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How does shipping your car work?

car windshield
(© Yuri Bizgaimer –

Do you need to transport your vehicle because you’re relocating for work, or moving back home after you’ve finished your studies? Then you’ve probably started diving into the world of auto shipping, and have loads of burning questions.

This is a pretty complex industry, so nobody’s going to blame you if you don’t have a good sense of what it entails even after a few hours of research. Unless you work in the auto industry and are familiar with the terms, pricing procedures, and techniques of transporting really heavy cargo, everything about the auto transport world can be confusing.

So let’s remove that confusion and get down to what this process is really about.

Auto Transport 101

Most people will drive the car themselves from one location to another if needed because, well, a car is literally a means of transportation. But in some cases, that’s not a viable option, either because the car is not in your possession right now, the distance is too long (so it would cost more), or you don’t have enough time to do it.

Either way, when you can’t get behind the wheel and drive it yourself, you have the option of hiring a professional FMCSA licensed auto transport company to do it for you. Here, the company will take your vehicle and load it onto a truck along with other vehicles that need shipping, and transport it to your destination. So you’re not paying someone to drive the car for you.

Auto transport through a professional team brings a lot of benefits to you:

  • It’s safer, since the company will have professional securing equipment, and even insurance to protect the cargo;
  • It’s cheaper since most of these companies will transport multiple vehicles at the same time, which saves the clients a lot of money;
  • It’s faster, especially for long-distance transports where you’d have to take overnight breaks to give yourself time to rest.

You might not need to turn to an auto transport if, say, you only need to take your vehicle to a nearby city that’s only 1-2 hours away. Since the distance is shorter, then you won’t need to spend that much money on gas, and you can easily drive the car yourself or ask a friend to help you.

But when you need to ship out of state, internationally to Canada, or even overseas, an auto transport company is the safest way to have your car shipped.

Common Questions about Auto Shipping

  1. Will the Company Come and Pick up My Car?

Sometimes, yes. It generally depends on the company you work with, and what kind of deals or services they offer.

Many transporters offer pick-up and drop-off services for their clients who don’t have the time to bring the car to them or pick it up when it arrives at the destination. Most clients, however, prefer to handle these things themselves, since drop off and pick up generally cost extra.

  1. Does My Car Have to Be Transported with Others?

Not necessarily. Auto transport companies keep their rates lower when they ship multiple cars at the same time, but some companies may also have trucks that can handle single-vehicle shipping. These services, of course, cost more.

It’s usually the type of transport you should look into when you are shipping a very expensive vehicle, like a sports car. Single-vehicle transport will be done in a smaller, closed container, so the vehicle itself is protected from the outside elements during transport. For regular vehicles that don’t cost literally millions of dollars, you don’t really need this type of service.

  1. Won’t the Car Get Damaged on an Open Fleet?

Multi-car fleets use a lot of different safety mechanisms to ensure the vehicles don’t move at all during transport, keeping them secured in their spot.

As for the elements, some clients will push to have their vehicles covered during transport to protect the paint from rain, bugs, debris, and other things. However, it is recommended to skip this practice, since an improperly placed cover can do more harm than good as the material scratches the exterior and damages the paint.

Instead, your car should be thoroughly washed and waxed before transport. This is generally enough to protect it from any dirt or bugs encountered on the road.

  1. Do I Need to Prepare My Car, or Does the Company Take Care of It?

Vehicles should be thoroughly washed before transport, and have any valuable items or loose objects in them removed. Additionally, you should remove as much gas from the tank as you can, while still letting a little bit of it inside to allow the movers to drive it on and off the truck, and around the base.

Of course, you can opt to do these things yourself, or have the auto shipping company do them for you, which will cost extra. Note that some companies may not call to let you know beforehand they need to fill your tank, but just add this cost (and any others) to your final bill. This can create an unfortunate situation where you end up paying a lot more than the estimate you were given.

To avoid this, you should ask the company what you should do to prepare your vehicle, so you can make an informed decision of what to do yourself, and what you want the company to do for you. A respectable company would never cram hidden fees to your bill, but unfortunately, not all auto transport companies you find are respectable.