Shipping a Car Doesn’t Have to Cost You a Kidney or Your Sanity

When you can’t drive it, ship it.

Most car enthusiasts find themselves in an unfortunate automotive situation at least once in their lives. Perhaps you remember that you can’t drive more than one car at once, and you need to get two cars from point A to point B. Maybe (as the author has) you’ve been on a cross-country road trip, hundreds of miles from home, when you suddenly suffer an unexpected failure without the right tools (or mechanics!) to fix the breakdown. Or maybe (as I also have, repeatedly) you just bought a project car in another state, excitedly planning the build you’re about to undertake before it’s even in your driveway, but it still doesn’t run yet. In any of these cases, the easiest solution to get your ride to the chosen destination is to ship it, and Car Bibles is here to help with that. 

How Do I Ship My Car?

First, to ship a car, you’re going to need some basics. The car needs wheels, suspension, and steering—it needs to be able to roll onto the trailer. (Again, I speak from experience here… I have made some pretty bad decisions in my purchase history.) Ideally, the car also runs. It always costs less to ship a running car so it can be driven onto the trailer, but it is still possible to ship a non-operable vehicle. You’ll just need to specify that it doesn’t run so the shipper is certain to bring a trailer with a powerful enough winch.

Before the shippers roll up, you’ll want to make sure your car is prepared. Remove everything from the interior that’s loose, as it could be stolen or shift around in transit, and if anything isn’t bolted down, bolt it down. If possible, make sure that the car has at least a driver’s seat and steering wheel inside, as it will make it easier to guide onto the back of the trailer. Most couriers also want to see proof of ownership in some form to ensure they aren’t transporting a stolen car, so prepare to show insurance, registration, or title documents before the car leaves. 

The final thing I do before I ship any of my cars is take detailed pictures of the exterior and interior right before the shipper arrives. That way, if any damage happens while in transit, I have a record to prove the car was undamaged upon departure.

Shipping a Car Doesn’t Have to Cost You a Kidney or Your Sanity
Photo: Toni Scott

Who Is Going To Ship My Car?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of shippers in America who deal with transporting individual vehicles. Attempting to choose a courier by simply contacting all of them directly can be extremely overwhelming, as they all have different rates, routes, availability, and amenities. As a result, the best way to find a decent price quickly for your needs is usually via a transport broker. 

Auto transport brokerages don’t own any trucks or hire any drivers. They simply have a list of all the shipping companies that are contracted with them and their routes and rates. They use this to match you with a company that will fit your needs at the lowest price. Usually, they offer several options for shippers, and you can choose the one that fits your need and budget best. 

The tradeoff of using a brokerage is that you pay more than just the shipping cost alone. The brokerage adds a fee on top of your transaction for connecting you successfully with a shipper (but they do not require payment before they find you a match, in my experience). This fee is in my opinion very well worth it, as trying to contact individual shippers directly that run the route you need, at the price you need, is a good way to waste a week of your life.

Shipping a Car Doesn’t Have to Cost You a Kidney or Your Sanity
Photo: Toni Scott

How Much Does It Cost To Ship A Car?

So now you’ve found a shipper and prepped your car. How much is this going to cost you? The answer, unfortunately, is “it depends”, but the average prices usually sit in the $600 to $1200 range. There are a lot of factors that change this price very rapidly and can make it fall a bit below or well above this range. 

First, distance matters. If your car only needs to make it from one state to another on a short trip of a hundred or so miles, you can expect to get it moved for only a few hundred dollars. If you’re moving a car across the entire United States, it’s going to be much closer to that thousand-dollar mark, or perhaps even surpass it, depending on the factors below. 

Next, weight is an important factor. The heavier the car, the more it will cost the transporter in gasoline to pull it, and so it’s significantly cheaper to transport a Smart Car than a Chevy Suburban. Before the courier picks up your vehicle, they will ask what exactly it is, and price their quotes accordingly. 

Shipping a Car Doesn’t Have to Cost You a Kidney or Your Sanity
Photo: Toni Scott

Another requirement that will vastly change your cost is the flexibility of your timeframe. For a specific example from my life, I moved from Ohio to Texas a few years back and took the only car I owned at the time with me, a 1988 Toyota Supra Turbo. It made the trip gallantly but extremely harsh cold weather stressed an old radiator hose I had put off replacing, and it drained its coolant all over the interstate in rural Tennesee in the middle of the night. I sought to get it home as quickly as possible, as I had abandoned my favorite possession in the middle of nowhere, and I chose the shipper that would be able to bring it to me the soonest. As a result, I paid around a $200 premium vs. a shipper that could have picked it up a few weeks later, but I was able to have my car back much more quickly.

Finally, covered vs. uncovered shipping is an important – and expensive – distinction. I’ve never used a covered shipper, but if you’re transporting a vehicle that’s too rare or valuable to expose to the elements, you’ll want an enclosed trailer. Unfortunately, couriers with enclosed trailers are harder to find and will cost around 50%-70% more than an open trailer for the same car and route.

The Questionnaire

Will a Dealership Ship Me My Car?

If you just bought a car long-distance from a dealership, during the purchase process, you can usually negotiate shipping directly to your door. Dealerships usually work with transport companies directly, as well, saving you the trouble of having to find a broker and your own courier.

Can You Ship A Car Via Fedex?

You can! Fedex Custom Critical deals with non-standard and expensive packages, and they will ship a car; however, this is a very expensive and white-glove service, meaning it’s usually only used for high-end luxury cars or rare classics where shipping time needs to be minimal.

Can You Ship A Car On A Train?

For certain routes, Amtrak offers AutoTrain! You ride on the train in the passenger accommodations, and your car rides in a auto transport train car. The pricing varies on the route, but the car shipping is generally rolled into the ticket price, making it much less expensive than shipping via a normal courier.

Car Bible’s Glossary for Car Shipping

Welcome to Bible school!

Auto Transport Brokerage

The middleman that connects clients (you) with shipping companies.

Enclosed Trailer

A trailer fully shielded from the weather and prying eyes. 

Video on Car Shipping

If you’re a more kinesthetic learner and want to hear about shipping a car, rather than just reading about it, check out this video from savagegeese below on his experience shipping a car!

Comments Are Open, Come Speak Your Piece

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Want to clean up your car after you’ve shipped it? Check out our recommendations on cleaning products.

Toni Scott

Toni ScottFreelance writer at The Drive and Car Bibles. Collectrix of Vintage Hondas and High Priestess of the Church Of Slam It On Wats. she/her Contact the author here.