UHaul It, U-Lug It, U Swear U’ll Never Do It Again

Preamble: If you know anything about towing and trailer hitches, I could use your counsel. I need a hitch ball for my Forester because the towing package inexplicably did not come with one. The problem is that I can’t find specs for the life of me. My specific concern is something called the “shank diameter.” If this is what I think it is, then it looks like it’s the 5/8″ one. I’m measuring the hole in the hitch. Is that right? Should I be able to get one by walking into an auto parts dealer with the hitch and saying “I need a hitch ball for this?” Or it is more specialized than that and I need to order it online? I should add that the nearest UHaul store is out in Redstone, which I’d rather not drive to. I will update this section when I go out tomorrow, but if you can give me any insights here before I do, I’d greatly appreciate it.

So, on with the show…

So, here’s the thing. Last weekend, I made a reservation on UHaul’s website for a moving van. I decided I needed a reservation when I drove by the local lot and saw that there was a real dearth of vans. In fact, there was only one. When it went through, I figured that either (a) I got dibs on either the van I saw or one that wasn’t in the lot, or (b) if there wasn’t one, they’d send one out. I was giving them a week’s notice, after all.

I had decided to stop by the UHaul place and confirm that everything was a-go and find out how I was supposed to pick the car up on a Saturday when they are closed on Saturdays. Unfortunately, the one day I stopped by there was nobody there. I forgot to stop by again. But I figured we’d work it out.

Yesterday morning I got a call from UHaul’s Arapaho dispatcher or whatever, and they called to inform me that there was no van available for my reservation. I would have to pick one up from Redstone. It would cost an additional $20 because it would be considered a one-way move. Or I could still do “in town” but I would be paying for mileage ($.89/mi). The second option would mean that we would be paying for over 100 miles for a move that is four blocks over. The first option would mean that somehow I would need to get over there without driving because I couldn’t leave the car over there because I wouldn’t be going back. Or I could get a ride back to pick up the car, but that was problematic, too.

Adding to this, if I was driving solo (second option) I couldn’t take the baby with me because you can’t put a babyseat in a UHaul. Which would mean that Clancy would need to watch the baby, which she doesn’t have time to do because of work obligations*. Further, she can’t drive me to Redstone (first option) because she is on call this weekend and that means she can’t go beyond a 20-mile radius. It also means that leaving her with the baby is problematic because if she gets called in, there is nobody to watch her.

So that just wasn’t going to work. Unfortunately, due to the fact it took them a full four days to inform us that the Callie location has no vans, we were hard-pressed to find someone to loan us a pick-up truck. Our neighbor had offered, but when I asked her I found out that their pickup is broken down. Clancy could ask around the office, but it was short notice and pickups are not as big with the doctors as they are with everyone else in town (and everyone else in town we know well enough to ask are doctors). The realtor had also vaguely made such an offer, but that was before we signed the lease and also before we turned down his brother-in-law’s offer to move us. So I wasn’t sure if that was an option, even forgiving the short notice.

Before calling him to find out, I decided that maybe we would just get a trailer from UHaul. We have the Forrester, and we got the trailer hitch package for a reason. The only problem is that the trailers we needed maxed out at 1,800lbs and the theoretical maximum for the Forester is a scant 1,500lbs. Now, we’re pretty sure that the 1,500lbs is more of a liability limit rather than an actual limit as to what the auto can actually pull. The maximum tow capacity is listed as much higher in other countries (3,200-4,400 lbs) and I don’t think it’s because they’re getting that much a tougher model. Rather, I think they have more to fear from lawsuits and so they are more conservative in their American estimates.

So I called UHaul and I lied. I said that the maximum tow capacity is 2,000. It turned out this wasn’t a lie. Even though it’s advertised at 1,500, the hitch itself says 2,400. Whatever, it’s four blocks. UHaul bought it and we made the reservation.

So yesterday I get the hitch out only to be reminded that I don’t have a hitch ball. I am quite glad I looked tonight so that I can go around town and look for one tomorrow. Now, theoretically I should be good to go. The hitch package on the Subaru is supposed to be complete (with break lights and so on – I’ve seen the cables). I am crossing my fingers and hoping-hoping-hoping that they don’t take one look at it and say “That won’t work.”

Because if they do, we’re hosed.

* – She has a job interview on the east coast next week. Rather than let her use her vacation time, they basically put the week’s worth of clinic in the first three days of the week. That means that it will be nigh-impossible for her to get all of her paperwork done before she leaves and that’s if she’s caught up from this week’s. She can’t catch up from this week’s without my giving her every possible moment to work on it (and even then, it’s iffy, because I’m going to need her to help me move some of the heavy stuff).

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. A funny (to me and probably nobody else) aside… both Clancy and I are unhappy with UHaul. She’s upset because they accepted a reservation they couldn’t fulfill. So am I, though not as upset as she is (I have lower expectations). She’s also upset it took them so long to contact us. So am I, though not as upset as she is. I am upset when I think about how dreadful their inventory and coordination software/database must be for this type of thing not to be flagged automatically. Not just for my sake, but because it has to be causing them a lot of headaches.

    • Corporations aren’t people, they don’t get headaches, they only give them.

      I’ve had two experiences with UHaul. We moved to NJ from Alaska with a Uhaul towing a car: no problems at all. We rented a truck when we moved into our current house a few years ago. The thing barely ran, belched smoke and the manual tranny only randomly allowed shifting.

      • We moved to NJ from Alaska with a Uhaul towing a car: no problems at all.

        Really? I thought the highway to Alaska was legendarily awful. I’d be interested to learn more about that experience.

    • Check my comment below regarding their “software”.

      I have high expectations when it comes to unfulfilled reservations. I know their is generally always language in the fine print explaining that they can break the reservation on whatever terms they want but that you will be charged half a testicle should you break it, but to me it still seems like breach of contract given what is reasonably assumed when one enters into a reservation agreement. They often seem to think that refunding you the money ought to be enough, ignoring all the fall out of a broken reservation.

  2. Yeah, the 5/8″ shank diameter is what you think it is. But there’s also the ball diameter to consider. Probably 2 1/2″ but you should call U-Haul to ask because it has to be right to match the trailer. I would imagine U-Haul would sell you one, though an auto parts store would be a little cheaper.

    Good luck. There was a period of time when we moved eleven times in the course of ten years. I’m done with that crap.

    • What Rod said. Any auto parts store should be able to figure out your shank diameter, but they may not know the diameter of the balls needed for a U-Haul trailer (and that’s going to vary some with the size of the trailer). A call to U-Haul should be able to get you the info, and then hop down to your auto parts store.

      I’m weird, I enjoy helping people move, and the drives that come with it. I wish I could pop out there and help you pack and drive.

      • As to the electrical connector, one great thing about the Forester (I have one, too) is the way they created a plug in for a light connecter under the floor of the cargo area. I’m not sure if your tow package has a hard-wired system, though. But generally you can just buy (more money, I know) at the auto parts store the plug-in electrical connector that has the proper mating with the trailer’s connector.

      • Any auto parts store should be able to figure out your shank diameter, but they may not know the diameter of the balls needed

        I thought this was a family website.

        • I knew I was setting up something along those lines. I just couldn’t figure out a way to write it that would direct away from such a response. Or maybe it’s a Freudian thing and my inner Beavis just wouldn’t allow me to.

  3. Dear god that sucks.

    I’ve used Uhaul in the past several times and it has universally sucked. I’ll pay folks to move me rather than ever use those bozos again.

    • I’ve used Uhaul in the past several times and it has universally sucked. I’ll pay folks to move me rather than ever use those bozos again.

      I second the ‘pay folks to move me’ sentiment. Particularly with a baby to deal with and a spouse pressed for time to even breath.

      • A middle-of-the-road alternative, for those moving between cities who don’t want to drive a moving truck themselves and can’t afford to pay movers, is to use a “you pack-we drive” service like ABF freight. You pack your stuff in one of their semi-trailers or cargo trucks, then they fill up the remaining space with other cargo, which is what makes the cost relatively low for you. Then you can pay extra to have them drop the truck/trailer at your house, or less to have them drop it at their closest facility, where you can go to pick up your stuff. It may take a few extra days to get your stuff to your new location because the schedule is determined by how much other cargo they have to drop off, and where that’s going. But for a person who’s half budget minded but not totally budget minded it can be a good compromise. I used it once and have a friend who’s used it, and it worked well.

          • Bound and gagged and packed away in a wardrobe box labeled for the garage and marked “Open Last”.

        • Friends of mine that moved from Austin to Colorado loved those Pod things. (Although security is pretty much your business. Buy a chain and good padlock, because they are kinda thief bait just sitting there right in front of your house advertising “Valuable stuff right in here”).

          Best part, they said, was getting there to Colorado and realizing the stuff they needed first was the last thing they packed — and thus the first things they saw when they opened it up. (Which makes sense, but they claim was an awesome feeling).

  4. I’ve usually had reasonable experiences with U-Haul, given that they’re the discount rental company (as opposed to, say, Penske). But two experiences–neither actually relating to U-Haul’s quality–stand out. When we moved from the LA area to Oregon, it happened to be when everyone else was, too. We could have rented a truck from Oregon to move to Cali for $99, but for a truck from Cali to Oregon was going to be about $900–that was a nice lesson in supply and demand. We ended up borrowing a neighbor’s pickup and, with the help of a professional mover who taught me how to really load a truck, were good to go. That knowledge came in handy when I packed 90% of our household into a box I build on the back, and over the cab, of my ’73 GMC crew cab 1 ton–so much sh*t that the leaf springs had almost no give left to them–when we left Oregon.

    The other experience was when Johanna–then my GF–and I moved within the city of San Francisco with some roommates. I’d just gotten back from Indiana on Greyhound–a 3 day bus ride–and they’d rented a massive manual transmission truck that none of them could drive. We were moving to a very narrow one-way street on a steep hill, and I had the joy of driving that beast up the hill and maneuvering it into the parking spot that fortuitously appeared in front of our new place. While backing it in, I suddenly heard everyone yelling, and when I put it in park and got out I saw that I had backed into another car and pushed it so that it’s front tire was all the way up on the curb….and I hadn’t felt a thing from inside the truck. (The car turned out to belong to the upstairs neighbor, a lawyer who had a pot plant on his back balcony–we loved the pot plant, because we figured it gave us leverage if the lawyer ever got nasty about anything. Although in fact they were good neighbors and never did get nasty. But we never told them about the car.)

  5. I had a similar experience with UHaul. We reserved a truck and arrived to only find a van. This would now require multiple trips. Because it was an in-town move, this meant our mileage fee was going to triple. I explained to them that, since it was their error, I expected to have the mileage fee waived. The guy then explained, quite excitedly, that I’d be making three trips so rather than waive the fee, they were only going to triple it. “That is exactly what I just said,” I replied, “But I’m not happy with that. See… that is BAD news for me.” Eventually, I got them to waive the fee, but still had to wait 30 minutes while their dial-up modem (seriously) and dot-matrix printer (SERIOUSLY!) fritzed out.

    Home Depots often have rental vans available for reasonable fees. If you have one of those local to you, it might be worth looking into should problems persist.

  6. Good luck, man. I hate — HATE — moving. There is literally nothing about it that is pleasant. Just get through it, is all I can say.

    • Here’s the thing with moving…

      I *HATE* moving myself. But I have no issue, and actually enjoy, moving others. Being able to help people going through a shitty ordeal feels good. Plus, manual labor is refreshing for me. And I’m good at hauling stuff. And I think a lot of people feel similarly. I always make myself available to people when they’re moving and have had people reciprocate in turn. It makes the whole experience better, especially if you cap off the day with pizza and beer.

      For me, it isn’t the physical act of moving, but the upheaval, the stress, the lack-of-groundedness, all of that jazz. If I were there, I’d lift whatever I could for you. And I mean *WHATEVER*.

      • I’m with you on this, Kazzy. When I see a pickup truck with a sticker that says, “Yes, this is my truck. No, I won’t help you move,” it bewilders me (even though I’m sure it’s normally tongue-in-cheek). I had a big ol’ pickup truck in grad school, and of course in grad school someone’s always moving. I didn’t mind. The physical effort was a welcome relief, it was always kind of a social event, they always gave me beer and pizza, and it felt good to help someone else.

        Mind you, that was before I became an upper middle class white dude with this awesome FYIGM attitude. If I had a truck now, I’d probably just run over people who were moving, just because I can.

    • My hatred of moving is making me seriously consider buying a really big yacht or something instead of a house in the future so I can just move where I live instead of have to move my stuff.

  7. If you think you will task the hitch it may be wise to crawl under and make sure that whoever bolted the hitch used reasonable hardware. Looking for a reasonably good grade bolt and that the nuts aren’t loose.

    Dealerships and vendors do some silly things.

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