The Ultimate Car Shipping Checklist

Kurt Manwaring
Researcher & Writer
Read More
Published on September 22, 2021
7 min read

At a glance

The car shipping process begins when you look for a top-notch auto shipper and ends after your vehicle arrives. In between, you'll read reviews, get a car shipping quote, and take off your bike rack. You even want to wash your vehicle (it helps you identify potential damage when your car arrives). We’ve put together a 29-point checklist that walks you through everything you need to know.


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. Move.org 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 your vehicle and buy a new one.

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.

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.

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.

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Info Box
What are the best car shipping companies?

Move.org identified five stellar car shipping companies by comparing important qualities like price, customer service, and perks. 

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.

7. Get extra insurance coverage (optional). Every auto transport company is required to carry basic liability insurance, but some companies offer supplemental 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. You should also ask the car shipper if you need to remove your spare tire before transport.

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.

Bullhorn
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.

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.

Money
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. 

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. 

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. 

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

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).


Car shipping checklist FAQ

What is the best auto shipping company?

The best auto shipping company is Montway, according to Move.org. The vehicle shipping broker has reasonable prices, guaranteed pickup dates, and excellent customer reviews.

Can I ship my car with a bike rack?

No, you can’t ship your car with a bike rack attached to the vehicle. However, you may be able to find a car shipping service that is willing to let you store a foldable bike rack inside of your car. Just be aware that many vehicle transport companies prohibit personal belongings of any kind.

How do I ship a new car?

You ship a new car by contacting car transport companies and arranging to have your vehicle picked up. As a vehicle owner, you should coordinate this shipment with the car dealership or seller.

Which auto transport carriers can guarantee my ship date?

No auto transport carriers can guarantee your ship date. However, you can sometimes find a vehicle mover like Montway Auto Transport that can guarantee your pickup date.

How much does a car shipper cost?

The average car shipper costs approximately $1,500, according to Move.org. The prices offered by car movers vary depending on factors such as vehicle size and transportation type. Even your specific moving day can influence your bill.

What should I look for during an inspection of my car after transport?

You should look for signs of damage during an inspection of your car after transport. Make sure the moving company driver doesn’t leave before you identify any scratches or dents. You should record the inspection results on your bill of lading.


Kurt Manwaring
Written by
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, 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 kurt@move.org.