Sam Everitt was well prepared for his move from Montreal to Toronto. The Concordia master's student knew July 1 was Quebec's famous "moving day," when tens of thousands of rental leases expire across the province.
So he reserved his truck nearly four months in advance. He received reassuring emails from U-Haul about his "guaranteed" reservation.
But when Everitt showed up at the Montreal location to pick up his truck on the afternoon of June 30, staff told him there was no truck for him — and their explanation, he says, was baffling.
"I was in shock. I remember asking what the purpose of the reservation was? They told me that my truck was reserved for that location, but that it hadn't been assigned to me, whatever that means.
"I assumed that assigning the truck was their responsibility, not mine."
The issue has been around forever, and was even featured in an iconic episode of the NBC series Seinfeld which questioned when a reservation is a reservation.
WATCH | 'We ran out of cars':
But what followed wasn't very funny at all to Everitt. He was left to make the phone calls to secure another available U-Haul truck.
The staff "just kind of absolved themselves of any responsibility on their end," he said.
U-Haul's website promises if the company is "unable to meet [a customer's] preferred time, place or size," it will pay $50 and "still attempt to fill the reservation."
But that wasn't Everitt's experience. Instead, he says staff left him scrambling for a Plan B.
"I had little to no choice, since I had to be out of my Montreal apartment legally, actually, by midnight that night."
As it turned out, the only truck available was some 292 kilometres northeast of Montreal, in La Tuque. The drive would take about three and a half hours each way.
The clock was ticking before he had to be out of his apartment for the arrival of the new tenants.
"I really was scrambling at that point. I posted an urgent message to my Facebook account, into my Instagram account, seeing if anyone I knew in Montreal would be willing to drive," he said.
Everitt was so desperate, he offered $250 for anyone to drive him to pick up the truck. A friend from school stepped up, volunteering her time.
The pair rented a car and finally arrived in La Tuque at 8:30 p.m.
Because they arrived after hours, Everitt was charged an extra $54 to use U-Haul's online key retrieval service, which took another hour to get working.
By the time they had a bite to eat, drove back to Montreal, and Everitt dropped off both his friend and the rental car, it was 3 a.m. — 14 hours from the original reserved pick-up time.
He had to be out of his apartment in the next six hours, so he worked all through the night to hastily pack the truck.
His moving ordeal left him more than $400 out of pocket — for the rental car, gas and food — and sleepless for his drive to Toronto.
Looking back, Everitt says it could have been worse; he was lucky he didn't have a family in tow.
"What if you were a single parent with children and you were put in this type of situation? How would you manage?" he asked.
In a statement to Go Public, U-Haul said sometimes it's necessary to send a customer to the "next closest location" to get a vehicle.
It acknowledged the distance Everitt had to travel was "unfortunate and extreme" and notes it offered him a $250 certificate.
U-Haul also noted it didn't charge Everitt for the extra distance he drove to bring the truck to Montreal.
The company declined to reimburse Everitt for his extra costs, including the $54 for after-hours key retrieval.
Montreal-based lawyer Molly Krishtalka says U-Haul didn't live up to Quebec consumer laws that prohibit advertising anything false or misleading.
"Representing that the truck reservation is guaranteed, when in fact the truck reservation [is] to pick up at a given place, given time is not guaranteed, to my mind, that's misleading."
Go Public found dozens of online complaints from across the country about reservations not being honoured by U-Haul.
We verified the experiences of customers who were forced to pick up at different locations, take different vehicles than they'd reserved, and tow a trailer to make up for vehicles smaller than what they'd reserved.
In one case, customers even had to abandon some of their belongings because they wouldn't fit into a smaller truck than what they'd reserved with U-Haul.
Another customer, in a panic after being told U-Haul had no truck for him anywhere, had to recruit friends and family with pickups to move him from Ottawa to Cornwall.
U-Haul advertises: "Your reservation is guaranteed or we will give you $50."
But, customers say they want the vehicle, not $50 compensation.
The company has admitted it doesn't have enough vehicles to meet the demand.
E.J. Shoen, the chairman of Amerco, U-Haul's parent company, stated in its 2022 annual report that the "fleet rotation program has been impacted by an undersupply of vehicles and will be for the coming year and the foreseeable future."
Go Public asked if U-Haul overbooks its vehicles, but the company did not respond to the question.
Tanya Walker, a Toronto lawyer specializing in civil litigation, says U-Haul should do more to make sure customers are aware that a truck reservation does not always mean getting a truck.
A one-minute explanatory video for customers to watch before clicking the reserve button, she says, would ensure the customer was making the decision to reserve with full knowledge of the risk.
"In order to rely on the fact that the guarantee is not really a guarantee guarantee, I think that the information has to be more forthcoming to the customer."
Everitt had to pull over and sleep in the back of his moving truck for a few hours to safely make the 542-kilometre drive to Toronto.
He recovered, but says he won't be happy unless he's reimbursed all the extra costs he paid.
U-Haul sent him that $250 certificate on Oct. 6, over three months after his move, but Everitt says he won't be using U-Haul ever again.
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