Choosing a Truck

“Gimme 40 acres and I’ll turn this rig around!” Those lyrics from a popular Country song of yesteryear express the feeling of many folks who consider renting a truck for their move. In other words, “It’s so big! How will I ever drive it?”

Later we’ll get to the art of driving the truck. For now, know that driving most rental moving trucks isn’t inordinately difficult—just different. In fact, in most states, you can drive a pretty big truck without any special license. Scary, huh? If those 90-year-old folks in 90-foot motorhomes can drive their rigs cross-country, so can you!

Renting a truck can make sense for many moves:

  • If you don’t have other moving vehicles available
  • If you are moving more stuff than will fit in a trailer
  • If the land distance is too great to make more than one trip

After you decide to use a rental truck for your move, the obvious questions come to mind:

  • Whose truck?
  • How big a truck?

Let’s take on those two fascinating topics right now. How will you choose a truck rental company? Should you rent one of the yellow ones, the orange-and-white ones, or some other color? Maybe the decision is easier than you think. If you live in a small town, you may either have to use whichever company has trucks available locally or travel a ways to pick up and drop off your unit. If you live in a city, you’ll have more choices. Call several companies and ask lots of questions:

  • How many trucks/trailers do they have?
  • How old are the vehicles?
  • Do the vehicles have automatic or manual transmission?
  • Do the trucks have gas or diesel engines?
  • Is the cab air conditioned?
  • How many adults can ride comfortably?
  • How many miles to the gallon will the truck get when it’s full of stuff?
  • How’s road service if the truck breaks down? And who pays for the charges?
  • Does the truck have a ramp or hydraulic lift?
  • Does the truck have a spare tire and emergency flares?
  • What packing and loading materials does the company provide or sell?
  • Are there mileage charges or drop fees on the vehicle?


After a number of calls, you should have a pretty good idea of who has the right equipment for your move. Next? Go look at the equipment. If you are moving across the country, you will be spending several days in the cab of that truck. It will be worth a few dollars more to have a clean, comfortable ride and a working radio. You don’t want to be in the middle of the desert in August without air conditioning or Montana in February without heat! And check to make sure the windows work.


Then? After you have a firm moving date, reserve your truck and other moving equipment. Here’s what the truck rental agent will ask for to reserve a truck:

  • Your name
  • Your telephone number
  • A major credit card number
  • The date of your move
  • Your current address
  • Your destination address
  • The size of truck or trailer you need
  • the name of your grandmother’s first boyfriend

Moving Tips

Make reservations early for your truck or trailer rental. If you don’t reserve early, you might have to pick up a truck in a neighboring town, and this type pickup can be costly.

When should you reserve your truck? Make reservations early, especially in the summer when truck rental companies are busiest. Most folks move on Friday or Saturday, and end-of-month weekends are the busiest. If possible, schedule your move between Sunday and Thursday when more rental trucks are typically available. Make your reservations at least a month before your move for a better chance of getting the truck or trailer you want. If you rent from a national truck rental company, the company must schedule the vehicle you want because their fleet travels the entire country. When you rent from a national firm, however, you can pick up the truck in your current hometown and, when you finish the move, return the truck to the nearest dealer in your new hometown (for a fee).

If your move is local, check out small, local rental companies; they are more apt to have smaller trucks and trailers available. In addition, any trucks rented out will probably be back in a few days and probably won’t need a reservation.

Moving Tips

Don’t move worn-out appliances. These heavy and bulky items add significantly to the cost of moving. You might find selling or donating them (for a tax deduction) more cost-effective than moving them.

A truck rental firm can offer you advice and assistance in selecting the best size for your move. They can tell you how much mileage-per-gallon you can expect from the truck. Be sure that you ask for loaded mileage—the mileage the truck gets when full; an empty truck takes far less fuel than a filled truck. Most companies can furnish brochures that graphically instruct you on the best and safest way to load your truck or trailer. You should also get information about what to do if the truck breaks down while you are using it.


Do you want an automatic or a manual transmission? Most do-it-yourself movers prefer an automatic transmission. Larger trucks require a five-speed transmission, some with two-speed differentials and sometimes a three-speed auxiliary transmission. In theory, these vehicles have 30 potential gears. Intimidating! Automatic transmissions do most of the thinking for you.


Gas or diesel? If you’ve never driven a diesel vehicle, stick with gasoline-powered trucks. It’s not that diesel-powered trucks are trickier; they’re just a little different to drive. Starting them requires that you wait a few seconds for the glow plugs to warm up the engine’s combustion chambers. Diesel trucks also differ in other ways from gasoline trucks, and you probably have enough adventure in your life that you don’t also need to master diesel trucking.

The advantage to diesel is that fuel costs will probably be less for a diesel truck than for a gas one. The cost difference isn’t significant, but it does make diesel trucks a better option for those who have experience with them.

Even if your move is just across town, it may be more efficient to rent a truck that will hold everything in one trip. When you compare costs, remember to add in fuel—and remember that your time is valuable. It’s more exhausting to make several trips than to pack up one truck and get all your stuff at your new home in one trip. Making several trips rather than one or two may even mean that you end up paying for a second day’s rental on the truck.

Moving Tips

When you are figuring costs, be sure to include the cost of fuel for your rental truck. If you ask the rental agent how much mileage the truck gets, be sure to specify that you want to know what the mileage is when the truck is loaded. Just to be safe, increase the figure a bit more when you make your calculations.

You may be able to move out of a condominium or apartment using a small truck, up to about ten feet in length. This truck should hold the furniture from a small dwelling, plus about 15 boxes of personal items.

The contents of a one- or two-bedroom home of up to about 1,200 square feet can usually be loaded onto a 14- or 15-foot truck, with room for furniture, appliances, and about 35 boxes.

If you are moving out of a two- or three-bedroom home of up to 1,600 square feet, you will probably require a 17- or 18-foot truck, allowing for about 50 boxes in addition to large items.

A three- or four-bedroom home of up to 2,000 square feet will require a truck of about 24 feet to hold furniture, appliances, yard gear, and garage items, as well as about 70 boxes.

If the home you are leaving is a four-bedroom home of more than 2,000 square feet, you will want to rent a truck of at least 26 feet to hold everything, including as many as 120 boxes of personal and household items.

Choosing a Trailer