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