As you all most certainly know by now, I am the resident fangirl of U-Haul on Oppositelock and potentially even all of Kinja. I’ve been writing various tidbits about them through my own adventures in towing and hauling. However, what you didn’t know about U-Haul might surprise you...
I came to love U-Haul through my family’s own adventures in moving. At our peak, we moved more than once a year. In total, my family has moved about ten times in the span of 2000 to 2013. I grew up with U-Haul. I got to see what their newest and greatest equipment has been over the years and even the old stuff used by small local dealers. I’ve even gotten to drive trucks that came right off the showroom floor.
This series is not going to be about the politics of U-Haul. If you’re looking for that, you’re in the wrong place. Likewise, if you’re looking for a comprehensive history of the company itself...Well I’d actually be interested in writing that too if enough people are interested. For now, we are going to explore some of the unique equipment that you could have rented from U-Haul over the past few decades. Some of these are gems I’m sure you never thought even existed.
So, without further delay, let’s obsessively dive into U-Haul’s equipment! Today’s article is first a small explanation on the naming of U-Haul equipment, and some history on my favourite U-Haul rental yet.
On the perimeter of U-Haul equipment resides a Fleet Number (per a U-Haul employee I interviewed). Preceding the number on the equipment is typically two letters and after the number is one more letter. For example, their 24 foot single family home trucks were the “GH” series, while the 26 foot models were the “JH” series. A theoretical JH can be “JH 1320 M” (the one I drove last weekend in the below picture) In the case of later year GM trucks, the GH series were GMC C5500s while the JH trucks were GMC C6500s.
U-Haul JH trucks are my favourite trucks in their lineup. Though, if I had to choose a “best”, it would have to be their old Internationals with manual transmissions. These innovative things even had air suspensions that lowered for loading. Though, I will say that it did seem weird that U-Haul basically used to take day cab trucks, put a cube on them, then you could drive one with just your normal driver’s license.
At least the newer big trucks actually drive a bit closer to the vans and pickup trucks their cabs were lifted off of.
Other models are as follows:
BP (8' Truck - Ford F-150/GMC Sierra.)
BE (9' Van - Ford E-Series/Ford Transit.)
TM (10' Cube - Ford E-Series Chassis Cab/GMC Savanna Chassis Cab.)
DC (15' Cube - Ford E-Series Chassis Cab.)
EL (17' Cube - Ford E-Series Chassis Cab.)
TT (20' Cube - Ford E-Series Chassis Cab.)
GH (24' Cube - GMC C5500.)
JH (26' Cube - GMC C6500/Ford F-650.)
Want to know how old a U-Haul is? Watch out for Fleet Numbers like this: “3646 LV 4636" Older U-Hauls did not have letter suffixes.
And now for trailers:
LV (4x6 enclosed trailer. Super cute and super rare.)
UV (4x8 enclosed trailer. These are getting pretty old.)
AV (5x8 enclosed trailer. I use these for my smart tow capacity testing.)
RT (5x9 open trailer with ramp.)
MV (5x10 enclosed trailer.)
RV (6x12 enclosed trailer.)
MT (Motorcycle Trailer.)
TD (Car Dolly.)
AT (Auto Transport.)
GT (Sport Trailer. Pretty rare these days.)
CT (13ft fibreglass camper.)
VT (16ft fibreglass camper.)
The Sport Trailer.
(That’s a 7000px transparency. Go ahead, open that baby!)
Another note is that if any trailer has the second letter as an “O”, then it is the open version of that trailer. Of course, there are likely other trailer models out there as U-Haul has a tendency to have a lot of equipment in circulation of various ages. U-Haul trailers are built like Grumman LLVs, so some of them are truly dinosaurs.
U-Haul’s business model to some degree mirrors that of commercial aviation. U-Haul trucks and trailers will spend a lot of their lives as One-Way rentals. Then, once the vehicle gets damaged enough or is no longer in favourable condition for cross-country trips, they become Local rentals. This is somewhat similar to how commercial airliners will spend much of their lives with an airline, but then end up getting a second lease on life with budget carriers and freight carriers after they are no longer suitable for mainstream routes.
However, unlike with their trailers (more on that later) - and perhaps amusingly unlike a retired airliner - when a U-Haul truck reaches the end of its life, it does get sold off to the public.
Ever wonder if the janky truck you’re following is an ex-U-Haul? Just look for the aforementioned serial number! While the graphics may be removed from the trucks, the serials usually are not.
I know what you’re wondering...But Mercedes, uh...16ft or 13ft Fibreglass Camper???????
Well, yes! If you were born in the past two (maybe three) decades, you have no idea how bonkers U-Haul truly is.
After the Oil Crisis in the 1970s closed down many of the service stations that U-Haul’s income depended on, they began opening up their own self-contained facilities. These U-Haul built and owned facilities opened up broader horizons. With no longer needing to depend on tiny service stations, what else could U-Haul rent? Maybe they could become the go-to business to rent...anything?
And that they did.
Say you wanted to have a party on Saturday...However, you didn’t have anything you needed to host it. Your grass hadn’t been mowed in months, you don’t have any supplies, and what are you going to do without any movies??? Come on now.
So, you take a stroll to your local Michigan U-Haul corporate location and rent a lawn mower, a jet ski for the lake, some party supplies, and sure why not...a U-Haul branded VHS video player with some movies. Yes, U-Haul once had seven video stores amusingly named “Haullywood Video Rentals”.
Under Shoen control, U-Haul has had some odd ideas and even odder names for their equipment. I kinda wish they at least kept up with the funny names today. Word of mouth says that most of their other rental ideas were beaten out by businesses who were already experts in those fields. The video rentals also suffered from not having enough stock to satisfy customers.
If you wanted to go camping on Sunday, you could have bought any of the hundreds of different fibreglass campers that were all of the rage in the 70s and 80s, like a Boler. Or...you could have rented one of these. Meet the U-Haul CT13 “Get-A-Way Camper” and the VT16 “Vacation Traveler”.
Their products of their failed 80s ventures have almost all disappeared. I cannot even find a U-Haul jet ski anywhere on the Internet. However - breaking their own rules - when the camper rental program ultimately failed in 1992, U-Haul sold every CT13 and VT16 to the public.
These trailers are a bit of works of art. Unlike many other fibreglass campers of the era, the CT/VT siblings were built incredibly sturdy. Provided the trailers are given some basic maintenance (like anything else with wheels), they can pretty much persist forever. And since these trailers really only have a following among U-Haul’s most devoted fans (like myself), these trailers can be had for practically nothing. They carry a small premium over brands of the same era with a greater cult following, but overall they almost fall into “why not?” money.
The CT13s are more common than the VT16s, with those latter trailers being more rare than even first gen smarts in the USA. It is rumoured that there are only 80 VT16 trailers in existence.
These trailers were developed by a U-Haul subsidiary called “Rec Vee: Vacation Adventure” (another fun name). The units were produced from 1984-1985 and titled new as 1984-1988 Model Years. Three plants took on production with the Dayton Trailer Mfg. Co., Youngstown Trailer Mfg. Co., and the Tempe Trailer Mfg. Co.
Earlier models used a circular tube frame construction and later models used a square tube frame construction. These latter frames did go on to be the backbones of later U-Haul rentals like the very 5x8s I enjoy renting! This also explains why the CT13 trailer has the same exact tongue as the newer trailers.
U-Haul rented them from 1984 to 1992. Sadly, at that time it became clear that fibreglass trailers were old news and people were instead buying the biggest trailers their money could buy. U-Haul entered the game just a little too late. U-Haul was not the only victim. Most fibreglass trailer manufacturers went under during this time with only the most popular brands like Scamp and Casita surviving.
I like these trailers a lot because they’re designed to be towed by basically anything and dead simple to set up. A lot of trailers (especially campers) have some sweet features and amenities, but completely ignore the actual experience of hooking it up and towing it. Sometimes, a manufacturer ignores this so much that some trailers can actually be dangerous to tow. It looks like U-Haul does things in reverse, with caring about towing first, then longevity (they are rental vehicles, after all), then everything else.
Factory amenities with the CT13 were a stove, sink, refrigerator, furnace, propane tank, table, some cabinets, stabilizers (unheard of on most fibreglass campers), and sleeping arrangements for three adults. Original U-Haul campers have an interior colour theme of olive drab with U-Haul logos on pretty much everything. The cabinets are the normal thin boards you find in the average camper, however they have a nice plastic outer coating to protect them. The tables are made from fibreglass. Which while that gives them a distinctive look and makes them super lightweight, it also makes them prone to being chipped easily.
Owners of CT13s have found out how hilariously easy they are to mod too (often without changes to the fibreglass), and as a result I’ve seen mods like power jacks, roof air conditioner units, and even retractable awnings. A popular mod is putting in new carpeting because it’s easy and can dramatically change the interior look.
The VT trailers are essentially elongated CT13s, however they do have space for a couple more sleeping adults, larger appliances, more interior storage, and it comes with a “powder room” (bathroom sink and toilet, no shower). Theoretically U-Haul wanted you to rent a CT13 for weekend camping, but the VT16 for longer camping stays. Some ex-U-Haul employees say that sometimes when U-Haul would ship employees around they’d ship them with these trailers in tow. Apparently the company was reluctant to pay for hotels when they literally had rolling hotel rooms!
A CT13 is exactly 13 feet from rear bumper to tongue. The interior “capsule” is only 10 feet long, leaving most of the remaining 3 feet just for tongue (and a propane tank, if you so choose). In my experience, U-Haul’s tongue design makes for a very pleasurable towing experience. Like other trailers in the U-Haul lineup, the CT13 and VT16 siblings all have “PROPERTY OF U-HAUL” written all over them. It’s not only a fun Easter Egg but also a way of seeing just how original a U-Haul camper is.
Perhaps annoyingly so in the event of needing a spare, the wheels of the trailers are also unique to U-Haul. Thankfully the wheels on the campers are also used on their current rental trailers, so getting a spare should be easy. This is especially considering that I tow things with a smart, of all vehicles. At about 1,000 pounds dry and with a more aerodynamic shape than the “test” 5x8 trailers I’ve been renting, the CT13 should prove to be an awesome companion for a smart.
I intend on getting a CT13 and building a little computer into a cabinet in it. I’ll have a little RGB tech palace when I camp. ;)
So, should you go out and buy yourself a U-Haul camper?
Well...I would say “that depends”. Firstly, as it goes buying any decades-old thing, most of these trailers will need a thing or two, or three. Most of them will be “camp ready”, but not perfect. Some parts on the trailer also cannot be replaced as U-Haul never produced replacement parts for them. If a taillight gets smashed...well you’ll have to get lights from something else...which means you’ll have to do fibreglass work. Furnace dead? Same thing, unless you can fix yours or find an original you’re going to be cutting some fibreglass. Interestingly enough, one of the only parts still being made is the power system for the trailer as the unit is still used in new trailers today.
All of that is where a lot of people have gotten creative with them. I’ve seen CT13s with Scamp windows, Burro taillights, even a mini-fridge from a local Target. So, if easily replaceable parts are your thing, then a U-Haul trailer will not be.
You can buy a lightweight fibreglass trailer with readily available replacement parts. The 2010s have brought a massive return to fibreglass camping and the market has exploded with choices.
You can get a Scamp, a Happier Camper, an Oliver, a Bigfoot, a ParkLiner, an Eggcamper, a Dub-Box, an Escape, a Nest, a Weiscraft, a Casita, or any other of the increasing array of new fibreglass builds. Not only can you buy a brand new Scamp, Scamp still makes replacement parts. For new buyers, a Scamp has more options than some of the most luxurious cars out there. And for used buyers, used and old Scamps are not a whole lot different than new ones and go for very affordable prices.
If you enjoyed this article, I’m happy you did. If not...I’m sorry. What else would you like to hear about U-Haul? Stay tuned for more adventures in moving things around. :)
Here’s a factory fresh Supergraphic!
(Photo Credits are to their respective owners. Citations for photos are on the photo descriptions. Photos without descriptions are mine.)
Special thanks to the U-Haul corporate store of Grayslake!
Update: July 4, 2019 - I found two vintage U-Haul ads showing all of the wacky items you were able to rent in the 1980s!
About The Author
Mercedes is a slightly insane fanatic of smart fortwos, custom computers, and U-Haul. She’s fighting the daily urge to just open up a refuge for smarts and U-Hauls...Or smarts in U-Hauls.