In order to relocate from Austin to Washington, D.C., my lovely fiancée and I recently had the extreme pleasure of spending two-and-a-half days driving across this great nation of ours in a Ford E-350 Super Duty moving truck with all of our furniture and a multitude of boxes in the back.
I learned a great many things on our long journey, like how there are a truly staggering number of radio stations in America called "The Beat."
I also got so good at driving the massive, 12-foot moving truck that by the end of the trip I could probably run it in autocross. Now I'd like to teach you what I learned.
At first, driving one of these trucks is not easy. It's long and wide, it has no center rear-view mirror, it's unbelievably slow, its handling can best be described as "wobbly," and it's noisy and claustrophobic inside.
Operating one successfully requires a very different type of driving than I was used to. But whether you're behind the wheel of a Corolla or a Corvette, you have to learn what a car can do and what it can't, and you adjust your driving style accordingly.
If you ever find yourself driving one of these things cross-country like me, then I have some wisdom I would like to impart. Sit back and prepare to put some knowledge in your face!
Full disclosure: I know the truck says Penske on it, but neither they nor Ford paid for any aspect of this trip. I wish they had. The whole thing got expensive by the end.
Come on, do you really want to do a drive like this in some ancient beater truck with nasty old coffee-stained, fart-clinging cloth seats? No way. You gotta roll in something that's as nice as possible. If you end up with something awful, get back in there and demand the newest truck they have.
We had the good fortunate of getting a 2012 E-350 from Penske that had fewer than 30,000 miles on it. The truck felt practically brand-new, with fancy vinyl seats and — best of all, I'm telling you — an AUX input on the stereo.
This meant that we could plug in our iPods and thus didn't have to spend the entire trip trolling for bad Top 40 radio stations over and over again. If there's anything worse than taking a days-long trip in an underpowered moving truck, it's doing it with Rihanna's sing-screaming in your ear the entire time.
The truck is hard enough to drive without having to worry about your stuff flying around the back. You have better things to worry about, so first and foremost, make sure it's secure back there. If you don't know what you're doing, get someone else to do it. It's worth the money.
Here are some helpful tips on how to pack a truck. I would also suggest packing some of your more fragile items, like computer monitors, with pillows around them in their boxes. Also, generally speaking, don't use the truck for human smuggling. Especially in Texas.
Like I said before, you can't drive something this heavy like a normal car. Don't even think about doing hard, sudden stops, especially if you have stuff in the back that could get damaged. Just take your time braking before turns, and come to a near-complete stop if you have to.
Go into a corner too hot and you run the risk of rolling the thing over. Also, when you're in traffic, be looking ahead at all times for jam-ups so you can apply your brakes early. Patience and paying attention really are the keys to driving one of these things.
Steering the truck was the worst. The wheel looked and felt like it came off a Fox Mustang (and I don't mean that in a nice way), it's way too loose, and there's shockingly little feel for something with such a harsh ride.
All of these things combine to create a situation where it will take a while to really feel like you have proper control over the truck, so keep your speeds down until you know what you're doing. Don't push yourself into a situation where you don't have control. Key to this is staying in the correct lanes, something we'll touch on in a minute.
You have no center rearview mirror inside the cabin, so knowing what's behind you is a combination of hunching over and staring into the little blindspot mirror, listening for other engines, trying to catch glimpses of headlights, and praying to whatever God you may believe in.
As a result, changing lanes and merging could be terrifying. I suggest watching those side mirrors very carefully while trying to match highway speeds. Be prepared for situations where drivers won't let you in right away and plan accordingly.
I have a newfound sympathy for drivers of 18-wheelers after this experience. It's tricky to drive something so big and slow, especially when you have assholes darting around you at ridiculous speeds. I used to be that asshole, and I'm not accustomed to getting my doors blown off by a Kia Spectra.
What I learned is to not get butthurt when people pass you — they have somewhere to be and they can do it quicker than you can.
Essential to this is keeping in the right lane on the highway. Our truck was electronically limited to 75 mph, which meant we were never really going all that fast. As you should in any car, keep to the right lane to let faster traffic go by. Don't be that person who hangs out in the left lane going slowly — I ran into a few other moving trucks that did that and I shook my fist at them. That'll teach 'em!
As slow as the truck was, there were many times that cars in front of me in the right lane were going even slower. (Usually, these people were driving a Toyota Camry, for whatever reason.) That meant I had to blast past their asses from time to time.
Let me tell you that passing in one of these trucks is the. Worst. Thing. Ever. Our truck had a four-speed automatic that strained to put down any real power, and with the engine limited to 75 mph, trying to get past other cars was like throwing myself at a brick wall unless they were going insanely slow. Don't pass unless you absolutely have to.
But when you do, here's what to do: Check those mirrors very carefully for cars in the other lane, signal to get over, and then stand on the gas pedal. The truck won't want to do it and you'll murder your fuel economy, but it has to be done sometimes. Just don't expect to blow past a bunch of other drivers at once like you can in a small car.
Somehow, in the process of packing all my stuff, quitting my job, looking for a new one, and everything else involved with the move, this realization didn't hit me until I picked up the truck: "Oh shit, I have to pay to put gas in this thing." Isn't moving fun?
Our truck had a 35-gallon tank and supposedly averaged around 12 miles per gallon. I found myself putting around $100 in each tank every 300 miles or so. If you're doing a cross-country move in a truck, you've probably figured out all the costs involved. Don't forget this one.
When we mapped out our trip on Google Maps, we found that we were always running behind the estimated time it took to get from point A to point B. You're not going to get places as quickly as you can in a car. Maybe this happened because we couldn't go over 75 mph, but it was extremely frustrating and meant longer days in the truck. If you ever do this, give yourself some extra time to get around.
Why is America the greatest country in the world? The Waffle House, that's why. They're all over the south, they're easy to find off the highways, they're traveler-friendly with food available to go, and most of all, they're obscenely delicious. It's hard to eat waffles when you're driving a moving truck, but a beef patty melt sandwich is another story. And if you go there enough, you're likely to see some weird-ass crimes go down.
Plus, it's always open. When it isn't, the government knows they have a major problem on their hands. God, I love the Waffle House so much.
I kind of lucked out on this one. We made the move with our dog, a 10-lb. chihuahua/something mix who ended up being a pretty great car dog. He just slept the entire time in his doggy bed between the seats.
But if your dog or cat is an annoying little asshole who needs constant attention, you may want to invest in some pet narcotics to knock them out. I'm not saying this is a smart thing to do, or that you should even take veterinary medical advice from a Jalopnik writer (you probably shouldn't), but loading Fido up on sedatives or tequila or whatever may keep him from tearing up your U-Haul.
Here's what I recommend: Sell all your stuff, rent an exotic car and tear ass across the U.S., and then use whatever money you have left over to buy new stuff.
I wish I had done that instead of undertaking this long, arduous journey in a gas-guzzling moving truck. After all, It's just stuff. At the end of the day, does any of it really matter?
What are your tips for cross-country moving?