So you want to drive a moving truck across the country?
Hitting the open road in a big powerful vehicle can be lots of fun, but for the uninitiated, it can be an endeavor fraught with dangers too.
Thankfully there’s good news.
With a little planning and preparation, the odds are good that your cross-country move will be a safe and memorable experience.
So before ordering a Convoy soundtrack and those custom mud flaps from the truck stop outside town, you may want to spend a few minutes checking out the helpful driving tips below.
Jump to the topic that most pertains to you.
- Choose the Right Size Moving Truck
- How to Inspect the Moving Truck
- Rules of the Road to Know
- How to Turn and Park
- How to Drive in a City
- Driving Through Mountains and Inclemant Weather
- Keep your Items Safe Overnight
- Be Prepared!
Choosing the Right Size Truck for your Move
Rental moving vans come in a variety of sizes between about 10 and 26 feet long.
The bigger ones are more difficult to handle, use more fuel, and cost more, so picking the right size is important.
Small trucks in the 10 to 12-foot range are generally sufficient for moderately furnished one-bedroom apartments.
If you’re moving the contents of a multi-room apartment, townhouse, or single-family home, you’ll probably need one at the larger end of the spectrum.
Most truck rental companies will help you pick the right vehicle to fit your circumstances, but if you’re on the fence between two sizes, you may want to opt for the larger model.
If all your items won’t fit into the truck you’ve rented, it can put a real crimp in your plans.
See our full guide on: How to Choose the Right Size Moving Truck.
Inspect the Truck Carefully Before Hitting the Road
Before signing on the dotted line and heading off into the sunset, you’ll want to give your rental truck a thorough once-over.
First, take a few steps back.
Look for obvious items like cracked fenders, punctures in the cargo area, flat tires, and other indications that it’s been a fender-bender (or two).
If you don’t note preexisting conditions in the beginning, you may be charged for them when you return the truck.
Next, take a look under the hood.
Check the engine’s oil and coolant levels, then start it up and make sure all the accessories work.
Here we’re talking about lights, turn signals, horns, air-conditioners, and heaters.
Each truck should have reflective triangles and a fire extinguisher too.
Make sure they’re there, and that you know how to use them.
Most late-model trucks have automatic transmissions, but if yours is manual you’ll need to know its shift pattern and how to use a clutch.
Follow the Rules of the Road
Driving a moving truck doesn’t exactly make you a professional trucker, but you’ll still need to follow some of the same rules that the guys in the big rigs do.
For example, some states have split speed limits.
One for cars, and another for trucks.
There are also restrictions that prevent heavy vehicles from driving in the left lane of highways and impeding the flow of traffic.
And don’t forget those official Department of Transportation weigh stations that drive truckers crazy.
In some states only commercial vehicles need to stop at them, in others, even weekend warriors in rental trucks must enter when they’re open.
It may all seem overwhelming, but reputable rental truck companies should give you most of the information you’ll need.
It’s important to do your own research as well, and to keep an eye on those road signs while you’re driving.
They’re there for a reason.
Turning and Parking
The largest moving trucks can be nearly twice as long as the average family car.
That makes turning tough for those without any experience.
Not only that, but most trucks have significant overhang behind the rear wheels.
On the largest models, it can be as much as 5 or 6 feet.
While turning, that heavy metal protrusion can swing like a battering ram and seriously damage things like parked cars, street lights, and oblivious pedestrians.
But avoiding those nightmares isn’t that difficult.
It all boils down to driving slowly, accounting for the extra length, and being aware of your surroundings.
It’s also important to note that if you’re making a turn in a truck and there are two turn lanes, you always want to be in the outermost lane.
Parking and backing are other skills you may need to master while en route.
Learning to use both the driver’s and passenger’s side mirrors is key.
If you’re traveling with a friend or family member, use them as an outside spotter.
Make sure you can see one another clearly in the mirrors before parking or trying to work your way into a tricky space.
Agree on hand signals for ‘go’ and ‘stop,’ and if you lose sight of them hit the brakes immediately.
One simple acronym can save you lots of heartaches.
It stands for GET OUT AND LOOK.
When in doubt, do it.
Driving in cities is often more difficult and stressful than it is in rural areas.
The roads are narrower, the turns tighter, and other drivers are often even less patient than the standard hotheads on the interstate.
Thankfully most cross-country routes avoid the downtown areas of large towns and cities.
If you do find yourself in an urban area behind the wheel of a large truck, keep cool, drive slowly, and remember to check your mirrors frequently.
Also, keep an eye out for height restrictions on underpasses.
Rental trucks aren’t as high as 18-wheelers, but it’s important to know the exact height of the truck you’ve rented.
In older cities and towns it’s common to find underpasses that may not have enough clearance to accommodate the truck you’re driving.
If so, they’ll be yellow warning signs.
If you miss or ignore them you’re in store for a disaster that could cause serious injury and cost tens of thousands of dollars in vehicle and property damage.
Driving through Mountains and Inclement Weather
Especially for inexperienced drivers, it’s usually a good idea to time your move during the summer months when winter weather won’t be an issue.
Driving a large vehicle you’re not totally comfortable with isn’t easy under the best conditions.
Add snow, ice, and mountain roads and you’re in for a nightmare.
When driving down a steep descent in a heavy truck, it’s best to apply moderate and even pressure to the brakes as opposed to stabbing or pumping them.
This prevents them from overheating and losing their effectiveness.
If it’s raining however, and your vehicle doesn’t have anti-lock brakes (ABS), stabbing may be a better option because it prevents the wheels from locking and sending the truck into a spin.
Manual transmissions are few and far between these days, but if you happen to have one you’ll want to select the proper gear BEFORE starting a descent.
Lower gears provide additional braking power through engine compression, so choosing a middle gear is almost always the best option.
During periods of inclement weather, it’s also important to increase the following distance between you and the vehicles in front of you.
This and driving slowly are the two most important things you can do to avoid accidents.
And remember, when the temperature is hovering around the freezing point, water on bridges freezes before it does on regular road surfaces.
If the weather is bad and you’re out of your comfort zone, get off the road as soon as you can.
Keeping Safe Overnight
Unless you’re a diehard adventurer with an aversion to itineraries, it’s wise to plan your route before heading out onto the open road.
This is especially important if you’re embarking on a multiple-day trip.
There are few things worse than spending all day behind the wheel, only to discover at dinner time that all the hotels along your route are already full.
Not only that, but many hotels and motels don’t allow trucks to park on their property.
You’re much better off booking hotels along the way before your trip.
Call or email them to confirm that they have truck parking before reserving your room.
Peace of mind is knowing exactly where you’ll spend every night.
Most drivers can easily cover between 400 and 500 miles in a day, so use these numbers as milestones to judge how long your trip will take, and where you’ll stay.
Always bring a hefty padlock to secure the truck’s storage area, and don’t leave anything in the cab overnight that might tempt would-be thieves.
It’s also a good idea to park the truck as close to the hotel office, your room, or a powerful light source as you can.
Like cockroaches, thieves, sunlight, and human activity.
Renting a moving truck and doing the driving yourself can save tons of money compared to what you’d pay a full-service mover.
That being said, it’s definitely not for everybody.
If you’re intimidated by big vehicles, find another moving option.
Don’t forget to plan for eventualities like breakdowns too.
Getting stranded with your family on the Great Plains for 10 hours while waiting for a service truck isn’t any fun.
In fact, it stinks.
In a situation like that, you’d need snacks, water, warm clothes, and a few of those lightweight foil space blankets to keep warm.
At the start of each day make sure your cellphone is fully charged, and bring an adaptable charger in case you need to recharge while driving.
You’ll also need your driver’s license, the vehicle’s registration papers, and proof of insurance.
Done forget a road atlas, an ice scraper, and a pair of those cool fuzzy dice to hang from the sun visor.
And one last tip…
Fuel the truck at the beginning or end of every day.
If you’re in the middle of nowhere and running low on gas, fill-up at the first service station you see.
In rural parts of the country, they’re often dozens of miles apart.
If you put it off you may find yourself stranded with poor cellphone reception and a long walk ahead of you through unpleasant weather.