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Open vs. enclosed car shipping

Open is cheaper, but enclosed adds protection

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by Tom Rains ConsumerAffairs Research Team
open auto shipping

More than 90% of auto transport customers opt for open shipping because it’s cheaper and faster. But enclosed shipping provides special protection for valuable cars. We explain the differences and help you decide which option is right for you.

What is enclosed auto transport?

Enclosed transport costs about 50% more
than open transport.

Enclosed auto transport, also known as closed or covered auto transport, is a specialty shipping option that provides additional protection for your car. Enclosed shipping trailers have a roof and siding that protect vehicles in the trailer from environmental elements like hail, snow, debris and insects. If your car is being shipped overseas, it might get its own shipping container to protect it from damage.

Shipping companies that specialize in enclosed transport have experience taking care of valuable or classic vehicles. Auto transport companies that offer enclosed transport might also provide white-glove service that includes regular communication, tracking and better insurance. For expedited service, you can even reserve your own trailer. Although only 3% to 10% of trailers are dedicated to enclosed transport, most auto transport companies can find enclosed options. However, because enclosed auto transports have less demand and are harder to fill up, this option typically requires a longer shipping time.

Pros

  • Additional protection
  • Peace of mind for classic and valuable cars
  • White-glove service

Cons

  • Pricier
  • Longer transport time
  • More difficult to reserve a driver
  • Uses more fuel

What is open transport?

Open transport, sometimes known as open-air transport, is when a vehicle is moved on a trailer and exposed to the elements. A typical open transport truck has a two-level trailer that is up to 80 feet long. The trailer doesn’t have a roof or walls. The vast majority of auto transports — up to 97% — use open trailers, and these car carriers are often seen on interstate highways.

Although open transport isn’t as protected as enclosed shipping, it's still a secure option. Cars are strapped in, and the drivers ensure vehicles are treated as carefully as possible.

Pros

  • Cheaper
  • Less hassle to reserve
  • Works for most cars
  • Easier for driver to inspect

Cons

  • Open to the elements
  • Less secure
  • Dirties car

Open vs. enclosed car transport costs

Open transport for the same route is always cheaper than enclosed transport. Open transport is less expensive because it’s much more common and requires less expertise. Enclosed transport is a specialty service for vehicles that require premium protection. Enclosed transports have fewer cars on them as well, meaning companies charge more to make up for having fewer vehicles to haul.

Estimated costs for an operational mid-2010s four-door sedan

RouteDistanceOpen costEnclosed cost
Kansas City to Dallas506 miles$400$550
Chicago to Atlanta717 miles$500$745
Los Angeles to Kansas City1,618 miles$770$1,145
Seattle to Miami3,297 miles$995$1,520

Bottom line

Enclosed shipping is best if you’re moving a vehicle with high monetary or sentimental value, such as a luxury or classic car. If you’re like 90% of people moving cars, however, open transport is the way to go. Expect reasonable protection and a lower cost to get your car from point A to point B. Either way, plan ahead and get quotes from several companies to secure the best car shipping price.

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Profile picture of Tom Rains
by Tom Rains ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Tom Rains graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2014 with a master’s degree in Professional Writing. Tom’s passion for delivering quality content fuels him to provide consumers with accurate, well-researched information on major life purchases.