone told you, but we don't have any 10-foot trucks. You have a 15-foot one." If I had just been doing an in-town move, this substitution might have been fine, but I was driving across the country — plus I didn't even have enough stuff to completely fill a 10-footer. I ended up canceling my Budget reservation and called various companies until I finally found a 10-foot U-Haul available 25 miles away. Some companies — including U-Haul — do guarantee your truck; just make sure you know the company's policy before making your reservation.

You Can't Rent a Cargo Van One-Way

Or if you do manage to rent a cargo van one-way, you're extremely lucky. This was my ideal mode of transportation based on the amount of stuff I had, but the major moving-truck rental companies will only rent cargo vans for same-city moves. I've been told that it's because of "wear and tear" on the vans.

Mileage Costs Vary by Company

Part of the reason I originally made a reservation with Budget was because their trucks include unlimited mileage for one-way rentals. Other companies include a set number of miles based on the distance you are traveling. In-city rentals (where you pick up and return your rental to the same location) are generally charged at a flat rate plus a mileage fee. All of that said, additional free mileage for one-way rentals can be added at the discretion of the location you're renting from. For example, the U-Haul office I rented from included an additional 25 free miles for me to get the truck back to my apartment.

Not All Trucks Can Tow Cars

Some of the smaller trucks from some companies cannot tow vehicles. If you plan on towing your car, make sure that your particular truck can tow — and make sure to include extra funds in your budget for the tow trailer.

Parking Can Be a Concern

My U-Haul had a 9-foot clearance, and other trucks can be even taller. Most of the roadside hotels we stopped at had open-air parking, and a 10-foot truck fits (if a little snugly) into an average parking space. However, for my final hotel in my new home city, I had to call ahead to several locations until I could find one that provided parking other than 7-foot-clearance parking garages.

Not Everything You Want to Be Included Necessarily Will Be

There are several conveniences most rental-truck companies have available...for an extra fee. Dollies, moving blankets, insurance, locks for the back of the truck, and GPS units don't come standard, but they can increase the safety or comfort of your trip. Budget accordingly. Also note that most moving trucks only feature AM/FM stereos. If you have an MP3 player and are making a long move, consider investing in an AM/FM transmitter or get used to long stretches of radio scanning.

Moving Trucks Can Be Easy to Drive

I was terrified to get behind the wheel of the U-Haul; I've barely driven a car since I sold my last one over three years ago, let alone a truck. But once you become used to relying on your side-view mirrors instead of the rearview, driving a moving truck is very doable. Don't be afraid!

Gas Isn't Included

Gas isn't included with your rental, so you need to include it in your moving budget — and you risk a paying a penalty if you return your truck with less gas than was in it when you received it. Another piece to keep in mind is rising or changing gas costs, especially if you're moving to a new area. Over the course of my drive across the country, gas moved from about $3.45 a gallon to $4.17.

Other than that, just be sure to pack securely, drive safely, and have fun! 

Do you have any advice for renting a moving truck?

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Guest's picture

You forgot "And rent from Penske....exclusively."

Meg Favreau's picture

Any particular reason why, Doug?

Guest's picture

Having done two cross-country moves with Penske, I think I can answer for Doug. Penske gives you trucks in excellent condition for one-way moves. They "retire" trucks earlier than others. (Most other companies won't give you their good trucks if they know they aren't coming back to their particular location.)

They were the cheapest price for both of my moves (3 years apart). Also, they offer a 10% discount for reserving it and a 12% discount if you are a AAA member (I signed up just for this discount and it was greater than the membership fee.)

I have driven 4000 miles in a Penske towing a car carrier and all my possessions. I have never had a problem with the vehicle. Once you ask around a little about other companies you realize how rare that is. I'll only rent from Penske in the future (hopefully not needing to for awhile though).

Guest's picture

Thanks for the tips! We'll be moving cross-country later this year too, except we're going west-to-east. One of the things I'm wrestling with is the best method for moving pets. We're also looking at POD containers (not for the cats) vs. moving truck.

Congratulations on your move. I hope you enjoy your new home!

Guest's picture

We rented from Penske and had a great experience. We did a one way move from Missouri to Texas and the cost was around $400-$500 and we kept the truck for a while to account for packing and unpacking. All in all, the experience wasn't as bad as we expected.

Andrea Karim's picture

Welcome to the West Coast!

Meg Favreau's picture

Thanks, Andrea! Happy to be here.

Guest's picture

@ Wayward
Pods are a good way to go as well as Door to Door. Just remember that you're responsible for loading them and it is worth it to hire professionals. While you don't have to worry about them accidentally offloading your belongings at someone else's home they also will not be responsible if things break because it's not secured properly.

Guest's picture

Yes, Penske and ONLY Penske. I was the worst moving experience of my life with U-Haul, and they did not give me the size of truck that I requested, as stated in your article. The truck was also filthy, infested with bugs, and they don't let you choose what location you will rent from, so I had to drive 20 miles out into the middle of nowhere (past more reputable looking dealers) and rent it from people literally living/working in a shack.

Then, long story short, someone siphoned gas out of my truck after I dropped it off in my new city, U-Haul said that it happened all the time but they couldn't prove it, so they charged me for gas.

I got a refund for the gas after contacting customer service, but I will never, ever use them again. I tell everyone I know to use Penske.

Guest's picture

I too, have made many moves, and have had friends who've made many moves. Penske has the cheapest prices and most reliable trucks. I've had *wonderful* moving experiences with Penske.

Beware uHaul. One of my friends had 2 uHaul trucks break down on her during a move before she even got out of her city. She had to move all of her stuff a total of 3 times before she finally got a uHaul truck that didn't break (the third uHaul truck made it from California to Texas). I've used uHaul before for in-town moves without a problem, but I'd be wary of them. Penske is a much better choice.

Guest's picture

I've had this happen too with U-Haul - rented a truck for a (relatively) short 7 hour trip, had it break down 3 times along the way with no response from customer service the first 2 times it happened. The 3rd time I was offered helpful suggestions such as "get someone to jump the battery". No apologies, discounts, or anything when returned, and of course hidden extra fees.

Guest's picture

I love the picture at the top about swearing at your heavy furniture! Moving is always such a struggle, and I'm thinking about getting some movers this time around. We're moving across the states, so I will have to rent a moving van one way. It's good to know that some places hold reservations and others don't. Thanks for all the great truck rental information!

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