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Choosing the best auto transport service

Last Updated October 2019

There are times when it doesn't make sense or isn't possible to drive your car across the country. Moving is a primary reason for this. Relocating for an extended period or transporting an extremely valuable vehicle are two other possibilities. In times like these, you will need an auto transport service that can get your car from point A to point B safely and without hassle.

In the U.S., a legitimate auto transport service must be registered with the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The best one for you should fit your budget, be flexible enough to accommodate your transport needs in a timely manner, and offer you the type of transport you desire.

If this is your first time shipping a vehicle, keep reading. In this guide, we talk about what to expect from a quality auto transport service, and we provide tips and answer some of your most frequently asked questions.

One of the main advantages to using an auto transport service is that it allows you to travel to your destination more quickly since you will not be limited to driving.

Types of auto transport services

Following is a list of the different types of auto transport services available and how those services affect pricing.

Covered/enclosed transport

If you want your vehicle to be protected from the elements as well as from any possible flying road debris, enclosed transport is what you should choose. It is the most costly manner of auto transport, but if you need your vehicle shipped the safest way possible, this is the way to go.

Open transport

This is the most common and most affordable manner of auto transport. However, your vehicle will not be protected from the elements and road debris if you choose this option.

Multi-car trailers

The benefit of using a multi-car trailer is a lower cost because up to 12 vehicles may be included on one trip. The downside is that your vehicle won't be delivered to your door. It will likely be stored in a regional facility located in a metropolitan area.

Single-car trailers

Single-car trailers or smaller trailers that carry up to three cars are often able to provide door-to door service, but the cost will be higher.

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Other considerations

Following are some other factors that affect auto transport pricing.

Distance

The distance you need your vehicle to travel plays a large role in determining the price. The farther you need your vehicle transported, the more it will cost. International shipping, for instance, is the most expensive.

Location

If you are traveling from one major city to another, your shipping costs will be less than if you need the vehicle delivered to a remote location.

Pickup and drop-off

Individuals who can be flexible with pickup and drop-off dates may be able to save money by being placed on an "as space is available" list. This could push your delivery date back by weeks, so it is only recommended if you have another vehicle or an alternative mode of transportation available to you. Conversely, an individual who needs a rush delivery can expect to pay more.

EXPERT TIP

Using an auto transport service might be right for you if you suffer from back pain. Several days spent in a driver's seat could put you in the ER with back spasms.


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EXPERT TIP

If you like your vehicle to be pampered, look for an auto transport service that includes amenities such as a car wash service.


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EXPERT TIP

Besides fuel, traveling costs include tolls, hotel stays, road food, and more. Be sure to take all of these expenses into account when deciding if an auto transport service is right for you.


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EXPERT TIP

Treating your vehicle to a thorough cleaning before transport will allow you to more accurately assess that vehicle's condition. It will either reveal hidden dents and scratches or declare your vehicle is in pristine condition.


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Vehicle size, value, and condition

A larger vehicle or a vehicle that needs special care, such as a classic car, will cost more to transport. A vehicle that is inoperable will also be more expensive to ship.

Time of year

The most expensive time of year to transport a vehicle is the summer. If you have the luxury of extra time on your hands — and you don't mind making big changes in the winter — that's the best time to use an auto transport service because it's the industry's slowest season. At that time, you'll have the best chance of getting a lower rate.

Hidden fees

If you do your research and choose a legitimate auto transport service with high customer satisfaction ratings, you should encounter no hidden or surprise fees. However, if you let something slip or hastily choose the first company name that pops up, you could pay dearly for your lack of diligence.

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Common mistakes to avoid

Mistake #1: Not shopping around

When deciding on an auto transport service, not shopping around could hit you hard in many more places than just your wallet. Yes, different companies charge drastically different prices for the same service, but more importantly, companies may offer drastically different services. Be sure to check the details and read the fine print. What does the insurance policy cover? Do you need your vehicle delivered by a specific date? Are there hidden costs that won't be revealed until your vehicle has arrived at its destination? Compare not only prices but also which services are offered and which companies have the highest customer satisfaction ratings. And don't forget to ask for references.

Mistake #2: Not verifying business registration numbers

In order for a U.S. business to legally transport vehicles, it must be registered with the Department of Transportation. Additionally, if the business is transporting vehicles across state lines, that business needs to be registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. It is a simple matter to request a company's DoT or MC number. If the company is not registered or balks at providing documentation, take your business elsewhere.

DID YOU KNOW?

Trying to estimate how long it would take to transport your vehicle? Barring any hazardous weather or heavy traffic, the average driver covers approximately 500 miles a day.

DID YOU KNOW?

Cars and trucks are not the only vehicles that can be shipped via an auto transport service. Some services also transport motorcycles, golf cars, and even ATVs.

DID YOU KNOW?

If you are starting a new job on the other side of the country, the money you lose taking a week off to drive might be more than you’d pay to use an auto transport service.

DID YOU KNOW?

If you have two vehicles and will be driving one and transporting the other, take a moment to work out which would be the more economical arrangement.

Mistake #3: Packing your vehicle

Although some auto transport service companies allow you to keep up to 100 pounds of personal items in your vehicle, others do not. Anything that goes missing during transport will not be the shipping company's responsibility and may not be covered by insurance, either. Additionally, if the Department of Transportation inspects the transporter, any items found in your vehicle may be seized.

Mistake #4: Forgetting the necessary papers

It's relatively easy to remember registration and proof of insurance because those documents should always be with you while driving. However, many people forget they must also have documentation proving ownership before a vehicle may be shipped. Verify exactly which types of documentation you will need, and make sure you have all of them well in advance of the pickup date.

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Preparation checklist

If you are in need of an auto transport service, chances are there's already a great deal on your mind. To remove some of the pressure, we put together a handy checklist which you can use to make sure you’ve done everything necessary to prepare for the shipping of your vehicle.

  • Document the condition of your vehicle before transport. Write down any visible cosmetic damage that your car already has.

  • Photograph your vehicle. Take detailed photos of your vehicle from all angles, and date all photographs.

  • Remove any and all valuables. Anything of value, including custom accessories like a GPS, should be removed before transport.

  • Remember your vehicle is not a suitcase. Many companies will not transport a vehicle with over 100 pounds of personal items included. Some companies allow nothing at all to be inside the vehicle during transport. Save yourself from last-minute frustration by cleaning out your vehicle before pickup.

  • Secure loose items. Anything inside or attached to your vehicle could become a projectile, and there is a risk of damage if it’s not securely fastened. This type of damage would likely not be covered by insurance, so be sure to fasten all seat belts, secure your convertible top, fold back mirrors, retract your antennae, secure or remove your spare tire and jack, and make sure there are no loose or stray items in your vehicle.

  • Remove or deactivate toll tags and parking passes. It is possible you will be charged for tolls if your vehicle has active toll tags during transport. That is an unnecessary headache you will not want to deal with when the bills start coming in.

  • Prepare as if you were driving. Before pickup, top off all fluids, check tire pressure, make sure the battery is charged, and be sure everything else is in proper working condition.

  • Disable your alarm. If your vehicle has an alarm system, make sure it is disabled before handing the vehicle off to the carrier.

  • Run your tank down to about 1/4 full. Less gas means your vehicle will weigh less.

  • Have your required documents. Verify all documentation that your carrier needs, and make sure you have it with you at pickup.

  • Verify any notes on the Bill of Lading. One of the purposes of this vital document is to agree on the condition of the car before it is turned over to the driver at pickup. You will want to be sure the documentation is error-free.
Perhaps the most important benefit to using an auto transport service is peace of mind, knowing your vehicle will arrive at its destination in the same shape (and at the same odometer reading) as when it left.

FAQ

Q. What exactly is open carrier transport?

A. Open carrier is the most common form of auto transport. It means that your vehicle will not be enclosed while it is being transported. Because of this, your vehicle will be vulnerable to dirt, debris, rocks kicked up, rain, sun, snow, and more. It may sound dire when framed this way, but in reality, these are all the same hazards you would face if you were driving the vehicle yourself. Additionally, it is the most affordable method of auto transport — in some instances, it could save you up to $800 — and it still offers the typical benefits, such as no wear and tear from travel.

Q. Do I need to purchase additional insurance to have my vehicle shipped?

A. Auto transport companies are required to carry insurance for all vehicles the company ships. That is not to say, however, that you will like the coverage. The best course of action is to request a copy of the policy and read it through to make sure you understand exactly what is covered. Is loading and unloading covered? How about damage incurred from flying debris during open carrier transport? For greatest peace of mind, know what you're agreeing to pay for when signing the insurance policy. If the coverage isn't sufficient, investigate methods to increase the coverage, or look for another auto transport company.

Q. What is the difference between a broker and a carrier?

A. An auto transport broker will charge you a fee to handle everything, but the broker doesn't actually transport your vehicle; that's what the carrier does. By using a broker, you benefit from working with someone who has access to a wide range of carriers and a great deal of experience. Brokers can not only get you a better rate, they can often also secure a quicker pickup time, too.

The team that worked on this review
  • Allen
    Allen
    Writer
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor