The Essential Guide to Auto Transport: All You Need to Know

It’s no secret that the car shipping process itself can be intimidating, especially for first time auto shippers. The key to a stress-free shipping experience lies in understanding the steps involved from finding a reliable transport company to getting your vehicle to its destination. 

Whether it’s a car, truck, motorcycle, or cargo vehicle, car shipping companies transport them over long distances to their desired destination. This service has numerous benefits, from cost-effectiveness to convenience.
One of the best things about shipping a vehicle is the peace of mind you’ll gain by not having to drive it yourself. You can let experts handle the shipment of your vehicle while you focus on other important tasks instead. Auto transport companies are equipped with vehicle shipping equipment and personnel who will ensure your car is handled carefully during shipping. In this article, we will tell you all you need to know about car shipping services – how they work, the pros and cons of shipping instead of driving yourself, pricing, etc.

Benefits of Shipping Your Car Instead of Driving

Shipping your car isn’t just cost-effective, it also saves time and hassle. Car shipping companies can transport your vehicle safely and efficiently. They will check the vehicle’s condition before shipping, making sure it is road-worthy for the journey.
If you have an expensive car or one you cherish dearly, car shipping companies will provide the best way to get your vehicle to its destination both safely and cost-effectively.


Carriers are companies that ship vehicles directly to their destinations. These companies own their own trucks and transportation equipment, and are required by law to be properly licensed and insured. Carriers are oftentimes the most cost-effective method of car shipping, but they can be a risky option. The typical consumer does not have the ability to determine a carrier company’s track record in the industry, their insurance status, or the understanding of if they’re getting the best bang for their buck. In addition, carriers usually do not follow the exact same routes week after week. This variability makes it very difficult for them to find customers. Carriers, given they follow the demand, lean on brokers to find customers.


Brokers are companies that act as a middleman to assist customers in finding a reputable carrier company to partner with. Generally, these companies charge a commission for their services. While the cost may prove to be higher than working with a carrier directly, the pros tend to outweigh the cons more often than not. Brokers are able to view internal rating systems that are only accessible to the auto transport industry. This allows them to hand-pick the best quality carriers available. Brokers are also able to verify if carriers are properly licensed and insured before connecting you to their services. Should your carrier encounter delays or other issues, the broker would be able to assist in communicating with them, keeping you up to date throughout the entirety of your car’s journey.

Marketing Companies / Lead Providers

When you are looking for car transport options on a search engine, a wide variety of sites will come up. Most of these sites will belong to brokers, but some will either be marketing companies or lead providers. If the website does not display an MC number, they are most likely a marketing company that is designed to funnel customers to brokers. Be aware that these sites will often sell your information to multiple companies in the industry, causing your email and phone to be flooded with offers from companies you are not currently working with. Whichever option you choose, we suggest getting multiple quotes in order to determine which company fits within your price range.

Who is Involved in the Car Shipping Industry?

Car shipping companies can be divided into three categories: carriers, brokers, and third-party players like lead providers and marketers.

How Does the Car Shipping Process Work?

Once you’ve decided on a trustworthy company to work with that has provided you with a quote that fits within your budget, you’ll need to connect with a representative in order to give them all the details of your car shipping needs. Vehicle modifications, requests to transport items inside the vehicle, time constraints, and budget constraints should all be discussed. Once all the details of your auto transport needs are considered, your broker or carrier will then connect you to a driver that can accommodate the route your car will be taking from start to finish.
While most carrier companies require a cash on delivery payment (COD), many brokers will offer split payments where only the deposit is taken upfront, leaving you to pay the carrier in cash at the time of delivery or full payments where you pay everything to the broker at the time your vehicle is dispatched to a carrier. The choice of payment method really depends on what is most convenient for you.
You will want to determine upfront if the company you select offers door-to-door service. Some transport companies will only offer terminal to terminal shipping, meaning you would need to drive your vehicle to a secondary location where a carrier would be waiting to pick it up. While door-to-door service can’t always be guaranteed due to difficult to access pick up or delivery locations, low hanging trees, narrow streets, etc., it is certainly the most convenient method.

What Impacts Pricing When Shipping a Vehicle?

The cost of shipping a vehicle can vary dramatically depending on factors like vehicle size / weight, shipping distance, weather, season, etc. Shorter distances and open transport tend to have a lower overall price tag.

Modifications to vehicles play an important role in determining the cost of auto shipment. Be sure to tell the auto transport company of your choosing if your car has any unique / aftermarket features that would impact the overall weight or dimensions of the vehicle.

What Kind of Vehicles Can I Ship?

  • Cars, trucks, and SUVs of all sizes can be transported via auto transport services.
  • Vans, dual-wheel trucks, box trucks, and larger vehicles of any type may also be transported, with specific dimensions required for a comprehensive quote.
  •  Golf carts, ATVs, motorcycles, and other vehicle types on wheels can be transported as well.
  • Auto Shipping is an excellent choice for exotic and classic cars, as well! 

What Impacts Pricing When Shipping a Vehicle?

These modifications can include things like light bars, roll bars, winches, wider axles, bigger wheels, etc. Lowered and raised vehicle modifications should also be provided to your auto shipping company so that they may find a suitable truck that can accommodate it. 

Should you opt for an enclosed vehicle transport, the price will increase. Inoperable vehicle transports are also rather pricey, so it is always recommended to get the car in running condition prior to shipment, if at all possible. 

It’s important to take these aspects into account when shopping around with at least three different shipping agencies to secure the best price. This way, you can find a shipping cost that best matches your budget and vehicle needs. By doing this, you can avoid paying too much or getting talked into a higher cost due to a lack of understanding. Remember, in this industry, knowledge is power! 

Another important factor to consider is that brokers do not set prices. By law, carriers determine the price per mile they are willing to transport a vehicle. Some brokers set prices simply to grab the attention of potential customers and then trap you into a contract that ends up hundreds, if not thousands of dollars more than originally quoted. Others price near market costs in order to get a vehicle dispatched to a carrier in the fastest amount of time. While this can be a helpful strategy for those seeking a speedy transport, it certainly is not the most budget friendly method. We suggest seeking out companies that have experience in the industry that allows them to strategize and negotiate with carriers to save their customers the maximum amount of money. 

What types of car carrier equipment is there?

The most common method of auto shipment uses open transport carriers. Open carriers are easy to use and cost-efficient, but they do not offer the protection that enclosed carriers can. There are a wide variety of open car trailers. You may have seen the large, 9-10 car trailers going down the highway. There are trailers in this style ranging from 4 vehicles to 10 vehicles.

Enclosed carriers often only house one or two cars at most, which means your cost of shipment will be exponentially higher. That being said, this method of transport is great for luxury vehicles, classic cars, and new cars. By shipping enclosed, your vehicle will avoid the elements as it’s transported to its destination. As with the open trailers, there are many different configurations of enclosed trailers. Some are tow behind trailers that are boxes on wheels. Others are large cargo containers that look like regular shipments that double stack vehicles and use a lift-gate.


Finally, for these larger trailers there are soft-side and hard-side. Note: some vehicles must use these larger enclosed trailers with lift-gates due to clearance issues (racecars, lowered vehicles, etc).

Flatbed trailers are very common on the open road with loaded cars. Flatbeds are a low complexity car shipping option that range from one vehicle to five vehicles. These are usually towed behind a large pickup like a RAM 3500.

Shipping a Vehicle by Train or Plane

Cars can be transported via plane or train in a container, or with RORO (Roll-on/Roll-off) service. Shipping a vehicle by train or plane is an option when transporting a vehicle internationally or domestically. 

Shipping cars of any size by train requires them to be loaded onto a flatbed car and secured for the duration of the journey. Currently, Amtrak Auto Trail Line is the only train company that offers personal car shipping and they only run a line from Virginia to Florida.

Shipping cars of any size by plane requires them to be loaded onto a cargo plane and secured for the duration of the journey.

Shipping a car within the continental U.S. can vary greatly depending on several factors such as distance, location, and weather conditions. Vehicle shipments typically take anywhere from a few days to two weeks to arrive at their destination.  

 Your auto transport company representative will be able to provide you with an estimated time frame from pickup to delivery. Most companies will give a 2 day window of time for both pick up and delivery dates to accommodate for any delays or early arrivals. This means that the carrier may arrive up to do days prior to or two days after your estimated pick up and delivery dates.

Shipping a Vehicle Overseas

How Long Will it Take to Ship My Car?

Shipping a car within the continental U.S. can vary greatly depending on several factors such as distance, location, and weather conditions. Vehicle shipments typically take anywhere from a few days to two weeks to arrive at their destination.

Preparing Your Vehicle For Pickup

Prior to the pickup of your vehicle, it is important to make sure that it is freshly washed so any dings, dents, and/or scratches can be properly noted by the carrier.

What Happens at Pickup?

  • Determine an estimated time of pick up at least 24 hours in advance with your driver. Be sure to check if they will be able to pick up at your desired address or if a secondary location is required due to a difficult to reach location (low hanging trees, narrow streets, etc). 
  • When the carrier arrives at your pick up location, you or your point of contact should take photos and videos of the vehicle prior to it being loaded onto the trailer.
  • The driver will perform a detailed inspection of the vehicle, noting any dings, dents, scratches on a document called the Bill of Lading(BOL). When the inspection is complete, both you and the driver will sign the BOL. You will either be presented with a copy of the BOL, or an electronic copy will be emailed to you.
  • After the inspection, you will provide the carrier with a set of keys for the vehicle, and the driver will load it onto either an open or enclosed trailer, depending on the terms of your pre-planned shipping preferences. 
  • The carrier will provide you with updates during the transport of your vehicle, including setting up an estimated delivery time as they get closer to your car’s destination. We suggest reaching out to your carrier or broker if you have not heard from the driver within 24 hours of the original delivery estimated arrival. 

What Happens at Delivery?

  • Determine an estimated time of delivery at least 24 hours in advance with your driver. Be sure to check if they will be able to deliver to your desired address or if a secondary location is required due to a difficult to reach location (low hanging trees, narrow streets, etc). Should your driver be delayed for any reason, you will want to make new arrangements. If you are working directly with a broker, they will be able to assist you. 
  • The driver will perform a detailed inspection of the vehicle at the time of delivery. This inspection will compare the condition of the car at the time of pickup vs delivery to ensure no new damages are detected. Should new signs of damage be found, they will be noted on the BOL. When the inspection is complete, both you and the driver will sign the BOL. Make sure that the driver is thorough with the inspection, and don’t sign the BOL until you are certain that everything looks correct on the document. You will then either be presented with a copy of the BOL, or an electronic copy will be emailed to you. Some carriers will present a separate BOL at both pickup and delivery. Other carriers will be able to use one form to note both the pickup and delivery inspections. 
  •  Paying the driver – Ensure that you have the necessary funds available at the time of delivery. Determine, ahead of time, with your driver if he will accept cash only, or if he will offer payment methods like Zelle or Cashapp. Please note – this step will not apply in cases where you have paid a broker the full broker fee and carrier pay ahead of time.  Look into terms of payment clearly, and don’t pay extra or any amount less than agreed upon. 
  •  After the delivery has taken place, we highly suggest leaving a review of your experience on sites like, Google, the BBB, and Consumer Affairs.  Many sites offer the ability to review both brokers and carriers separately. This will go a long way in highlighting good customer service, making it easier for future customers to choose the right company to ship with. 

How is My Vehicle Protected During Shipment?

Carriers are required to carry cargo insurance by the Department of Transportation (DOT). This cargo insurance covers vehicle shipping companies and their employees for loss of, or damage to, cargo during transport. Should damage occur during transport, a claim can be made through the carrier’s insurance agency. If you’re working with a broker, they will be able to provide you with a copy of the carrier’s certificate of insurance so that you may contact the insurance agency directly. 

Some brokers offer additional coverage (insurance or gap coverage) for vehicle shipping customers. This may be in-house coverage or coverage from a third-party company. Some brokers have in-house protection in the event that a carrier causes damage and their insurance does not pay out (subject to restrictions). Be sure to discuss what happens if damage occurs with the broker you choose.

How to Choose a Car Shipping Company

When shipping a car, it’s best to opt for a transport service provider that provides hassle-free services and best value. This will help save time and money while ensuring the car reaches its destination safely and on time. To choose the best transport service provider, consider factors such as pricing, service level, customer reviews, and geographic coverage. When selecting the best company to transport your vehicle, we suggest you take into consideration the following 3 points: 


Be sure to select a car transportation company with a solid reputation. Check reviews from previous customers, as well as reviews from professionals in the field while looking for a car shipping service. Examining the customer reviews of various companies is vital to discovering a reliable auto shipping service. You can check which businesses have received favorable evaluations and which have received negative feedback. You can also learn a lot about a broker or carrier by their responses to customer reviews, both positive and negative.


When shipping a car, it is important to consider a company’s length of time in the auto transport industry, along with their business growth. A seasoned car shipping company can provide a much more expansive understanding of how the industry operates. They have had years to cultivate partnerships with the top carriers, perfect their customer service skills, and provide a wealth of knowledge to potential car shippers.


When choosing a car shipping company, it’s important to look for those that are honest and upfront about their services. You want to avoid companies that try to hide fees or charge extra fees after you’ve signed a contract. Also, be sure to ask the car shipping company questions about their service and policies before signing any contracts. Be weary of companies that offer guarantees.

What’s Next?

Shipping a car is a process that requires care and precision. Every car shipping company might offer similar services, but how they execute those services can differ drastically. Some companies might be better for specific situations than others, so it’s essential to do your research before choosing one. Car shipping companies also have different pricing structures, customer service standards, and vehicle transport options. You should compare the companies and choose the one that best fits your car shipping needs.