The Ultimate Car Shipping Checklist

Kurt Manwaring
Researcher & Writer
Read More
Published on April 20, 2020
7 min read

At a glance

The basic idea behind car shipping is simple: you pay someone to transport your car from one location to another.

But how does car shipping actually work? has put together a 29-point checklist that takes you from deciding if car shipping is your best option to leaving an online review when your car is delivered safe and sound.

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Car shipping checklist

The majority of our checklist steps take place before the auto transport company picks up your vehicle. Once your car is on its way, there isn’t much you can do besides wait—although some companies let you track its location.

When your car arrives, your first priority is to check for damage. covers these steps and more in its ultimate car shipping checklist.

Plan your vehicle transport

1. Decide if car shipping is your best choice. Car shipping isn’t your only choice. You can drive the car to your new home—or even sell it and buy a new one.

We walk you through those decisions in Should You Ship Your Car or Drive It When You Move? and Should I Sell My Car or Ship It?

2. Know the difference between brokers and carriers. Not all auto transport companies are created equal. Brokers are companies that hook you up with actual car shippers called carriers.

Each has its advantages, but we recommend you work with brokers because they’re typically faster and cheaper than carriers. Learn more in Brokers vs. Carriers in Car Shipping.

3. Choose between open and enclosed transport. Car shipping companies can transport your vehicle on the back of a truck exposed to the elements (i.e., open transport) or inside a fully enclosed truck.

For most customers, open transport is the way to go. It’s cheaper and gets the job done. Enclosed transport is best for customers with antique, classic, and exotic cars.

If you’re still not sure which to choose, we go into more detail in Do I Really Need an Enclosed Car Carrier?

4. Research car companies. Don’t go with the first company you find. We recommend you request and compare quotes from at least three companies. It’s also a good idea to spend about 10 minutes researching online reviews.

If you see red flags like customers complaining of damaged vehicles or final prices not matching initial quotes, proceed with caution. You want a company with fair prices and very few angry customers.

You can also compare your quotes with our research in How Much Does It Cost to Ship a Car?

Info Box
What are the best car shipping companies? identified five stellar car shipping companies by comparing important qualities like price, customer service, and perks. Check out our list of the best car shipping companies to find a good fit.

5. Pick a company. Once you’ve compared quotes and checked the reviews, it’s time to pick the company you like the most.

6. Select a date. The date you give the auto transport company will be the date your car is ready for pickup. It usually takes about four days from your selected date for a company to pick up your vehicle and anywhere from two days to two weeks for delivery.

Learn more in Common Car Shipping Questions.

7. Get extra insurance coverage (optional). Every auto transport company is required to carry basic liability insurance, but some companies offer supplemental insurance. We walk you through the nitty-gritty details in What to Know about Auto Transport Insurance.

Make sure your vehicle is running smoothly

8. Check your tires. The car shipping company needs to be able to drive your car onto the transport truck—and you want to make sure it’s drivable when it arrives at your destination. Make sure the tires are properly inflated before pickup.

9. Check your battery. Double-check your battery to make sure it doesn’t have a low charge. It costs more to transport your car if it doesn’t start.

You can ship a motorcycle too!

Auto transport isn’t just for cars. Check out our list of the best motorcycle shipping companies to find an excellent fit for your bike.

10. Check your emergency brake. Transport companies won’t accept your vehicle if the emergency brake doesn’t work. Make sure it’s good to go before the delivery driver arrives.

11. Check for leaks. Look under your car to see if any wet spots are forming underneath your engine. If the vehicle is leaking oil, transmission fluid, or something else, it’s a good idea to have a mechanic take a look.

12. Top off your fluids. As part of your pre-pickup checklist, top off your oil, as well as fluids for brakes and power steering.

13. Fix mechanical issues. It’s not just leaks that you want to watch out for. If your car has any mechanical problems—like a bad timing belt or broken distributor cap—that could keep it from starting anytime during the transport process, get those taken care of.

Get your vehicle ready for transit

14. Make sure your gas tank is less than a quarter full. You want enough fuel to run a few errands and get gas at your destination, but not much more. The less your car weighs, the less you pay.

Learn more in How to Prepare Your Car for Shipping.

15. Remove your car attachments. Your ski rack might be great for hitting the slopes, but it may not survive on a car carrier. Remove any accessories that could break or fall off, such as bike racks and antennas.

Car repairs, covered

Ship a Car Direct is one of our favorite car shipping companies because it covers up to $500 of your deductible if you have to file a claim with your insurance company. See what else we like about this auto transporter in our Ship a Car Direct Review.

16. Fold in your side mirrors. You can’t detach your mirrors like a luggage rack, but you can minimize your risk of damage by folding them in.

17. Clean your car. We recommend you ship your car without any personal belongings inside. Some companies allow it, but many prohibit the practice because it increases the chances of damaging the vehicle during transit.

Be on the safe side and clean out your car (including the trunk) before you ship it.

18. Disable your alarm. If the alarm goes off during transport, it can startle and annoy the driver. We’ve even heard reports of drivers taking extreme measures (e.g., damaging the car) to get the alarm to shut off.

Avoid the problem altogether by disabling the alarm.

19. Deactivate your electronic toll pass (if applicable). If you have an electronic toll device, turn it off or remove it from your vehicle.

If an auto transport truck goes through a toll and your electronic pass is on, you will be charged as if you were the one driving.

20. Get a spare key. Do you know how frustrating it is when you lose your keys? Imagine how upset you’d be if your delivery driver lost your only set!

Heads Up
Moving tip: Learn your driver's name

We’ve heard stories of companies charging last-minute booking fees even though customers reserved a spot in advance. If you know your driver’s name, you can prove you called ahead. Learn about more car shipping tips in Is Your Car Safe During Auto Transport?

Document your vehicle’s condition

21. Document your mileage. Chances are pretty good your delivery guy won’t be taking your car for a joyride before delivering it to you. Do yourself a favor, though, and document the mileage beforehand (just in case).

22. Wash your car. Before the transport company picks up your car, they’ll ask you to inspect it for scratches and other damage. This is so you can identify any new damage at the end of the trip.

The cleaner your car is, the easier it is to see damage at the time of pickup and delivery.

Price Tag
How does a free car wash sound?

We love Sherpa Auto Transport because it includes a free car wash with every vehicle it ships. The company excels in other areas too. Read more in’s Sherpa Auto Transport Review.

23. Inspect your car and document damage. Make sure you have visual documentation of the way your car looks before it is loaded onto the auto transport truck. We recommend taking pictures or video of all four sides of the car. If any damage occurs during transport, you want to have proof that the damage wasn’t preexisting.

24. Verify details and sign your bill of lading. A bill of lading is what you sign indicating the state of your vehicle before transit. Make sure the transport worker hasn’t made any mistakes when documenting things like existing scratches and dents on your car.

When everything looks correct, go ahead and sign.

Wait for your vehicle to arrive

25. Check vehicle status online. At this point, all you can really do is binge Netflix and go about life as usual. If your shipper offers vehicle tracking, though, you can obsessively refresh your car’s location until it’s safely back in your hands

Heads Up anyone there?

Communication is notoriously difficult once your car is in transit because the broker you booked with likely transferred the job to an individual carrier. Learn more about how to navigate this tricky situation in Brokers vs. Carriers in Car Shipping.

Check for damage from transit

26. Inspect your car and document damage. This is a repeat of steps 23 and 24—except now you’re looking at your car’s condition after delivery.

Do not sign the bill of lading until you have documented any new damage to your car.

27. File an insurance claim (if applicable). If your car was damaged in transit, file a claim as soon as possible.

If you need to document a claim, it’s critical to have proof that damage occurred in transit. Make sure you have pictures of the car before pickup and after delivery, as well as copies of your bill of lading (e.g., the document that describes the damage identified by you and the driver).

Settle into your new home

28. Update your auto insurance and driver’s license. Once your vehicle arrives at your new home, be sure to contact your insurance company and your state’s DMV to update your address.

29. Leave an online review. Help others learn from your experience. Take two minutes to leave an online review.

Be sure to point out what the company may have done well (e.g., low price, excellent customer service, on-time delivery) and any problems you may have encountered (e.g., extensive delays, car damage, rude drivers).

Recommended resources

Now that you know how auto transport works, read reviews of our top-rated car shipping companies:

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Kurt Manwaring
Written by
Kurt Manwaring
Kurt Manwaring brings nearly a decade’s worth of research experience as a business consultant to the 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, Martha Stewart Living, Country Living, Good Housekeeping, Heavy, Slate, and Yahoo! Lifestyle. He brings a BS in sociology and an MPA (masters of public administration) to the Move team. He would love to hear about your moving experiences and questions at