You’re moving to another state or all of the way across the country. You don’t want to or can’t spend time driving your car to your new home, but you also don’t want to leave it behind. The answer is to ship it.

Shipping your car is more complicated than heading to your local postal shipping office, though. There are specific steps you need to follow when choosing your shipper and getting your car ready for shipment.

This guide will help you learn the best way to ship your vehicle.

How to Ship a Car: Enclosed or Open Carrier?

Your first step is to decide how you’ll ship your car. There are two options: either on an open or enclosed truck. You’ve most likely seen an open carrier on the highway before. They are typically loaded with two layers of vehicles that are wrapped in plastic and headed to a dealer. The other option is an enclosed truck that will look like any other semi-truck on the road.

Enclosed trailers will cost more, so if you’re on a tight budget, this may not be the best option for you. But there are several benefits that come with the extra expense. An enclosed trailer will provide your car with significantly more protection. First, your car will stay clean because the weather elements and road grime won’t get to your car. Second, it’s totally protected from damage from road debris or vandalism. Third, the risk of theft is greatly reduced, as the truck gets locked.

An open trailer won’t be able to provide you with all of these protections. However, the biggest advantage is that you could save about 60 percent of the cost of your shipping.

When choosing your method, consider both your budget and the value of your car. An old beater may not need the protection of an enclosed trailer. While if you own an expensive luxury or collector car, the cost of potential repairs makes the cost of an enclosed trailer well worth it.

Cars being transported on a ship

Research Carriers

Now that you know what type of truck you want your car to ship on, you can start looking for carriers that offer this service. You will quickly realize that there’s an overwhelming number of vehicle carriers out there. It’s challenging to separate out the reputable from the not-so-good carriers.

Do your research and read the reviews. While no shipper is perfect and things do happen, you’ll be able to filter out the really bad carriers quickly.

Once you have a handful of carriers picked out, call them and get a quote. While you’re communicating with them, ask them a few questions:

  1. Are you bonded and insured?
  2. What’s covered under the insurance?
  3. What is the carrier’s shipping license?

This information will give you an idea of how professional the company is. Any company that doesn’t have or won’t give you this information isn’t a company you want to work with.

Look up a potential carrier’s shipping license with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. You can look up a carrier’s safety rating and record in the SAFER System to find out their track record. A company with fewer incidents is safer and more likely to get your car to the destination safely.

Most reputable companies carry coverage in the $50,000 to $1,000,000 range for insurance. Damage can happen with even more reputable and careful shippers, so this is good to check.

Once you get quotes from a few carriers, you can compare rates and pick the best carrier for your needs. Do not pick your carrier based solely on price. If you call around until you find a rock bottom price, you will get rock bottom service along with it. Instead, balance your budget with the services offered by the company.

Pricing Variables

There are a few pieces of information that you should have ready when you call for a quote. The carrier will then use a matrix to determine the cost of shipping your vehicle.

  • Pickup and Drop Off Location 

If your shipment is between two major cities, then you’ll have an easier and cheaper time finding a carrier than if you want it shipped to a smaller or more rural location. This is because carriers have specific routes, called shipping lanes, where they have a higher concentration of trucks. These are the shipment routes where they get the most business, so they can book more to fill their trucks.

It costs the carrier money to drive the truck from point A to point B, so the more cars they can have on the truck, the higher the profit margin. If your car is the only one, then they raise the rate of your shipment to make up the difference.

If you find that where you want to ship your car is quite expensive, look for the nearest major city. If you’re willing to drive the car to or from the nearest major city, you may be able to secure a more affordable rate.

There are also two terms you’ll hear from your carrier when talking about pickup and drop off: door-to-door and terminal-to-terminal. The first refers to the carrier picking up and dropping off your car from your location of choice, such as your home or work. The second term, terminal-to-terminal, refers to you dropping off and picking the car up at the carrier’s designated location, such as their terminal.

Door-to-door is a lot more convenient but will cost more. Terminal-to-terminal can save you money but increases the risk of damage to your car and is a greater inconvenience to you.

  • Vehicle Size 

The bigger your car, the heavier it weighs and the more space it takes up on the truck. This means you’re using more of the carrier’s resources, so the carrier is going to charge you more. Therefore, expect to pay more for a Ford Super Duty truck than a Mazda Miata

  • Season 

Just like everything else, there are seasons in the transportation industry. Warmer weather means more people are shipping vehicles. As the demand rises, so do the rates. So if you’re looking to save a few dollars, the winter months are the best time to ship.

There is a downside to shipping in winter, though. Winter storms are unpredictable and can severely delay your shipment.

Prepare Your Vehicle for Shipment

You cannot pack your car full of personal belongings to avoid paying a moving company. The vast majority of carriers will not allow you to have any personal belongings in the vehicle. This is an increased liability they aren’t willing to take on.

Even if your carrier did allow you to pack your car with personal items, it would be a bad idea. Semi-trucks do not provide a smooth ride, and there’s a high risk of your items getting jostled and damaged.

You’ll also want to check with the carrier for the gas tank policy. Some carriers will require you to empty the tank. Others will accept your vehicle with the tank less than half full. The reason for this is that gasoline can add a significant amount of weight when every car on the truck has a full tank of gas.

Once you’ve successfully booked your shipment, the carrier will send you a Bill of Lading (BOL). You’ll need to print a copy for your records and one for the driver. When the driver arrives, you’ll need to give them a copy of the BOL or they won’t take your vehicle. This can result in additional fees from the carrier as this was a wasted trip for them, and they’ll need to come back again for your car.

You also need to contact your car insurance company to specifically ask what your policy covers. Some insurance providers will have terms in your regular car insurance for vehicle coverage during shipping.

Related Post: 7 Factors That Affect Your Car Insurance Rates 

The final step is to wash your car and take pictures of it. You’ll want to document exactly how it looks before it goes on the truck. That way, you have definitive proof that the car went onto the truck undamaged. If anything happens, you’ll be thankful for these pictures.

Cars being shipped on a truck

Have Patience

Shipping a car is not a fast process. Expect for the transit time to take several weeks. It can take even longer if there is a high demand for shipping or if the weather turns bad. Unforeseen delays are common, so plan for them.

If you need your car by a specific date, then you’ll want to spend extra for expedited shipping or a guaranteed delivery date. These are additional add-on services, but they will help you better predict when your car will arrive at the destination.

Inspect Upon Delivery

One of the most important things you can do is inspect your vehicle upon arrival. If there is any damage, this is when it needs to be documented. If you wait until you get home or a few days later, the carrier can claim the damage happened after delivery.

Do not let the driver leave without documenting on the BOL that there’s damage to the vehicle. You will then contact the carrier to make an insurance claim so that you can have the car repaired.

How to Ship Your Car With Confidence

By keeping this guide in mind, you can ship your car with confidence. The best way to ship your car is with plenty of preparation and research. The better you prepare, the smoother the entire process will go. You’ll also want to keep in mind that no amount of planning and preparation can avoid the unexpected, so try to have patience.

Shipping your car on an open transport truck terminal-to-terminal may be the cheapest way to ship your car, but you may find that it’s not the best. Consider your budget, car, and distance shipped to determine what the best method is for you.


  1. How Auto Transport Works – How Stuff Works
  2. Auto Transport Broker – Wikipedia