Why Does Every U-Haul Come from Arizona?

If you’ve ever seen or rented a U-Haul truck before, you might have seen that its license plate was from Arizona. Maybe you thought nothing of it, because U-Haul trucks are kind of everywhere. But now you’ve been told that like every U-Haul has an Arizona license plate, and now you’re realizing you’ve probably never seen a U-Haul without an Arizona license plate. So why does every U-Haul come from Arizona?

Well., They’re Based in Arizona.

It’s a bit more complicated than the fact that U-Haul’s headquarters are in Phoenix, Arizona, but it does explain why it’s Arizona. However, it doesn’t explain why almost every single one of their vehicles is registered in Arizona, even if the truck never makes its way to Phoenix. 

One of the quirks of the American legal system is how powerful state’s rights are. There are a lot of things that states get to regulate on their own, and yes, this creates legal nightmares. You’re probably familiar with how nightmarish this can be after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and all of the sudden every state’s different take on whether pregnant people should get basic human rights became legally binding. Anyway, vehicle registration laws in the US are one of those things that states govern, for the most part. You can see a quick rundown of each state’s vehicle registration laws here. The long short of it is that we have like 50 different schemes, because when cars first started hitting the roads only very rich people had them and cars weren’t crossing state lines—so the federal government didn’t really need to take an interest in it. The first license plates in New York were just the drivers’ initials.

All these different rules meant that if you were driving across state lines, you needed a license plate (and to be registered) in each state you were driving through—which is not very convenient if your vehicles are often going across state lines. Even less convenient when your vehicles are also going to Canada, which U-Hauls often find themselves doing (and semi trucks or anything involved in the trucking industry, really).

The International Registration Plan

Enter the International Registration Plan. It sounds like some kind of dystopian big-brother-eye-government program, but really it just allows the trucking industry (including U-Hauls) to play by a different set of rules when it comes to vehicle registration. It started as a program that applied to just between states and was cooking in the late 1960s, but in 1974 Canadian provinces began to adopt it—hence why it’s an international plan. 

The IRP essentially allows a certain class of vehicle to play by a different set of rules than the rest of us. They’re defined as “apportionable vehicles,” which really just means really heavy vehicles or vehicles with more than three axles—as long as they’re not recreational or used by the government. It provides for an “apportioned license plate,” which just means the license plate makes it clear the vehicle is under the IRP. The plan, instead of having vehicles pay registration fees in every single state (or Canadian province) they operate in, the vehicle can be registered in one state, and the IRP takes one really big fee that gets split up between all participating states, with each state or province portion being apportioned by the vehicle’s mileage.

While not all states have to follow the IRP, 48 of them do. The only two outside the IRP are Alaska and Hawaii, because they’re outside the contiguous US and don’t benefit from it.

See if you know your car and truck stuff here.