How Does Car Shipping Pricing Work?

Kurt Manwaring
Researcher & Writer
Read More
Published on September 15, 2021
6 min read

At a glance

Car shipping pricing is surprisingly complicated—even if you use one of the best car shipping companies. But understanding a few basic concepts can ease your frustration and lower your price.

For example, car shipping quotes aren’t guaranteed. Your prices are affected by hundreds of variables like transport type, vehicle size, and an auction-like process in which drivers bid on your shipment. Deposits aren’t refundable—and they’re typically required by only unreputable companies. The best ones share common traits like reasonable prices, positive customer reviews, and extra insurance.

5 things to know about car shipping pricing

The whole picture

Quotes aren’t guaranteed

The most important thing to know about how car shipping pricing works is that your quotes aren’t guaranteed. They’re initial estimates rather than final prices. And unfortunately, the forecasts usually aren’t very accurate. It’s not uncommon for your final bill to be anywhere from 25%–50% higher than your first quote. That means the average auto transport could be up to $650 more than you’re expecting.

There are some exceptions—but they’re rare. We’ve found only three companies that stick closely to their original quotes: American Auto Shipping, Sherpa Auto Transport, and Montway Auto Transport.

Car shipping companies with accurate quotes

Company
Pricing
Learn more
Fully guaranteed quotes
Quotes guaranteed up to $300
Highly accurate pricing calculator

Lots of things affect price

There are hundreds of variables that affect your car shipping price. Some companies are better than others at sorting the details and predicting final costs. However, nearly all transport brokers say that a few big-ticket items dramatically increase your price:

  • Enclosed transport. Classic car owners love enclosed shipping because it keeps their vehicles safe. But that protection comes at a cost. Enclosed transport is about 40% more expensive than open transport—or an extra $420 for the average car transport.
  • Cross-country trips. Truck drivers feel the sticker shock of high gas prices as much as you do. Move.org’s analysis of nearly 700 car shipping quotes suggests that you’ll pay an extra $180 for each additional 500 miles. The same truck driver that charges $600 to ship your car less than 500 miles wants about $1,500 to go across the country.
  • Large vehicles. Size matters. Each time you go up a vehicle size (from a car to a truck to an SUV), you can expect to pay an additional $150.
  • Short-notice reservations. It pays to plan ahead. One example we’ve scrutinized is shocking. It’s also likely typical based on our conversations with industry leaders. A customer who gave only 24 hours notice saw a price increase of $1,740 for two vehicles compared to the same shipment with a month’s notice. That’s one thousand seven hundred and forty dollars.

Drivers bid on your shipment

Transport truck drivers affect your price by bidding on your shipment. They compete against each other in a process like an auction—except the price goes down over time. For example, the first car carrier might say it's willing to ship your car for $1,100. Then another comes along and says it could do the job for $1,075. And so on, until you end up with a driver that might transport your vehicle for only $850.

The bidding process reveals two insights with some incredible benefits:

  • Less stress. It’s hard to swallow a final bill that’s hundreds of dollars more expensive than you expected. Knowing up front that your ultimate price is likely to be higher means fewer surprises—and less stress. It also helps you feel more in control when car shipping brokers talk about your initial quote. Once you know how the sausage is made, there’s a whole different feel to the conversation.
  • Less money. Since carriers bid against each other for your car shipment, you can save money by giving the car shipping broker a couple of weeks to let the process play out. Most auto transport companies we’ve talked to say that prices usually bottom out at around the two-week mark.
Money
What is the average car delivery service cost?

The average car delivery service cost is approximately $1,290. Automobile shipping rates vary depending on factors such as transport type, distance, and seasonality.

Deposits aren’t refundable

Once you pay a car shipping deposit, the money is usually gone for good. And less reputable companies have been known to prey on your ignorance to make a buck. Consider the bait-and-switch, one of the most popular car shipping scams.

Here’s how it works.

A sketchy transport company might attract you with a price that is $400 lower than everywhere else but ask for a $200 deposit. You might get a little red in the face when your final bill turns out to be $400 more expensive. But customers often pay the extra money in these situations because they don’t want to forfeit a $200 deposit and start all over with another company.

There’s good news, though. All you have to do is follow one single tip: if a company asks for a deposit, run the other way. A deposit-free reservation is one trait that all of the best car shipping companies have in common.

Exclamation
Don’t pay vehicle shipping deposits

The most reliable auto transporters don’t charge car shipment deposits. These extra fees are red flags that unnecessarily increase your car shipping cost.

Some companies are better than others

There are thousands of car shipping companies you can choose from. You don’t need to feel intimidated, though. Our research suggests there are a handful of companies that stand head and shoulders above the competition. Each of them shares a few common traits:

  • Low prices or binding quotes. The best car shipping companies have low prices that hold up over time—or some form of guaranteed quotes. The best of the best have a combination of both.
  • Long company history. Industry insiders sometimes refer to car shipping as the Wild West—a place with few rules and lots of old-fashioned scam artists. These low-quality companies often flame out within a year or two, so you should value companies that have been around for a long time.
  • Extra insurance. Every carrier must possess basic liability insurance. However, the best brokers provide additional car shipping insurance benefits such as cash towards your deductible or an internal insurance department to help you file a claim.
  • Positive customer reviews. No tutorial (not even this one) is an adequate substitute for reading customer reviews. We’ve read hundreds of them—and crunched the numbers on more than one hundred thousand reviews. Look for a car shipping company with an average rating of at least 4.6 out of 5 stars, with customer reviews that rarely mention things like unexpected fees, late deliveries, or damaged vehicles.

We looked for these qualities in some of the nation’s largest transport brokers and found the five companies with the best overall scores. At the top of the list is Montway Auto Transport. No other car shipping company has a better history of reasonable prices and positive customer reviews.

Top-rated auto transport companies

Company
Move.org rating (out of 5)
Top features
Learn More
4.7Best overall
4.6Best overall
4.6Guaranteed rates
4.1Customer satisfaction
4.1Online shopping

Recap

The best car shipping companies are known for giving customers low rates. However, understanding five key concepts about how car shipping works can help you save even more:

  1. Prices aren’t guaranteed. Your initial quote is an estimate rather than a final price. When the bill comes due, your price tag could be anywhere from 25%–50% higher than your quote.
  2. Lots of things affect prices. Hundreds of variables affect your price, but the biggest ones are enclosed carriers, cross-country trips, large vehicles, and short-notice reservations.
  3. Carriers bid on your shipment. Truck drivers compete against each other to gain your business. Letting them duke it out for a couple of weeks often results in substantially lower prices.
  4. Deposits aren’t refundable. Car shipping deposits often run upwards of $200. The easiest way to avoid getting caught in bait-and-switch scams is to avoid brokers that charge deposits.
  5. Some companies are better than others. Look for car shipping companies with reasonable prices, long company histories, extra insurance, and positive customer reviews.
Bullhorn
Lower your car shipping cost

You can significantly decrease your vehicle shipping price by using an open transport carrier, letting auto shippers bid on your job for several weeks, and making deposit-free reservations.


Car shipping pricing FAQ

What should I look for in an auto shipping company?

You should look for trust signals in an auto shipping company. Some of the best indicators of an excellent auto transport company are reasonable prices, additional insurance, positive customer reviews, and deposit-free reservations.

How much are automobile shipping rates for open transport?

Automobile shipping rates for open transport are approximately $1,080, according to Move.org. Nearly all customers use open transport for shipping cars because it’s about 30% cheaper than the car shipping cost for enclosed transport.

How do car shipping companies work?

Car shipping companies work by picking up your vehicle and transporting it to your destination. The best car shippers have a combination of low prices, positive reviews, and quality perks.

What is a destination charge?

A destination charge is a fee assessed by auto dealers to help cover the cost of car transport from the manufacturer to the dealership. The destination charge can be seen as a separate line item on a vehicle’s window sticker.


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.