Tips for How to Identify a Car Shipping Scam

Kurt Manwaring
Researcher & Writer
Read More
Published on October 01, 2021
9 min read

At a glance

You could lose hundreds of dollars if you don’t know how to identify a car shipping scam. It’s one of the biggest reasons why Move.org spends so much time carefully vetting the best car shipping companies. There are many different warning signs to look for, such as companies that offer delayed, vague, or deceptive pricing information. You also want to watch out for overzealous companies and those that don’t provide proper credentials.

To help you navigate the industry, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular car transport scams. From the costly bait-and-switch to the easy-avoidable deposit trick, we’ll walk you through some of the most common vehicle shipping scams and teach you how to steer clear of fraudsters.

10 warning signs of auto transport scams


The whole picture

1. Bait-and-switch

The car shipping bait-and-switch scam can cost you hundreds of dollars and lead to a miserable experience. Here’s how it works. A car shipping service gives you a super low rate that makes you feel like you found a bargain. But then, when it’s time to pay, the auto transporter tells you that the first number was only a quote, and your actual price is much higher. Instead of saving hundreds of dollars, you often end up paying that much extra.

Look at these sample quotes and see what stands out.

Watch out for lowball car shipping quotes

Sample company
Sample quote
Company A$540
Company B$840
Company C$880
Company D$910

In this example, three of the four companies have quotes within about $100 of each other. Company A, however, beats the nearest-priced competitor by $300. That’s the company you’d probably want if you’re buying a used car—but not if you’re shipping a motorcycle, car, truck or SUV.

Prices that seem too good to be true are red flags. It’s one reason why we ding companies that quote us prices significantly below the industry average. We know that those prices won’t hold up and don’t accurately represent what customers should expect.

The easiest way to avoid the bait-and-switch scam is to do your homework. Get three or four quotes and pick the lowest one that doesn’t seem out of place. “The reason this scam is so successful is that customers don’t understand the auto transportation process or the role that brokers play,” says Mark Scholl, vice president of retail sales and operations at Montway Auto Transport. “If you know about the bait-and-switch from the beginning, it’s easy to run the other way when you see extremely low prices.”

Money
What’s the cheapest way to ship my car?

The cheapest way to ship your car is to pick an affordable company. Aside from that, you can lower costs by getting multiple quotes, choosing open transport, and placing an early reservation.

2. Bad reviews

Poor customer reviews are an easy way to identify potential vehicle shipping scams. If you see customers mention any scams on this list, you can feel confident walking away. We recommend looking for a company with an average customer review rating at least as high as the industry average (4.6 out of 5 stars). Additionally, seek an auto shipping company with praiseworthy reviews mentioning low prices, excellent customer service, or professional drivers.

“Read some online reviews before booking a transport company,” Scholl says. “You’ll get a quick sense for whether you’re dealing with a reputable company just from reading what others have said.”

3. Pricing crickets

Watch out for what we call “pricing crickets”—or the sound of crickets chirping when you ask specific pricing questions. It’s a sign of a potential scam artist is a broker who dodges your questions about what happens if vehicle transport prices go up.

“Most companies will not provide straightforward answers to these questions, which is a huge red flag,” said Tim D., director of sales at Sherpa Auto Transport. It usually means that your price isn’t going to hold up.

Ask the transport company what happens if they can’t find a carrier at the quoted price. If the broker says that sort of thing never happens, it’s a sign that you’re probably not working with a legitimate company.

Heads Up
Price Lock Promise

Sherpa Auto Transport guarantees its price up to $300. It’s one of the best auto transport features we’ve seen.

4. Vague broker fees

A simple way to recognize a potential car shipping scam is if the auto transport company won’t tell you its broker fee. You almost always work with two companies when shipping your vehicle: a broker that places the reservation and a carrier that transports your car. Brokers can’t make money unless they charge a fee, so it’s a red flag if they suggest otherwise.

“If a company doesn’t disclose what their broker fee is, then they will likely lowball carriers,” says John Byler, a Ship a Car Direct representative. That can result in long delays because the broker must wait around, hoping that a carrier will accept your job at a razor-thin profit margin.

Info Box
What’s the difference between a broker and carrier?

Many things distinguish brokers from carriers, such as price, availability, customer service, reputation, and insurance requirements.

5. Deposits

Car shipping deposits are made-up charges that you never get back. Legitimate brokers collect their fees only after your car has been delivered. If the company requires a non-refundable fee up front, it puts you in a difficult position when the cost goes up.

Deposits are one of the most expensive car shipping scams. They’re expensive because totals often reach upwards of $200. Do you eat the $200 deposit and start over with another broker? Or do you suck it up and accept the car shipping company’s new price?

This is an especially embarrassing scam because it usually only works on people who don’t understand the auto transport industry. It's a lot more fun to watch grifters work their magic in the movies than it is to be a victim of a deposit scammer in real life.

It’s a terrible scam. “We even hear of customers paying an auto transport company only to never hear from them again,” said Taylor K., director of operations and customer success at Sherpa Auto Transport.

Take our advice and run the other way if a car shipping company asks you for a deposit.

Exclamation
Watch out for untraceable wire transfers

Avoid companies that request payment via services like Western Union that can’t be traced. There’s nothing you can do if your money goes missing.

6. Desperate brokers

Beware of car shipping brokers that seem desperate to make a sale. It’s kind of like dating: you want someone who’s attractive and into you, but not necessarily someone who makes promises they can’t keep or who come across as super needy.

“Customers call all the time saying a broker keeps texting, calling, and emailing them,” says Mike Bachmann, a representative with Ship a Car Direct. “If a broker has time to call you every 10 minutes, that broker is clearly not busy transporting cars for customers.”

It’s difficult to pin down precisely what makes a desperate broker, so we recommend using your instincts. If you get a desperate vibe, find another transport company.

7. Random drivers

It’s the sign of a potential scam if you get a call from random drivers saying they’re coming to pick up your vehicle. You shouldn’t hand over your keys to a driver until the broker gives you the carrier’s name and number. At best, a random carrier is going to charge you an arm and a leg. At worst, your car could disappear into thin air.

Similarly, avoid brokers that don’t provide the trucking company’s information. “Beware when a broker tells the customer they have a carrier but don’t actually share the carrier’s name or phone number,” says Byler. “They’re just delaying while searching for a carrier. Then a day or two later, they’ll say the carrier’s truck broke down, and now they need more time.”

Avoid these car shipping scams by asking the broker for your carrier’s information. And under no circumstances should you give your vehicle to a driver who randomly calls you.

8. Deceptive texts

Another car shipping scam occurs when a broker texts you to say that it has a truck in your area. Industry leaders tell us that this is an increasingly common ploy scammers use to suck you into one or more of the pitfalls we’ve discussed. The goal is to get your business—and then take advantage of you.

“When a broker tells you that it has ‘a truck in your area,’ it doesn’t,” says Matt Salzberg, a representative at Ship a Car Direct.

9. No credentials

Watch out for car shipping companies that don’t post their bona fides online. In particular, the broker should post a US Department of Transportation (USDOT) number and motor carrier (MC) number on its website. These numbers are similar to your license plate and driver's license numbers. The federal government uses them to track the company’s safety record as well as customer complaints.

“If a company doesn’t display its MC and USDOT number, it’s likely a scam,” says Taylor K. at Sherpa. “It’s also a concern if a company doesn’t include its Terms and Conditions online.”

Pin
Find a scam in less than 10 seconds

Do a CTRL-F search on the car shipping company’s home page for “MC” or “USDOT.” If you get zero results, you may be dealing with a fraudster.

10. No background checks

Watch out for brokers that don’t conduct thorough background checks on their carriers. The less a company researches potential drivers, the more likely you will end up with unsafe and expensive carriers. You’ll rarely find this information online. So, you want to ask the broker what kind of background checks it does on potential drivers. Move.org also conducts behind-the-scenes interviews for our car shipping reviews that help us call out companies that go the extra mile in this area.

Excellent car shipping companies verify a carrier’s MC number, USDOT number, and insurance status. They also usually take several additional steps:

  • Crash history. Top-notch brokers carefully examine each carrier’s record to weed out accident-prone drivers.
  • Best driver percentage. The best car shipping companies review statistics available to brokers that rate carriers from 0–100% and then consider only the top 5% of drivers. We’ve even found one company (American Auto Shipping) that won’t use carriers unless they score 98% or higher.
  • In-house database. The best transport companies also keep internal statistics rating each driver’s performance. This allows them to sever ties with companies that customers complain about—and keep using ones that customers like.
Badge Industry Leader
Which companies have the best background checks?

It’s not a coincidence this article is filled with quotes from Montway and Sherpa Auto Transport. No other company can match their exhaustive vetting.


Recap

Car shipping scams can cost you hundreds of dollars and even result in stolen vehicles. Thankfully, it’s easy to avoid most fraudsters if you know what to look for. We’ve put together a list of 10 tips and warning signs to help you avoid auto transport scams:

  1. Bait-and-switch. Some companies draw you in with a low rate and then “switch” it with a much higher final price. Learn about the industry and stay away from prices that seem too good to be true.
  2. Bad reviews. You can avoid many scams by doing your due diligence. Spend five minutes reading reviews, and don’t use a company if customers call out any of the scams in this article.
  3. Pricing crickets. Sometimes you’ll hear figurative crickets chirping when you ask a broker what happens if it can’t find a carrier at the quoted price. Stay away from companies that aren’t straightforward with you about how car transport pricing works.
  4. Vague broker fees. A company should always be able to tell you what its broker fee is. Those that don’t will likely lowball carriers which can result in unexpectedly high prices and extra-long delays.
  5. Deposits. Reputable car shipping companies don’t charge deposits. It's that simple.
  6. Desperate brokers. Companies that constantly call, text, or email you usually need your business more than you need them. Industry insiders suggest desperate brokers are those most likely to engage in car shipping scams.
  7. Random drivers. The broker should always give you the name and number of your driver. Never hand over your keys to a random carrier that calls you to say it’s been assigned to ship your car.
  8. Deceptive texts. One of the fastest-growing scams is a text message that says there’s a “truck in your area.” Typically, you’ll find you “just missed it” when you call back and that the broker needs to charge you a higher amount to get the job done. Don’t fall for it.
  9. No credentials. Every broker should list its MC number and USDOT number on the company’s website. No exceptions.
  10. No background checks. Watch out for brokers that don’t do exhaustive background checks on potential drivers. You want a company that looks at driver histories, verifies insurance information, and uses only the top 5% of carriers.

Car shipping scams FAQ

How can I identify a potential car shipping scam?

You can identify a potential car shipping scam by learning about the transport industry. Learn about individual companies and watch out for brokers that ask for money up front, have terrible customer service, or don’t accept credit cards.

What are the characteristics of auto transport companies to avoid?

The characteristics of auto transport companies to avoid include brokers that require deposits, have rates well below the industry average, or seem desperate for your business. Each of these traits is a warning sign of potential car shipping scams.

What does MC number stand for?

MC number stands for motor carrier number. Every car transport company authorized to ship a vehicle across state lines receives a unique MC number that the government can use to track safety and regulatory information. Your car shipping broker should display its MC number on the company’s website.

Should I pay a car shipping company via escrow?

No, you should not pay a car shipping company via escrow. It’s a sign of a fake car shipping company running an escrow scam. Once buyers pay via escrow, they usually discover that the company doesn’t exist and can’t get their money back.

Where can I find car delivery scam reports?

You can find car delivery scam reports by Googling terms such as “auto transport scams” and “fake car shipping companies.” In addition, you can arm yourself against potential scams by reading Move.org and learning about the vehicle shipping industry.


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.