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How To Ship a Car - Important Tips and Costs

By Autolist Staff | December 28, 2018

Shipping a car or truck can be stressful if you've never done it before. Perhaps you're moving or purchased a vehicle online that you need to ship directly to you. Often times, buying a car or truck online can be a great way to save some money on your purchase, however, you'll need to factor the cost to ship a car if flying out or driving with a friend to pick up the vehicle isn't a viable or cost-effective option.

If you're going to ship a car, here are some preliminary steps to help you land the best rate while also ensuring the safe transport of your new vehicle.

Seek Out a Broker

While you could spend time contacting multiple vehicle shipping companies on your own, it's usually wiser to contact a broker or transport dealer. They often have industry connections and first-hand experience shipping vehicles, and they know how to keep the rates down. Even though you'll have to pay them a fee, the overall savings are usually worth the small extra cost.

Transport trucks that ship cars don't hit the road until the trucks are filled. A broker may be able to leverage that information to reduce shipping costs. For example, if a truck only has one slot left, the shipping company is probably going to be more willing to cut a deal so they can get the truck moving faster.

Plan Shipping in Advance

If you decide you want to cut out the middleman, you can plan to ship a car on your own -- you need to know how to do it right. Whenever possible, stick with major cities. Even if you have to ask a friend to drive you out to a major city to pick up the vehicle or rent a vehicle to drive one-way, it's almost always going to be much cheaper to ship your car there.

Auto transporters tend to stick to the same routes that cover major highways and cities; adding a stop in a remote location that doesn't have any other pick-ups or drop-offs will certainly raise the cost (think of it like flying across the country; it's always cheaper to fly between two large cities than it is starting from or going to a much smaller town and airport).

Another thing to consider when shipping your vehicle is timing. If you're not in a rush, you may want to wait until winter when auto transporters are less busy -- they may be more willing to offer a bargain.

On average, in the U.S., it takes around four weeks from when the car is ordered until it arrives, so make sure you also consider that wait when shopping for cars online. If you're shopping internationally, you can typically expect to wait six to eight weeks. However, if you're willing to wait longer, flexible scheduling can help to keep shipping expenses down.

Even flexibility of a few days for the pick-up and/or the drop-off can save you money since it will give brokers more leeway in finding you the most cost-effective shipping route and truck.

Protect Your Vehicle

Car-carriers come in two setups: an open carrier or a covered carrier.

An open carrier is exactly what it sounds like: the vehicles are loaded onto an open trailer that is not enclosed. Naturally, these carriers are cheaper, but the vehicle is also going to be more susceptible to damage from road hazards, foul weather and other unforeseen sources.

If you're purchasing a luxury vehicle or a classic car, you may want to spend the extra money to pay for a covered carrier. A covered carrier can cost as much as 60 percent more than uncovered shipping.

Also, keep in mind that large vehicles also cost more to ship. If you're not tied to a specific vehicle when you're shopping, you may want to look into smaller cars to keep shipping costs down. This is also why it's important to be specific about your vehicle's year, make, model and any modifications that have been done so the broker books the appropriate truck and space.

How Much Does it Cost to Ship a Car?

The price to ship a car or truck will, of course, depend on the type of car or truck and distance it's being shipped. Key factors in car shipping costs include the size of the car, distance it's being shipped, whether it's on a major route or not and whether you want it on an open trailer or enclosed.

In general, shipping a car or truck will generally cost between $500 and $1,500 depending on the factors mentioned above. This can go up significantly (almost double or more) if you're shipping rare or classic cars since they often need an enclosed container.

Do Your Due Diligence

As you seek out an auto transporter to ship a car, remember that price isn't everything. A new vehicle is a major purchase, so sometimes it's worth paying a bit more to ensure it's shipped to you without issue.

When it comes to selecting a transporter, you want to find a reputable company that has a history of satisfied customers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) can provide info on a company's insurance, licenses, safety ratings and other pertinent information (they're reachable at 1-800-832-5660).

You should also read online reviews on websites such as Yelp, Facebook and Google. Don't just read the five-star or the one-star reviews since they can sometimes be less than trustworthy; instead, read the slightly positive and slightly negative reviews to get a clear sense of why people liked and disliked.

Request and Compare Quotes

If you're not using a broker, it's up to you to reach out to auto transporters for quotes. As we mentioned, be specific about the vehicle (size, value, type and location) that you're shipping and where it's coming from and going to. This way you'll get the most accurate quote from each source.

Once you receive multiple quotes, you can use the lowest quote as leverage to try to convince a carrier to go lower. As you get quotes, make sure that there aren't any hidden fees or charges. For example, a quote may be given for terminal-to-terminal service when you actually need door-to-door service. Always pay attention to the details so you know exactly what to expect.

Look Into Insurance

Make sure you have all of your insurance needs taken care of before shipping your new car. In addition to getting your personal vehicle insurance affairs in order, you should also look into the shipping company's insurance. A good carrier usually offers $50,000 - $100,000 in liability coverage. It's impossible to predict what the future holds, but you can take steps to protect your purchase if an unforeseen incident should occur.

Request Pictures

If you're buying a car online, you're probably placing your order sight unseen. Of course, if it's possible, the best approach is to take pictures yourself before shipping the car out. However, if that's not a possibility, you should request detailed, high-quality photos of the vehicle from the seller. Ask the seller to take pictures of all of the glass (windshield, windows and rear glass), the headlights and taillights and any other scratch, dent or other imperfection the vehicle has.

That way you know exactly what to expect, and you have proof if the vehicle is damaged en route.

As soon as you receive the vehicle, be sure to inspect it thoroughly. It's also prudent to take some post-shipping photos too, just in case you notice damage later and you need to have before and after photos to use as evidence. Even if the vehicle looks fine, it's always smart to take photos anyways.

Shop Smart

In some cases, you may have found your dream car -- or maybe it found you. In that type of situation, you may have to pay for shipping, and there's no way around it.

However, if you're just shopping around, you may find that it's easier to shop within driving distance to save yourself hundreds or even thousands of dollars in shipping fees or to use sites that have shipping options readily available or even.

Sometimes shipping expenses may already be factored into the full price of the automobile, streamlining the process for you. Autolist makes it easy to browse thousands of listings so you can find the best possible value. As long as you do your homework and shop wisely, you should have no problem buying your dream car online.