So you’re planning a cross-country move and just realized you’ve got to figure out how you’ll ship your car. Don’t panic—we’ve got you covered! Shipping a car is one of the easiest ways to take vehicle logistics off your hands during a move. From picking a reliable car shipping company to preparing your car for shipment, we’ll break down the car shipping process from start to finish:
How to Ship A Car
Step 1: Do your research
The first step in hiring any mover should be to do some research and “interview” multiple companies. In other words, you should feel comfortable asking questions and getting quotes from more than one company to make sure you’re getting the fairest price. We’d also recommend reading several of each companies’ customer reviews, checking for their customer ratings across different platforms, and making sure they’re currently licensed by the FMCSA.
Step 2: Pick a reliable shipper
We know that trying to find a car shipping company can be complicated if you don’t know where to start. And if you’ve got the time, we recommend reading our list of the best car shipping companies. Otherwise, (and aside from reading customer reviews) we strongly suggest that you make sure the company has been around for some time, offers guaranteed rates, and provides additional transit insurance within the scope of their services. We do not recommend using auto transport brokers.
We don’t all have extra space in our budget to pay for car shipping, but if you still need to get your car to the other side of the country, you can opt for towing or driving it yourself. However, keep in mind that once you factor in the cost of gas, hotels, and food—you might actually break even. Plus, driving a car means you will have put more wear and tear on your vehicle once it’s reached its final destination.
Step 3: Choose a shipping method
The most common way to ship a car across the country is by truck, but there are some circumstances where you may be able to ship your vehicle by rail (train) or air (plane). Because those last two options are usually expensive and difficult to find, we’ll be focusing on shipping methods available by truck:
- Using an open trailer. If you’ve seen those large trucks carrying two rows of cars while driving on the highway, you’ve seen an open trailer. Drivers load vehicles by driving them onto trailers and securing them, similar to securing vehicles on a tow truck.
- Using an enclosed trailer. Enclosed trailers are almost identical to open trailers, aside from the fact that walls secure them on all sides. While a pricier choice in most cases, it’s also the option that will pose the least risk for damage from road debris or weather.
Remember: in an ideal world, you should receive quotes from multiple companies and for both open and closed trailer options to make sure you’re getting the best pricing for your move.
It probably doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize you can’t ship your car by truck if you’re moving across the pond. In this case, your options will be limited to shipping by air (very expensive) or sea—which is most common. Aside from the shipping cost, though, you’ll need to factor in customs and import tax. And that’s just the beginning. We’ve got a lot more information on international car shipping if you’re in need.
Step 4: Schedule your shipment (early)
The best time to schedule your car shipment is generally two to four weeks before you plan to move. And as with hiring professional movers, we suggest that you try to avoid moving during peak season—which in this case is between April (spring) and September (fall). This is because most people tend to move during this timeframe, making it harder for companies to accommodate you. Plus, peak season means higher prices. A few other money-saving tips?
- Consider scheduling your car for pickup on a different day than the pickup for your household belongings. In other words, we don’t recommend moving your house and car on the same day (so you can focus on one service at a time).
- Consider flexible pickup and delivery dates when booking. Guaranteed delivery windows generally come at a higher price…so if you can stand to be without your car for a bit longer than comfortable, you may save yourself a few hundred dollars.
- If you have two cars, consider shipping the smaller one. Most car shipping quotes are determined by the size and weight of the car along with the travel distance. And smaller vehicles = smaller fees.
While it may not be the most economical option, hiring a professional to drive your car cross-country is a great way to manage your moving timeline—because you don’t have to wait for a commercial driver to make stops along the way to unload other vehicles. Plus, if you go this route, you can even store and ship certain things inside your vehicle (at your own risk). And if you hire a friend or family member to do the job, you’ll save even more money. Just make sure your insurance covers the driver, and your driver has experience driving long distances and knows what to do in emergencies.
Step 5: Get a signed contract
Any legitimate automobile carrier should be able to provide a contract listing the quoted price, estimated delivery date, cancellation policies or fees, claims process information, and transit insurance (if applicable).
If you do not see this information on your contract or agree with it, we suggest you contact your auto shipper and ask for corrections before signing anything.
Step 6: Prepare your car for shipment
While it’s nobody’s job to regulate how clean you keep your car, having a clean vehicle (inside and out) can make the pre- and post-shipment inspections go by much faster.
Additionally (and we hate to be the bearer of bad news), but we’d like to remind you that most auto shipping companies do not allow customers to ship more than 100 pounds of personal belongings with their vehicles. So if you were hoping for a little extra storage room, you might be disappointed. And if you do decide to send personal items with your vehicle, here are a few things you’ll need to consider:
- Adding personal items will increase the overall weight of your vehicle, which could affect your final pricing.
- While it is legal, many companies warn that shipping your belongings inside of the car poses a higher risk of theft or damage–especially if you’re shipping using an open trailer.
- If you must send items with your car, most companies will request that everything fits securely (to limit shifting during transport), and below the window line (to discourage theft).
Finally, most companies will require that you disable your vehicle’s alarm system and remove any accessories like bike racks and custom spoilers. Your auto transporter won’t want to be responsible for them getting damaged.
Step 7: Inspect your vehicle
When the driver arrives to pick up your car, they arrive with a piece of paperwork called a Bill of Loading. This document is proof the driver picked up your vehicle. However, it is also where you and the driver will document any existing damage, so it can be used for comparison when your car arrives for delivery. Performing a vehicle inspection before pickup and after delivery is the best way to look out for damages that may occur during transit. This will also make the claims process a whole lot easier, if you need it.
Shipping a car can feel overwhelming while planning a cross-country move. But as long as you research and hire a reputable car shipping company at least a month before move day, you’ll be able to pick the right shipping method before signing your contract and preparing for your vehicle’s pickup and delivery.
Frequently asked questions
How much does it cost to ship a car?
According to our research, on average, it costs about $1,290 to ship a car. However, we should remind you that this is a ballpark estimate. The price to ship your vehicle will depend on its size, how far you’ll be traveling, whether you choose an open or enclosed shipping method, and the time of year.
What is the cheapest way to ship my car?
The cheapest way to ship your car is by using an open auto transport method, meaning the vehicle will travel on a wall-less trailer exposed to the elements. In general, choosing this option will save you about $400. We also recommend getting more than one quote to make sure you’re getting the best pricing.
Is it worth it to ship my car?
It could be! Once you factor in the price of gas, lodging, and food during a cross-country trip, you may find that shipping your car will actually break even—or even save you money. Especially if you consider that your car won’t have the added mileage from driving it thousands of miles across the country.
How far in advance should I book my car shipment?
You should book your car shipment at least two to four weeks before you plan to move. Not only will this help ensure availability on your preferred move dates, but you’ll also receive the best pricing this way.
How long does it take to ship a car?
Our research indicates that most vehicles arrive within 7-16 days when the shipper picks them up. And most professional auto shipping companies offer guaranteed delivery within two weeks.