How to ship a car
A guide to hassle-free auto transport
Whether you’re moving for a new job, a growing relationship or just a change of pace, there’s a lot to think about and plan for. If it’s a big move and you don’t want to deal with driving your car, you can hire a reputable auto transport service to ship your car damage-free at a reasonable price. But how does it work?
- 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 proper planning.
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 U.S. Department of Transportation (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 car’s make, model and year, your pickup and drop-off destinations, your proposed time frame and whether you want an enclosed or open carrier.
» COMPARE: Open vs. enclosed car shipping
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. 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), then your car is loaded onto the truck to begin its journey. Many companies offer GPS tracking during shipping so you know exactly where your car is at any given time.
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 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.
» NOW WHAT? 11 things to do when moving into a new house
Auto transport methods
Before choosing a transporter, make sure to educate yourself on the different methods of transport and the overall process.
- 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, 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 a 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.
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, including the distance and the type of shipping. 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. 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.
» CALCULATE: How much does it cost to ship a car?
It’s helpful to schedule transport as far ahead as possible; the more flexible you are, the better. Also, because most people try to move in the summer, rates are higher this time of year (when carriers know their services are in demand).
You also want to look into how much insurance coverage the company includes. If you’ll need additional coverage, factor this into your overall cost.
Nick Valentino, vice president of market operations at Bellhop, a moving company, said ample insurance is key: “Perhaps the single most important factor here is having enough insurance.”
Valentino explained: “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.”
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.
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 30% to 40% 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.
Should I ship my car or sell it?
If you’re moving across the country and have an older car that’s not worth much more than the cost to ship it, 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.
Also 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 keeping your current car.
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