Car Shipping: How to Find Dependable Auto Shippers
Trusting your car — one of your largest assets, perhaps literally and financially — to an auto shipper can be nerve-wracking. Whether you need to ship a car you recently bought online or send your wheels to a new city, there can be complications en route even with reputable auto shippers, not to mention scam artists who never deliver. We’ll explain how to find a dependable car shipping company to help ensure your car will arrive at your destination on time, free of damage.
- Figure out what you need
- The types of auto shippers
- How to ensure the transport company is dependable
- Compare quotes
Figure out what you need
There are many ways to transport a vehicle: road, rail, sea and air, but for purposes of this story, we focus on auto shipping by truck because it’s the most common and least expensive. But there are still many choices to be made before you car takes a trip down the highway. To get started, think about the following factors:
Timing. Know the dates the car can be picked up and dropped off. How much time do you have before you need your car transported? How long can the car stay in transport before you need it? The more you can plan ahead, the more likely you are to find a good deal. For example, a set pickup time may be more expensive than a broader timeline of one to two weeks when the shipping company may already have a carrier in your area.
Distance. How far do you need your car shipped? It’s a little different if you need a car shipped across the same state versus needing it shipped to Hawaii or Alaska. Distance will, of course, affect the amount of time the car is in transport and the cost. Cost depends on what type of transport you choose — more on that in a second — but when we plugged in the cost of shipping a small sedan from Maine to California into several transport company calculators, prices ranged from about $940 to $1,300.
Pickup and drop-off locations. Do you need door-to-door service? Or can you drop off and pick up your car from the transportation company’s local offices? If door-to-door locations are way out of the way for the shipping company, it may cost more.
International borders. Will your car cross international borders in its journey? If so, the auto shipper you use needs to be licensed to operate in another country.
Treatment. Enclosed auto transport or open auto transport? Enclosed means just that — your car is housed in a covered truck, soft-sided or hard-sided, which means it is protected from the elements. Cars on open transport trucks are exposed to any type of weather it may encounter on the way to its final destination.
Here are some pros and cons to enclosed transport:
- Enclosed transport is more expensive, perhaps as much as 80% more expensive than open transport.
- It might be more difficult to find an enclosed car carrier, another potential bump in the road, particularly if you’re in a hurry to get your car delivered to its new home.
- It helps prevent any scratches, dirt and bugs from getting on your car. It’s the white-glove treatment. On the other hand, you could solve the bug and dirt problem by washing it off when you get the car back.
- Enclosed transport might be best for classic or custom cars.
The types of auto shippers
Keeping in mind what you need, here are the types of auto shippers you may be able to hire.
Local or independent driver. No, we do not mean for you to scour Craigslist, nor bribe friends with pizza to transport your car via U-Haul. We would recommend looking on UShip.com. It’s a site where people who need something transported post the job and transporters looking for jobs bid against each other to claim the opportunity.
Commercial trucking company. In many cases, trucking companies will have to go a long distance in order to pick up cargo before they can take it to its destination. If you contact one directly and ask, you may be able to get your vehicle on a truck that is otherwise going empty and is willing to charge less than average.
Some national commercial trucking companies include: Landstar System, Daseke Inc., Anderson Trucking Service, PS Logistics, TMC Transportation and Mercer Transportation.
Specialized automotive transport company. There are businesses that specialize in automotive transport. Some of them are: Sherpa Automotive Transport, eShip, AmeriFreight, Ship A Car Direct and Executive Auto Shippers.
Moving company. If you’re hiring movers to ship all of your household goods, it may be convenient for them to move your car as well. Moving company Mayflower, for example, is one that will handle both.
How to ensure the transport company is dependable
Once you know what type of auto shipper you need and you have a few picked out, spend some time researching each of them. While this may sound like an annoying task, it would be a lot more annoying if your car goes missing.
Look for the shipper’s Motor Carrier number. Every transport company in the U.S. must have a federal Motor Carrier number (MC), in addition to a U.S. Department of Transportation number. If a company does not have one or hides it, the company is probably not legit.
Check with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has an information phone line and email service for consumers to check safety, licensing and insurance information of transporters, including auto shippers. You could look up a carrier’s safety record, searching by its name or MC or DOT number.
Read customer reviews. See what other customers experienced with that auto shipper by reading customer reviews. Sites like Yelp, Angieslist, Google and Consumer Reports may have some revealing insight. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also keeps track of consumer reviews and complaints, and rates companies accordingly. You could also check BBB’s Scam Tracker for problems in your area.
Compare car shipping quotes
When it’s time to make a decision, it’s a smart idea to get quotes from at least three car shipping companies. Make sure the quotes give the total of what you would pay, so you won’t be surprised by hidden fees. And by having multiple quotes, you might also be able to take the lowest quote and ask another auto shipper to beat it in order to gain your business.
Brokers. We recommend you get your own quotes instead of paying a broker to do it for you. There are brokers who will find an auto shipper for you for a fee that’s usually around $100; plus, they may get a reward from the transport company for recommending them. But getting an auto shipping quote yourself online or on the phone is relatively quick and easy, and doing so gives you more control.
The small print. Beware of fees, cancellation policies, payment deadlines and required method of payment. If an auto shipper requires prepayment by wire transfer of funds, it’s probably a scam. You may receive a discount for paying in cash, but reputable companies won’t ask for the full amount upfront — you would most likely pay the balance to the driver who delivers your car, once you’ve given it a quick inspection, of course. Keep in mind that the driver probably won’t accept a check — only cash, cashier’s check or money order. You could also use an escrow service, which holds the money until the transaction is complete, but beware of fraudulent escrow companies.
Insurance. You probably want to know that your car is covered should anything should happen to it while it is in transport. Ask the auto transport company what is and isn’t covered. You could also check the carrier’s insurance coverage when you contact the FMCSA. Your regular auto insurance may or may not already cover your car (and anything in it) if something happens to it.
The bottom line with car shipping
There are many decisions to make when shipping a car, but it’s still one of the least expensive ways to get your car from Point A to Point B. It may be possible to drive the car yourself, but you might wind up spending any potential savings on hotels and restaurants. Figure out the type of transport you want, research a few companies to make sure they’re legitimate and then ask for price quotes so you can choose the one with the lowest price that is best for you.