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How Does Car Shipping Work? (Guide)

Car shipping is worth looking into if driving to your destination isn’t an option.

From our #1 rated provider, montway_logo


10/01/2023 04:30 PM

Planning a long-distance move involves several tasks, including deciding whether you should drive or ship your car to your new home. Car shipping can save you time and the hassle of driving your vehicle yourself, especially if you’re moving more than a thousand miles away.

This article explains how car shipping works and discusses the average costs of vehicle transport. We also include tips on what to look for in a car shipping company and recommend top-ranked providers from our review of the best car shipping companies of 2022.

Auto Shipping Overview

Auto shipping companies help car owners move their vehicles both domestically and internationally. There are two main types of auto transport companies: brokers and car carriers.

Auto transport brokers connect customers with a network of carriers rather than shipping the vehicles themselves. When someone requests a vehicle shipment, a broker acts as the middleman to find a carrier that’s best suited for the job. In contrast, car carriers actually transport vehicles.

Carriers are legally required to carry auto shipping insurance with minimum liability limits set by the government. While it’s not legally mandated, many companies also offer add-on insurance coverage for protection against damage or loss.

What Are Your Car Shipping Options?

There are several ways to ship a vehicle, including by train, airplane, or standard carrier truck. Our research found that the most popular transport method is by open carrier. In our car shipping survey, over 42 percent of the 1,000 respondents said they chose to transport their vehicles this way, followed by about 20 percent who opted for enclosed carrier shipping.

Here are some of the most popular types of transport in the car shipping industry:

Open vehicle transportThe most common type of transport, this shipping process is best for budget-conscious car owners. It leaves your vehicle exposed to the elements on an open trailer.
Enclosed auto transportYour car is placed in an enclosed trailer or shipping container to prevent damage. This tends to cost more than open transport and is a good option for luxury and classic car owners who want peace of mind.
Door-to-door deliveryThis transport service picks up and drops off a vehicle as close to the customer’s home as possible.
Terminal-to-terminal deliveryYour vehicle pickup and drop-off occur at predetermined locations along with other shipments. Not all major providers offer this shipping option.
Expedited shippingCustomers with time constraints can choose expedited shipping for an additional cost. Vehicles usually ship within a few days rather than weeks.
Single-car shippingIf you don’t want your car shipped with other vehicles, you can choose to have it shipped by itself.

How Much Does Car Shipping Cost?

Car shipping costs vary widely depending on the transport carrier you choose. According to Easy Auto Ship and Montway Auto Transport, you can expect to pay between 40 cents and $2 per mile when moving your vehicle. You’ll pay higher costs per mile if you’re transporting your vehicle 500 miles or less. While cross-country shipments have lower per-mile rates, they cost more overall.

Here are some car shipping estimates for open trailer transport provided by Easy Auto Ship and Montway Auto Transport:

  • 500 miles or less: $1 to $1.96 per mile
  • 500 to 1,500 miles: 60 to 93 cents per mile
  • 1,500 miles or more: 40 to 60 cents per mile

In our car shipping survey, about 41 percent of respondents reported paying between $1,000 and $1,999 for vehicle transport services.

What Affects Car Shipping Costs?

Car shipping costs are highly variable and are influenced by several factors. These include:

Miles traveledLong-distance shipments have lower rates per mile than shorter-distance trips but cost more overall.
Type ot transportEnclosed carrier transport costs more than open transport since it protects your vehicle more.
Type of deliveryDoor-to-door shipping is more costly than terminal-to-terminal shipping because the service is more personalized.
Time of yearDemand for shipping services is higher in January and the summer.
Carrier competitionHigher competition between car carrier bids means lower auto shipping costs.
Price of fuelCar shipping companies may charge more to compensate for carriers’ fuel costs.
Vehicle operabilityInoperable vehicles are more expensive to ship because they take more effort and resources to move.

How Does The Car Shipping Process Work?

We’ve outlined five steps below to help guide you through how vehicle shipping works.

1. Get Quotes From Providers.

We recommend getting car shipping quotes online from auto transporters, as this will help you find the best price for vehicle transport. You’ll likely be asked to provide the following information to get a quote:

  • Vehicle make, model, and age
  • Time frame for pickup and delivery
  • Pickup and delivery locations
  • Preferred car transport services
  • Vehicle operability
  • Your name, phone number, and email address

Each company has its own quote process. Some companies, like Montway Auto Transport and Easy Auto Ship, offer instant quotes online. Others may want to iron details out over the phone before providing a price.

2. Choose A Provider.

After you get car shipping quotes, it’s time to decide which company offers you the best services at a reasonable price. The cheapest option may not always be the best or most reputable choice. It pays to do thorough research on each provider, including making sure your chosen provider is licensed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).

Below, we recommend two reputable companies worth considering if you don’t know where to start.

3. Prepare Your Car For Transport.

Once you’ve booked transport for your vehicle, the next step is preparing it for shipment. Make sure you’ve done the following before the carrier comes to pick your car up:

  • Remove all personal items from your car.
  • Have only a quarter tank of gas at the time of shipment.
  • Inspect your car and take pictures in case of any damage.

4. Wait For Delivery.

You can call your shipping company or broker for updates on your vehicle’s location during transport. Some companies offer GPS tracking, though it’s rare.

5. Pick Your Vehicle Up And Inspect It.

Once your vehicle is delivered, check it for damage and pay any remaining balance to the auto transport carrier. You’ll also sign the bill of lading in this final step, which confirms your car arrived safely at its destination.

What To Look For When Choosing A Car Shipping Company

Before booking auto transport services, research the providers you’re most interested in. You should:

  • Read online reviews and check ratings on the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
  • Confirm insurance offerings with each car shipper and truck driver.
  • Check licensing information with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Recommendations For Car Shipping

Now that you understand how car shipping works, we recommend reaching out to legitimate companies for car shipping quotes online. We found that Montway Auto Transport and Sherpa Auto Transport offer some of the country’s best car shipping options and have excellent reputations for customer service.

Montway Auto Transport: Best Overall

Montway Auto Transport has over 15 years of experience in the transport industry and has shipped more than 100,000 vehicles, which is why we named it Best Overall for 2022. The company works with a network of over 15,000 car carriers, which helps ensure low shipping prices for its customers.

The auto transporter is accredited by the BBB and holds an A+ rating from the organization. With over 2,200 customer reviews on the site, Montway has an average rating of 4.6 out of 5.0 stars.

Keep reading: Montway Auto Transport reviews

Sherpa Auto Transport: Best For Locked-In Rates

Sherpa Auto Transport is one of the most reputable car shipping companies in the nation, backed up by a large number of positive customer reviews. The auto transport broker has an A+ rating from the BBB and has been accredited by the organization since 2018.

Sherpa Auto Transport sets itself apart from competitors through its Price Lock Promise, which locks in your rate so it won’t rise after your initial quote. The company also offers its Clean Car Guarantee, which promises to reimburse you up to $20 for a car wash after your vehicle arrives.

Keep reading: Sherpa Auto Transport reviews

Sherpa Auto Transport
BBB Rating : A+ Phone : 888-202-7706 Coverage : 49 states
Pros & Cons
Pros Locked-in shipping rates through the Price Lock Promise Vetted network of reliable and friendly carriers Strong customer service ratings on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Offers a Clean Car Guarantee Cons Slightly higher prices than competitors Does not provide terminal-to-terminal shipping

Sherpa Auto Transport has many strengths, from excellent customer service to the added security of the Price Lock Promise.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it worth shipping a car?

Shipping your car can be worth it if you need to move it more than 500 miles. Auto transport tends to cost less per mile the farther you need to ship your vehicle.

What do I need to know before shipping a car?

Before you ship your car, you need to do in-depth research on any auto transport company you consider using. This includes researching each company’s reputation, asking questions, and comparing costs among carriers.

Can you put stuff in your car when shipping it?

Some carriers will allow you to transport boxes in your car during transport. However, there is normally a weight limit for any additional items for carrier trucks going through weigh stations. Boxes will typically need to be taped up or sealed in the trunk of your vehicle for safety and security purposes.

How We Rate Auto Shippers

Our review process aims to deliver consistent and unbiased assessments of car shipping companies. While there are multiple qualities that make an auto transport provider successful, our review team focuses on those we believe are the most important for consumers:

  • Cost: Cost can be difficult to compare between providers because so many factors impact auto shipping rates. To determine our cost score, we perform a secret shopper analysis for a variety of vehicles and routes.
  • Services: Our team of experts looks at the types of services available, as well as insurance coverage and the ability to guarantee pickup and drop-off dates. Ratings also take into account whether the transport company is a broker or a carrier.
  • Reputation: It’s important that a car shipping provider is able to deliver your vehicle in a safe and timely manner. Companies with a strong rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) score well in this category. Established providers with a long history of reliable service also receive positive marks.
  • Customer Experience: We comb through consumer reviews on sites like the BBB to learn about customer experiences. Car transport companies with a low volume of complaints score well in this area.

*Data accurate at time of publication.