How to ship a car

Transport your vehicle safely without driving yourself

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    open carrier truck hauling a red car

    Whether you’re moving for a new job, a growing relationship or simply for a change of pace, you’ll undoubtedly have a laundry list of tasks ahead of you. And, while your main concern might be safely moving your things to your new home, you might find you also need to transport your car. To do this, you’ll need to hire a reputable auto transport service you can trust to get your car shipped damage-free at a reasonable price.

    Key insights

    • Shipping a car is often a more cost-effective solution than driving it yourself.
    • Auto shipments can take up to four weeks to complete, so planning ahead is key.
    • Your total costs will depend on the method of transport, the distance and how flexible your timeline is.
    • Always thoroughly vet your auto carrier and get multiple quotes before signing any contracts.

    How does car shipping work?

    Shipping a car from one part of the country to another is no small feat, but it’s doable with the right planning. However, it’s essential to educate yourself about the different methods of transport and the overall process.

    Auto transport methods

    • Car transporter: Using a car transporter is the most popular option for shipping cars and motorcycles, but the price difference between an enclosed and open carrier can be significant. Enclosed carriers are expensive (up to 60% more than open), but they protect your car from the elements. An open carrier will cost less, but your car will be exposed to weather and debris.

      Your choice will depend on your budget, how valuable your car is (many vintage and classic car owners opt for covered carriers) and the season. Winter weather can be harsher on a car due to weather, gravel, and salt or sand used on icy roads.

    • Private driver: Enlisting the help of a friend or family member to drive your car is the cheapest way to get it from point A to B, but you can always hire a drive-away service (sometimes called auto relocation) or private driver. If you do hire a private driver, vet them thoroughly by reviewing their driving record, insurance coverage and basic automotive knowledge. A private driver is typically more expensive than a car transporter and will result in more wear and tear on your car, but it can be preferable if you’re on a tight schedule.
    • Alternative carrier: You may want to ship by train, plane or boat. Usually, only commercial car vendors use trains — routes are limited, but you may find a company willing to ship for the public. This option is expensive and requires more work on your end, like delivering the car to the station and picking it up at the destination. If you’re shipping internationally or outside the continental U.S., you need to use a plane or ship, but these two options only make sense if a traditional car transporter isn’t an option.

    The auto transport process

    Once you decide how to ship your car, you’ll need to prepare it for transportation. For most people, this means hiring a car transporter.

    1. Read reviews

    Always read online reviews and check the company’s USDOT number to learn about its safety rating and crash history. You want a reliable carrier you can trust with your car, so a proven track record is crucial.

    2. Get multiple quotes

    Contact at least three transport companies so you can compare fees and schedules and find a service that works for your budget and timeline. You’ll need to provide basic information, including the make, model and year of your car, your pickup and drop-off destinations, your proposed time frame and whether you want an enclosed or open carrier.

    3. Consider your timeline

    Most car transporters will give you a window of time (typically two to four weeks) for your car shipment. This gives them time to find a driver who’s headed in the right direction and has space on their truck — while also allowing for unforeseen delays.

    One of our reviewers from San Diego, who moved across the country to Tennessee, was pleased with how quickly their car shipped. 

    “The distance was 1,800 miles and we had two vehicles," they said. "I didn't want go caravanning across the country in January, so I contacted a lot of different auto transport companies. I chose eShip, and the process with them was flawless. I've heard so many horror stories about auto transports, but with them, our vehicle arrived faster than I even thought it would. It was a great experience because the car was in great shape.”

    If you absolutely need your car picked up and delivered within a short time frame, be prepared for a hefty markup. In general, the more flexible you can be, the lower your rate.

    4. Prepare your car

    Thoroughly clean the inside and outside of your car before shipping it. Many people also choose to service their car so they know it’s in optimal shape. Most carriers require your car to be completely empty, meaning you can’t use it to ship your personal belongings.

    Although you may be lamenting the loss of space to ship your winter wardrobe, this has the added benefit of lowering the total weight of your car, which can reduce your rate.

    5. Drop off your car

    Some carriers come right to your door to pick up your car, while others may require you to bring it to a local drop-off point.

    Either way, the driver inspects the car (you should be a part of this process, taking pictures or video to document the condition of your car). Your car is then loaded onto the truck and begins its journey. Many companies offer GPS tracking during shipping so you know exactly where your car is at any given time.

    The distance was 1,800 miles and we had two vehicles. I didn't want go caravanning across the country in January, so I contacted a lot of different auto transport companies … Our vehicle arrived faster than I even thought it would. It was a great experience because the car was in great shape.”
    — Reviewer from San Diego

    6. Pick up your car

    When the vehicle reaches your destination, coordinate pickup with the driver or a company representative. It may be delivered to your home or to a convenient location where the driver has enough room to maneuver, like a parking lot.

    The driver performs another inspection to make sure no damage was done, and then you'll sign the bill of lading. This is also the time when you'll settle the bill if it hasn’t already been paid in full.

    How much does it cost to ship a car?

    The cost to ship a car may be anywhere from $500 for a short move to more than $1,000 for longer distances. Your costs depend on several factors. The cheapest way to ship a car is by open carrier, and, in general, the shorter the distance, the cheaper your rate.

    Shipping a car may cost as little as around $500 to more than $1,000, depending on the transport distance, the method and the season.

    Your pickup and drop-off locations can also affect your price — if you’re shipping from one big city to another, for instance, you’ll likely get a lower rate because it’s more convenient for drivers to visit two major hubs.

    On the other hand, if pickup or drop-off is far from a major city, it may result in a higher overall cost. Of course, if you’re shipping internationally, or even to a state like Hawaii, your costs will be much higher due to shipping by boat or air.

    Another factor that affects your cost is your timeline — the more flexible you are, the better. This is why it’s helpful to schedule as far ahead as possible.

    The time of year can also affect your costs. Most people prefer not to move in the winter, so rates are generally cheaper in the colder months. Because most people try to move in the summer, rates are higher — carriers know their services are in demand.

    You also want to look into how much insurance coverage the company includes and whether your existing policy will cover damage during transit. If you find you need additional insurance, factor this into your overall cost.

    Nick Valentino, vice president of market operations at Bellhop, a moving company, thinks ample insurance is key: “Perhaps the single most important factor here is having enough insurance. While your car will most likely get where it's going safe and sound, fully insuring your car for the trip is a great way to make sure you're financially compensated if the worst should happen. Normal car insurance won't cover situations like this in most cases.”

    Valentino encourages those shipping their car to look closely at the transporter’s coverage. “You'll want to start by reviewing the shipping agreement and determining how much the shipping company will pay in the event of a crash or other mishaps, and then buying enough insurance coverage to at least pay the difference,” Valentino said.

    Perhaps the single most important factor here is having enough insurance. While your car will most likely get where it's going safe and sound, fully insuring your car for the trip is a great way to make sure you're financially compensated if the worst should happen.”
    — Nick Valentino, VP of market operations, Bellhop

    Your total costs also depend on the size and weight of your vehicle. Larger cars take up more room in the carrier, and heavier cars increase the overall cargo weight of the truck. This means added fuel costs for the transport company.

    Should I ship my car or sell it?

    There are times when it makes sense to pay for car shipping; other times, it may be easier to simply sell your car and purchase a new one once you’ve moved.

    If you’re moving across the country and have an older car that’s not worth much more than the cost to ship it, you should consider selling it and buying a new one once you’re settled. However, even older cars with a low resale value often have sentimental value — and this shouldn’t be discounted. If you inherited your grandmother’s cherished 1980s Oldsmobile, shelling out the extra money to keep it in the family may be worth it.

    You also need to consider how much you rely on your car and how feasible it is to purchase a new one after the move. If you drive every day for work and cart kids to and from school and soccer practice, it’s probably worth it to ship the family car along with your household goods.

    On the other hand, if you’re moving to a city with public transit and don’t have anyone depending on you to drive, you could consider your current car.

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      What is the cheapest way to ship a car?

      The cheapest way to ship your car is via open transport. Open transport is generally about 33% less expensive than enclosed transport.

      Is it cheaper to ship a car or drive?

      This depends on how far away you’re moving. For a shorter move (under 500 to 700 miles), it’s likely cheaper to drive it yourself. However, if you’re moving a long distance (over 1,000 miles), the total amount you’ll spend will start to equal out when you factor in fuel costs, hotel accommodations, food and the wear and tear on your vehicle.

      Can I ship a car with my belongings in it?

      If you’re using a commercial carrier, you usually can’t ship your belongings in your car. These companies typically require cars to be empty to cut down on total weight and so they can’t be held financially liable for the contents of your car. However, you can always ask if this is an option. If you hire a private driver or drive-away service, you can probably pack additional items in the car.

      Bottom line

      There are times when we need to get our car from one state to another and aren’t able to drive it on our own. Thankfully, there are a number of auto transport companies that can perform this job for you. While it’s not cheap, you may find it’s worth the price — and with the right planning and forethought, you can find a company you trust to deliver your vehicle safely and on time.

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