Brokers vs. Carriers in Car Shipping

Knowing the difference between an auto transport broker and an auto transport carrier is one of the most confusing things about shipping a car. It’s also one of the most impactful—working with a broker when you think you’re speaking with a carrier, and vice versa, can make or break your experience.

Brokers typically offer faster service and give you multiple quotes to choose from, but your final bill seldom lines up with your initial estimate. Carriers are often slower because they have only one or two trucks, but they know the routes inside and out and offer a direct line of communication.

We break down the key differences between auto transport brokers and carriers into five categories:

  1. Price
  2. Availability
  3. Customer experience
  4. Reputation
  5. Insurance

Brokers

  • Faster delivery
  • Multiple quotes
  • Higher final costs compared to initial estimates
  • Limited customer service

Carriers

  • Knowledge of routes
  • Direct communication
  • Slower delivery

Auto transport brokers vs. carriers—Price

Brokers typically offer lower prices than carriers and give you multiple quotes to choose from, but there may be a broader gap between your initial estimate and final bill than if you booked a carrier directly.

We walk you through the process of getting a quote, understanding how your final price works, and what you can do to minimize extra costs.

Car shipping quote process

Brokers are able to collect multiple quotes from multiple carriers in a short amount of time. Access to a large network of carriers gives them the ability to compare prices and tell you which ones are the lowest.

Carriers typically provide only one quote because, well, they’re the ones actually servicing your shipment.

If you want to compare quotes for five different carriers, you can either call one broker or five carriers. This is a huge time advantage in favor of brokers.

Winner: Brokers

Auto transport quotes

BrokersCarriers
Number of quotesMultipleOne
How to reach themOnline, phonePhone
Quote vs. final cost accuracyLess accurateMore accurate
Communication levelLowerHigher
Routes coveredRegional/nationalLocal/regional
Number of quotes
How to reach them
Quote vs. final cost accuracy
Communication level
Routes covered
Brokers Carriers
Multiple One
Online, phone Phone
Less accurate More accurate
Lower Higher
Regional/national Local/regional

Check out our guide to getting an auto transport quote to learn more.

Car shipping quotes vs. final prices

One of the most common pain points in the car shipping industry is that final prices are often higher than initial estimates.

Brokers often give a lowball estimate to get your business, but then charge you more on your final bill. Once you’re in the door, brokers know it’s a pain for you to start over with a new company. As the saying goes, “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.”

Carriers should theoretically be able to give you a more accurate quote because they know the routes inside and out, but customer reviews don’t seem to back up this theory.

We recommend you spend a few minutes looking at the reviews of each company you’re considering. If you don’t see any angry customers talking about how they were shocked at their final bill, you’re probably safe pulling the trigger.

We’ve also put together a list of the best car shipping companies to get you started.

Winner: Tie

Heads up exclamation

LOCK IN YOUR AUTO TRANSPORT QUOTE

LOCK IN YOUR AUTO TRANSPORT QUOTE

Sherpa Auto Transport is a broker that keeps your initial estimate and final bill as close as possible. Its Price Lock Promise guarantees your original quote within $300—meaning if your final invoice is higher, they foot the difference up to $300. Check out our Sherpa Auto Transport Review to learn more.

Auto transport brokers vs. carriers—Availability

By definition, there are more carriers than brokers—but brokers are easier to track down. Brokers usually have an online presence, so you can find them with a simple Google search. Carriers rarely have websites.

It’s a lot easier to hire a company you can find and contact.

Winner: Brokers

Auto transport brokers vs. carriers—Customer experience

We analyzed over 100 customer reviews for five different car shipping companies. Here’s what we found.

Communicating with customers

Many car shippers don’t stay in contact with customers through the entire delivery process.

It’s easy to get in touch with brokers for a quote, but not many of them stay in touch once a carrier is assigned—and that becomes a pain point if you need a status update on your vehicle but can’t reach a human being.

Carriers are tougher to reach for a quote, but you’re more likely to be on a first-name basis with the reps and to stay in touch the whole time. That makes things easy if you have a question about your car while it’s in transit.

BROKERSCARRIERS
  • Multiple customer service representatives

  • Limited communication once they assign a carrier
  • A single point of contact

  • Communication from start to finish
BROKERS
  • Multiple customer service representatives

  • Limited communication once they assign a carrier
CARRIERS
  • A single point of contact

  • Communication from start to finish

Minimizing delays

Vehicles get delayed in transit for a number of reasons. Maybe the truck breaks down or your driver gets sick. Whatever the reason, we sometimes hear customers complain that delays happen—and that their prices are sometimes affected by things out of their control.

In these cases, brokers offer an advantage carriers can’t: backup plans.

If you hire a carrier to transport your vehicle and the truck breaks down, things come to a screeching halt. Many carriers have only one or two vehicles, so when one truck goes down, the only option is to make you wait while they fix it.

Bullhorn

OUR REAL-LIFE EXPERIENCE

OUR REAL-LIFE EXPERIENCE

We know firsthand how frustrating delays can be. Move.org moving grant recipients Scott and Nadine Sundblom were surprised when the carrier selected by Montway Auto Transport (a broker) asked them to pick up the driver because the truck broke down.

Read all about their experience—both the pros and the cons—in What to Expect When You Ship a Car with Montway.

Brokers don’t have this problem because they work with a network of carriers. If your assigned carrier has a mechanical issue, numerous carriers are ready and willing to take its place.

The same thing applies to delays caused by things like traffic accidents or bad weather. A delay that could take a carrier a week to work through can potentially be solved by a broker the same day.

That’s a big deal if you want your car to arrive on time.

Winner: Broker

Auto transport brokers vs. carriers—Reputation

Auto transport brokers are more likely to have sketchy reputations, while carriers’ reputations are harder to find in the first place.

The vehicle transport industry has a history of minimal regulation with few barriers to entry. You can open up an auto transport brokerage without any real expertise—which can be problematic for customers looking to keep their cars safe. In some instances, brokers that go out of business due to poor service simply reopen under different names.

It’s like the Wild West.

Carriers are more transparent because they work directly with you as the customer (rather than through a broker as a middleman). They know you probably won’t use them again if your vehicle gets damaged, doesn’t make it in time, or costs more to ship than you expected.

Brokers can just blame problems on the carrier. Maybe it’s the carrier’s fault, maybe it isn’t. The point is: you don’t know for sure.

Thankfully, you can use customer reviews to find brokers that take their reputations seriously. We’ve also identified a few companies like Montway Auto Transport, Sherpa Auto Transport, and AmeriFreight that really shine in this area.

Check out our list of the best car shipping companies to see which other companies we recommend.

Winner: Tie

Heads up exclamation

DON’T FORGET TO PREP YOUR CAR

DON’T FORGET TO PREP YOUR CAR

Make sure your car is ready to ship by getting it tuned up, folding in the mirrors, and removing all the stuff inside—including everything inside your trunk. We walk you through the process in How to Prepare Your Car for Shipping.

Auto transport brokers vs. carriers—Insurance

Car shipping companies aren’t allowed to transport your vehicle unless they have insurance. But how do you know companies follow the rules?

This is where brokers come in.

If you want to verify that a carrier has insurance, you have to do the legwork on your own—for each company. Curious about a driver’s record? You have to track that down too.

Reputable brokers save you time by verifying license, insurance, and safety info for the carriers they use.

Learn more in Auto Transport Insurance—How Your Vehicle Is Covered in Transit.

Auto transport insurance requirements

BrokersCarriers
Licensing requirementsMust use licensed carriersMust be licensed
Insurance requirementsMust use insured carriersMust carry insurance
VerificationBrokers verifyYou verify
Licensing requirements
Insurance requirements
Verification
Brokers Carriers
Must use licensed carriers Must be licensed
Must use insured carriers Must carry insurance
Brokers verify You verify

Winner: Brokers

Auto transport brokers vs. carriers FAQs

How do I know if a company is a carrier or a broker?

The easiest way to find out if a company is a carrier or broker is to go to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website and enter the company’s name in the “value” box. The first line you see in the resulting search field is labeled “entity type” and identifies the company as a broker or carrier.

Does my car get dirty during transport?

Your car is likely to get dirty in transit if you use open transport. You can keep it cleaner using enclosed transport—meaning the vehicle is entirely covered—but that costs more. Learn more in our Do I Really Need an Enclosed Carrier? tutorial.

Should I use a car broker?

A car broker is a good option if you want to ship your vehicle quickly at a low price but don’t mind being surprised by additional costs or left in the dark with questions about where your car is while it’s en route.

How likely am I to work directly with a carrier?

It is unlikely you will be able to find and hire a carrier directly (except in the case of hybrid brokers that include their own fleets in carrier networks). However, you are likely to work directly with the carrier once it has been assigned to your load.

Can I get guaranteed pickup and delivery?

Listen carefully: there’s no such thing as guaranteed delivery, even if companies say they offer it. Reputable companies will give you an estimated timeframe, but there are too many variables that can affect transit time to provide a guarantee.

Blue Chat Boxes

WHAT ABOUT GUARANTEED PICKUP?

WHAT ABOUT GUARANTEED PICKUP?

Montway Auto Transport offers guaranteed pickup dates Monday–Friday for an extra fee.

What is the difference between door-to-door and terminal-to-terminal delivery?

Door-to-door delivery means the car transport company drops the car off at your house (assuming there’s room for the truck on your street). Terminal-to-terminal means the auto transport company drops your car off at a central location (or terminal) near your destination, and you pick it up there.

How much does it cost to ship a car?

Costs to ship a car vary widely depending on factors such as location, route, distance, vehicle size, weather, and type of transport. Learn more in How Much Does It Cost to Ship a Car?

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About Kurt Manwaring

Kurt Manwaring
Kurt Manwaring brings nearly a decade’s worth of research experience as a business consultant to the Move.org team. He specializes in taking complicated issues (like moving) and presenting them in a way that everyone can understand. His writing has been featured in hundreds of publications, including USA Today, Country Living, Good Housekeeping, Heavy, Slate, and Yahoo! Lifestyle. He would love to hear about your moving experiences and questions at kurt@move.org.