How to Prepare Your Car for Shipping

At a glance

Moving across the country but want to skip the drive? We got you. With auto transport, your car can travel in style through the heartland—from purple mountain majesty to amber waves of grain—without you going along for the ride.

Once you’ve received a few car shipping quotes and picked a trusted auto transport company, use this guide to properly prep your vehicle for safe, secure shipment.

9 steps to prepare your car for shipment

Readying your vehicle for shipment is more complicated than just arranging for pickup by the car shipping company and calling it a day. Follow these nine steps to ensure your car arrives intact at your new home.

1. Gather your vehicle’s documents

Before you ship a car, auto transporters will want proof that the vehicle is yours. To prevent shipment delays and last-minute file cabinet and glovebox searches, prep this paperwork in advance:

  • Vehicle registration information
  • Proof of insurance
  • Bill of sale or other proof you own vehicle
  • Original vehicle title
  • Your unexpired identification (i.e. driver’s license or passport)
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Autos abroad

Autos abroad

Shipping overseas? Expect extra paperwork requirements, including payment of import duties and taxes. Note that shipping a car you’ve financed overseas can be difficult and requires the bank’s consent and certified copies of the Certificate of Title.

2. Wash your car—inside and out

Washing your car before shipping may seem counterintuitive, but starting with a clean car allows you to see existing dust, dings, and scratches already on your car—and that’ll help you catch any new damage that occurs during the car transport service.

Don’t forget the car interior: wipe down surfaces and clear out clutter so you can start with a fresh, clean car at your new home.

3. Document damage

Once your car is clean, take a walkabout to note pre-existing damage to the exterior. This includes dents, scratches, discolorations, and paint chips. (Now you see why starting with a clean car is essential.)

Whether you choose affordable open transport or pricier enclosed car shipping, it’s unlikely your car will be damaged by the shipping process.

But it’s still wise to take pictures of your entire vehicle and document current damage for your records. That’ll make it easier to fill out the condition report when your car arrives. These visuals also serve as proof of your claim if the car shipping company denies responsibility for damage that occurred in transit.

4. Remove personal items

If you’re running low on space in your moving van, you might be tempted to stash a few heavy boxes in your car before shipping it. But that’s a big no-no. Items packed in your car won’t be insured against damage or theft, and transportation companies can be fined for moving your personal belongings in your car.

Instead, remove any personal or unessential items from your vehicle:

  • Charging cables
  • Old chapsticks and junk
  • Water bottles
  • GPS devices
  • Sunglasses
  • Insurance information and personally identifying paperwork

If you insist on leaving personal items in your vehicle, be sure they’re loaded in the trunk to keep them out of sight and sun during the car transport service. It’s also important to remove any parking passes or toll tags. If you leave a toll tag in your vehicle, you’ll be charged fees as your car travels on the transporter through tolls. Remove the tag to avoid this unnecessary hike in your shipping cost.

But don’t remove everything. Keep your spare tire, emergency kit, jack, and license plate with the vehicle in case something goes wrong.

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Free rental rides

Free rental rides

Car transport services don’t always deliver vehicles on time. Luckily, some companies provide free rental cars, or reimburse you for one, until your vehicle arrives. Check with your transporter to ensure it offers this perk.

5. Perform any necessary maintenance

If you’re transporting an inoperable vehicle, note that fact when you book with the car shipping company since your car can’t be driven on and off the truck.

For cars in working condition, check it for leaks and mechanical issues, and top off any fluids. If you notice a leak, have it repaired before your car is picked up. (You don’t want to be THAT person who let their car leak oil all over the car beneath it on the transporter.)

Here are a few more things to check before car shipment:

  • Tire pressure: Tires should be properly inflated (neither over- nor underinflated) on shipment date to avoid vehicle damage.
  • Battery charge: Check that your car battery is fully charged.
  • Fluids: Top off your car’s fluids (oil, brake, coolant, power steering, and washer). Then check for leaks.
  • Mileage: Note your car’s mileage at pickup and delivery.

6. Empty your gas tank

Your car is being transported on a car carrier, not driven, so filling up your tank before shipment is unnecessary. Plus, extra gas means extra weight for your vehicle and car carrier, which can add to your shipping cost. Instead, leave your gas tank just a quarter full. That’s enough fuel to drive it on and off the transport truck without worrying about running out.

7. Remove outside accessories

Any extras on your vehicle’s exterior can be damaged during car shipping. Protect your car—and expensive accessories—by removing or securing them before your car shipment. These items include:

  • Removable ski and bike racks
  • Rooftop boxes and luggage racks
  • Retractable antennas
  • Custom spoilers

8. Lock up, but leave the keys

Your car will need to be driven onto the auto transporter for loading (presuming your vehicle is in working order), but then you can lock the vehicle before shipment for extra insurance against theft.

However, your auto transport driver may need a set of keys to your vehicle in case it needs to be moved or driven off the transporter. If you don’t have a spare set, now’s a good time to make one. Don’t give the transport driver your only set of keys.

9. Sign the bill of lading and wave buh-bye

Now that your car is clean and ready for shipment, it’s time to get legal. The auto transport driver will call you before arrival to ensure you’re home and the vehicle is ready to go (unless you’ve skipped out on door-to-door shipping and opted to drop off the vehicle instead).

You or another responsible adult must be present when the driver arrives for the vehicle inspection and for signing the bill of lading. This is a legal contract between you and the car shipment company, and it acts as both a receipt and legal protection for your auto shipment.

Here’s what your bill of lading covers:

  • Where your vehicle is being shipped from and to
  • Condition of your vehicle at pickup
  • Any mechanical or special issues with your vehicle

We know no one reads the contract, but we advise you to READ THE CONTRACT before signing. It saves headaches and hassle while assuring you and your vehicle are legally protected. You can also ask questions about terms or payment (for example, What forms of payment do you accept? and When can I expect my car to be delivered?).

Once your car is loaded and the bill of lading is signed, that’s it! Finish packing your bags and travel to your new home. When your car arrives at your new place, you’ll perform a similar inspection and signing procedure with the driver.

Recommended resources

Shipping your car can be complicated, but with a little know-how and some expert advice, the whole process becomes simpler. Review these resources for more car shipping assistance.

About Jenny Willden

Jenny Willden
Jenny’s been writing stories since she first picked up a pencil and is lucky to call it her profession. She’s lived in five U.S. states (and counting) and uses her mishaps to help you master your next move.