For those that missed it, I rented a U-Haul trailer last week so I could haul some stuff. Before the rental period was over, I was hit from behind by a fellow who should have been paying more attention to the road.

It was fortunate that I splurged for the insurance. Here’s why.

On the day of the accident, U-Haul sent someone out to disconnect the trailer and tow it back to my house. The day after, they sent someone out to hammer out the pillar enough to get the door open, then they paid for two separate tows to get the trailer from my house to our storage unit so I could finish unloading it ,and from the storage unit to the U-Haul facility to turn it in. Louisiana regulates the towing rates, so each of those tows cost about $150. I have no idea what the charges were for the emergency “repair” to open the door.

Once it was turned in, I received a bill for two extra days, so I called U-Haul to get that straightened out. After all, it wasn’t my fault the extra days were required so I figured the insurance should pay for it. They agreed! They said the manager at the facility where the trailer was returned would have to update the paperwork, so I asked who that might be so I could give him a call.

Here’s where things took a disturbing turn.

The manager wasn’t even aware that the trailer was damaged. Whoever inspected it when it was processed didn’t note that there was any damage. Even though there was an active claim on this trailer number and they already had four interactions with it (three tows and one emergency repair), U-Haul’s trailer management system didn’t note that this trailer was involved in an accident and should be sent to their local repair facility.

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The manager thanked me at least three times for making him aware of the situation. I got the impression it was scheduled for another rental that day. That would have been bad for both the renter and U-Haul, especially if something had gone wrong.

The lessons learned?

INSPECT EVERY TRAILER BEFORE YOU RENT IT! I can’t emphasize this enough. Do a thorough inspection and take note of any and all damage you see. Look for doors that operate smoothly. Look for parts that are out of alignment. Check the fluid level if it is equipped with a trailer brake. Look for unusual wear on the tires. Look for a smooth floor (the floor in mine was buckled after the wreck). Look for good wiring. Check to make sure all of the lights work properly. A thorough inspection will help protect you.

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PAY FOR THE INSURANCE! I’ve rented many trucks and trailers over the years, but this is the first time I’ve had an incident. I’m sure that U-Haul has already spent more on just towing costs than I spent on insurance for all my rentals. The insurance is worth the additional cost.

KEEP ALL OF YOUR PAPERWORK! You will need it if something goes wrong. Take pictures when you rent the equipment. Take pictures if an incident occurs. Take pictures when you turn it in. The pictures I took have already saved me a lot of time and trouble while dealing with U-Haul and the insurance company.

GIVE YOURSELF EXTRA TIME! If you miss an issue during the inspection, it may show up when you are loading or somewhere during the trip. If you are involved in a wreck or have a problem with the equipment, especially when far away from home, you will need the extra time. I go into every rental expecting to have the equipment for at least one day longer than what they allow and pay for it up front. Keep in mind that there are other people out there who may need it. I’ve been on the other side of that fence, waiting for equipment that was turned in late.

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STAY SAFE! People who don’t tow often are the ones most likely to make a mistake. Trailers are downright dangerous if loaded improperly. Trailers require wider turns. Drivers have to think ahead when towing so they don’t drag the trailer over curbs, into bollards, into other cars, etc. Planning ahead can keep you out of sticky situations.

Stuff happens even if you are being careful. Being prepared will help you make the best of it.