So I’m going to be moving back to the West Coast from the East Coast. I considered the most cost-effective way of moving; by shipping my belongings via FedEx to selling everything on OfferUp or eBay and starting anew. At that point, I settled on renting an 6 × 12 enclosed U-Haul cargo trailer. The drive across state lines, or even just across town, is likely stressful moment in anybody’s life, especially when driving a trailer. Therefore, it’s much more useful to get a plan ready prior to moving to minimize the number of surprises you face. I’ll just share with you my experience moving across the nation.
During my planning, I was able to discover some information. It turns out that U-Haul will not rent any trailers to Explorers before 2011, due to the Firestone incident and a reputation of lawsuits from Explorer owners. I’m glad they made an exception to the 5th generation (U502, 2011-2019) and newer. I don’t know what else I could have done because there is no other rental company that rents one-way enclosed cargo trailers.
What did I purchase for this trip?
- Tow hitch receiver with lock pin. To attach the trailer to the car.
- Tie down ratcheting straps. So the items in the trailer are tied.
- 16 x 27 Gallon storage containers. For making moving easier.
- Discus lock. To lock the U-Haul trailer.
- 2 x 5 gallon gas tanks
Making the Explorer Platinum Tow Ready
What’s great about the Platinum trim is that it has features you probably wouldn’t expect to utilize. When I purchased the SUV, I hadn’t planned to tow with it. Now that I have to tow, the SUV came with the necessary connections for a trailer hitch with a 4-pin connector.
Removing the plastic cover exposes the tow hitch receiver and connectors
From left to right: 7-pin connector, Hitch Receiver, and 4-pin connector (U-haul uses this)
The CURT 45141 trailer hitch mount kit worked out perfect for towing the U-Haul. The kit includes a hitch mount with a 2″ ball, has a 2″ drop and it comes with a hitch lock to prevent anyone from stealing the hitch mount.
Picking the U-Haul trailer size
U-Haul offers 3 different sizes of cargo trailers: 4′ x 8′, 5’x 8′, and 6′ x 12′. I decided to go with the 6′ x 12′ for these three reasons:
#1 Tandem axles. They are a lot more stable on highway speeds and less prone to sway.
#2 Hydraulic brakes. 6′ x 12′ trailer is the only model that comes with hydraulic brakes (surge brakes). The other two models has no braking mechanism but instead relies on the car’s brakes. Having brakes on a trailers is beneficial for shorter stopping distance, less wear and tear on the car. Hydraulic brakes activate when the trailer hitch gets compressed by the car slowing down, so there’s no need to install a brake controller. A nice feature about U-Haul’s hydraulic brakes is that it has an emergency braking mechanism that’ll activate if the hitch mount disconnects and pulls on the emergency brake chain.
#3 Size. No need to compromise. I was thinking about giving away a few items away such as my computer chair, table and bed. But I was able to fit my whole bedroom and some more.
I felt the tandem axles and hydraulic brakes are features that would improve the overall towing experience for long distance driving. I didn’t haul an entire house, just one bedroom and some stuff from the garage. So size wasn’t the major factor but the cherry on top.
I wanted to know how long my car + trailer would be so I decided to research the information and found no info on how long the tongue of the trailer was. I decided to take these measurements so hopefully it’ll become useful to others. I noticed some of my measurements were different compared to the one on U-Haul’s website so I was a little baffled. If you decide to take your own measurements, let me know what you get.
New York does not permit commercial trucks or trailers on its Parkways. Since U-Haul trailers have commercial license plates they fall into the commercial category. I used Hammer and it was incredibly helpful navigating my way out of New York, as it allowed me to bypass parkways and other restricted areas. A feature of Hammer that I find useful is that it shows how far a gas station is, making it easier for me to decide whether to stop by that station or not.
Besides Hammer, I also have Waze running on the dash for live traffic information and as a backup. As I reached the Midwest, I relied only on Waze.
I wanted to make the move as painless as possible. So a month before the move I bought 16 x 27 gallon plastic storage bins from Costco to store important belongings. It’s also helps that they are stackable. So I spent the entire month just slowly organizing and moving my belongings to the storage bins. Everything else that was not important was put into boxes or cheaper bins.
I strapped down all the storage bins with ratcheting straps to prevent them from sliding and moving around when towing.
Reserving the trailer
The U-Haul in New York was charging around $1,400 for a trailer during the summer time. I decided to save money by reserving the U-Haul trailer in New Jersey and then driving it to New York. I was able to save around $600 in doing so.
Don’t be surprised if your reservation gets moved to a different location. Usually they’ll call you the day before to let you know which location they moved it to. Luckily my reservation wasn’t moved too far.
Picking up the trailer
I picked up my U-Haul at a gas station, it seems like this is dealer location and not an official location. The attendant helped me hook up the trailer and gave me general tips. Such as tightening the handwheel on top of the hitch mount if it comes loose. He also advised me on not to taking off the trailer while it’s fully loaded because it’s too heavy to put back on.
My U-Haul came with some moving blankets and a strap. I ended up using them and then putting them back after.
When the trailer is empty, it bounced and produced a lot of road noise. Imagine an empty aluminum can and some rocks inside. Luckily, the loud noise went away once the trailer was loaded.
Loading the trailer
It is really important to distribute the weight properly on the trailer. If done incorrectly, the trailer can sway out of control. U-Haul has a sign inside the trailer to show where the load line is.
It’s important that 60% of the cargo weight should be allocated to the front.
I watched a few videos of trailers swaying out of control. I also came across a few stories of U-Haul drivers rearranging their their belongings at a rest stops to get the right weight distribution. I knew I had to get it right the first time because I did not want my trailer to sway nor do I want to spend a few hours at a rest stop rearranging my belongings. The best solution I came up with? Weigh everything and label it, well mostly everything. I labeled my items with post-it notes.
Most objects were too big for my postal weight scale so I decided to weigh them on the bathroom weight scale instead. I would carry the items and then stand on the bathroom scale, after I would subtract my weight to get the item weight. So the formula should look like this:
weight when carrying the item – your weight = item weight
I arranged my belongings so that majority of my heavy items were in the front. This took a little more planning but it paid off in the end when I was able make it across country without the trailer swaying.
Safeguarding my belongings
Everything that I own in my U-Haul trailer is my entire life’s possessions, so if something were to get stolen from it, my entire year would be ruined. I took a number of precautions to safeguard my belongings.
Buy a lock for the U-Haul trailer. At first I bought a standard padlock but I realized it has exposed shackles that’ll make it easy for any thief to cut. I returned the previous lock and ended up buying a discus lock which has closed shackles, making it difficult for any bolt cutter to latch onto.
Put the most important belongings in the front and jam pack the back with less important belongings. I stored my valuable items in storage bins and placed them in the front. Everything else that is replaceable or low value was placed in the back near the entrance .
If possible, park in well lit places and against a wall where it’s difficult to open the rear door.
Mitigate loss whenever possible. What happens if someone is determined to break into the trailer? I stored my most valuable items such as jewelry, birth certificate, external hard drives, etc., in a luggage and kept it nearby. No, I didn’t go as far as taking the luggage everywhere I went. If a place felt sketchy, then someone will stay in the car with the luggage or we make quicker trips. It’s best to trust your gut instinct and avoid conflict if possible.
When looking for hotels, I typically stayed in small cities or towns. I would comb through Google and Yelp reviews to see if there are any mention of parking lot theft. You’ll be surprised how many hotels we came across that had multiple reviews of parking lot theft. I went as far as looking at Google Maps to see the layout of the parking lot. Also, I called a few hotels to confirm if they have space for U-Haul trailers.
Luckily nothing eventful happened.
Driving trailers is not new to me, so this is not my first rodeo. Stay calm, and map out your route ahead of time. Don’t go to very busy locations where moving your trailer will be difficult. For this trip I did not visit any attractions. I mainly stayed close to the highway when getting food or fuel. I’ll go into a city only if I’m staying at a hotel there.
When towing the trailer empty, it was loud and obnoxious. Luckily the sound went away once the trailer was fully loaded. The 3.5 EcoBoost engine coupled with the Tow Haul Mode made towing a simple task. The 3.5 EcoBoost had enough power so I never had issues going up any hill. When in Tow Haul Mode, I noticed it uses engine braking to help slow down the car. This is the first time I’ve experienced this and thought it was nifty.
Expect to get horrible MPG. I averaged around 11 MPG the whole trip. I knew beforehand the MPG would be horrible so I bought 2 x 5 Gallon Jerry Fuel Cans.
I bought these Jerry Cans incase I ran out of gas. Since my car gets 11 mpg with a trailer, these gas tanks should provide me with 110 miles of distance to go to the nearest gas station. Luckily I didn’t need to use these Jerry Cans. My Hammer gps app would always show a gas station within 10 miles most of the time. Typically I refilled my gas tank around the 40% to 25% range. If I know there’s no major cities nearby, I’ll usually refill around the 40% mark. This might sound excessive to some but I use these stops as an opportunity to stretch. Driving fatigue is horrible and puts you in dangerous situations, so I try to stop often. If I know I’m within driving distance of a major city I’ll let it go down to 25%. There was one stretch of drive on the I-70 through the Utah desert where there were no gas station for 80 miles but the gas tanks provided a sense of relief if I did happen to run empty.
Initially, I dreaded towing a trailer across country, but with lots of planning and preparation everything went smoothly. I wouldn’t do things differently since it went so well. Visit a Maverik in the event that you would like to find a service station. It has all of the things you’d ever want at a gas station, including clean bathrooms. If you also relocated across the country, please let me how your trip went.
10 thoughts on “How to: Hauling a 6’x12′ U-Haul cargo trailer across the country”
This has been hugely informative, thank you. I’m trying to decide if I’m willing to risk pulling a U-haul rented pickup with rented trailer into my apartment’s parking garage to make moving easier, and your measurements helped a lot.
No problem! Glad I can be of help.
Thanks for posting your experience…I’ll be doing the same moving from Colorado back to Texas) shortly with the same 6×12 U-Haul cargo trailer. I’ve towed them before, but it’s not a regular thing so I have to get used to it all over again each time I do it (about every 4 years or so). I’ll also be driving no faster than 60, to get what “better” MPG possible (IF any with my 2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, V6 Pentastar gas engine), but also to reduce the possibility of any trailer-sway in case I was a bit off weight-distribution-wise when loading the trailer. As for hotels, I’ll just be staying in one for night only (in Bernalillo or Albuquerque) during the trip to TX, but it seems many hotels (even the nicer ones) are in crappy parts of town, so there’s always the concern of “issues” — but you have to go there anyway (better than driving tired). All we can do is take “precautions” but hope for the best.
Hey Bill! It seems like you have everything down. Yeah, I agree it does take some getting use to when driving the 6″ x 12″. It’s a lot wider than my car and it does take some effort to keep it in the lane. Be sure to get some rest and take lots of breaks.
Great review and helped me immensely. I’m curious about why you paid $600 for the trailer since here in CT, the 12′ trailer costs $29.95 per day! Also, what is the ride like for the trailer as in smoothness for your items. Im curious if my slightly fragile items would have a hard time making it. Ok well thanks for the informative review.
Hi Dave! I’m glad you found my article helpful!
I actually saved $600 by going to the next state over, I spent $1,000 to rent the trailer. The cost hugely depend on the demand and the direction you are going. I’m guessing at the time, everyone in my area was moving towards the West coast. So the cost for one way to the West was expensive. The reason why you’re getting $29.95 a day is because you’re renting and returning to the same area.
Ride quality was fine for me. It was not bouncy and none of my items broke. I think this largely depends on the road and weight of the trailer. The trailer is more bouncy when it’s empty.
You saved me a ton of money! Moved my family from Jacksonville Fl to Pittsburgh 2 years ago. When we drove up I had a F150 and we towed a Uhaul 6/12 Trailer. I paid 250 for the trailer then
While up here I traded in the F150 for a 2018 Explorer. We are about to move back to Jax and when I went to reserve the trailer I was surprised when the cost was 1,265!!
I know inflation is crazy but this threw me for a loop but it assumed it is what it is I guess. I started doing research on towing with a 5th Gen Explorer and saw this blog.
The tidbit about changing locations really caught my eye. Pittsburgh is not far from West Virginia. I tried Morgantown Va. The cost was only 195!
Easily worth the one hour drive to WV!
I’m glad I was able to save you money. Definitely worth the one hour drive!
Can you tell me about the tie-down locations in a 6×12? Are there floor mounted locations in each corner, or only the rails?
Hi Jeffery! The tie down locations are the wooden rails. I was able to use the hooks on my ratcheting straps to hook onto the wooden rails. On my trailer there were only wooden rails, no other floor mounted locations.