One way to save money on a move is by renting a moving truck and packing and driving it yourself. But driving one of those behemoths is definitely different than driving the family car or pickup—especially if it is your first time.
Erik Sherman, a former professional mover who now lives in western Massachusetts, calls it the first step toward driving a tank.
“It’s big, heavy and can cause damage,” he says. “And unlike a tank, it has some huge vulnerabilities.”
1. Adjusting the Mirrors
“Start with the driver’s side mirror and set it as far away from the truck as possible. Then, with your head positioned against the window, adjust it toward you slowly until you begin to see your truck in the right side of the mirror. Repeat this with the passenger side mirror, but this time with your head in the center of the cab.”
Hellen Lee, of Sacramento, adds that it might take two people because rental trucks don’t usually have power mirrors.
“Getting it just right takes a few wiggles and jiggles of the mirrors, so the other person needs to be patient,” she says.
Anita Bartholomew, of Portland, OR, says reversing was tricky for her at first, especially because she kept looking for a rearview mirror above the dashboard, which the truck didn’t have.
Bornstein suggests never going more than 5 mph when reversing and also being prepared to brake suddenly.
“If there is any uncertainty about reversing,” he says, “the driver should stop and physically go out to see if there are any unseen obstacles.”
Betsy Mars, of Torrance, CA, who rented a 17-foot truck to move her daughter across Portland, OR, recommends checking out the parking ahead of time. Because there was no room to park at her daughter’s new apartment, she had to reverse down a dead-end street for about a block and then do a three-point turn, which she said was hard but left her with a feeling of accomplishment.
3. Using the Ramp
Rodrigo Romo, of Hilo, HI suggests backing into a place with an incline that opposes the truck.
“That way you can reduce the angle of the ramp,” Romo says, “and it’s easier to load and unload heavy items.”
Consider renting a truck with a lift gate instead of a ramp, says John Karr of Puyallup, WA.
“Ramps are awkward if you are struggling with large, heavy items,” he says.
Hellen Lee says one of her best moves was positioning the truck so the end of the lift was up on the curb. “This saved a lot of trouble getting on and off the lift and then again at the curb.”
4. Overhead Clearance
Sherman says to research your route ahead of time for overhead limitations.
“If the truck needs 13 feet of clearance, don’t assume you can squeeze in at 12 feet 9 inches,” he says. “Truck bodies are aluminum and can peel back like a sardine can.”
Lee wrote her truck’s height on a sticky note and stuck it on the dashboard.
5. Distracted Driving
Lee says, “This is one time your favorite music is not your friend. You have to focus because other drivers will try to speed around you.”
Margo Pierce, who spent four days driving a moving truck from Seattle to her current home in Cincinnati, agrees. She reports her biggest problem was with other drivers being distracted.
“Cutting me off, tailgating, drifting across the lane to my truck…. It was nerve-wracking,” she says. “Being super-alert was essential.”
6. Securing Your Belongings
“Not securing items properly is a good way to turn your belongings into a heap of rubbish that you can sweep off the back of the truck into a dumpster,” says Sherman. He recommends renting a few dozen furniture pads, and springing for a few of those giant rubber bands movers use if you can find them.
Lee points out that if something heavy topples over and breaks, the money saved wasn’t worth it. “At that point, you think, ‘I should have just shelled out the money for professional movers,’” she says.
Don’t let friends or family tell you it’s “good enough,” she adds. Take the time and effort to pack carefully.
Bornstein says items should be stacked closely together and secured with diagonal straps every two to three feet so that nothing moves.
7. Getting Enough Gas
Lee suggests not letting the gas gauge fall below half because you don’t know when you’ll find another gas station with adequate clearance.
And Sherman says to pay attention to what type of gas the truck requires.
“Do not under any circumstances put regular gas in a truck that requires diesel,” he says. “You will likely destroy the motor, and your move will suddenly cost a whole lot more than you expected.”
8. Underestimating Travel Time
Barb Freda, of Florida and Bermuda, says to accept that you will drive slower in a moving truck, so plan for that and take your time.
Romo suggests adding an extra 20 percent to how long you expect the trip to take. If you haven’t driven it before, take the total miles, divide by the maximum speed limit and then add 20 percent.
And always check the rules of whatever states you’ll be driving in ahead of time. Sherman says he learned this the hard way when he drove interstate and forgot some roads don’t allow trucks.
“The trip got much longer.”