Should You Ship Your Car or Tow It Behind Your Moving Truck?

At a glance

If you’re moving a long distance and you have a car, you have several options to get it to your new home.

In this guide, we’ll focus on the costs and benefits of shipping vs. towing. While towing your vehicle yourself can save you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars, the convenience and safety of a professional shipping service is well worth the money if you can afford it.

Keep reading to learn how DIY vehicle towing compares to professional auto shipment.

Cost of towing vs. shipping your car when you move

Method504 miles967 miles2,668 miles
Shipping a 2014 Ford Focus$614$924$1,259
Tow dolly rental$89$231$466
Vehicle trailer rental$119$462$932
Method
Shipping a 2014 Ford Focus
Tow dolly rental
Vehicle trailer rental
504 miles 967 miles 2,668 miles
$614 $924 $1,259
$89 $231 $466
$119 $462 $932

Data as of 3/26/2020. Prices subject to change. 2,668-mile prices calculated for car transport from Los Angeles, CA, to Washington, DC. 967-mile prices calculated for car transport from Chicago, IL, to Dallas, TX. 504-mile prices calculated for car transport from Boise, ID, to Seattle, WA. Tow dolly and vehicle trailer rentals are based on U-Haul quotes.

Winner: Towing

There’s no two ways about it. Renting a tow dolly or vehicle trailer likely costs less than half as much as shipping a car. While there are other factors to consider, towing your car yourself is the cheapest way to get your car to your new home, and it’s the clear winner if budget is your number one concern.

How much does it cost to ship a car?

Car make/model504 miles967 miles2,668 miles
2014 Ford Focus$704$703$1,023
2008 Dodge Charger$626$817$1,023
2012 Chevrolet Silverado$827$850$1,257
2011 Toyota Highlander$669$813$1,134
Car make/model
2014 Ford Focus
2008 Dodge Charger
2012 Chevrolet Silverado
2011 Toyota Highlander
504 miles 967 miles 2,668 miles
$704 $703 $1,023
$626 $817 $1,023
$827 $850 $1,257
$669 $813 $1,134

Data as of 3/26/2020. Prices subject to change. 2,668-mile prices calculated for car transport from Los Angeles, CA, to Washington, DC. 967-mile prices calculated for car transport from Chicago, IL, to Dallas, TX. 504-mile prices calculated for car transport from Boise, ID, to Seattle, WA. Tow dolly and vehicle trailer rentals are based on U-Haul quotes.

We won’t mince words. Shipping your car is expensive—it’ll likely cost between $300 and $2,000 (or higher, in some cases). It doesn’t cost nearly as much as a moving service, but professional auto shipment can still eat up a significant portion of your moving budget.

That said, factors like move distance, vehicle size, shipping method, and seasonality will all make your shipment rate at least slightly different from what we’ve listed.

To learn more about vehicle transportation rates, read our guide to car shipping prices. We also recommend getting a quick ballpark estimate from uShip.

Get money

Want to save some money on your auto shipment?

Want to save some money on your auto shipment?

Auto transportation will never be cheap, but here are a few ways to make it a little more budget-friendly:

  • Get multiple quotes.
  • Choose open shipping.
  • Move your car in the off-season (usually between September and May).

If you want more money-saving tips, read our guide about the cheapest ways to ship a car.

How much does it cost to tow a car?

If you decide to tow your car behind your moving truck, you’ll likely need to rent a vehicle trailer or dolly. Depending on how far you need to drive, renting a dolly can cost anywhere between $80 and $500 for a move over 500 miles. Renting a trailer for similar distances can cost nearly double.

Even if you own a vehicle trailer, you probably can’t use it. Most moving truck companies won’t let you tow your own trailer behind their trucks.

Tow dolly prices

Company504 miles967 miles2,668 miles
U-Haul$89$231$466
Company
U-Haul
504 miles 967 miles 2,668 miles
$89 $231 $466

Data as of 3/26/2020. Prices subject to change. 2,668-mile prices calculated for moves from Los Angeles, CA, to Washington, DC. 967-mile prices calculated for moves from Chicago, IL, to Dallas, TX. 504-mile prices calculated for moves from Boise, ID, to Seattle, WA.

Car transport trailer prices

Company504 miles967 miles2,668 miles
U-Haul$119$462$932
Company
U-Haul
504 miles 967 miles 2,668 miles
$119 $462 $932

Data as of 3/26/2020. Prices subject to change. 2,668-mile prices calculated for moves from Los Angeles, CA, to Washington, DC. 967-mile prices calculated for moves from Chicago, IL, to Dallas, TX. 504-mile prices calculated for moves from Boise, ID, to Seattle, WA.

Trailers vs. dollies

Vehicle trailers and tow dollies are both used to haul cars long distances, but they have a few key differences:

  • Design
  • Maximum load capacity
  • Security features
Design differences

Tow dollies hold your car by its front wheels, while the back wheels run on the open road like they would if you were driving it. On a vehicle trailer, all four tires rest on the trailer. This is an important difference because with a tow dolly, you still put mileage on two of your car’s tires. If you want to keep those miles off your tires, rent a trailer.

Weight capacities

Trailers can usually carry more weight than dollies. U-Haul’s tow dollies and trailers have the following maximum weight capacities: 1,2

  • 3,450 lbs. when towing a front-wheel drive vehicle (dollies)
  • 3,900 lbs. when towing a rear-wheel drive vehicle (dollies)
  • 5,290 lbs. (trailers)

A tow dolly should be fine for anything smaller than a Nissan Altima (a sedan). If you have an SUV or a 4×4 truck, though, you’ll need to get a trailer.

Security features

U-Haul’s tow dollies have tire straps and vehicle security chains. These should be enough to secure your car on the dolly, but U-Haul’s trailers offer one extra security feature that makes them a little safer: automatic brakes.

What it all means

If you have a bigger car to tow or you want to make sure your car is as safe as possible, go with a vehicle trailer. If you’re shipping an old junker sedan, you’re probably fine to go with a tow dolly.

Megaphone

Let’s talk about gas

Let’s talk about gas

While you won’t actually be guzzling gas while driving your vehicle, you should still set aside a little extra gas money when you tow it. Moving trucks get worse gas mileage when towing, so you’ll need to refuel a little more often if you’re hauling your car.

Towing vs. shipping—Safety

Winner: Shipping

There are three things that make hauling your car more dangerous than shipping it:

  • Maneuverability
  • Swaying
  • Road debris

Maneuverability

Moving trucks are already pretty long—larger than most cars. Now imagine adding the length of your car or the length of a vehicle trailer onto the back of an oversized truck.

When you’re towing a vehicle, turns are much more difficult and unwieldy, parking is a nightmare, and backing up is virtually impossible. Additionally, your moving truck will take longer to come to a complete stop because it’ll have all that extra weight adding momentum behind it, which could be dangerous if you need to slam on the brakes.

Swaying

This is related to maneuverability, but it’s such a big deal that we wanted to give it its own section. When two vehicles are connected, they pull on each other and sway much more than they would on their own. This video illustrates how it works.

If you had to swerve to miss a pothole or a nail, your truck and trailer would start to sway and careen uncontrollably, creating a potentially hazardous situation for you, your car, and everyone around you.

To minimize this, you should load your car as close to the front of your trailer as possible. As the video above illustrates, the closer to your hitch you distribute your car’s weight, the less dramatic the sway will be. Even then, though, you’ll still get some swaying if you swerve quickly.

Road debris

Towing your car exposes it to flying rocks, trash, and anything else being tossed up by other vehicles. While your moving truck might shield it from some of this debris, your car could still get a rock chip, some scratches, or worse damage.

Of course, road debris can also be a problem when you ship your car on an open transport trailer. If you want maximum safety, we recommend paying for enclosed shipping. It’s a lot more expensive, but it’s the safest way to send your car across the country—and the recommended way to ship a classic or exotic car.

Towing vs. shipping—Convenience

Winner: Shipping

Towing a vehicle might seem easy enough, especially if you’re already driving a moving truck. But there’s actually a lot that goes into it, and it can add a whole slew of stressors and delays to your drive.

To start, there are several mechanical tasks you’ll need to learn how to do before you can hit the road:

  • Installing a tow hitch
  • Properly locking the trailer to your moving truck
  • Installing electric hookups
  • Loading your car onto the trailer or dolly

Renting a trailer or dolly also comes with a lot of fine print to read and hoops to jump through. For example, U-Haul requires that the vehicle you’re driving is at least 750 pounds heavier than the one you’re hauling on your dolly.

If you fail to follow any of the rental company’s regulations, you could void your warranty, so you should read your rental manual and follow it to a T.

Lastly, vehicle trailers have speed restrictions. U-Haul recommends you don’t drive any faster than 55 miles per hour when you’re towing. This means you won’t be able to pull any stunts from The Fast and the Furious on your trip across the country, and it’ll likely take a few extra hours.

Our recommendation

While you can save a whole heap of money hauling your car across the country, we think that the convenience and safety of professional shipping more than make up for the price.

If you’re still not sold on professional shipment, we’d still recommend that you request a free quote from one of our favorite vehicle transport companies to see exactly what shipping your car would cost.

Recommended resources

Now that we’ve covered the differences between hauling a vehicle and shipping it, we recommend checking out our other guides to car shipping:

People also asked. . .

Sources

About Joe Roberts

Joe Roberts
Joe Roberts is a professional writer with a degree in writing studies and over three years of copywriting experience. He previously worked at Overstock.com, where he wrote about furniture, home decor, and moving. Joe has moved all over Utah, so he knows his way around a moving truck—and he spends his time (and money) expanding his personal library so it will be even heavier next time he moves.