Car Shipping: How It Works

Car shipping is a simple way to move your vehicle long-distance when driving it to your destination isn't an option.
Roberta PescowJan 4, 2021

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If you’re planning a long-distance move, it may not be practical — or possible — to drive to your new home. Car shipping is a convenient way to get your trusty car where it needs to go without having to sit behind the wheel. If you’re new to the world of car shipping, here are the answers to your important questions.

How are cars shipped?

Many large, full-service movers offer car shipping, so the moving company you’re already working with may be able to transport your car as well. You’ll also find plenty of reputable companies that specialize exclusively in shipping cars.

In either case, while there are many car shipping methods (including airplanes, trains and boats), by far the most common is an open carrier, which is the type of truck you might see delivering new cars to dealerships. Although this method does leave your car exposed to the elements, open carriers are ultimately very safe, which is why new car dealers trust them with their valuable inventory.

Those with special classic or rare cars may want to have their vehicles transported in an enclosed carrier. This type of truck is completely closed and provides full protection from the outdoors. But this option can cost about 60% more than an open carrier, according to the car review website Edmunds.

Full-service moving company overviews from NerdWallet

What will it cost to ship my car?

Car shipping typically costs between $700 and $1,200 if you’re moving within the continental U.S., according to the home services website HomeAdvisor. Costs go up if you need to ship your car by boat, which is more expensive than shipping by truck or train. Airplane shipments are more expensive still.

Some other factors that influence price include:

  • Size and weight: Bigger, heavier cars are more expensive to ship than smaller, lighter ones.

  • Season: Shipping a car during summer, which is peak moving season, can increase your price by hundreds. Holiday shipping may bump up prices as well.

  • Miles: Longer trips are pricier than shorter ones; however, they often cost less per mile.

  • Location: Shipping between major cities may be less expensive than between remote towns.

  • Fees: Surcharges may be added for fuel, extra insurance, additional storage, rushed delivery or failed delivery.

  • Drop-off and pickup options: Door-to-door shipping is costlier than a terminal-to-terminal service.

  • Tips: An appropriate tip for your driver may run as much as a few hundred dollars for long hauls.

How soon will my car arrive?

It depends on variables like distance, traffic, road conditions, weather and available space on carriers. In general, car shipping within the continental U.S. may take up to four weeks, with most cars arriving in six to 12 days, according to the moving services website Move.org. International car shipping can take longer.

Most shippers provide windows of time for pickup and delivery as opposed to guaranteed dates, with smaller windows for highly populated regions and larger ones for more remote areas. Some shippers offer GPS or other tracking systems so you can check your car's location while it's in transit.

What paperwork is involved?

Shipping your car is a fairly simple transaction that shouldn’t require mountains of paperwork. The most important document is the bill of lading, a receipt for what’s been loaded onto the carrier. This document records your vehicle’s condition before and after the move and acts as proof that your car was delivered.

You’ll also receive documentation about your shipping company’s insurance terms and conditions. Shippers are required by law to carry insurance, but the amounts can vary from company to company. Read these details carefully to make sure you’re getting enough coverage.

In addition, some shippers may also provide an order confirmation form and vehicle inspection report. In rare cases, you may be asked to provide your vehicle’s title and registration, proof of car insurance or photo ID.

What happens if my car gets damaged?

Your shipper’s required insurance should protect against any damage to your car during transport — but only if it’s caused by company negligence or equipment failure on their part. Most auto transport policies have limitations, which may include “acts of God” like hurricanes, floods, earthquakes or tornadoes. Always ask for proof of insurance and details about coverage, exclusions and possible deductibles. Check with your car insurance company to find out if your policy offers coverage for cars being shipped, too.

Once you’re reunited with your vehicle, inspect it carefully. In the unlikely event that it arrives damaged, note it on your bill of lading. Be sure that your driver acknowledges and signs off on these damages, and then contact the shipping company and your own car insurance provider right away to file claims.

How do I prepare my car for shipping?

Start by removing all your personal possessions from the interior and trunk, and use up most of your gasoline so that your car ships with only about a quarter tank. This reduces total shipping weight but still leaves you enough gas to get around safely after shipping. You’ll also want to make sure you have an extra set of keys for the transport driver.

For maximum protection from the elements, consider having your car washed and waxed shortly before its journey. A fresh coat of wax helps repel any water, insects and debris your car may come into contact with during transport. It’s also smart to take photos of your car as visual proof of its condition.

What should I look for when choosing a car shipping company?

Before booking a car shipment:

Get at least three quotes before making a decision, and be sure each one gives you clear information about rates and fees as well as insurance coverage and deductibles.

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