Devin Letzer and his father Mark were pulling a U-Haul trailer on a straight stretch of Texas highway in 2003 when Devin says the trailer began to swing back and forth violently; it's called trailer sway.
As the U-Haul trailer jackknifed, both the SUV and trailer flipped. Devin's father, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown from the SUV and killed instantly.
Devin described the accident, telling INSIDE EDITION, "I crawled out of the car to find my dad laying on the side of the road."
In a lawsuit filed against U-Haul, the Letzer family claimed the trailer had faulty brakes, which caused the accident. But U-Haul, as it often does, blamed the driver. They argued he was going faster than U-Haul's recommended speed and had loaded the trailer improperly.
According to U-Haul's CEO Joe Shoen, customers should "load the trailer heavy in front so that the rear of your car is depressed a little." Shoen says the most important thing anyone renting a trailer should know is to load 60% of the weight up front.
U-Haul, which does more than $2 billion a year in business, was founded 60 years ago by Shoen's father. On a test track near the company's headquarters in Phoenix he demonstrated the importance of loading the trailer properly.
By placing cement blocks on the front of a trailer bed, he simulated a proper load and drove around the track. Even swerving, the trailer stayed under control.
Then he moved the concrete weights to the back of the trailer, showing an improper load. He asked INSIDE EDITION's Senior Investigative Correspondent Matt Meagher to get behind the wheel.
When swerving just slightly, the car and trailer fishtailed sharply. After hitting the brakes, even at a slow speed, Meagher lost control of the car and the trailer.
U-Haul officials say every customer is supposed to be given an instruction booklet that contains vital loading information before they leave the lot.
But are customers being given the information U-Haul says they need? INSIDE EDITION decided to check.
Wearing hidden cameras, INSIDE EDITION rented U-Haul trailers in five states. At one location, we received an abbreviated copy of some safety instructions, but they were tucked into the contract and we didn't find them until after we had driven away. Out of 14 trailers rented, just one agent gave the booklet that U-Haul officials say all renters are supposed to receive.
Shoen was disappointed by the findings. "That's not what I'd like to hear today obviously." He added, "It always can be better and the experience you related, the answer is no, there's no wondering. If your experience is totally indicative, that's not good."
Dan Catalini was a manager with U-Haul for four years. He says he was fired after his sales decreased. He sued the company and lost.
When INSIDE EDITION asked Catalini about whether the instruction booklet was handed out to every renter with their trailer purchase, the former manager said no. According to Catalini the level of importance given to safety by U-Haul was "below sales.below customer service and probably somewhere after that."
A clamp, part of the system that supports the rear axle, was flimsy and fell off. Four of the fourteen trailers had directional or hazard lights that didn't work. One trailer appeared to have been in an accident and repaired with putty. On some trailers, INSIDE EDITION found rusted chains and frayed wires. On another trailer there was no brake fluid.
Every U-Haul trailer is supposed to have vital safety information posted on a sticker inside. The problem is, in almost every trailer INSIDE EDITION rented, that information was almost impossible to read.
Shoen also had another idea for those who may feel unsafe when renting a U-Haul trailer. He asked INSIDE EDITION to publish his cell phone number. Shoen says, "People can't get this organization to behave, I can." His cell phone number is 602-390-6525.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
California Department of Motor Vehicles
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
How Safe are U-Haul Trailers?
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: 2/27/2008