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Driving something big

Okay, I’m about to rent a 14-foot U-Haul moving truck. I’ve never driven anything larger than a 2002 Toyota Tundra or a late-model Dodge Caravan. Any tips on driving a larger vehicle?


A 5’2" 120 lb 48 year old rented one of those and hooked her car on the rear in Chicago and drove to Baltimore without a problem. She said that after she realized it was not particularly difficult physically and mostly involved paying very close attention to the dimensions all went well. But she never backed up. And the trip was pre GPS. The most common accident in the situation seems to be crashing into low overhangs at drive thrus and gas islands.

Don’t forget that you are driving a truck and these trucks are top heavy. Take corners more slowly than you would take the corner in a car. The stopping distance for a truck is longer, so keep your distance behind other vehicles and look ahead as far as possible to judge traffic conditions. For rear vision, you depend on your outside mirrors. Make certain that these mirrors are adjusted properly for you. I think most U-Haul trucks are now equipped with automatic transmissions, but if the truck is a manual, you normally start in second gear and not first gear. Don’t lug the engine with a manual transmission. The trucks I rented had a governor on the engine. I would accelerate in each gear until I felt the governor limit the engine and then shift to the next gear. Take particular care in backing up.

Also note your wide turning circle, I rubbed a rented 29’ motorhome side on a post when I tried to turn too quickly. But that was the only problem I had on a week-long trip.

14’ isn’t real long, but it is wide and long enough that you need to adjust your mirrors carefully and learn to use them. Take your turns a little wider than you would in a car to allow the rear wheels to clear the turn, and watch those mirrors! There should be a big flat mirror and a smaller convex mirror on both sides. Adjust the big flat mirrors so you can see just a little bit of the sides of the truck and the rear wheels, and adjust the convex mirrors so you can just see the side of the truck and a good view of what is beside the truck. You don’t want to see much of the truck, just a little bit (in the mirrors). When you make a typical 90º turn onto another street, make your turn “square”. Pull into the intersection a bit and then turn sharply to make the turn instead of starting to turn as your front end enters the intersection. Try to avoid “jug handling”, meaning don’t swing to the left to make room for a right turn. Doing this leaves room for cars to try to get around you on your right, and believe me, there are drivers that will do it!

It isn’t that difficult. The issues are dealing with parking lots, making tight turns, and backing up. Setting the side mirrors is important, you don’t have a rear view mirror at all. You should need to move your head to the left, near the window glass, to see the side of the truck for the driver’s side mirror. For the passenger side mirror move your head to the right and you set the mirror so you can see the passenger side of the truck. With these mirror settings you can see down the side of the truck when you need to and you’ll see vehicles that are passing you clearly.

In parking lots, just go slow and park in less congested areas. If you have a passenger they can get out and be your spotter when you need to back up. If you are alone, walk behind the truck to be sure you have good clearance and then put your window down so you can hear any horns honking or pedestrians calling out.

On the road if you encounter sharp corners, remember you have a lot of vehicle behind you, don’t cut corners off the way many drivers do with their cars. Enter the corner fully, then turn the wheel as much as you can (perhaps to full lock) and take it slow. You can use the side mirror to see how much, or little, the rear wheel cleared the curb and that will be information you can use to judge other corners.

One tip to remember is that when planning a turn, get the truck to the outside arc beforte starting and turn sharply and slowly at the furthest point in the outside arc that the turning radius will accomodate. That moves the arc that the rear wheels will takke as far into the lanes as possible.

A 14-foot truck isn;t that terrible long, but it is long enough that the arc the rear wheels will take is within the inner arc of the front wheels more than the average driver is used to.

I can’t add anything to the good advice that you’ve been given other than just don’t worry about it that much.
Odds are after an hour on the open road you will get settled in and discover the truck is not that difficult to manage.

Modern rental trucks are much more comfortable to drive compared to the way they were 30 years ago.

Only other thing not mentioned is side winds - those tall boxy trucks will sway more in a side wind than a car/van. Not a problem as long as you’re ready for it.

You also need to try and think ahead in traffic about braking as a loaded truck will not panic stop as easily as your Tundra or Caravan. Leave plenty of room between the truck you’re driving and the vehicle in front of you.

“jug handling”

I’ve learned something new!

What’s pathetic is I see people driving compact cars doing it.

This sounds stupid, but people forget: Do not try to go through a drivethru or into a parking garage in the truck. Know the clearance of your truck (it should be displayed in an area visible to the driver, and if it’s not, go back into the uhaul store and ask) and watch the low bridge signs. If your truck is taller than the height on the sign, turn around.

Some guy was just killed at the Mall of America trying to drive his rental truck into the parking tower.

Oh. And take pictures of the truck from all angles and explicitly and in great detail note any damage anywhere on or in the truck. Take pictures of the odometer and fuel gauge before you leave, and after you return it. You don’t want some jerk at the uhaul store coming back in a month with a $600 bill claiming you scratched it and didn’t fill it with gas.

@circuitsmith: On jug-handling…I work at a school bus terminal where we have a lot of 84 passenger type D school busses (14 rows of seats, rear engine, and flat front with the boarding door ahead of the front wheel). The International busses can make a pretty tight right turn, but the Thomas busses just do not turn as sharply, and you have to swing wide on some of the right turns. Last year, some woman in an SUV drove into the side of one of the Thomases as it was making a right turn. The bus swung a bit left, and she tried to get around it, and POW! They had to bring a big Peterbilt hook to lift the bus so they could pull the SUV from under it. Fortunately, no injuries.

Some of those rentals have air brakes. They can take a little getting used to - they stop differently. Just take the thing into a parking for 10 minutes lot to get used to it.

Make sure to tie your load down really well, not so much of a problem in a truck that size but if you have a lot of weight and it shifts the weight could make the truck very hard to control or in extreme situations even cause it to turn over.

I drove a 16 foot Budget Rent a Truck from Denver to San Francisco without much difficulty. It was a good experience for the most part. The truck had plenty of power and was easy to drive. And the road over Donner pass was closed due to construction, so I had to drive over winding mountain roads through that area instead of the freeway, and didn’t have any problem with that either.

The only problems I had were (1) when loading the truck in a house’s driveway, I didn’t realize how tall the truck was and backed into the house’s rain gutter and dented it. A quick whack with a hammer on the opposite side of the gutter-dent set things straight. I also had some trouble with side-swiping branches on trees when I parked along side the road for the same reason. Remind yourself when driving that you are driving a tall truck, not a sedan; (2) the loaded truck was a little unstable when I ran over a bump in the road that only affected one side, left or right tire I mean. It set up a left-right oscillation that was a little disturbing as the truck tended to veer left and right. I discovered if I simply took my foot off the gas when this happened the truck would behave and go straight down the road again. It’s important when loading the truck to consider the weight distribution to minimize this effect. Keep the heavy stuff up in front, near the cab, in the center, and low. And make sure everything is securely tied down with strong rope so it won’t move.

Make sure the stuff you are hauling is safe to haul. Avoid putting any liquids – especially flammable liquids, paint spray cans, etc in with the stuff you are moving. You don’t want the truck or your stuff to catch on fire.

The only other advice I can think of is to check with your auto insurance agent to figure out what is covered and what isn’t when you are driving the rental truck. If the truck is damaged, who pays. If the stuff you are hauling is damaged, will you be reimbursed?

Every time you start from a stop, lean forward and look around those mirrors. They are blind spots and people can hide behind them. It doesn’t happen often but it’s a safe practice

If you are going to park at a mall, the priority is not the shortest distance to the establishment. It’s the easiest way to get out and get on your way. Try to park in a way that discourage people from parking next to you because they will.

Always remember that it is easier to back into some place than to back out of it.

Leave enough room for gentle braking. When you are empty in the back there is enough brakes in the back to lock up those tires.

Look at those mirrors but also far ahead. The easiest way to wander around in a lane is to solely rely on your mirror to position yourself. Again your braking should be gentle so look far ahead to avoid hard braking. Sitting high up you should be able to get a good look and plan ahead.

It really isn’t that hard once you are used to it.

The 14 footers are pretty easy to handle and have hydraulic brakes, so they pretty much drive, well, like a big truck. As others have said, get used to using your mirrors and know the height of the truck to consider clearances so you don’t crash the top of it into anything. Most of those boxes are made of fiberglass and will be badly damaged if you crash it into something. I knew a guy who had an old 14’ box truck (Econoline with a 351 Windsor two barrel and C6 transmission) that I used a few times. It drove surprisingly easily, but on one occasion his wife was driving it and hit the overhang pulling up to an ATM, which left a rather large hole in the left top of the box. The only other thing I have to add is that, when either loading or unloading, you may want to back up to the door of either house to make loading or unloading easier, and this may involve driving over curbs, which is fine as long as you take things slowly. I once saw a guy drive a U-Haul truck out of their new home’s yard quite a bit faster than he should have, which caused the rear wheels to bounce onto the road and the rear bumper of the truck to crash down onto the curb, causing quite a bit of damage to the concrete. No word on whether or not the truck was damaged since I didn’t see it again before he returned it. If you have to drive the truck over curbs, ease over and off of them to avoid damaging the curb or the truck, and approach at an angle rather than perpendicular to the curb so one tire or dually hops the curb at once rather than both at the same time.

Thanks, all. Got it done without serious incident. Most unnerving part was backing up, which I did a couple of times without assistance. Using the mirrors helped give me a reference for where I was in the lane. I took it slow and left as wide a safety margin as I could–also was very careful about the height clearance, which was conspicuously marked in the cab. It was surprisingly tiring just steering the truck over a distance–not physically, but in terms of concentration. I’m too used to car driving.


My first U-Haul truck experience was really wild. We were moving 125 miles so that we could attend graduate school back in 1969. The Shell station where I rented the truck gave me a special rate if I would return the truck to the station. The truck had “For Local Use Only” stenciled on the front bumper. I had to double clutch to keep the gears from grinding. The muffler was gone and the cab was really noisy. After we unloaded the furninture, I filled the gas tank at a cut rate service station and checked the oil. It was 2 quarts low. I added the oil and got a receipt. When I returned the truck, I turned in the receipt and the attended checked the oil. It was again two quarts low. The U-Haul dealer said, “The truck seems to use a little oil”. I think I killed every mosquito on the route we took. When I left graduate school, I rented the truck on a one-way basis. That truck was great–used no oil, was reasonably quiet and the transmission shifted smoothly without the need to double clutch.