Moving Trucks vs Moving Containers: Which to Choose?

If you’ve sworn off full-service movers after being scammed or are having an existential “budget crisis,” your DIY move options may boil down to renting a truck or using containers.

Both have their pros and cons, but a few key differences often make moving containers the best option.

If so, don’t settle for anything less than the best moving container companies.

That said, deciding which option makes the most sense can be as easy as doing a quick cost-benefit analysis.

We’re here to help, but first, take a moment to check out these free moving resources –

  • Moving cost calculator – Just enter your move dates, origin and destination cities, and the estimated size of your move, and let the magic algorithms do the rest
  • Best interstate moving companies – The easiest way to protect your family, your wallet, and your sanity is by working with a top-rated long-distance mover with verified customer reviews.
  • Consider moving containers – It’s simple. You load and unload, they drive, and you save big bucks. These are the best moving container companies.

The main differences between moving trucks and moving containers

When safety and convenience are taken into account, it’s no wonder that moving container companies have made big market share gains in recent years.

In a nutshell, with moving containers you won’t have to –

  • Drive a bulky moving truck through cities and mountains in bad weather
  • Pay for fuel
  • Worry about “hidden” fees like mandatory insurance or late vehicle return charges

With container companies, local deliveries and long-distance transportation are handled by company trucks and professional drivers.

Pros of using moving containers

To recap, with moving containers all the driving is done by experienced commercial drivers.

This “you load, we drive” business model relieves stress and minimizes liability on DIY moves.

In addition –

  • There are no (or fewer) hidden fees
  • One month of storage is often included in the base price
  • Mileage charges are built into your quote
  • You’ll be able to choose from various sizes
  • You’ll have the option of moving and storing your items
  • You won’t need ramps (walk boards) for loading and unloading because units sit directly on the ground

Cons of using moving containers

  • Containers are typically more expensive than renting a truck
  • Their relatively small size means that you’ll need more than one on large moves
  • Some moving container companies don’t deliver to remote rural areas (like northern Maine)
  • The smallest containers may not accommodate large items like full-size sofas, hutches and entertainment centers
  • When your containers are in transit you won’t have access the household goods inside, even in an emergency

Top moving container companies at a glance

The moving container business is extremely competitive, and the major players tend to have similar prices, services, and container sizes.

PODS – the biggest name in moving containers

With more than 200 national service centers and revenue in excess of $250 million, PODS is the undisputed king of moving containers.

Their units come in the following sizes –

7-foot

  • 7’ x 7’ x 8’ ( L x W x H)
  • Can generally hold the contents of 1 room (furniture and cartons)
  • Weight limit – 5,200 pounds
  • Volume – approximately 360 cubic feet

12-foot

  • 12’ x 8’ x 8’
  • Hold between 2 and 3 rooms
  • Weight limit – 4,700 pounds (yes, it’s less than the 7-foot unit)
  • Volume – about 690 cubic feet

16-foot

  • 16’ x 8’ x 8’
  • Hold 3 or 4 rooms
  • Weight limit – 4,200 pounds (yes, it’s less than the smaller units)
  • Volume – about 860 cubic feet

The average cost for a local move with PODS is approximately $450, while long-distance moves typically cost four or five times more.

1-800-Pack-Rat – another well-respected moving container option

1-800-Pack-Rat has a wide national coverage area, and their rugged all-metal containers come in the these three sizes –

8-foot

  • 8.5’ x 7.2’ x 7.8’
  • Hold 1 or 2 rooms of boxes and furniture
  • Weight limit – 4,000 pounds
  • Volume – about 400 cubic feet

12-foot

  • 8.5’ x 7.2’ x 7.8’
  • Hold 2 or 3 rooms
  • Weight limit – 6,000 pounds
  • Volume – about 620 cubic feet

16-foot

  • 16’ x 7.8’ x 7.5’
  • Hold the contents of a 2-bedroom apartment or a small home (excluding attic, basement, and garage)
  • Weight limit – 6,000 pounds
  • Volume – more than 825 cubic feet

Though their prices are on the high side, 1-800-PACK-RAT offers lots of discounts and promos to stay competitive.

Pricing is subject to multiple variables, but local moves generally cost between about $500 and $2,000, while moving a multi-bedroom apartment or relatively small home 1,000 miles typically costs in the neighborhood of $4,000.

Just keep in mind that cross-country move customers are required to pay a $500 deposit approximately 5 days before their empty containers are delivered.

Moving truck pros

Above all, moving trucks have one big advantage over moving containers – flexibility.

If you decide at the last minute to swing by a relative’s house to pick up an armoire, you can.

In addition, moving trucks –

  • Are usually less expensive than containers
  • Are available in more sizes
  • Can be driven to rural areas where container companies won’t deliver

In addition, you can rent extra moving equipment like dollies, pads, and logistics straps, and you’ll have instant access to your items while on the road.

Moving truck cons

Driving, backing, and maneuvering trucks can be dangerous and stressful in bad weather, mountains and cities.

Likewise, if you break down or get a flat tire in a remote area on a long-distance move, it could be hours before a service truck arrives…if you have cellphone reception.

Additional cons include –

  • Lots of hidden fees for mandatory insurance and late returns
  • Poor fuel mileage (as in 10 miles per gallon or less!) can equate to hundreds of dollars on interstate moves
  • Renting dollies, straps and pads can be expensive
  • Carrying heavy furniture and appliances up and down ramps is dangerous
  • Availability may be limited during the peak summer season and at the end of each month

Top moving truck rental companies

U-Haul – the “go-to” truck rental company for many families

Known for competitive pricing and a wide service area, U-Haul has been the biggest player in the truck rental arena since it was founded in Phoenix, Arizona in 1945.

In addition to offering various size vehicles ranging from pickup trucks and cargo vans to 26-foot box trucks, U-Haul also offers –

  • Trailers and tow-dollies
  • Moving equipment like dollies, pads, and straps
  • Packing supplies like paper, boxes, and tape
  • U-Box mobile storage containers (95” L x 56” W x 83.5” H)
  • Other moving-related services like labor, which is available through partner companies

This all adds up to a truly “one-stop” experience that few companies can match.

Most U-Haul trucks come with helpful features like EZ-Load ramps, A/C, seating for two or three adults and roadside assistance.

Drawbacks include –

  • Long check-in times
  • Undertrained and overworked employees can result in poor customer service
  • Failure to honor their $50 reservation guarantee

Home Depot – convenient options and affordable prices

Few things are easier than popping down to your local Home Depot and renting a moving truck.

The home improvement company offers relatively small pickups, flatbeds, cargo vans and box trucks, and if you need something larger Penske trucks between 12 and 26 feet are available at many locations.

You can use their moving calculator to figure out the correct truck size for your move and to determine what equipment and packing material you’ll need.

In addition, with their Load ‘N Go Vehicle Rental Program, customers can rent flatbed trucks and cargo vans for less than $20 for the first 75 minutes, and there aren’t any additional mileage fees.

Need to move a sofa and a coffee table across town on the cheap?
If so, this is a great option.

Home Depot also offers daily and weekly rental packages with unlimited mileage.

Cons include –

  • “First come first serve” policy means no advanced booking for local Home Depot vehicles
  • Customers may be required to return Home Depot trucks to the same location where they were rented
  • Towing a car or trailer isn’t an option with Home Depot trucks, though it may be with Penske trucks
  • Most rental require a $150 credit card deposit

Frequently asked questions (faqs)

Are moving containers more expensive than moving trucks?

Yes, in most cases moving containers are more expensive than renting a truck, but remember, you won’t have to do the driving yourself.

What is the cheapest way to move long distance?

From a strictly dollars and cents perspective, renting a moving truck is usually the least expensive way to move across the country. However if you’re moving from a state like California to one like Texas, truck rental rates can be more expensive than rental trucks and in some cases even professional movers.

Is PODS or U-BOX cheaper?

U-Box is usually cheaper, though discounts and promos often make their prices very competitive.

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