U-Haul - Driving with rented risks
June 24, 2007 9:30 AM   Subscribe

Danger in Tow - Driving with rented risks. U-Haul International is the nation's largest provider of rental trailers. A Los Angeles Times investigation finds the company's practices raise the risk of accidents on the road.

This in-depth article is the first in a 3 part series. "Times reporters Alan C. Miller and Myron Levin reviewed thousands of pages of court records, police reports and other documents on U-Haul operations and accidents. They interviewed more than 200 people, including about 60 current and former U-Haul employees and dealers. They spoke at length with senior U-Haul executives and toured company facilities in Phoenix." (About this series.)
posted by The Deej (49 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Here is the cover page for the series, with links to animations, video, and photo galleries. A recent AskMe features a related question and some interesting replies with more U-Haul related links.
posted by The Deej at 9:32 AM on June 24, 2007

Yet when accidents occur, U-Haul almost always blames the customer.

IANAL, and clearly there is some liability to be assigned to U-Haul for not requiring drivers to be adequately trained and certified to drive vehicles pulling heavy trailers, but certainly some of the blame does properly belong with the renters too, no?
posted by psmealey at 9:33 AM on June 24, 2007

Use my login info if you don't have an account:
name: darryl.asher@gmail.com
password: 123456
posted by The Deej at 9:41 AM on June 24, 2007

It would have been nice if the journalists had learned a little bit about trailering before writing this piece so it might have educated some folks about hauling. Weight is important, yes but so is wheelbase. An SUV does not = a truck with a similar engine in towing capacity (nor do the newer unibody trucks = an older style truck with a frame.) SUVs don't have trailer brake boxes, don't have the length or usually even the right kind of hitch to tow this size of trailer at high speeds on the interstate. The other key is knowing what to do when your trailer starts to fishtail and having enough vehicle to do it.

UHaul needs to be more knowledgable for sure (they've offered to rent me ridiciulous sized trailers for the vehicle I was using) but people also need to learn something about hauling before attaching a 14" trailer to their Ford Explorer and heading off down the interstate at 65mph.
posted by fshgrl at 9:56 AM on June 24, 2007

people also need to learn something about hauling before attaching a 14" trailer to their Ford Explorer

STONEHENGE! Where the trailers dwell, where the demons tow and they don't tow well!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:04 AM on June 24, 2007 [31 favorites]

I always give U-Hauls, Ryders, and the like about twice as much space as I would give a comparable vehicle, because I assume the person driving has never handled something that size before.
posted by Partial Law at 10:06 AM on June 24, 2007

IANAL, and clearly there is some liability to be assigned to U-Haul for not requiring drivers to be adequately trained and certified to drive vehicles pulling heavy trailers, but certainly some of the blame does properly belong with the renters too, no?
posted by psmealey at 9:33 AM on June 24

Wow, you read 11 pages in three minutes?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:08 AM on June 24, 2007

Evar since I took the Evelyn Woodhead Sped Redding course, my redding has improved 100%.
posted by found missing at 10:14 AM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here's a 2005 investigation in Canada by the CTV newsmagazine W5 (includes links to the video).
posted by evilcolonel at 10:21 AM on June 24, 2007

Wow, evilcolonel, thanks:

W-FIVE rented vehicles in four provinces and took them to licensed mechanics to see if they met provincial safety standards. From Quebec, to Ontario, Alberta to British Columbia, in every case the U-Hauls inspected failed...

U-Hauls checked at OPP roadside safety checks were failing at an alarming rate. "They're driving in and the failure rate has really been high," says Sgt. Cam Woolley of the OPP. "They've been hugely over-represented. I've been checking trucks for over 25 years and (U-Haul has) probably one of the worst rates I've ever seen"...

his past summer, staff from Takhar's ministry checked 693 trucks from 14 rental companies in Ontario; U-Haul's failure rate was four times the industry average.

If that doesn't convince folks to avoid U-Haul, nothing will.
posted by mediareport at 10:41 AM on June 24, 2007

Well, considering that commericial truck and bus drivers didn't even have to be trained under federal law until recently, it's not surprising that U-Haul takes a cavalier attitude towards its renters.
posted by footnote at 10:42 AM on June 24, 2007

If the trailers are anything like the trucks I wouldn't trust them as far as they can be driven into a brick wall.

Last time I rented a U-Haul they presented me with a truck that took several tries to start, had a break light on, and the seat jammed as far back as it would go (I'm 5'2").
posted by Kellydamnit at 10:42 AM on June 24, 2007

UHaul is a truly shittacular company. My own anecdotal Uhaul experiences:

- I've reserved (with my credit card) a truck for size X only to show up and be forced to take a truck for size Y. This has happened every time I have used Uhaul (four times now) and has forced me to take huge trucks when I only wanted a small one.

- In 2003 I moved 700 miles in a Uhaul truck. By the time I arrived at the drop off facility smoke was pouring from under the hood. We popped the hood to discover that the replacement battery had not been secured and during the trip had vibrated over to the fan belt which was in the process of chewing through the battery casing. The smoke was from the melted and burning plastic. Its conceivable that with a few more miles the battery could have been compromised leading to an explosion, fire, or at the very least an unusable truck.

- In 2000 a neighbor backed a Uhaul truck into my parked car leading to about $2500 in damages to my car. Because she had Uhaul's "comprehensive" insurance they were responsible for the damage, which meant that I had to deal with their claims department. It took six months, dozens of phone calls, several faxed and mailed packets of photos, descriptions, quotes, and finally terse letter from a lawyer before they would pay for the damages.

- In 2002 a Uhaul truck I was driving 300 miles overheated forcing several hours of delay.

- At various times I've helped friends move via Uhaul and experienced nothing but hassles, mysterious over charges, damaged equipment, long lines, and a host of other customer service related issues.

I will never do business with Uhaul again. I regret that it took me three or four experiences to reach this point. I will continue to do business with Budget and Penske - both of which I have had positive experiences with since abandoning Uhaul.
posted by wfrgms at 10:48 AM on June 24, 2007

It was really awesome when my U-Haul truck's turn signals abruptly ceased working entirely as I drove around on Atlantic Avenue.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:49 AM on June 24, 2007

I rented a U-Haul in January for an in-town dump of some old broken-down furniture and to test the quality of their trucks. (We were preparing to move to Chicago in February.) It could have been considered a death trap with all the shaking, loose wires, and general lack of upkeep. The brakes were considerably hard to work with, to boot.

Needless to say, I went with another provider (starting with a 'P') for the actual move after some recommendations and my experience with the in-town U-Haul. The difference in quality was night and day, and the price? Far cheaper.

I don't understand how that company stays in business. The moving supplies are great and all, but it's obvious that when it comes to their trucks, the company is running on cruise control.
posted by vanadium at 10:54 AM on June 24, 2007

W-FIVE rented four U-Haul trucks. Not a single one passed the provincial safety standard.

From evil colonel's link, as also pasted by media report. THAT is stunning.

I moved my sister from Seattle to Billings, MT in a closed "do not exceed 45 mph" trailer a few years ago. I pulled it with a powerful, long wheelbase 1979 Thunderbird, and didn't once consider going under the speed limit. It was a smooth ride all the way, but I wonder what would have happened if there was any bad weather, bad tires, or I had to make any sudden moves.

I also once rented a big truck from Charlotte, NC to Detroit. I picked up the truck and it had NO muffler. It was the only one left, and I had to load that day. The staff acted stunned that the muffler was gone. How could they not know? It was obvious as soon as you started the engine. It made me wonder, if such an obvious mechanical issue existed, what about the more important, but less-obvious safety problems?
posted by The Deej at 11:02 AM on June 24, 2007

Just finished the article, and whoever that U-Haul spokesman is, he's not very good:

Most states require surge brakes on larger trailers such as the model Sternberg rented. At least 14 states also mandate brakes on smaller trailers under common conditions. Yet U-Haul ignores this requirement, renting small and midsize trailers that have no brakes. In general, the state regulations say that trailers below 3,000 pounds must have brakes if they exceed 40% of the tow vehicle's weight. By that standard, two popular, un-braked U-Haul cargo trailers are frequently in violation of the rules...

Shoen acknowledged that U-Haul was not in compliance with the state motor vehicle codes but suggested it was a trifling matter. To make his point, he pulled out a news clipping about a 201-year-old North Carolina law barring unmarried couples from living together. What's important, Shoen said, is that vehicles towing U-Haul equipment can stop within state-mandated braking distances.

"The laws you're referring to are well-known to people at the state jurisdictions," he said. "But what happens is they enforce, or don't enforce, depending upon what the public good is."

posted by mediareport at 11:05 AM on June 24, 2007

W-FIVE rented four U-Haul trucks. Not a single one passed the provincial safety standard.

The Deej, that was just in one city. They rented *thirteen* trucks total, in four different cities, and not one of them passed the provincial safety standard.

Stunning isn't the word.
posted by mediareport at 11:09 AM on June 24, 2007

Using the "i hate blank" google search method of product research, it's pretty obvious that you shouldn't use u-haul. They inspire the sort of hate normally reserved for Paris Hilton, while there aren't any hate pages for Ryder, Penske or Budget.
posted by stavrogin at 11:26 AM on June 24, 2007

I have nothing to say in defense of Uhaul, but Most people I've seen renting and loading trailers are incredibly stupid and will typically ignore advice or warnings that they've over-loaded. The fact that your vehicle is classified as an SUV shouldn't imply that it is actually fit for sports or utility for starters.
posted by 2sheets at 11:28 AM on June 24, 2007

Ya, my quote was just from a photo caption. Crazy.

Oh, and the spokesman is Edward J. "Joe" Shoen, the CEO, and son of the founder. The sidebar "Making his point, at 80 mph" is fascinating, and tells about the drama related to control of the company. ("Joe canceled his father's health and retirement benefits, and blocked efforts by family dissidents to cash in their shares.")
posted by The Deej at 11:28 AM on June 24, 2007

This has to be at least the FIFTH major "expose" of U-Haul I'v seen in the last 30 years. Yet they keep doing the same crap.

The Shoen family is notorious for their feuds, and for their loose business morals. (Some people are ocnvinced that Leonard was murdered. And don't ask what happened to Eva Shoen. Look it up.) They get away with it because they are among the rock-ribbed supporters of the Arizona Republican Party. No one in Phoenix would dare to "investigate" them for anything.

Wikipedia on U-Haul

A notorious book about the Shoens
posted by metasonix at 11:29 AM on June 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

We nearly rented a U-Haul (truck and car carrier) for a CA to NY move last year, until doing a little research. If many, many online reviews and forum anectodes can be trusted, it's not unusual to get old, uncomfortable, broken down trucks that leave you stranded in the middle of the country, waiting for a mechanic or replacement truck sometimes overnight (and then getting stuck transferring all of your carefully packed belongings into another truck), etc. I read a post that indicated U-Haul is less likely to give you a new truck for cross-country moves because that local shop won't see the truck again.

We went with Penske, and had a great experience. The truck had around 4,000 miles on it, and the trailer was brand new. The employees were careful to go over how to use all of the equipment, and though it turned out to not matter for us, in situations I read about where people did need service, the company was responsive and helpful.

The web is a wonderful thing.
posted by phrenq at 11:32 AM on June 24, 2007

PS - however, based on our direct experience with a "full service" moving company, I would still be more likely to rent a U-Haul for another cross-country move than to let someone else have possession my stuff again.
posted by phrenq at 11:36 AM on June 24, 2007

The day before I moved to Virginia from New Jersey U-Haul called me up to tell me they actually didn't have the truck I reserved two weeks in advance, but if I still wanted one (gosh, I wonder, I thought, sitting on all my taped-up boxes) I could travel to another town 40 miles away to another center and pick it up. When I got it, I got into an accident on the way home. In the course of waiting for the police, the blinkers drained all the power in the truck, and then the truck locked itself from the inside. Because they're a private company AAA refused to come service it, so I had to wait six hours for the U-Haul people to come open the truck, jump the battery, and let me get home, with about two hours to sleep before I woke up and moved 250 miles away.

The following night I tried to return the U-Haul to the dropoff point, which was a half-abandoned lot in the middle of Fairfax with a note on the door reading "this is no longer the dropoff point for U-Haul trucks. Trucks must be returned at the office on ____ street." Because, having moved to Virginia half an hour ago, I knew where _____ was. I left the key in their mailbox with the printout of the dropoff location, and the number for both myself and my lawyer, explaining they can call both if they have a problem. Then I left. A week later they charged $50 to my Visa because I didn't refill the gas tank.

Fuck U-Haul. May the company burn to the ground and may salt be scattered where the remains lay.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:43 AM on June 24, 2007

Shit, I just rented a U-Haul truck for my move to LA this Wednesday. Son of a bitch.. I'll tell a friend to put a post here if I die.
posted by jmhodges at 11:44 AM on June 24, 2007

i was down south and our engine blew up. we were on tour and didn't have enough money to get a uhaul truck and a flat bed for the van, or get the van fixed. the local uhaul gave us over 1000$ off of the rental, maybe it was our story on top of the fact we walked 3 miles in the rain. oh and the flat bed was too skinny for the van, so one of the guys from the uhaul met us at our motel with a hand-winch and spent 6 hours on his own time squeezing the van on to the damn trailer. a total saint. 3 of us riding in the van on the flat bed for a week. good times and at least at that location they're alright by me.
posted by andywolf at 11:45 AM on June 24, 2007

Barely related, but my experiences with Budget were night and day compared to U-Haul. Clean offices. friendly staff who actually seemed mentally equipped to find their way out of paper bags, and vehicles that didn't make me feel the need to call my mom and tell her I love her, just in case.
(and the one time I booked a compact car for a weekend and they didn't have it when I got there they upgraded me to a mustang for the same price. Now that's service! I've NEVER been able to get what I booked in advance at a U-Haul, and always end up having to pay more for the next size up.)
posted by Kellydamnit at 11:52 AM on June 24, 2007

The two times in my life I've been absolutely certain I was going to die, I was driving a U-Haul. Both times, there was at least 8 inches of play in either direction on the steering wheel. It's like playing one of those "this is what it's like to drive drunk" simulators.
posted by peep at 11:57 AM on June 24, 2007

Folks, wear your seatbelts. This accident is a mix of UHaul, driving too fast, a lardass unstable SUV, and getting thrown from a rolling truck. Huge number of folks die needlessly after getting 'ejected' from rollovers.
posted by carter at 12:36 PM on June 24, 2007

Hmm, the article says she was wearing a belt. Not sure how the seat belt on a Land Cruiser breaks on a sub 50 m.p.h. crash, though.
posted by carter at 12:42 PM on June 24, 2007

To make his point, he pulled out a news clipping about a 201-year-old North Carolina law barring unmarried couples from living together. What's important, Shoen said, is that vehicles towing U-Haul equipment can stop within state-mandated braking distances.

Ha! That's hysterical.
posted by smackfu at 1:31 PM on June 24, 2007

Thanks for posting this, The Deej. I had a Uhaul truck reserved for a move tomorrow and just called to cancel it. I don't want to support a company like this with my business, going to go with Budget instead.
posted by Jawn at 1:38 PM on June 24, 2007

I was just at UHaul this weekend to help a friend move.

The truck itself was in decent condition. When we returned it to the yard, I witnessed some very unsafe behavior by the crew.

At one point while we were standing next to the truck, one of the employees zoomed by with the DOOR OPEN on his truck. It came inches away from hitting us.

When the U-Haul employee took our truck, he backed up at around 20 mph, again right in front of the store, where the safe speed was more like 10 mph. Oh and this was the biggest van Uhaul rents.

Finally, as I was waiting in line for my friend to pay, I listened to one of the employees talk about how he had failed to pay his car registration and driven it around for a year like that.

Not. Confidence. Inspiring.
posted by wuwei at 1:38 PM on June 24, 2007

Rented a U-Haul to move from Chicago. I'd had some uninspiring previous experience, and had heard bad things, but shrugged. The truck turned out to have a turn signal that once turned on, wouldn't turn off. Even with the key out of the ignition. And the key wouldn't go back in the ignition (it wasn't broken off -- it just wouldn't go back in). We got a U-Haul corporate mechanic to come by and fix the ignition, but the next morning the turn signal problem came back. The truck had to be delivered, half full, to a service center so they could fix that, while the rest of my crew did some last-minute packing and had pizza and dwindled away (the TV was already in the truck). Eventually got back with the truck and we finished, but had gone over our reservation period. Because of their mechanical glitches, mind you. When we delivered it they said everything was fine, but after we left tried to slap a punitive charge on the VISA, and charge us for obvious damage to the bumper that was there when we rented it (and was basically cosmetic in any case, but they hoped we'd pay for a new bumper, I guess). We got a chargeback for the amount we disputed. They put it into collections. A letter from the family lawyer stopped that.

The roving mechanic was a nice and dedicated guy. That's about the nicest thing I can say about the company.

Sorry, not about trailers, just joining the pile-on.
posted by dhartung at 2:05 PM on June 24, 2007

On a move from New York to Atlanta (y'all) in 2002 I rented a U-Haul. It overheated, several times, so I drove with the heat on to maintain temperature, it stalled, it would slow to around 20 mph on hills and was generally a piece of shit. Of course once all of your stuff is loaded in, you are somewhat committed to seeing it thru, luckily we made it. Planning a move in a couple months and I won't use them again.
posted by fatbaq at 3:34 PM on June 24, 2007

Fuck U-Haul. Such a horrible company.

I was living in a college town and was moving to a new apartment. I showed up for my designated time to get a smallish van, and they didn't have any. They'd already charged my credit card. So I raised a fuss and stood my ground (the guy in charge was used to bullying college students around). He chuckled and handed me the keys to something so huge I probably needed a certain class of license to operate it. So I took it, parked it out front of my old place, and realize the brakes weren't working. I had to find rocks to put in front of the wheels so the fucker wouldn't roll away.

Good times.
posted by bardic at 4:13 PM on June 24, 2007

When I was younger, my parents rented a U-Haul to bring back a freezer and some other stuff my grandparents in Florida had given them. We were about to stop for the night in my aunt's house in SC when the brakes decided to give out. Oh, and my aunt lived at the bottom of a hill...

(Dad ended up stopping the truck, by some miracle, Fred-Flintstone-style, with his feet).

When I moved to Boston, I drove an Enterprise cargo van there and back twice rather than use U-Haul!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:22 PM on June 24, 2007

Another of my stories: I helped my bro in law move from Seattle to Montana (ya ya I know, I keep getting suckered into that move!). It was the hottest part of summer, and it ended up the truck had no AC. Driving through the Montana badlands in over 100 degree heat is no prize. Of course they didn't tell him, so he didn't know until it was too late. (I got to drive the car. AC worked!)
posted by The Deej at 4:23 PM on June 24, 2007

I use the "[company name] sucks" method of google investigation before I use a new company. Wow, does U-Haul fail that one.
posted by jennyjenny at 4:33 PM on June 24, 2007

I always rent the cheapest truck for the move. In seven moves it has only once been u-haul. Usually Penske, Ryder, or Budget, but often local companies like Croft or Monarch in San Jose. What I've noticed is that if you rent at the bottom end of the price spectrum you always get a crappy truck, unless there's some kind of special. The exception is Ryder, which rented me a pristine truck for a very cheap price for my last move.

I'm sad to find my wariness of drivers in rental trucks and/or with rental trailers is justified.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:14 PM on June 24, 2007

I actually like U-Haul.

The few times I've been nearly "on the line" with fuel they've let it slide, and they could have been pricks about it and I would have understood.

Yeah, they really overcharge you for materials, but get your own shit, then.

The only real concern with U-Haul is with their customers. I have to say, in my experience they've been willing to let me rent trucks that really should require some additional license requirements. I'm talking 26 ft. beasts, plus another 14 ft. with trailer hitch. If you don't know what the fuck you're doing, you could really hurt someone. But that's not really U-Haul's fault. They leave it to you: if you think you can handle a vehicle that size, great. But if you get into a six-car pile-up because you underestimated the stopping distance of dozen-ton fully laden truck traveling at 65 mph., well, that's you're fucking fault.

U-Haul just gives you the rope to hang yourself with. And the way most people beat on those vehicles, the extended warranty plan (Saferide or something like that) is a pretty good deal. Anything happens to the truck under normal usage? You don't pay a dime. I once fucked the shit out of the transmission on one of their Ford 450's when I was moving during the winter. But because I paid the little bit extra, nothing was charged.

The thing I've found is that most people completely underestimate how different a large truck is from an SUV or a car. Not just obvious things like stopping distance or turning radius, but there's also things like height requirements, mirrors, the fact that you can't see directly behind you, the fact that a "fill-up" is going to cost you a hundred bucks and where to fill up the side-mounted tanks, and most importantly: if you ever break down or (more likely) run out of gas in one of these beasts on the interstate... well, you're fucked. Well and truly fucked. Because the AAA guys aren't going to have more than a couple of gallons of gas, which won't even register to your truck if you're on an incline. And towing? Ha! You need the kind of tow truck that carries buses. Those things aren't covered in your AAA agreement.

I speak from experience on that last one. :) Luckily I was on an incline in the right direction, and the next exit was only a mile down the road.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:18 PM on June 24, 2007

U-Haul is asking for trouble. My favorite rental truck company -- after many, many rentals now -- is Penske. They seem to keep their trucks in pretty good shape.
posted by Kikkoman at 8:58 PM on June 24, 2007

Man, I had no problems with my trailer this weekend or last. I was passing slowpokes on the Mass Pike, too, threading through traffic like a champ. Hint: Get a real truck, soccer mom! My F-150 didn't even break a sweat.

*does his little "I am so awesome and so glad I am finally moved in to my own place" dance*

posted by Eideteker at 9:03 PM on June 24, 2007

Eideteker, I can't believe you have a story about kicking ass with a u-haul trailer in an f-150. We really are some sort of bizarre life-twins.

Among other misadventures, I once took a 12' loaded with a half ton of sound gear through several miles of washes because I got lost in the desert. I eventually found a real road again... don't tell uhaul, you're not really supposed to take them offroad, eh? But that's because f-150s are actually good trucks, I have a 4x4 with good tires, and I know how to drive in sand.

I have had exactly the same rental issue as everyone else though - reserving something and it not being there. That said, I've also caused it for other people by sweet talking my way into a trailer I didn't reserve when the reserver was 15 minutes late. Oh well. Equipment quality hasn't been as much of an issue for me, but I haven't used them in years.
posted by flaterik at 9:23 PM on June 24, 2007

This was really well written and reported and I look forward to reading the rest. Poor Marissa Sternberg and her family. As yet another unhappy person who used U-Haul in the past (experiencing a broken gas gauge, non-existent shocks, shot brakes, and utterly shit customer service), I simply can't believe there hasn't been a class action suit against the company yet. I hope this series precipitates one and that they get to experience another form of bankruptcy besides the moral kind.
posted by melissa may at 10:40 PM on June 24, 2007

"howdy ma'am, could you spare a few minutes to help me look for my shetland pony? he broke out of my u-haul."
posted by bruce at 8:04 AM on June 25, 2007

Just moved last week, went with U-Haul because they were cheapest, and actually had a good experience, although in consultation with their representative we grossly underestimated how much truck we needed. Truck was clean, worked well, had A/C, and the car carrier trailer was functional, simple-to-use, and tracked nicely on turns.

Now we just have to check the CC bill and see if there's any malfeasance....
posted by adoarns at 8:28 AM on June 25, 2007

I rented from U-haul once for a 500 mile move. They were all out of the reasonably sized truck that I reserved two weeks in advance, so they gave me a 26-foot, manual transmission truck. Without even asking if I knew how to drive stick (I had learned less than a month before). And without explaining the freaky-weird transmission to me (almost died, folks).

Never again. Budget, Penske, local no-names... anything but U-haul.
posted by bigtex at 2:40 PM on June 25, 2007

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