6 steps to transport your car cross country
There are several ways to get your car from one side of the country to the other. Before you commit to an auto transport company, make sure you don’t overlook your other options.
Many people ship their cars because they don’t want to drive them—but that’s still an option you can consider. The costs for driving your car are gas, food, and lodging (if it takes more than one day). If you hire a car transport company, you’re paying for a lot more:
- Gas. A semi-truck typically gets only 6.5 miles per gallon.1
- Driver. Someone has to pick up your car and drive the car carrier.
- Customer service. Company employees give you a car shipping quote, schedule your car shipment, and answer your questions.
- Company expenses. The vehicle transport company has to make enough money to support its entire staff, pay licensing fees, and purchase equipment like computers.
Car shipping is often worth the price if you’re going more than 500 miles (the max you should drive in one day).
Tow your car behind a rental truck
You’ve probably seen a U-Haul truck on the freeway towing a car behind it. Most cars can be transported on either a car trailer or tow dolly (a mini-trailer with only two wheels). Both options are cheaper than professional cross-country vehicle shipping.
Tow dolly vs. car shipping costs
|Auto transport company
Data as of 3/26/2020. Prices may vary by location and are subject to change. Tow dolly and vehicle trailer costs are based on U-Haul quotes.
Towing your car cross country is cheaper than using a car shipping company, but it’s not nearly as convenient—and there are safety issues to consider (it’s tricky towing a car).
You can sell your car if you don’t have the time or money to drive or tow it. There isn’t much work involved in selling your car these days (thanks, internet), and you can put the cash toward moving expenses—or a replacement vehicle.
Selling your car is a drastic step, so we recommend it mainly if you don’t have the money to transport it, or if you’re already thinking about getting a new car.
2. Compare car shipping quotes
Car transport prices tend to fluctuate; they change from day to day based on things like distance, geography, car condition, and vehicle transport type. The difference between the least and most expensive car shipping companies for a cross-country trip is more than $300, so it’s a good idea to get multiple quotes.
What’s the difference between open transport and enclosed transport?
You can ship your vehicle across the country on open transport or enclosed transport. Though an open carrier is cheaper, it means that your car will be squeezed alongside up to 10 other vehicles and exposed to the weather. An enclosed carrier has four walls and carries fewer cars, which is why it costs about 60% more than an open carrier.
Open carriers make up almost all cross-country transports. Consider an enclosed carrier if you have a classic car or luxury vehicle.
Does your transport quote seem too high?
Ask for an open carrier. An enclosed carrier costs about 60% more (it’s mainly for luxury vehicles), so it’s important to make sure you’re not accidentally paying for a premium service.
How much does it cost to ship a car cross country?
It costs about $1,270 to ship a car cross country (2,750 miles). The shipping cost goes down if you use open transport instead of enclosed transport. Prices are also lower if you’re not hitching a ride across all of Route 66.
Cross-country car shipping costs
Data as of 5/13/2020. Average cost calculated by comparing costs for three car sizes. Offers and availability may vary and are subject to change.
These numbers give you a fair estimate, but we recommend getting quotes from those included on our Best Car Shipping Companies list to find the cheapest option.
Plan ahead. The price goes down if you give the shipping company a couple of weeks of notice to deliver your car.
After you get several quotes, pick the car shipping company that best fits your needs. Price is important, of course, but you also want to consider things like customer service and delivery time.
It’s essential to get several quotes so you can find the lowest price. For example, Bargain Auto Transport typically has the lowest rates for shipping your car across the country, while American Auto Shipping is cheaper for short-distance transports. Make a list of all your specific transport needs and compare rates to determine the lowest price.
Want the lowest rates for cross-country shipping?
Some car shipping companies are faster than others. If you ask about shipping timelines, you can compare estimates just like you do for pricing. The average delivery time for a cross-country shipment is nine days, but United Routes and Guardian Auto Transport can get it done three days faster.
Excellent customer service
You should have a good sense of a company’s customer service after calling for quotes, but make sure to take a few minutes to check online reviews too. You don’t want to get stuck with long hold times, rude customer service reps, or unprofessional drivers.
Pay special attention to a few companies with excellent reviews:
Looking for a multiple vehicle discount?
You can get discounts from our best car shipping companies if you’re shipping multiple cars across the country.
4. Prepare your car for pickup
The auto transport service will pick up your car when it’s ready for shipment. The driver will load your car onto the truck and then hit the road. Before you wave goodbye, knock out some important items on your car shipping checklist:
- Ensure your car is driveable. Your car needs to be driveable. Be sure to check your tires and battery. And top off your oil and fluids.
- Test your emergency brake. Car shipping companies won’t take your car if it doesn’t work.
- Make sure your gas tank is less than one quarter full. The more gas your car has, the more it weighs (the more it costs to transport it).
- Remove attachments. Get rid of bike racks, antennas, and anything else that could fall off or break during shipment.
- Wash your car. It’s easier to identify damage if your car is clean, which is why this is a critical step in getting your car ready to ship.
- Disable your alarm. It can annoy your driver if it goes off.
- Deactivate your electronic toll pass. You still get charged for tolls if your device is on.
5. Select insurance coverage
Shipping companies have impressive safety records, but accidents happen. You want to have adequate insurance coverage just in case.
All transport companies are required to carry basic insurance. However, some offer extra free coverage. We’re looking at you, Montway Auto Transport ($250K in additional coverage) and Ship a Car Direct ($500 gap coverage).
Car shipping companies with supplemental insurance
A few companies like Amerifreight and Diesel Auto Express offer online GPS tracking, but most companies can tell you where your vehicle is if you call. Ship a Car Direct’s gap coverage means the company pays $500 toward your deductible if your insurance company denies your claim.
6. Check for damage upon delivery
Your car isn’t likely to get damaged—but you need to look and make sure. There’s a document called a bill of lading that describes any potential damage. The car shipping companies want you to sign the document at pickup so you can’t claim preexisting damage as their fault.
But your signature on the bill of lading is important at the time of delivery too. If you don’t document the damage (take pictures and write a description), then the car shipping company can say it’s not their fault. And that makes it nearly impossible to file an insurance claim.
We’ve put together an auto transport insurance guide to walk you through the process—and break down the big words insurance companies use.