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Penske vs. U-Haul: Which Moving Company Should You Choose?

Moving is a complex process full of small decisions that can make a big difference in a customer’s experience—and their wallet. In a comparison of Penske vs. U-Haul, which one is the best for a move?
Meghan Wentland Avatar
Penske vs. U-Haul
Photo: istockphoto.com

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Those who have opted to move themselves have saved the significant cost of hiring a moving company, but they’ve also identified themselves as the person in charge of all of the decisions—and there are many. What date is best to move? What route will accommodate the truck? What size truck is needed? Is it time to call in favors and ask friends to help carry the couch down the stairs, or would it be better to hire some extra hands? Other than the destination, one of the most important choices a DIY mover will make is where to rent the truck. There are plenty of local and independent rental companies of varying reputation and reliability, but in this case it’s not a bad idea to stick with companies that have been around for some time and have clear and established policies in place so there’s no mystery surrounding costs, policies, and procedures. Penske and U-Haul are two of the most recognizable names in the moving-truck rental industry, and with good reason. But which one is the right choice, U-Haul or Penske?

How We Compared Moving Truck Rental Companies

To determine which of the two is the best moving truck rental company, some basic criteria as a basis for comparison needed to be established. We identified the aspects that will affect a customer’s overall experience most, then compared the two companies using these points.

  • Truck sizes: Will the company have trucks available in different sizes to meet the needs of customers moving smaller or larger volumes of material, or to accommodate drivers who aren’t comfortable driving enormous vehicles and would prefer two smaller, more manageable trucks?
  • State availability and locations: Most customers would prefer to rent a truck nearby their current residence and return the vehicle near the new one. Companies with many locations make the task of picking up and dropping off the truck less of a hassle.
  • Cost: Most companies have a clear method of establishing the cost of the rental, either a per-mile charge or a flat fee based on the length of the rental. In addition, some require that the gas tank be full upon return, and some companies have stringent insurance requirements that cost the renter extra money. Overage charges are also an important consideration. Beyond the base price, companies may have different costs depending on the time of year or where the eventual drop-off will be.
  • Discounts: Moving is expensive, even for customers doing it themselves, so it never hurts to check on discount policies. Discounts may be available for moves to certain locations or to customers with certain memberships or status, such as AAA, AARP, the United States armed forces active duty members or veterans, first responders, and teachers. Some companies also have programs to assist college students moving onto or off campus or first-time home buyers, as well as other promotional discounts that appear seasonally.
  • Reservation process: Nearly all companies will allow customers to call and ask questions and then reserve a truck over the telephone, but most customers in the DIY moving market reserve online. A clear, smooth, streamlined process can make all the difference in the experience of a customer who is busy planning a move, while a clunky, involved process with many hurdles can make the process unnecessarily taxing.
  • Deposit and cancellation policy: This is an important bit of fine print, as these policies are often why customers end up dissatisfied with their moving-truck rental experience. It’s not unreasonable for a moving-truck rental company to require a deposit or credit card on file in case there’s a problem, but if there’s a cancellation that violates the company’s policy, that deposit may not be refunded. Clarity on both of these policies is important to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Roadside assistance: Most people are not equipped to change a tire on a 22-foot vehicle and wouldn’t begin to know what to do if the engine begins to smoke. Knowing who to call and who is responsible for the repair, along with how the move will proceed if the vehicle is disabled, is critical to the budgeting and time management of a move.
  • Additional services: Moving-truck rental companies are often part of the larger moving industry and may offer additional services such as trailers, towing hitches, moving containers, on-premises self-storage, and other services such as packing or moving materials. Some offer moving assistance as well. These additions can add convenience by packaging many of the services needed by people who are moving into one company and location.

1. Penske vs. U-Haul: Truck Sizes

Penske’s fleet of vehicles spans a wide range and is helpfully identified not just by length and square footage, but also by the approximate number of rooms that can be moved in the vehicle. This is quite helpful for novice movers, who probably can’t eyeball a home’s contents and accurately estimate how much space it will take to pack the way a professional could.

Penske vehicle sizes:

  • High-roof cargo van
  • 12-foot truck
  • 16-foot truck
  • 22-foot truck
  • 26-foot truck

Penske’s smallest vehicle is a high-roof cargo van that can contain approximately one room of furniture. The 12-foot box truck can contain one to two rooms of furniture; it’s just an inch longer than the van but several feet wider. The 16-foot box truck will hold the furniture of two to three rooms, while the 22-foot truck accommodates three to five rooms. The largest vehicle in the fleet is 26 feet long and 8 feet wide; it will carry between five and seven rooms of furniture. This largest vehicle can be quite unwieldy and requires a great deal of attention and care for an inexperienced driver to manage.

U-Haul vehicle sizes:

  • 8-foot pickup truck
  • 9-foot cargo van
  • 10-foot truck
  • 15-foot truck
  • 17-foot truck
  • 20-foot truck
  • 26-foot truck

When comparing Penske truck rental vs. U-Haul, customers will notice that U-Haul’s fleet starts with smaller vehicles: the company offers an 8-foot pickup truck for small jobs, such as moving single pieces of furniture or bringing home an appliance from the home improvement store. U-Haul’s cargo van is slightly smaller than Penske’s, but the smallest box truck fills that gap at 10 feet, which is appropriate for a studio or 1-bedroom apartment. U-Haul follows that with 15-, 17-, 20-, and 26-foot box trucks, so its fleet allows for slightly more specific selections. In addition, U-Haul’s rental fleet is considerably larger than Penske’s, which means there’s a greater likelihood that the specific size of truck a customer needs will be available nearby at any given time.

The larger box trucks are similar in size: comparing a Penske 26 vs. a U-Haul 26, customers will find basically the same interior dimensions and conveniences. In either truck, customers will want to assess the tie-downs and materials to make sure the vehicle is suitable.

Verdict: Penske and U-Haul both have trucks ranging from 9-foot cargo vans to 26-foot trucks. U-Haul also offers the option of an 8-foot pickup truck for smaller jobs, and U-Haul’s 186,000-plus fleet means greater vehicle availability—two additional factors that make it a better choice for most people.

Winner: U-Haul

Penske vs. U-Haul
Photo: istockphoto.com

2. Penske vs. U-Haul: State Availability and Locations

Location, location, location—is it really everything? In the case of moving truck rental, it certainly can be. One-way moves mean that customers need to identify not one, but two points of contact: one for pickup and one for drop-off. It stands to reason that the more storefronts and pickup locations a company has, the more likely it is that a customer will be able to find one in both their previous and new neighborhoods without driving too far out of the way. Who really wants to drive for 2 hours to pick up a moving truck, then drive back home (presumably with a car following) just to load up the truck and drive even more before hunting down the nearest drop-off location?

U-Haul is fairly ubiquitous: Featuring over 21,000 locations across the country, U-Haul’s name is synonymous with “moving,” so there’s a good chance that there are locations in reasonable proximity to most areas. Penske’s reach isn’t to be dismissed, however; while Penske doesn’t have the same level of national name recognition as U-Haul, it has a respectable 2,500 locations nationwide. Penske’s partnership with The Home Depot has increased its presence, as the ability for customers to rent a truck right at the location where a large appliance has been purchased or a lot of deck boards need to be transported home has increased name recognition. Furthermore, as the rental option spreads to more Home Depot locations, the convenience factor will increase. At this time, however, U-Haul’s presence across the country is fairly dominant.

Verdict: Penske has a solid presence with 2,500 locations and rentals available at The Home Depot. However, U-Haul has greater name recognition and over 21,000 rental locations nationwide, so it’s essentially a go-to moving truck rental option for most customers.

Winner: U-Haul

3. Penske vs. U-Haul: Cost

Is U-Haul or Penske cheaper? Although cost isn’t everything, it’s a significant factor when selecting a moving truck to rent. And pricing can be a hard thing to pin down, because so much of the cost varies based on location, time of year, mileage, and the details of the move.

Selecting an arbitrary date, we compared Penske’s and U-Haul’s pricing for one-way and round-trip moves using each company’s various fleet vehicles. For round-trip moves, U-Haul’s cargo van and 26-foot truck were less costly than Penske’s comparable vehicles, but all of Penske’s other trucks were less expensive than the corresponding U-Haul vehicles. For one-way trips, however, U-Haul’s pricing was less expensive for all size vehicles when we used the same estimated mileage to compare the costs.

When considering Penske vs. U-Haul long distance costs, some may ask why Penske is so expensive. While it isn’t terribly expensive across the board, at the moment it is slightly more costly in general simply because the network doesn’t have as much reach as U-Haul; demand is higher because Penske has fewer franchises and branches.

However, customers will want to keep in mind that rental costs are largely determined by the specifics of the move. For example, mid-month rentals and midweek rentals are generally less expensive than weekend and end-of-month rentals, when many leases turn over and home sales close, leading to greater demand. Similarly, in college towns, the weekdays and weekends during late August and early September and mid to late May will be more expensive as droves of college students move in and out of dorms and apartments. When price shopping, it’s generally a good idea to use the sites’ calculators and input the details of the specific move to shop around for the best pricing.

Verdict: Both Penske and U-Haul have comparable round-trip pricing, but U-Haul’s one-way pricing is more affordable. The biggest factor in determining final costs will be when and where rentals are taking place, so customers may want to compare sites to find the best price for their moving date.

Winner: Tie

Penske vs. U-Haul
Photo: istockphoto.com

4. Penske vs. U-Haul: Discounts

The total cost of renting a moving truck can be a little shocking, even though it is considerably less than the cost of hiring a full-service moving company. However, there are quite a few discounts that may take the edge off the price for many customers. Penske provides a 10 percent discount on truck rental for college students and doesn’t have an underage surcharge for renters between the ages of 18 and 23. One-way truck rentals to college students include unlimited miles, so students will be able to run to the store to stock up on supplies or pick up furniture. Penske also offers veterans and active military members a 10 percent discount, and it offers a dedicated call center specifically to help military members with DIY moves. Customers who are AAA members can save 12 percent or more on truck rentals and supplies, and they’ll also enjoy unlimited mileage on one-way moves. Finally, Penske offers periodic seasonal discounts or special offers, such as reduced-cost rentals of car carriers or materials.

U-Haul has frequent seasonal discounts and specials, such as a free month of storage with a one-way truck rental and free hitch inspections. In addition, U-Haul is partnered with Choice Hotels and Wyndham Hotels, where a U-Haul rental will entitle the renter to 15 percent off a Choice Hotel stay or 10 percent off a stay at a Wyndham hotel. If the seasonal discounts happen to tick a box for a customer, they can be a great deal, but there’s no guarantee those deals will be in place when they’re needed.

Verdict: U-Haul runs occasional seasonal promotions. Penske has ongoing discounts for AAA members, military members, and college students, in addition to discounts for unlimited mileage.

Winner: Penske

5. Penske vs. U-Haul: Reservation Process

Most customers choose to rent their moving trucks via online reservations, so it’s critical that the reservation process be clear-cut and easy to navigate. When customers begin a search, Penske requests the ZIP code for the pickup and drop-off locations and offers a box to check for one-way rentals. Then the customer must select a date for the rental—but the pickup and drop-off dates can’t be the same, so a customer looking for a quick 1-day move won’t have that option available. There’s also the opportunity to select a truck size or default to all truck sizes. The results page can seem cluttered, and the full range of truck size options stretches across the top of the page. Running down the length of the page are the locations nearby, along with their hours, contact information, pricing, and details about the truck itself, and an option to change the date to see different prices. The ability to sort by nearest pickup, lowest price, and to limit the results to trucks that are available are also tucked into this page. The information is all there, but it takes a few minutes to sort it out and decide what to click first. A telephone number and Click to Chat link is prominently displayed at the top of every page, so customers can easily speak with a person if necessary.

Penske’s Truck Wizard is a helpful resource that allows customers to select furniture similar in size to what the customer will need to move before suggesting an appropriately sized vehicle. This takes some of the guesswork out of choosing the right truck. Penske’s reservation site also offers useful information about packing the truck effectively, which will be necessary to maximize the space in the cargo area.

U-Haul’s search function offers a choice: Customers can search by location or by vehicle size, selecting the date of pickup and drop-off for a round-trip move or only the pickup date for a 1-day rental. Once the results have been generated, customers can scroll through locations to find one nearby and then toggle between different vehicles, or they can scroll through the locations that have the vehicle specified in the search terms. At that point, customers can also select how many hours they’ll need the rental. This is a significant benefit over Penske’s less-specific function: Customers can rent a U-Haul for just an hour or two. Furthermore, U-Haul provides reviews and star ratings for each individual branch. The checkout process takes customers through many options for additional services, and occasionally locating the “No, I am not interested in this service” button is tricky.

Verdict: U-Haul has a straightforward and clean online reservation experience. Penske’s reservation page is slightly cluttered, but it’s not overly difficult to navigate.

Winner: U-Haul

6. Penske vs. U-Haul: Deposit and Cancellation Policy

Moving can be unpredictable. Closing dates can change unexpectedly, weather or illness can interfere, or new residences may not be ready when promised. There are many reasons a customer might need to cancel or reschedule a moving truck rental. Because of this, savvy customers will check the cancellation policies closely before plunking down a deposit, and they’ll quite reasonably be wary about large deposits they may not be able to recoup.

Penske allows customers to reserve a truck with a credit card as a guarantee but will not actually charge the credit card until pickup. At that time, the company will calculate a security deposit. The amount of the security deposit will be refunded when the vehicle is returned, providing there are no penalties accrued. Penske’s cancellation policy is quite generous: Customers can cancel or reschedule their rental at any time without fees or fines, which is convenient and flexible in a way that most users will find comforting.

U-Haul only requires a deposit on trucks that are being rented with cash. Credit card rentals are subject only to an environmental fee and taxes, both of which are itemized. U-Haul does require customers to purchase damage coverage, with several different options a customer can choose from, the lowest costing $14 The company requests that customers make cancellation requests 24 hours prior to the rental to avoid any fines and fees, but it’ not specific about what those fines and fees may be.

Verdict: Penske requires a deposit for round-trip rentals, while U-Haul only requires deposits on cash payments. U-Haul asks that customers cancel reservations within 24 hours or they might be subject to fines. However, Penske allows customers to cancel at any time with no penalties.

Winner: Penske

Penske vs. U-Haul
Photo: istockphoto.com

7. Penske vs. U-Haul: Roadside Assistance

Driving a large vehicle in an unfamiliar area can be uncomfortable, but if that vehicle breaks down or gets a flat, especially on a tight schedule for rental and moving, customers may be unsure of how to handle the problem. Luckily, Penske and U-Haul are both conscious of this issue and offer roadside assistance at any time during the rental.

U-Haul provides quite a few ways to request roadside assistance. Opening the U-Haul web page on a phone, customers will find a link to request roadside assistance, with large icons that are clear and easy to read on a mobile device. Customers must indicate if they were in an accident, whether there is smoke coming from the vehicle, and then provide their best guess at the problem: tire problem, stuck in mud or snow, key problems, and others. If making those decisions seems too complicated in the moment, customers can also click a link to start a live chat with an agent or call a hotline. This convenience and raft of rental locations make selecting U-Haul long-distance movers an excellent choice—if trouble arises on the highway or a long back road in an area where the driver is unfamiliar and wouldn’t know where to start with a repair, roadside services can help.

Penske also offers roadside assistance 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The services are similar: Penske will take the details of the problem over the phone and contact a service person local to the area where the problem occurred, then get help to the customer as soon as possible. This service is only accessible via telephone, which could be inconvenient and require staying on hold for an extended period.

Verdict: Both companies have free 24/7 roadside assistance should customers encounter any issues during their moves. However, U-Haul allows customers to submit a roadside assistance request online, so they don’t have to spend time waiting on hold on the phone for a service representative.

Winner: U-Haul

8. Penske vs. U-Haul: Additional Services

U-Haul has been in the moving business for a long time and prides itself on meeting all of the needs their customers may have. While renting a truck, customers can also opt to rent a moving container, a box trailer or car trailer, self-storage facilities (a month is included for free with some rentals), and packing and moving supplies. It’s convenient for customers to rent and purchase all of their supplies in one place, and U-Haul’s options can make it easier for people to tailor their rental to their individual situation. People moving on their own might need a car trailer. Those who need a little extra space can choose to reserve a box trailer to tow behind the truck or behind the customer’s own vehicle. U-Haul also offers one of the best moving container services. The company provides insurance for the trucks and the cargo, and it offers an opportunity to hire moving help.

Penske also provides rentals of car carriers and car dollies so that customers can tow their vehicles behind their trucks, but it specifically limits the use of trailers to 16-, 22-, and 26-foot box trucks. The company does not offer box trailers, storage, or moving containers. Penske does offer insurance options for the trucks and cargo, and it also provides opportunities to rent or buy moving supplies.

Verdict: Penske only offers moving truck rentals and does not rent out moving trailers. Along with moving truck rentals, U-Haul offers self-storage facilities, trailers, and moving containers. U-Haul’s multifaceted moving services allow customers to streamline all of their needs through one company.

Winner: U-Haul

Verdict: With 21,000 locations nationwide, a robust fleet of vehicles, and a reasonable pricing structure, U-Haul is the choice for those looking to rent a moving truck. Those with a Penske rental location nearby will still benefit from fair pricing and ongoing discounts—and depending on certain pricing factors, customers may want to compare costs for choosing one over the other.

U-Haul has a large network, a wide range of vehicle and service options, and locations all over the country. While its cancellation policy is less forgiving than Penske’s, the breadth and depth of its services makes up for that. U-Haul’s greatest weakness is its poor customer reviews on sources such as Trustpilot and ConsumerAffairs. Customers describe incidents where credit cards were inappropriately charged, trucks were not available when promised, vehicles were leaky or damaged, and other stories of inconvenience and unreliability. It’s worth noting that many of these customers had problems with reservations or needed to make changes, so while it’s important to take reviews into consideration and very, very carefully read the fine print, poor reviews do not mean the company is unsafe to work with or that every experience will be negative. It’s also important to remember that U-Haul rents thousands of vehicles daily, and dissatisfied customers are far more likely to leave reviews than satisfied customers who had no problems with their truck rental experience.

Penske’s network is growing, though it’s not yet nearly as large as U-Haul’s. The company’s reviews on ConsumerAffairs and Trustpilot also tell a story of uneven customer service and business practices quite similar to those of U-Haul. Complaints included Penske’s interpretation of its guarantee, which is that customers whose desired vehicle isn’t available will be offered a similar or larger vehicle at pickup. Several customers noted that this policy left them in a position where they had to choose between renting a truck that was so uncomfortably large that they didn’t want to drive it or missing their moving date entirely. Other reviews mentioned excellent service. When considering Penske vs. U-Haul reviews, Penske comes out slightly on top, but it’s important to note that the sheer volume of reviewers is unbalanced.

Penske is a great option if there are branches near the starting and ending points, and especially useful if the customer qualifies for any of the discount groups. U-Haul is a great option for more people simply because it’s much more accessible, and its customer interfaces bear that out. To choose the best moving-truck rental company, it’s wise to consider all of the factors, along with the date, season, and distance of the move, before seeking quotes—potentially from both companies—to see which one fits the bill.