We were preparing to take our daughter back to college for her fourth and (hopefully) final year. We had made this trek before -- each time using a U-Haul trailer to transport her belongings from St. Paul, Minnesota to Ames, Iowa. My husband awoke early to pick up the trailer and they attached it to the back of our vehicle. We carefully loaded it, following the 60% rule stated inside the trailer. Our trip to Iowa was uneventful and we spent the afternoon helping her set up her new apartment. My husband, "Mr. Safety," inspected the hitch and chains and tightened the handwheel and hitch as indicated on the back of our invoice. (Which raises the first question -- if it is critical to retighten the handwheel at each stop, why is it printed in tiny letters on the back of the invoice?)
Fifty miles into our return trip, the trailer suddenly began swinging wildly back and forth behind our vehicle. Unsure of what was happening, my husband struggled to maintain control of our SUV and avoid hitting other cars on the road. As he attempted to slow down the vehicle, the trailer rammed into the back hatch at least two times. Eventually, he was able to bring the vehicle and trailer safely to the side of the road.
It was immediately apparent what had happened. The trailer had detached from our hitch and was merely being pulled by the safety chains. What we could not determine was why it happened. A very nice young man from the Chaska area saw our accident and checked to see if we were okay or needed any help (I only mention this to remind myself there are lots of nice people in this world!). My husband called U-Haul Roadside Assistance to ask what we should do next. We were instructed to drive to an auto parts store 30 plus miles to our east and have an employee make sure the trailer was properly attached to our SUV. (This raises a second question -- if the trailer came unhitched the first time, it was either improperly installed initially or it was defective, and now it had been in an accident. Was it safe for us to reattach the trailer ourselves and drive 30 miles with it?) We were told the address would be sent to our mobile phone.
Twenty minutes later, we were still waiting for the address. My husband called a second time and we were given the address of a different auto parts store 37 miles away. Fortunately, we double-checked the store information on our phone and found it would be closing shortly.
Upon our third call to U-Haul's Roadside Assistance, we expressed concern that the trailer was not safe to tow. We were told we could wait two hours for someone to come to our location and reattach the trailer to our vehicle so we could drive it the remaining 150 miles to St. Paul. The wires for the lighting on the trailer had been ripped out during the accident and we did not know if there was any additional damage to the trailer or the hitch from the accident. We then asked if there were any nearby locations where the trailer could be dropped off and were told to take it to a hardware store 10 miles away. The U-Haul representative mentioned there could be a charge (no dollar amount was given) but that we could work things out with Customer Service. My husband used duct tape to patch up the wiring temporarily and we slowly made our way to the store. Of course the store was closed at this point and we had no way of explaining the situation.
The next morning, we received a call from the hardware store telling us there would be a charge of approximately $250 for dropping off the trailer at a location other than the one where we originally rented it.
Sadly, the story does not end there. When renting the trailer, we purchased their SafeTow insurance policy offered by U-Haul and their insurance company, Repwest. When we spoke with Roadside Assistance, they told us to call the insurance company the next time to place our claim. Repwest did follow up promptly to ask for photos and a description of the damage. They stated they would estimate the repair costs to our vehicle and then, if the repair shop found additional damage that could not be ascertained from the photos, they would cover the remaining amount. What no one told us at that time was that the insurance we purchased covered damage to their trailer but not to our vehicle.
We tried contacting the adjuster a couple of times on the status of our claim, but received no return calls or e-mails. When we tried again to reach him, the operator told us we could contact his supervisor. Fortunately, this did speed things up but may not have endeared us to the adjuster. A week later we received a letter stating that our claim had been denied. RepWest claimed they had inspected the trailer hitch and found it to be in working order. They stated that the fault of the accident was that my husband had not tightened the hitch before leaving Ames. At no time did the adjuster ask if my husband had tightened the hitch.
U-Haul has certainly lost this customer. But it is my goal to spread the word .... TO ROAR. The old statistic is if your customer has a bad experience, they will tell 16 people on average. With the advent of social media, the internet, and even a sign on the back of my vehicle (I have met a lot of nice people just from discussions over that sign), it is much, much higher now. Personally, I am going for a 1600. Help me spread the word!
09/30/2015: The St. Paul Location on University Avenue where we rented the trailer called to say they had reviewed a video of the their employee tightening the handwheel and he did everything properly. When I asked for a copy of the video, there was a long pause followed by the statement that they were not in a position to share it with us. They suggested we work with Repwest if we had any further questions or concerns. Repwest has refused to share the video or their inspection report on the trailer without a subpoena. In other words, we have to hire an attorney and have papers delivered to their location in Arizona, all at our expense.
10/5/2015: The adjuster for Repwest refuses to have any more correspondence with us because we copied our attorney on all the emails we sent to them. We have not yet filed suit, but we wanted our attorney to have the documents available.
If you have had issues with U-H aul or are considering using their trailers, I encourage you to also check out the some of the sites below. After hearing some of the stories out there, I guess we were pretty lucky not to have had more damage or worse, personal injuries.
GIVING THE LITTLE GUY A VOICE THAT CAN BE HEARD AROUND THE WORLD
MICE THAT ROAR
Don't have time to read the whole story? Get in a nutshell here!