So I’ll be moving back to the West Coast from the East Coast. This move got me thinking about the most economical way to transport my stuff. The options seemed endless – from shipping my belongings via FedEx to selling everything on OfferUp and starting fresh. After much thought, I settled on a 6’x12′ enclosed U-Haul cargo trailer for my third cross-country journey back to the West Coast.
Whether you’re crossing state lines or just driving across town, hauling a trailer can be stressful. That’s why having a solid plan is key before you start a move. In this post, I’ll share my adventure across America, with some handy tips along the way.
Interesting U-Haul Rules You Should Know
During my planning, I discovered a surprising U-Haul policy. If you have a Ford Explorer older than 2011, you might hit a snag. U-Haul won’t rent trailers to owners of these models, mostly due to the Firestone incident and a history of lawsuits from Explorer owners.
But here’s the good news: If you own a 5th generation (U502, 2011-2019) or a newer model, you’re good to go. I felt lucky learning this, as no other rental places had one-way enclosed cargo trailers. It’s a relief that my Explorer made the cut!
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 down.
- 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. Tandem axles provide enhanced stability at highway speeds and are less susceptible to swaying, ensuring a smoother and safer towing experience.
#2 Hydraulic brakes. The 6′ x 12′ trailer is the only model equipped with hydraulic brakes (also known as surge brakes), while the other two models rely solely on the towing vehicle’s brakes. Having brakes on the trailer is advantageous for shorter stopping distances and reduced wear and tear on the car. Hydraulic brakes activate when the trailer hitch compresses due to the car slowing down, eliminating the need for a separate brake controller. A noteworthy feature of U-Haul’s hydraulic brakes is the emergency braking mechanism that engages if the hitch mount disconnects and pulls on the emergency brake chain.
#3 Space. No Compromises Necessary. Initially, I considered parting with a few items, such as my computer chair, table, and bed. However, the 6′ x 12′ trailer accommodated my entire bedroom and additional belongings with ease.
The tandem axles and hydraulic brakes were the primary factors that influenced my decision, as they significantly improved the overall towing experience for long-distance driving. Although size wasn’t the most crucial aspect, the 6′ x 12′ trailer’s generous space proved to be the cherry on top. This allowed me to transport my entire bedroom and some extra items from the garage without any compromises.
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.
Many items were too large for my postal scale, so I opted to use a bathroom scale instead. To determine an item’s weight, I carried it and stood on the bathroom scale. Then, I subtracted my own weight to find the weight of the item. The formula can be simplified as follows:
Weight with 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.
Invest in a high-quality lock for your U-Haul trailer. Initially, I purchased a standard padlock but soon realized that its exposed shackles made it an easy target for thieves wielding bolt cutters. Consequently, I returned the padlock and opted for a discus lock instead. This type of lock features a closed-shackle design, making it more resistant to bolt cutters and providing enhanced security. Additional benefits of a discus lock include its robust stainless steel construction and weather resistance, which ensures reliable protection for the duration of your rental period.
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.
Take precautions to protect your belongings while traveling with a U-Haul trailer. If someone tries to break in, ensure your most valuable items like jewelry, birth certificates, and external hard drives are stored in a luggage and kept close. While it’s not necessary to carry the luggage everywhere, have someone stay with the vehicle in questionable areas or make quick stops. Trust your instincts and avoid potential conflicts.
When choosing hotels, opt for smaller cities or towns. Research Google and Yelp reviews to check for any reports of parking lot theft. It’s surprising how many hotels have multiple such incidents. Examine the parking lot layout using Google Maps and call hotels to confirm if they have space for U-Haul trailers.
Fortunately, our trip went smoothly without any incidents.
I’m no stranger to driving trailers, so I knew what to expect. To ensure a smooth trip, stay calm and plan your route in advance. Avoid busy areas where maneuvering the trailer could be challenging. For this journey, I skipped sightseeing and focused on staying near the highway for food or fuel. I only ventured into cities when staying at a hotel.
Towing an empty trailer was noisy and annoying, but the sound disappeared once it was fully loaded. The 3.5 EcoBoost engine, combined with the Tow/Haul mode, made towing a breeze. The EcoBoost engine provided ample power, allowing for effortless hill climbing. In Tow/Haul mode, I discovered it utilized engine braking to slow down the vehicle, a feature I found quite useful.
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.
At first, the thought of towing a trailer across the country was daunting, but thorough planning and preparation ensured a smooth journey. Given the success of the trip, I wouldn’t change a thing. If you’re looking for an excellent service station, I highly recommend visiting a Maverik. They offer everything you could want, including clean restrooms. If you’ve also embarked on a cross-country relocation, I’d love to hear about your experience.