Updated Oct 12, 2022
One of the most critical decisions in any DIY move is choosing the right moving truck. There’s nothing worse than selecting a truck that you think will work but fills up too soon, and you still have half a garage that needs to be loaded. You will have to either rent another truck or completely unload the cargo you just spent all day packing to order a larger one. In the first case, you’re going to spend far more money than you would have if you chose the correct size, and in the latter option, you’ve just wasted valuable time. Plus, there’s no guarantee the moving company will have the right truck with such short notice.
Situations like these can throw a serious wrench into your moving plans and cost you valuable funds. To help you avoid these nightmare scenarios, we’ve made this comprehensive guide to moving truck sizes and outlined how to choose the right one.
Choosing a moving truck size all comes down to the number of possessions you own, with consideration given to large, bulky, and delicate items. The difficulty is in correctly estimating the number of items and the space those items will take up. There are two reliable ways to properly gauge the size of your haul, bedroom count and cubic feet.
This technique is the most common form of estimating the size of the truck you will need for a move. This method is standard enough that many moving companies offer a chart that shows what moving trucks will accommodate homes based on bedroom count. These charts can be helpful, but keep in mind that bedrooms are, at best, vague estimations. Some bedrooms are large enough to accommodate two or even three rooms (commonly the case for master bedrooms) worth of furniture and possessions. Furthermore, many homes contain rooms that, while not technically bedrooms, should be added to this count – rooms like workshops, offices, studies, small sitting rooms, and storage rooms fit into this criteria. Once you have the total number of bedrooms, you can select an appropriately sized truck using your moving company’s chart.
This method is far more time-consuming than estimating based on rooms but provides a more consistent and reliable estimation of your haul size. This method measures the total cubic feet of all your possessions. You will need to know how much cubic feet of space each room’s possessions will take up and combine them into a total. To get this information, you will need to measure all your large items, like mattresses, appliances, and furniture. For the most accurate estimation, you should also pack most, if not all, of your loose and smaller items. By having most of your items packed, you will get a better idea of how many cubic feet all your medium boxes and small containers will take up. Once you have your items packed and measured, take each room’s cubic feet estimate and combine them. The result will be pretty close to the total space you will need in your truck.
Moving companies offer various kinds of moving trucks with slight variations in their internal dimensions. These minor differences of a few feet per side result in several hundred cubic feet of difference in storage. Because of this, it’s always best to aim for a slightly larger truck than what you think you will need. Generally, try to select a truck with between 10-15% more space than you think you’ll need. Here is a table with the average sizes, dimensions, and weight limits for the different kinds of moving trucks.
|Truck Type||Cubic Feet||Length||Number of Rooms||Weight Limit|
|Pickup Truck||76-80||8 feet||Studio or Dorm||1,600-2,000 pounds|
|Cargo Van||230-250||9 feet||Studio or Dorm||3,500-5,000 pounds|
|Small Truck||380-450||10-12 feet||Studio or 1-Bedroom Apartment||2,800-3,700 pounds|
|Medium Truck||760-865||14-17 feet||2-3 Bedroom Apartment or 1-2 Bedroom House||4,300-6,400 pounds|
|Large Truck||1,000-1,700||20-26 feet||2-5 Bedroom House||5,700-7,000 pounds|
The most common type of moving vehicle is the box truck or moving truck. These are the long trucks with integrated cabs that you usually see on the street in front of recently rented or purchased homes. However, other moving vehicles are commonly used, such as cargo vans, cargo trailers, pickup trucks, and portable storage containers. Each option carries various benefits, downsides, and prices that you should consider before renting them.
Box trucks are the bread and butter of the moving industry. Each moving company has several sizes available, ranging from 10 to over 25 feet in length. Box trucks are generally considered the most effective choice for medium-sized DIY moves, as they are suited for both local and long-distance moves and are not difficult to drive. They also fall in the middle regarding price, as they are more expensive than pickups, vans, and cargo trailers but are less expensive than cargo containers and full-service movers. Box trucks are a good choice for larger apartments and most homes. If you have a home that has more than five bedrooms, you will likely need a truck longer than 26 feet in length or multiple trucks. In these cases, you should go with a professional moving company, as longer trucks will require special licenses, complex coordination, and specific rules for interstate travel.
The smallest type of box truck you can purchase is between 10 and 12 feet in length, with a storage capacity of 380 to 450 cubic feet. These trucks are an excellent option for larger studio apartments or small, one-bedroom apartments. They offer more space than pickup trucks, cargo vans, and most cargo trailers, allowing you to fit larger furniture pieces like dressers or queen-size beds. However, king-size beds and larger furniture pieces, like couches, won’t fit in these trucks. These trucks also provide the best protection and security for your goods while in transit, making them a great budget truck choice for long-distance moves.
This quick video from U-Haul shows you just how much can fit into a 10-foot-long box truck.
These are the most commonly rented moving trucks out there. Ideal for small homes and or two-bedroom apartments, medium-sized moving trucks range from 15 to 17 feet in length and possess 650 to 860 cubic feet of storage. These trucks are a decent size while still easy to handle and fit into most driveways. These trucks can accommodate king-size mattresses and large furniture and appliances. Some medium-sized trucks also contain a secondary storage compartment for small, fragile items called a “Mom’s Attic.”
Here’s another U-Haul video showing the storage capacity of a 15-foot-long truck:
The largest commercially available moving trucks to rent are a minimum of 20 feet long and can be as long as 26 feet. These trucks are exclusively used for large three to five-bedroom homes and should more than accommodate most American households. These trucks offer the most storage at up to 1,700 cubic feet, have the highest weight capacity, up to 7,000 pounds, and can fit California king mattresses, a lot of furniture, large furniture items, and colossal appliances. Most of these trucks come with additional “Mom’s Attic” storage for delicate items and can handle heavy appliances like washers and dryers. The only major downside of these monsters is their gas mileage and handling difficulty. These things are functionally mini semi-trucks and require a little bit of know-how and driving skills to manage.
It can be amazing just how much can fit into one of these trucks. U-Haul does a great job of showing this firsthand.
Pickup trucks are available to rent from moving companies and certain home improvement stores. Most are around 10 to 12 feet in length, can store around 80 cubic feet, and are great for hauling a small amount of cargo or a few pieces of furniture. If you need to pack up your stuff from a dorm room or relocate from a one-bedroom apartment, pickup trucks should do the trick. Pickup trucks are also the cheapest option, with most rentals only lasting a few hours or a day or two at most. These trucks are the kings of small-scale, local moves.
Pickups have two major downsides, their lack of coverage and their unsuitability for long-distance moves. Since pickup trucks don’t have covers, strong winds or fast speeds can knock free small boxes or anything not tied down properly. Tiedowns and tarps can help mitigate this problem, but items can still come loose, resulting in damage or lost possessions. This issue compounds with interstate or long-distance moves, making pickup trucks a less-than-optimal choice if you’re moving further than across the city.
Cargo vans are the middle option between a pickup truck and a cargo trailer. These vans have a storage space of around nine and a half feet long, holding around 250 cubic feet. They are suitable for any small-scale move, like a small studio apartment, at any distance, as they offer comparable storage capacity to a pickup truck, with added protection from the elements. Furthermore, cargo vans are easier to drive than pickup and moving trucks while also being more fuel-efficient. These elements make moving vans great options for an apartment or dorm relocation, either locally or long distance.
Cargo trailers are small, covered containers that attach to a vehicle’s tow hitch. They are smaller than moving trucks, coming in sizes from 4′ x 8′ to 6′ x 12′ and containing 142-400 cubic feet of storage, making them excellent for apartments and tiny homes. These trailers are much cheaper than moving trucks while still providing the cover and security needed for interstate travel and long-distance moves. These trailers also see use as additional storage for specialty items like motorcycles or heavy-duty appliances that don’t pack well into box trucks.
Portable containers are large transportation crates attached to specially designed trucks. Companies like Packrat, Pods, and Upack will come to your home on moving day, drop off these containers, pick them up, store them, then deliver them once your move-in date arrives. These services are great if there is a wait time for your new home to become available, as portable container services also function as storage facilities. They also have the added benefit of not requiring you to drive. Most portable storage containers range from 8 to 16 feet, containing 400 to 850 cubic feet of storage space, making them suitable for most small to medium-sized homes.
There is some give-and-take to portable container companies when it comes to pricing. They are, on average, more expensive than moving truck rental companies for hauling but are cheaper for storage. So if your new home is going to be ready by your arrival date, you’re almost always better to go with a moving service, but if you have to wait a month or more, portable storage containers are a better option.
Picking the right moving truck for your relocation is a critical decision. If your truck is too small, you will lose time and money, and if too large, you will have wasted space and run the risk of damaging your items. Thankfully, as long as you take proper inventory of your possessions and have a decent idea of how much space you need, you can choose the right truck for all your cargo.
Trying to fit everything you own into a single truck can be daunting. Here are some common questions and tips to help make this process easier.
Yes. Most moving trucks can handle towing a car, which is a great way to save on gas.
Sort of. Most packing calculators use the averages for room size and the number of possessions within a bedroom to determine the cubic feet of your total haul. Since these calculators use estimations and averages, as such, they aren’t going to be 100% accurate. We recommend using multiple different online calculators from moving companies to get a range. This method will give you a better overall idea of how large your haul will be.
While the whole of this question is beyond the scope of this article, the simple answer is to downsize and pack smart. If you don’t love it, leave it. We recommend hiring a junk removal company or donating to charity to remove unwanted possessions. As for packing smart, use the correct kind of boxes for the correct kind of cargo, and never underestimate the packing power of trash bags – by putting clothes in trash bags, you can significantly reduce the storage space needed to haul them. You can also use clothing as a packing material and stuffing, making the most out of your empty space.
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