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  1. Default Rookies taking a moving van / dolly-towed car around Appalachia - best option?

    Howdy,

    My SO and I are about to move from Austin to central NJ. We'll be driving one car and driving a 16' van towing another car on a two-wheel dolly. It will be the first experience for either of us driving something so long or with quite so wide a wheelbase. We're looking for overall time savings more than anything else, as we need to do the drive in roughly 3.5 days, but having an easy and relatively clear road would likely be a real help.

    Google Maps has three potential routes, and I'm hoping for some advice on choosing between them based on terrain, traffic, and overall forgivingness. All take us Dallas--> Little Rock --> Memphis --> Nashville but then diverge until central PA.

    A. via Roanoke: I-81, I-76
    1,706mi

    I read in another thread that I-81 wasn't all that bad elevation-wise (and I've seen it from the air recently) but also got the impression that it can fill up with big-rig traffic and may involve some narrow squeezes.


    B. via Charleston, WV: I-65, Bluegrass Pkwy, US 60 I-64, I-76
    1,731mi

    Looks like this has a small stretch of non-controlled-access at Lexington.


    C. via Cincinnati: I-65, I-71, I-70, I-76
    1,726mi

    On face, the least mountainous of the routes, but it passes near the downtown areas of both Louisville and Cincinnati and also isn't far from central Columbus. Asking for trouble with traffic?


    Thanks very much for any input. I'd also appreciate any related advice about good places to stay the night, driving with the dolly, etc.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,064

    Default

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    Before discussing the route, I'd strongly recommend you look at renting a full trailer, rather than just a tow dolly. A full trailer is much easier to use, especially on a long trip. With a tow dolly, you can't back up at all. Even if you have to pay a bit more, I think you'll find that change will be much more important than your choice of route.

    As far as routes, I'd lean towards using I-40 and I-81. I find urban areas to be a much bigger concern than elevation if you're in a moving truck/trailer combo. I've driven across I-70 in Colorado in a UHaul pulling a car, and getting through Denver was a much bigger challenge than crossing the Rockies - which about 5 times higher in elevation than anything you'll see on your trip. Going via Cincinnati would take you through more urban areas, and would also have you on the PA Turnpike, which are very expensive when you add on a trailer. As you mentioned, the route via Charleston takes you through an urban area on surface streets.

    You are right, in that I-40 to I-81 is a popular route with trucks - but that's not a bad thing in your case. First, the route is popular with truckers for the same reasons it will be good for you (relatively low elevation, lack of urban congestion), and because it's popular with truckers, it will be easy to find places to stop easily with your truck/trailer. For fuel, I'd look to truck stops, which generally have larger fuel islands, which are easier to get around. When stopping at motels or anywhere else, make sure you've got enough room to drive through and turn around, before turning into the parking lot - Speaking from experience, it's not fun trying to do an "austin powers" 98-point turn-around in a truck-trailer combo.

  3. #3

    Default I'd take the "A" route

    Based on experience with both A and B and the Louisville and Cincinnati sections of C, I'd take the A route hands down.

    Both I-40 and I-81 are somewhat more roly-poly than one might expect, but still not a bad drive when compared to I-64 in and around Charleston, WV. I'd give both Louisville and Cincinnati a wide, wide berth.

    Both I-40 and I-81 carry a lot of truck traffic, especially I-81. Chances are you're going to be mired in the slow lane, anyway, so this is probably not an overriding concern. The great majority of tractor-trailers, at least the regional and national carriers, are "governed" at 65-68 mph, anyway, so you'll likely just find a sweet spot between rigs and go slow up the grades and max out at 68 mph down the other side.

    From Nashville to all the way up I-81, a plethora of truck fuel plazas exist and will be the place for you to pull off for fuel, as noted.

    I'd urge you to invest in a pair of inexpensive FRS hand-held radios for easy and instant communications between vehicles. This adds an element of safety in terms of not needing to so much as speed-dial a cellphone, and some ongoing chat with your SO can make the trip more enjoyable.

    While I agree with the general notion that a full trailer is much preferred to a tow dolly, I wonder if such is available to tow behind a 16' truck. It could be you'd need to upgrade to a larger truck to tow a full trailer. If you were to do so, your drive could be rather more enjoyable in a larger, more powerful truck, in addition to the relative ease of towing a trailer rather than a dolly. But, if you've never driven anything of the length of the 16' plus dolly, you'll likely find it's a handful either way.

    Foy

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,546

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    I'm going to agree with Michael, in that the car on a trailer will be easier to handle. I will also agree that the I-40/I-81 route will be much better than the other two, for precisely the reasons they stated. I'm glad that Foy made the suggestion about FRS radios. We've used those before. As long as you don't get more than a mile apart, they're nice ways to have conversations without wearing out your phones. For fuel, I'd further add that you might want to check GasBuddy before you leave in the morning, and check fuel prices along your route. My husband drove a U-haul 1800 miles and said that it cost him $70 every time he fueled up, the truck guzzled it. (About 5-8 mpg.)

    Not sure about Penske, but U-Hauls have large engines and are generally able to tow. Their 15 ft and 17 ft trucks can tow an "auto transport" (car with all 4 wheels on a trailer).

    Once you get your rig set up, take the truck/car-on-a-trailer set up to a large parking lot, such as a school lot on a weekend or summer day, or a church lot. Practice steering, pulling it into parking places, and backing up (if you have an auto-transport....don't back up a tow-dolly). It will take 15-30 minutes of practice to be more comfortable with it. Remember when you make a turn, "SWING WIDE" (we used to sing "swing wide, sweet chariot" when we first got our trailer). If given a choice between two left-turn lanes, take the right-most. If turning right, you will probably have to swing into the left-hand lane.

    BTW, this is a 1700 mile trip. In a truck, that's going to take every bit of that 3.5 days you had planned, and will mean you are going to drive almost 500 miles for the first 3 days and then 200 on the last day. You will average about 55 mph because you are towing and you will have weight on your vehicle. So be prepared!


    Donna

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,064

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    I wouldn't think that you'd have a problem with the 16 foot truck and a full trailer. That's generally considered a medium-sized truck, and usually only the very smallest trucks (10 foot) have towing restrictions. I've pulled a full sized trailer behind both 14 and 17 foot Uhauls.

    Having said that, going up to a larger truck might make it more likely you'd get a diesel, which would have more power in the hills, and should save you on fuel too!

    Foy's Idea about a pair of FRS radios is a great one. It makes a 2 vehicle trip much easier.

  6. Default

    Thanks very much for the feedback; I-81 looks like the best way to go, and we're also looking at starting out as early as we can on the first day.

    The dolly choice at the moment has a lot to do with cost -- upgrading to the full car carrier is nearly $200 extra, which would be a very significant chunk of the budget. We'll just have to be sure to be very literally forward-thinking.

    Is there a good site to look at for truck/van-friendly hotels and other stops, or is it more a matter of doing lots of maps-based searches for "motel" or "gas" and then using an aerial view to check them out?

  7. #7

    Default "Next Exit"?

    I was given a hardcopy publication entitled "Next Exit" about 4 years ago. Scarcely used it since. I recall it provides some details as to relative ease of access for large/long vehicles. It's geared towards RV'ers, so perhaps some searching around RV sites could produce a some online info.

    Given that you must go with the dolly, which you can't back up a single foot (believe me, I've tried), you're wise to scout out your fuel and overnight stops ahead of time. Chances are you'll need to combine food and fuel since there will not be a lot of places for you to get the truck/dolly in and out of which are purely food-related.

    Best of luck,

    Foy

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,064

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    I would really see what you can do to get the cost of the full trailer down. Usually Penske/UHaul will price match each other, and the guys at the counter usually have a pretty good amount of flexibility when it comes to adjusting the price. While you might not think of it, the rental truck business is a place where there is some room for haggling, especially when it comes to extras like trailers.

    Gas stations will be easy to tell which ones you'll want to use and which ones you want to avoid. Like I said, Truck Stops will often be the best place to look, and as Foy mentioned, they'll typically have a few food options to pick from too.

    For motels, looking at online images is a good idea. Many motel listings will make note of being trucker friendly, but you can always call the hotel directly (not the 800 reservation number) and get the lay of the land.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,270

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    Dealing with a dolly will make you wish you spent the extra $200, trust me.

    Where in NJ are you going? The tolls on I-76 when towing are considerable, I'd look at taking I-78 then dropping south if necessary when you get to NJ. Also, the last thing you want to do is take I-76 through Philly, I won't even do that in a car. The Schuylkill Expressway is a miserable old road with awful traffic. Let us know exactly where you are going and we can recommend the easiest way.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,546

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    "The Next Exit" still lists RV and truck friendly facilities in red. In this house right now are 3 copies -- 2010, 2014 and 2015. (The latter belongs to my daughter; she learned to read one when she was 13 years old and asked for one for her birthday, for their trip.)

    All you have to do is make one wrong move with a tow dolly, have a repair to deal with (perhaps expensive) and it will make the $200 extra seem like small chunk change.


    Donna

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