In our June 2000 issue, I took U-Haul to task for some trouble I'd had with one of its rental trucks. Now, you may remember this incident where I rented a U-Haul truck to carry the parts I had received from J&W Jeep Salvage in Antelope, California (located near Sacramento (916) 723-3950), back home to Los Angeles. My problems began when the small truck I had reserved was rented out and a larger truck was substituted. I finally got the smaller truck from another U-Haul dealer. If you remember, when I stopped to fill the truck with fuel for the first time, it just wouldn't start again - dead as a door nail, no ignition. In that 4Word, I explained just how inconvenient it was to find myself sitting around for more than three hours at night in the rain, during a power failure, waiting for U-Haul's roadside service to get to me. Later, I stated that I had to stay overnight and transfer my parts to another truck in the morning. While this was not the best time I've ever had with a rental, I've come to learn that it could have been much worse.
You see, Mark Nobles and I had to do our annual tow test this year and decided to use a tow dolly and a trailer for a different editorial twist. We selected a local rental center and Mark picked up the tow dolly. I borrowed a two-axle trailer from one of our contributors and we were set to begin. The first thing that happened was that I noticed the tires on the tow dolly were very low on air. Tires rated at 65 psi cold were at 12-18 psi. We filled the tires to spec and were off. We hadn't gone more than 35 miles when the entire tread section on one of the tow dolly tires separated and flew off, taking one of the taillights with it. It was a credit to the tire maker that the carcass still held air so the tow dolly didn't swerve or otherwise jump around. After inspecting the tire, it was obvious that the tire was damaged because of excessive over-loading and poor air pressure.
Mark and I called the rental yard and were shocked to find out that they not only didn't offer any roadside assistance, but that they didn't even have a policy for us to make the repair and later take the cost of the replacement tire off our bill. In fact, they stated that "all tire-related issues were our [the renter's] responsibility." Our only choice was to unload the Xterra we were towing and slowly drive back to the rental yard.
Upon arriving at the rental yard, we began the talks about who was responsible for the cost of a new tire and the broken taillight. Finally the rental people conceded the point and we didn't have to pay. Next they informed us that their rental equipment was only allowed within a 50-mile radius of the shop. This meant we couldn't even drive across town with the thing. Furthermore, after inspecting all the tow dollies, we found that every piece of equipment had balding, under-inflated, soon-to-go-bad tires on them. If this wasn't the topper, there were bad wheel bearings on all the units as well. We kindly turned in our tow dolly and escaped out the back door.
What could we do now? I called the local U-Haul yard in Placentia, California, and asked if they had a tow dolly for rent. Unlike the local yard, they asked what we were towing. When we told them an Xterra they told us to come on down. After getting to U-Haul, they checked again and informed us that the Xterra was too heavy for a tow dolly and that they would have to rent us a car trailer. Not to worry, since they had told us on the phone that a dolly would work, they rented us the trailer at the dolly price.
Out of curiosity, I checked the tires and wheel bearings on the U-Haul tow dollies. Every one was almost brand-new. The trailer they rented us had to be brand-new too. Further inspection of the other trailers on the lot showed that they too were recently serviced and well maintained. We loaded the Xterra and were off to do our tow test. Nothing unpleasant happened along the way with our rental trailer.
So what's my point? I learned that even with all the trouble I had with U-Haul on my trip from Sacramento, it could have been worse. Another rental agency might not have even had roadside service. While that one experience with U-haul was not the best, I've changed my mind about the company overall. The value of any type of road service, outlets around the country to repair or replace broken equipment, and the ability to rent one way are all things that have made U-Haul a household name when it comes to moving things. The company has redeemed itself in my eyes, and I wanted to pass this on to all of our readers. Sure, I still like renting new equipment, but when trouble starts, even old stuff with the right customer service is better than new stuff with no service at all.