My U-Haul rental ran into a hitch. Here’s how I fixed it.

My experience with U-Haul customer service was a train wreck from start to finish. I wasted hours on hold, listening to how my call was “very important” to them, had to run back and forth between D.C. and Virginia a couple of extra times, incurred some unnecessary extra expenses, and endured a whole lot of aggravation. Can I get a little compensation?

Let’s find out.

This summer, my wife and I were making preparations to move from Virginia to Florida. Part of the plan was that I would drive to Florida with the few things we really wanted from our Virginia house, which was to go on the market later this year. Of course, the “few things” wouldn’t fit in my car. Now, I’ve rented trucks from U-Haul before, and I’ve seen roughly a bazillion of its trailers on the road, so I figured, Why not?

I decided to rent a trailer from U-Haul.

Oh, but first I needed a trailer hitch. That, so to speak, was the first hitch in the process. (Sorry).

U-Haul has a great website , where customers can browse products, determine what their vehicle can tow, and then identify the required hitch. The website also helpfully suggests add-ons, like a receiver and lighting kit.

After selecting the equipment, I chose a location near my home in Virginia. Oops, second hitch. The website is run by U-Haul corporate, and it allowed me to pick a morning appointment — but the location I chose only does hitch installations in the afternoon.

I found that out through a phone call from the location; the manager very helpfully rescheduled me for the first appointment on the Friday of my desired week. But of course, when I went to print out my confirmation that morning, it showed a date five days later.

Oops again. I called the location and found out that they didn’t have the hitch yet, so someone in corporate apparently rescheduled me for the following week. One minor omission — they never bothered to tell me. Oh, and another thing — the new date was during the week I was going to be out of town.

I got that straightened out, and finally got the first appointment of the day on a date about two weeks later than originally planned. I arrived at the location right on time, only to find that “ummm … the hitch mechanic is … ummmm … running behind today.” The bottom line was that a job that should have taken about 90 minutes took about 4 hours instead. Oh, and as an extra bonus, they left the lights and ignition on during the entire process, so my car’s battery ended up as dead as the Eagles’ championship hopes.

The rest of the train wreck involved picking up my trailer in D.C., only to find the trailer lights didn’t work. (Turns out the hitch installer forgot to include the fuse for the lighting extender.) But of course no one at the D.C. location could do anything, and everyone in authority seemed to have run for the hills simultaneously. That eventually got straightened out, at the cost of a lot of hold time on the phone and an extra round trip between D.C. and Virginia.

When I finally got back home with a trailer that had working lights, I found that the furniture pads and dolly for which I had prepaid were not in the trailer. (Apparently someone had removed them between my first and second visits to the D.C. location.) So I made another trip to the Virginia location and got furniture pads, but I wasn’t able to put a dolly in my wife’s Mini Cooper, so I just did without.

By that time, the movers I had hired through the U-Haul website were right at the end of their time slot, so they ended up going into overtime, for which I had to pay in cash.

But I was finally able to hit the road — only about 3 hours later than planned. Not a disaster in and of itself, but I had a hard deadline: This was Saturday, it’s a two-day drive, and on Monday I had movers coming to unload the trailer and a charity coming to take some unwanted items from the Florida property. (The movers, by the way, were clockwork all the way at both ends; no complaints there at all.)

Once I got on the road, things went pretty much OK, except for the first few hours I kept wondering what idiot was following me way too closely.

Turning in the trailer was only a minor derailment, not a total train wreck, but it was still annoying and involved lots of “your call is very important to us.”

So a consumer who is having problems with a company’s service should contact customer service, right?

Funny you should ask. Starting around the time of the initial snafus with the hitch installation, I had emailed U-Haul (via the website) with my concerns about my customer service experience. The response? Crickets.

I also emailed the first executive on the list of executive contacts at Elliott.org. Again, crickets.

When the whole thing was over and I was back in Virginia, I worked my way up the list.
More crickets.

Finally, after almost 3 weeks, I sent a somewhat distilled version of my original email to the CEO at U-Haul, and I had a reply from him within an hour:

I am sorry about all the problems you experienced and the fact that no one has responded.
I recognize that moving is a very challenging time and when you end up going back and forth to get the equipment and then items you have requested and paid for are not available, it is enormously frustrating. I do apologize and am providing a credit for the items you discussed with an additional $100 on your credit card, unless you would like it paid differently.

Looks like I finally made a connection! (Yes, another bad trailer joke.) A few days after receiving assurances of a credit from U-Hall, the company gave me a larger credit than I had originally requested. Can’t argue with that!

Not only did I get a satisfactory resolution, but I did it without further loading down the hard-working advocates at Elliott.org. As my daughter used to say when she was very little, I did it “only mine self!” (Well, with a little help from Elliott’s database.) Politeness, persistence and conciseness paid off — finally.

So, yes, you can do it yourself. Just be persistent, polite and professional, and (a bit of a challenge for me) keep your communications brief and to the point.

And by the way, at least someone at U-Haul seems to be trying: I found out that customers can request recordings of their call to customer service — just tell the rep when they answer. I did that, and shortly afterward got an email with the recording attached as an .mp3.

Way to go, U-Haul!

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