Tips for Driving a Moving Truck

Whether relocating to a new home on the opposite coast or to a new apartment across town, renting a moving truck can be a great way to save money.

Each year thousands of do-it-yourselfers rent trucks from U-Haul Truck Rental and Penske Truck Rental, and most moves go off without a hitch.

That said, even under optimal conditions, driving a vehicle that’s five times larger than an SUV can be intimidating, stressful, and dangerous.

Factor in congested cities, snow storms, highway closures, and screaming toddlers, and things can get ugly quickly.

Thankfully, with the right help, adequate planning, and a little good luck, DIY moves can be a breeze.

Just remember that in some cases – like when moving from California to Texas – full-service movers may be cheaper than renting a truck.

Before reading on take a few moments to check out these helpful pre-move resources –

  • Best interstate movers – With so much at stake, hiring a top-rated long-distance mover with verified customer reviews is imperative
  • Best rental trucks– If you’re still deciding on a rental truck company, check out our list of vetted truck rentals.
  • Moving cost calculator – Just enter your move dates, origin and destination cities, and the estimated size of your move and the magic algorithms will do the rest

When in doubt, err on the side of caution

For young free spirits and diehard adventurers, driving a moving truck cross-country can be an adventure, but it’s also fraught with perils. If you need more tips on long-distance moving, check out our guide on how to prepare for a cross-country move.

This is especially true in areas known for bad weather conditions and treacherous terrain.

Before committing to renting a moving truck, consider –

  • The distance between your old and new residences
  • What time of year you’ll be moving
  • What type of weather and road conditions you’ll experience
  • Who’ll be driving
  • Who’ll be traveling in the truck with you (kids, spouses, friends, and/or pets)
  • Whether the driver(s) are comfortable operating a large vehicle
  • Whether the cost savings are worth the risk

If prospective drivers feel squeamish about getting behind the wheel of a large truck – they shouldn’t.

What you’ll need to rent and drive a moving truck

Though driving isn’t for everyone, renting a moving truck can be a snap.

Generally, you’ll just need –

  • To be at least 18-years-old
  • A valid driver’s license (you don’t need a special license since rental trucks aren’t commercial vehicles)
  • Two forms of identification (passport, social security card, credit card, military ID, etc)

Insurance requirements for rental moving trucks

Driving any vehicle without insurance is unwise and usually illegal.

Though most are similar, each rental company will have its own insurance plans and requirements, so familiarizing yourself with them is important.

It’s also worth calling your auto insurance company and asking if they’ll cover you, the truck, and your household goods during your move.

If so, they’ll need to know –

  • Where and when you’re moving
  • Who’ll be driving
  • The size of the truck and who you rented it from
  • The estimated value of your “stuff”

If your auto insurer can’t help, you’ll be able to purchase a supplemental plan (or plans) directly from the truck rental company or through one of its insurance partners.

Make sure you know what is and what isn’t covered

As U-Haul points out on its website, “you’re responsible for all damage to rented equipment.”

In other words, if you rear-end a bulldozer in a construction site or tear down the awning at a drive-thru window (yeah, it happens), you’re on the hook – possibly for big bucks.

With U-Haul for example, you’ll have the option of purchasing plans for –

  • Tire and window damage
  • Supplemental Roadside Protection
  • Supplemental liability coverage
  • Damage waiver
  • Cargo protection
  • Medical/life protection for drivers and occupants

This is just a quick overview, so don’t rush over insurance when screening companies.

Renting and driving a moving truck – no special license (CDL) required

Commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) are generally only required for vehicles with gross weights exceeding 26,000 pounds.

Not surprisingly, even the largest rental trucks have gross weights below this limit.

For example, U-Haul’s 26-foot moving vans have gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWRs) of 25,999 pounds.

Remember, this is total vehicle weight including cargo, fuel, and occupants.

The trick to backing up a moving truck

A significant portion of all moving van accidents occurs at low speeds, especially when turning, backing, and/or parking.

Unlike cars with rearview mirrors and windows in the back, moving trucks have neither.

Instead, you’ll have to use door-mounted windows to see what’s around you, and there are big blind spots.

To avoid costly accidents, injuries, and property damage –

  • Get Out and Look (G.O.A.L) when backing and parking
  • Get help from a spotter and agree on easily recognizable hand signals (if you lose sight of your spotter, stop immediately)

In a moving truck, slow and steady wins the race

Driving a moving truck isn’t rocket science.

In fact, safe operation is usually just a matter of –

  • Driving below the posted speed limit (it’s safer and you’ll get better gas mileage)
  • Make sure the vehicle is in good working order
  • Keeping adequate distance between you and the vehicles in front of you
  • Being aware of what’s around you
  • Always use a spotter when backing

Tips for driving in the rain, sleet, ice, and snow

In this section, we could talk about how to apply brake pressure evenly on downgrades and how to utilize defensive driving techniques as real truckers do.

They’re all worthwhile tips, but here’s the best tip of all…

Inexperienced drivers who find themselves behind the wheel of a moving van in treacherous conditions should get off the road as quickly as possible.

This may delay your trip and end up costing you more money, but the safety of you, your family, your possessions, and the vehicle itself should always take precedence.

Last-minute safety tips for driving a moving truck

  • Don’t forget to apply the emergency brake when parking
  • Stay out of the left lane unless you’re passing another vehicle (some states have lane restrictions for trucks)
  • Make sure side-view mirrors and wipers are clean and in working order before setting out
  • Keep an eye on road signs, especially for speed limit and overhead clearance warnings
  • Use turn signals and flashers when appropriate
  • Be especially careful during right turns (you may not be able to see a small vehicle on the passenger side)

Rental Truck FAQs

Is it difficult to drive a moving truck?

Since most moving trucks have automatic transmissions and anti-lock brakes, driving them in a straight line isn’t particularly difficult. It’s turning, changing lanes, and backing where most troubles arise.

Do I need a special license to drive a moving truck?

In most cases, as long as the rental truck has a gross vehicle weight rating under 26,000 pounds and you’re only moving your own possessions, you don’t need a CDL.

Is driving a moving truck like driving a car?

Driving a moving truck is similar to driving a car, but they’re slower, more topheavy, take longer to stop, and are more difficult to maneuver.

Do you have to stop at weigh stations when driving a rental truck?

Yes, in some states rental trucks are required to stop at weigh stations.

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