Home » The Numbers On The Sides Of U-Haul Trucks Are Secret Codes. Here’s What They Mean

The Numbers On The Sides Of U-Haul Trucks Are Secret Codes. Here’s What They Mean

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For 79 years, U-Haul has been the go-to rental giant for countless Americans who need to move, buy a motorcycle, do some landscaping, or anything else that may require a trailer or truck bigger than the one you currently drive. U-Haul’s equipment is instantly recognizable from the unmistakable orange and white paint scheme to the iconic SuperGraphics. But there’s more than meets the eye. In addition to the little guy hidden in the SuperGraphics, you can learn some additional nerdy information by looking at the seemingly random set of numbers printed on each truck and trailer.

It’s amazing how much U-Haul has become just a part of everyday American life. Even if you aren’t renting something from the firm, you’ve probably burned at least a little bit of time on a long trip by staring at the graphics on the side of a truck or wondering if the guy dragging home a grain truck on the U-Haul auto transport told U-Haul he’s actually bringing home a sweet 1991 Honda Civic. The shenanigans caused by U-Haul renters have spawned countless memes, Facebook groups, and jokes. So, even if you’re a Penske guy, you know about U-Haul.

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Then there are U-Haul nerds like me. Or maybe I’m really the only U-Haul nerd out there who has never actually worked for the company. I mean, who cares about U-Haul enough to learn how to translate its fleet codes? I guess me, and probably only me.

Wait, Why Do You Know So Much About U-Haul?

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U-Haul

My U-Haul connection goes pretty deep. My family used to move around a lot. From 2000 to 2013, my family moved about 12 times. Sometimes, we’d move more than once in a year. Yep, that means I’ve lived in 12 different houses and been to nearly the same number of different schools around northern Illinois. I got to witness firsthand how a middle school in one town and a middle school in a town just a couple of miles away could offer vastly different qualities of education. Seriously, one school I went to in 2005 had a computer lab with a handful of desktops running, at best, Windows 95. Yet, I went to a different school in the same year and in the same county that had more brand-new Apple desktops and laptops than it knew what to do with.

Anyway, my family loved to move the cheap way, and that meant renting the biggest truck the local U-Haul outfit had, filling it up to the brim, sometimes twice, and going to a different town. My dad used to be an over-the-road trucker, so driving these beasts was a walk in the park for him. And I was always along for the ride in the cab. Moving so often meant I got to witness U-Haul equipment evolve, too. My favorite truck was an old 1980s International that the local “U-Haul Neighborhood Dealer” was still renting out in 2006. It had a manual transmission, a diesel engine, air brakes, and a deck to the ground thanks to the truck’s air suspension.

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1988 Jh P 1
U-Haul

I’m getting ahead of myself, here. After riding in those trucks for so many years, I began to learn as much as I could about U-Haul equipment. It’s how I learned that U-Haul made its own fiberglass campers and used to rent things like U-Haul-branded personal watercraft, U-Haul-branded VHS players, and U-Haul-branded ATVs.

Now, I want to pass my knowledge on to you, dear reader. The next time you’re at a card game with your neighbors, I want you to be able to tell them that U-Haul used to slap eight-digit numbers on their trailers and that you used to be able to rent one of those minivan roof storage box things, but with wheels. Your neighbors may call the cops and don’t worry, because the cops should know this, too.

The U-Haul Story Is Pretty Amazing

Why U Haul Orange Old Van Traile
U-Haul

According to the company, U-Haul’s roots were planted in the days following World War II. Leonard Samuel Shoen was born in 1916 in Minnesota. In his early years, Shoen worked on the fields of a farm after his family moved to Oregon. When he became an adult, he worked menial jobs like sweeping floors and washing dishes until he was able to open up his first business, a barbershop. This barbershop would help carry the young Shoen through medical school for his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor.

So, how does a man invested in medicine end up renting trailers? The book Family Wars by Grant Gordon explains that it started when Shoen took a risk. During roll call in one of his classes, he called present for a student who wasn’t actually there. The infraction was enough for expulsion. With his dream in tatters, Shoen enlisted into the Navy.

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U-Haul

Shoen fell ill with Rheumatic Fever during his stint in the military, which landed him in a hospital some 35 miles from home. When Shoen was discharged from the hospital and the Navy, he and his wife Anna Mary Carty Shoen tried to rent a trailer to move from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. Shoen found lots with utility trailers for rent for $2 per day, but the trailers had to be returned to the same location. That wasn’t going to work for a one-way trip. The necessary trailer never materialized, and the Shoens had to move with all of their possessions in their car.

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This sparked an idea in the 29-year-old Shoen’s mind. What if there was a business that provided rental trailers for the do-it-yourselfers who want to move somewhere else? This business could have a national network of one-way trailers, saving people money and headaches.

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U-Haul

U-Haul details what happened from there:

With a 1937 Ford and $5,000 in savings, Sam, Anna Mary and their young son moved from Los Angeles to Portland, Ore. During the drive, they came up with the name and formulated the outline of what was to become the U-Haul Trailer Rental System.

The Shoens launched U-Haul in the summer of 1945. The first trailers were bought from welding shops or second hand from private owners. Within two weeks of leaving Los Angeles, the first U-Haul trailer was parked on a service station lot and being offered for rent. By the end of 1945, 30 4′ x 7′ open trailers were on service station lots in Portland, Vancouver and Seattle, Washington.

An identity was established. First, the trailers were painted bright orange. Secondly, the name U-Haul Co. was established. Third, trailers were imaged on the sides and back with a sales message – “U-Haul Co.,” “Rental Trailers,” “$2.00 Per Day” – always advertising themselves whether on the road or on display. Lastly, trailer rentals were merchandised from service station outlets. A commission structure for dealers was established, and much of the early recruitment was done by a customer who was offered a discount on their trailer rental for establishing a U-Haul rental agent (now called U-Haul dealers) at their destination.

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U-Haul

U-Haul still operates this structure today. The company has corporate locations and countless local U-Haul Neighborhood Dealers that provide rentals in towns and rural areas not covered by the corporate locations.

U-Haul grew fast and by 1949, you could rent a trailer one-way in most major American cities. By 1959, U-Haul had 42,600 trailers in its fleet. Part of the U-Haul magic is not just instantly recognizable branding, but its equipment. A lot of firms will rent you an off-the-shelf trailer or a regular box truck. U-Haul goes the extra distance by having trailers specially designed for its rental service. The company’s distinctive trucks also boast low-loading floors, the famous Mom’s Attic, and other unique features on top of the iconic SuperGraphics.

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U-Haul

Early U-Haul trailers were little more than trailers with wooden sides. By 1949, these would evolve into metal trailers with tarp tops for roofs. Enclosed metal dual-axle trailers came in 1959 and by the 1990s, U-Haul’s trailers featured metal structures and fiberglass-reinforced plywood walls. Finally, in 2000, U-Haul started constructing open trailers out of galvanized steel for far greater corrosion resistance than in the past.

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As I’ve written about before, U-Haul once expanded so far that it attempted to be the go-to rental company to rent basically anything. In the 1980s, you could walk into a U-Haul location and come out with a Winnebago, an ATV, a belt sander, a fiberglass camper, and a paint sprayer. Some Michigan U-Haul dealers even rented adult movies, so you could bust more than a move. Today, U-Haul will not rent you an adult movie, but the company will rent you a storage unit in one of the historic buildings it restored.

I’ve said it before, but U-Haul’s trailers are masterpieces. They’re built out of heavy-gauge galvanized steel. A U-Haul trailer is heavier than a typical consumer utility trailer, but the rental trailer is built to be abused for decades by people who don’t know how to tow trailers and who might even overload them. U-Haul engineers these trailers to take a beating but also to be super easy to tow, so long as you don’t completely goof up and load your rental with all of the weight in the rear.

In other words, a U-Haul trailer is the best trailer you cannot own. Indeed, when a U-Haul trailer reaches the end of its service life, it’s sent to the scrapper. There are exceptions for tow dollies and trucks.

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U-Haul

The trucks have their own system within U-Haul. The company will rent newer and lower mileage equipment for one-way trips. Then, once the equipment gets plenty of miles and use under their wheels, U-Haul will pull them into local rental fleets. Finally, once the company determines that a truck is all used up, you’ll find them for sale. There is an exception to this, and it’s that the non-corporate U-Haul Neighborhood Dealers will often keep equipment far longer than corporate locations. That’s how my dad was able to rent a vintage 1980s International diesel U-Haul in 2006, when most other dealers and corporate locations rented gasoline-powered GMC TopKicks. It is a bit funny to think that U-Haul used to rent diesel-powered straight trucks with manual transmissions and air brakes and you were able to drive those on the same license that allows you to pilot a Yugo.

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How To Identify U-Haul Equipment

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Alright, so what can the numbers on a U-Haul trailer or truck tell you? I’m glad you asked! Wait, you didn’t ask? Well, I’m going to tell you, anyway. Years ago, I interviewed a U-Haul manager and they told me U-Haul calls the code a Fleet Number. That makes total sense. You’ll find a U-Haul trailer’s and truck’s Fleet Number in multiple places, including fenders, bumpers, and on the cargo boxes themselves.

Preceding the number on the equipment is typically two letters and after the number is one more letter. The prefix indicates U-Haul model, the digits are the rental’s serial number, and the letter at the end either indicates when it was built or what makes it different from other models of the same series. U-Haul gives one example. A TD…L is a tow dolly, but the “L” indicates a tow dolly with a different coupler and a surge brake.

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Uhaul Number

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For another example, U-Haul’s discontinued 24-foot single-family home moving trucks were the “GH” series, while the 26-foot models were the “JH” series. A theoretical JH can be “JH 1320 M.” In the case of later-year GM trucks, the GH series were GMC C5500s while the JH trucks were GMC C6500s.

Since General Motors discontinued the Kodiak and TopKick, U-Haul moved to the Ford F-Series. Today, you’ll usually find a Ford F-650 in front of the JH 26-foot box. Thankfully, these trucks use gasoline engines, automatic transmissions, and hydraulic brakes. You don’t need to have a history of long-haul trucking to drive them, but they’re still pretty comically large for someone who might not have ever driven something bigger than a Toyota Camry.

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Before I continue, you may wonder how people are able to do that. In my state of Illinois, a standard driver’s license gets you to 16,000 pounds. However, a loaded 26-foot U-Haul weighs 25,999 pounds. What gives? Well, just like how many states allow you to drive a giant motorhome on your standard license, rental vehicles like U-Hauls are also often exempt from some weight rules.

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Alright, so here’s how to identify a U-Haul truck by just its prefix. Sadly I don’t have pictures for every variation:

BP (8′ Truck – Ford F-150/Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra.)

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BE (9′ Van – Ford E-Series/Ford Transit.)

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TM (10′ Cube – Ford E-Series Chassis Cab/GMC Savana Chassis Cab.)

David Tracy

DC (15′ Cube – Ford E-Series Chassis Cab.)

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EL (17′ Cube – Ford E-Series Chassis Cab.)

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U-Haul

TT (20′ Cube – Ford E-Series Chassis Cab.)

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U-Haul

GH (24′ Cube – GMC C5500.)
JH (26′ Cube – GMC C6500/Ford F-650.)

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U-Haul’s trucks are no longer as granular as this. In the modern era, U-Haul no longer rents the 17-foot truck or the 24-foot truck. In my family’s experience, the 17-footer and the 24-footer weren’t really substantially different enough from the 15-foot truck and the 26-foot truck to make renting them worth it. If we need more space than a 15-foot truck provided, the 17-foot truck was also unlikely to fit the bill. Likewise, if we were moving enough stuff to fit in a 24-foot truck, chances are the extra two feet was welcome.

U-Haul says its 26-foot truck was launched in 1988, the same year it started applying SuperGraphics to its rental vehicles. The trailers are where the fun really begins, and here’s how you can identify one of those by its prefix:

AO (5×8 open trailer.)

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FS (4×7 open trailer.)

Fs Trailer Lumber
U-Haul

HO (6×12 open trailer with ramp.)

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U-Haul

RO (6×12 open trailer.)

David Tracy

RT (5×9 open trailer with ramp.)

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U-Haul

LV (4×6 enclosed trailer.)
UV (4×8 enclosed trailer.)

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U-Haul

AV (5×8 enclosed trailer.)

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MV (5×10 enclosed trailer.)
RV (6×12 enclosed trailer.)

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U-Haul

MT (Motorcycle Trailer.)

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TD (Tow Dolly.)

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U-Haul

AT (Auto Transport.)

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ST (Sport Trailer.)

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Federico Tire & U-Haul

UB (U-Box Trailer.)

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U-Haul

CT (13ft fiberglass camper.)

VT (16ft fiberglass camper.)

Roy Munson – Facebook Marketplace

A couple of these trailers are no longer rented by U-Haul corporate locations, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you found one at a neighborhood dealer. Discontinued trailers include the LV 4×6 enclosed trailer, the MV 5×10 enclosed trailer, and the GT Sport Trailer. Now, to be clear here, “discontinued” simply means you won’t find it on U-Haul’s website or openly advertised. I’ve been told by U-Haul employees that if you happen to find a discontinued piece of equipment still at a U-Haul shop, you can often still rent it in person.

I’ve written about the CT13 and the VT16 fiberglass campers in the past. Those two trailers, along with the TD Tow Dolly, are some of the only trailers U-Haul sold to the public after rental service. What I haven’t talked about is the ST, the little Sport Trailer.

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Federico Tire & U-Haul

According to a clipping of the U-Haul World newsletter, this trailer made its debut in the mid-1990s as a tiny trailer able to be towed behind literally any car without impacting its performance. U-Haul’s target customer was someone with a sports car or compact car that wouldn’t be able to tow one of the firm’s other cargo trailer rentals. These people wouldn’t be moving furniture, but perhaps they were students moving into a dorm or someone getting a large purchase home from a store. U-Haul also saw the trailer as something you could rent for a day for recreation. The inner compartment, which was sealed from the outside, was even able to be used as a large ice chest. The fiberglass trailer weighed 535 pounds empty and had a carrying capacity of 965 pounds.

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Federico Tire & U-Haul

To prove how light, stable, and aerodynamic the Sport Trailer was, U-Haul hooked one up to a souped up 1927 Ford roadster driven by racer Ron Hope. The hot rod and trailer were then taken to Bonneville where it hit 141.096 mph with the trailer attached.

According to some U-Haul employees, this trailer was discontinued due to low demand. That said, some U-Haul locations are said to have this trailer in stock, even almost 30 years later. This includes a U-Haul location in Chicago and Aurora. I feel tempted to rent one just to try a piece of rental history.

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Federico Tire & U-Haul

Speaking of 30 years, it is possible to run into a U-Haul trailer that’s older than a few decades. They’re rare, but you’ll spot them as they carry Fleet Numbers consisting of four numbers, two letters, and four more numbers. An example is the vintage Sport Van trailer, a low-profile enclosed cargo trailer with a roof rack. These trailers were old enough to have a Fleet Number like “3868 SV 3760.” Another example is a vintage 4×6 open trailer with Fleet Number “2734 LS 1942.”

Older trucks were given fleet codes in this configuration as well, but it’s unlikely you’ll find any of those still in service. Sadly, I could not find a noted date when U-Haul switched its numbering system, but it would appear to have happened sometime in the early 1990s or prior.

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U-Haul

So, there you have it. The next time you’re bored and traveling down America’s byways, you can pass some time by distracting yourself by identifying U-Hauls. Or, now you know some trivia that you probably won’t be able to use to win a game show. At the very least, I won’t be the only person with this information living rent-free in my head.

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If you know any additional information about how U-Haul used to identify its trailers or maybe some additional vintage U-Haul trailer models I didn’t list, I would love to know! Send me an email at mercedes@theautopian.com.

(Images: Author, U-Haul, unless otherwise noted.)

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Bqpqfb
Bqpqfb
1 day ago

After reading this article, I noticed four Sport Trailers behind the corporate location in Madison, WI. I had never noticed them before – visible from a very popular bike trail. Maybe I will stop in and inquire.

Swedish Jeep
Swedish Jeep
11 days ago

Uhauls also played an interesting part of the non-moving rental market. We got these all the time- Young people (18+) could rent the trucks as rentals as long as they had a valid license- during the week we would let the regular trucks and vans go out for a few days. We also knew people under 25 who would rent a small (Toyota Mini) one way to a not too far off place, and use it for a week while their car was in the shop or whatever, and then they would return it and pay the 19.95 per day and 39 cents per mile. We were told by a couple of people that they even got rental car reimbursement. from their insurance (I believe at the time-90s even Enterprise would only rent 21-over).

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
12 days ago

Many years ago we were visiting the Bend Oregon area for a quilt show with our infant in our ’80 Vanagon Wesfalia. Ugh, a valve seat lifted out of a head rendering us immobile. Headed to the U-Haul place to rent a truck and dolly to get home. At the time people were fleeing California, so renting the truck was free as they wanted the truck back in CA. The dolly was $45 if I recall. But, the ONLY truck they had that had a third seat for the baby carseat was their largest truck! So here were driving an empty giant truck towing a Vanagon. We could have probably found somewhere to get the Vanagon into the truck, but would have to find a dock to unload it.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
11 days ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

I engaged in a scaled-down version of this when my HMV Freeway broke down near Eugene, Oregon and I had to get back to Seattle. The Freeway would have fit easily inside the truck’s completely empty box but I had no way of loading it by myself or securing it had I done so:

https://live.staticflickr.com/7347/10304261096_f3e60825bd_c.jpg

James Gawne
James Gawne
12 days ago

So originally, “EL” and “DC” stood for “EZ Loader” and “Diesel Cruiser”, respectively. The 14 foot trucks (replaced by the 15 footers) all started off as diesel-powered Econolines; the 17 foot trucks were called “EZ Loader” because they were advertised as being significantly easier to load than the 16 footers available from Budget/Ryder/Hertz/Penske.
Source: I interned at U-Haul corporate for one godforsaken summer in college.

James Gawne
James Gawne
12 days ago
Reply to  James Gawne

Ooh, and also, the TMs were originally all built on Toyota pickup chassis and had Mom’s Attic above the cab. The van chassis TMs didn’t come into being until after I did my summer at U-Haul.

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
12 days ago

“Some Michigan U-Haul dealers even rented adult movies, so you could bust more than a move.” This line was nuts and made me laugh out loud.

Swedish Jeep
Swedish Jeep
12 days ago

Ok lets see if I recall these- I worked at a number of U-hauls in the early mid 90s while in college- when we had Stick International JH’S and still had TC’s- Here we go:

JH- Jumbo Hauler 26ft (all International Diesel till 1998)
GH- Giant Hauler 24ft (gas Topkick chevy)
EL- Econoline Long 17ft
DC- Direct Cabover 14ft
TM- Toyota Mini 10ft (these were originally all Toyota pickup chassis)
BP- Basic Pickup
BE- Basic Econoline (van)
TD- Tow Dolly
AT- Auto Transport
AO- Apartment Open…..

On Trailers- O means open and V means (Van) Enclosed

But let’s not forget the Suffixes, They denoted years of production.
So for instance R models were new in 1992 on Chevy chassis, so anything after R denoted a newer than 92 truck. So when I left in 98 We were into A models, after X models and Z models (not sure why they skipped some letters but hey….) Some were diesel and some were gas but they had different letters for fuel type and for MFG type (A model DCs were Gas, Fords) X and Z models were HD Ford Pickup chassis).

Oh and a TC was a Ford, Stick, Gas model…. 1985-1986, I think (these were primarily local only trucks by 1994. TC meant “Truck Cabover”.

And yes- we played “Bumper Trucks” and it was glorious!!!

Swedish Jeep
Swedish Jeep
11 days ago

Reading these comments has been interesting, there are other commenters who worked for U-haul that have slightly similar names for the trucks like TM is the “Truck Mini”. Which it very well could be- I think each region had its own slightly different nomenclature for what the trucks were actually called. I was told by the older guys what all this meant, some of it was written on the keychains and store signage- Like JH was “Jumbo Hauler” on the menu board signs at the register, but some of it was just word of mouth. There were hundreds of tools too and things like carpet cleaners, which also had commonsensical part number abbreviations as well. I think of it like how Ikea names their products, they sound vaguely Swedish, but really many are functional names like “Bagge” means bag or “Compliment” is an accessory part…

Spikersaurusrex
Spikersaurusrex
12 days ago

It’s really funny that you can drive one of their 26ft trucks with a regular driver’s license. Last year my MIL moved in with us and she rented either a 23 or a 26 footer (can’t remember exactly) and expected me to drive it. I drive a sedan or a small pickup. The biggest thing I’d driven previously was a 15ft U-haul. To make matters worse, it needed to be parallel parked in front of her house on a very busy street. I told her she needed to find someone else to drive it. She ended up getting a friend of hers who used to have a CDL to do it. I had to drive it to the return location, and that was nerve-wracking enough, even on relatively wide streets and light traffic. I declined to gas it up because I didn’t want to navigate the gas station and hope it would fit under the canopy so she paid the fuel charge.

Trouthawk
Trouthawk
12 days ago

Yeah, what’s also crazy is that I don’t think the age-related restrictions/surcharges that apply to normal car rentals apply to U-Hauls either. When I was 22, I reserved a small U-Haul for a short move across the city. When I got to the place, all they had left was a 26 footer, so that’s what they gave me. Both my old place and new place were in very urban neighborhoods with narrow streets and a lot of competition for street parking. Somehow I got the job done without doing any damage but since then I’ve always given rental trucks a lot of extra space on the roads since I know it could be some hapless 18 year old who can’t see shit driving.

Last edited 12 days ago by Trouthawk
JumboG
JumboG
12 days ago

I’m just going to throw out that you didn’t reveal what the numbers meant at all. The 2 letter code isn’t really a ‘secret’ it’s just the identifier for the type of vehicle/trailer it is. What do the numbers mean, or are they just numeric identifiers, which would make them not secret at all? Also, if you can see the letters, then you can also already see what the vehicle is. I don’t need to see the AT to know a car trailer I’m looking at is a car trailer.

Jb996
Jb996
12 days ago

BP (8′ Truck – Ford F-150/Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra.)

Can we all just appreciate how great an unmodified regular cab long-bed pickup truck looks? I don’t even care that it still has the new-style enormous pedestrian-killing grill.

This is a truck built for hauling stuff and doing real work.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
12 days ago

I wonder how well Uhaul trailers rent these days. With so many vehicles, nowadays, have had their tow ratings eliminated by the manufacturers in America (Toyota’s Yaris used to have a tow rating, and so did the Smart!). I guess it’s somewhat offset by the SUVs that might still retain a rating.

Der Foo
Der Foo
12 days ago

U-Haul made a number of impressions on me throughout the years.

My family undertook several moves with the ‘cube’ trucks. Most were fine, but a good number had issues with the equipment. From failing electrical systems to bald tires.

Our church used to contract with U-Haul to redistribute equipment between cities. Many a weekend was spent riding in a U-Haul and 10 passenger van.

When I moved after college, I rented a ‘cube’ and an auto transporter trailer. No issues and the V10 Ford engine got the job done with an avg MPG of somewhere around 7.

When my father moved closer to me years later I got a call in the middle of the day. He asked if I could drive his truck with a double axle U-Haul trailer. “Sure”. “Great! I’ll pick you up at the airport later today.” “What?!?” My dad loaded up the really heavy things first and then everything else (mostly scrap metal he horded). Talk about an overloaded and dangerous load distribution setup. My ass was wagging for half the trip at anything over 60 MPH. Going up some small mountains, the headers on his 2001 Dodge were glowing red.

Last edited 12 days ago by Der Foo
Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
12 days ago

I badly covet their motorcycle trailers. They’re just outstanding. If they made a wider version that carried two bikes, that’d be even more outstanding.

Dug Deep
Dug Deep
13 days ago

I’m in the process of a sloooow move, every other weekend bringing a load to the new place, so I’m close to justifying downloading the app (but not quite). I’m intrigued by the one-way aspect of “destination” places. Example being, in the city we’re moving from we’ve got infinite options with two rental agencies within 5 miles, each with a dozen or so trucks and as many trailers. Our destination town is small, with one rental agency (though three locations) that has a friggin armada of trucks and trailers. Seriously, it’s like a shopping center parking lot filled with trucks. Apparently more people are coming than going. The last time we rented a 10′ cube truck (TM prefix) we watched it pull out of the rental agency and basically followed it home 230 miles to it’s original rental location a few blocks from our house.

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