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Open vs. enclosed car shipping

Cost savings versus protection from the elements

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    Montway Auto Transport
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    If you’re moving and need to get your car from your old home to your new digs or bought a car in another state and need to get it home, shipping your car can be easier than driving it yourself. Once you decide to ship your car, there are still several options, however, including whether you want to use open shipping, which is cheaper but leaves your car less protected, or enclosed shipping.

    » MORE: 5 reasons to ship your car

    Key insights

    • The meanings of open and enclosed transport are fairly self-explanatory; you can either ship your car on an open truck, exposed to the elements, or you can pay for a closed trailer that shields the car from outside forces.
    • Two big differences between open and enclosed car shipping are in price and protection. The more protected your car, the higher the cost.
    • Other factors that affect the cost of car shipping include the size and type of car, time of year and the distance your car must travel.
    • Before choosing a car shipper, always check a company’s online reviews to get a feel of its reputation and customer satisfaction.

    Pros and cons of open transport

    You’ve likely seen the open trucks that carry cars along the highway. They’re the long, two-level trailers with vehicles strapped in like puzzle pieces. "Open transport is the most common type of car shipping service, and it’s even used by car dealerships,” said Dimitre Kirilov, president of consumer services at Montway Auto Transport. “It’s also the quickest and most affordable option.”

    When you ship a car this way, your car is generally loaded onto a truck that can hold 10 or more cars — and that’s good news for anyone looking to save on shipping costs. The more cars in a shipment, the less you’ll pay.

    Because so many people choose to ship a car with open transport, this method is usually faster than using enclosed transport, with more routes available. On the downside, your car will be exposed to weather and other elements, like rain, dust and road debris, as it travels.

    You may also have to drive a few extra miles to drop off and pick up your car when you use open transport.


    • Costs less than other options
    • Generally faster than enclosed transport
    • More shipping dates available


    • Car is exposed to weather and road debris
    • Car may collect dirt on the way
    • Usually can’t select exact dates

    Pros and cons of enclosed transport

    When you ship a car in an enclosed container, it’s loaded onto a trailer that’s fully covered on all sides. Having this barrier protects your car from the elements. Enclosed auto transport also means fewer cars accompanying yours as it travels, so there’s less of a chance of your car being dinged on the way. Another bonus of enclosed transport is you may be able to pinpoint exact pickup and drop-off dates for your car.

    And if you have an expensive car, potential thieves won’t be able to spot it. “Enclosed auto shipping helps protect vehicles from rain, weather and road hazards,” Kirilov said. “It’s typically requested by owners of exotic, luxury, custom or collectible cars. Sports cars or vehicles with low ground clearance will require enclosed transport, as this option provides a hydraulic lift gate for loading and unloading.”

    » MORE: Best classic car transport services

    The biggest downside of enclosed transport is price; you’ll pay a premium to protect your car. And because this method is expensive, fewer people use it, which means drivers make fewer trips than open auto transporters — so you may have fewer dates to choose from.

    It could also take your car longer to travel in an enclosed carrier than in an open truck. Enclosed containers can take longer to load, potentially adding days to your overall shipping timeline.

    This isn’t always the case, though, as one reviewer from South Carolina on our site, who requested a lift gate on their carrier, attested to: “They understood my request for an enclosed carrier with a lift gate, since the vehicle I was purchasing was very low to the ground. The driver was very careful and delivered my car several DAYS before I expected it to arrive. What a great surprise and amazing service all around.”


    • Added protection
    • Can generally pinpoint pickup and delivery dates
    • Fewer vehicles on trailer


    • Higher overall shipping costs
    • Time slots may be limited
    • Travel time may be longer


    To ship your car, you might pay anywhere from 53 cents a mile to more than $2.30 a mile. Though the price you pay depends in large part on whether you choose open or enclosed shipping, it also comes down to several other factors and your individual needs:

    • Vehicle type and size: You’ll pay more to ship a truck or SUV than you will to ship a sedan or another small car.
    • Time of year: Car shipping tends to peak during summer months, when more people move, and in January, when snowbirds head South for the winter. As a result, you’ll pay a premium for shipping during these times.
    • Distance: How far your car needs to travel impacts your final bill. In general, the more miles, the higher the cost.
    • Destination: It’s usually cheaper to have your car delivered to a big city than to a rural location off the beaten path.
    • Standard or rush delivery: You pay more at the post office when you expedite a package, and the same goes for shipping a car with priority — the sooner you need your car, the higher the charge.
    • Whether the car is operable: If an auto shipper can’t drive your car, expect to pay a premium to get the vehicle on and off the mode of transport.

    » CALCULATE: How much does it cost to ship a car?

    Enclosed transportOpen transport
    Ideal for Brand-new, expensive, antique or collectible cars Standard vehicles that can be replaced
    Cost $650 to $2,210 (based on a 30% markup) $500 to $1,700
    Shipping time One day to two weeks Might take a few days longer than enclosed transport

    Open car shipping costs

    Generally, you’ll pay a minimum of $500 to ship a car a short distance with open transport. If you ship a car across the country, expect to pay more than $1,700. “For standard-size vehicles, the price breaks down to an average of $709 for short routes (about 1 to 500 miles), an average of $929 for medium routes (500 to 1,500 miles) and an average of $1,179 for longer routes (1,500+ miles),” Kirilov said.

    Enclosed car shipping costs

    You can expect to pay about 30% to 40% more per trip for added protection if you use enclosed car shipping rather than an open shipping method.

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      Can you ship a motorcycle?

      Yes, you can ship a motorcycle. While you can use an auto transport company, there are companies that specialize in motorcycle shipping.

      Is enclosed auto transport safer than open transport?

      In a nutshell, yes, enclosed auto transport is safer than using an open transport method. It all comes down to exposure to the elements, other cars and road debris.

      How many cars fit on an open carrier versus a closed carrier?

      An open carrier can generally fit seven to 10 vehicles (possibly up to 12) on a two-tier trailer, while an enclosed carrier can fit up to seven cars. You can also book a private enclosed carrier that fits just one car.

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