Shipping a Car: How it Works and What it Costs

If you are planning a move cross-country or you found a car you like in another state, you might be considering having the vehicle shipped. While there are some logistics to figure out, shipping a car isn’t usually a big deal. After reading these helpful tips, you might even be able to save some money in the process.

Find a Company to Ship Your Car

The first step to shipping a car is to find a company or individual to handle transport for you. This is the area that you need to be most careful with, as there are plenty of people out there willing to rip you off.

If you don’t find a trusted shipper, you could be in trouble when it comes time to get your vehicle. Saving a few bucks is never worth the risk of using a second-rate company, so do your homework and pick the right shipper the first time.

Check Your Insurance Coverage

After you find the company you want to go with, make sure you call your insurance company. You need to verify your car’s coverage prior to having it shipped. You’ll also want to confirm that the carrier has their own coverage above and beyond what your policy covers.

Allow for Plenty of Time

You can’t ship your car like a Christmas card and expect it to show up a few days later. Your car is expensive, bulky and takes time to load and unload. Some domestic deliveries can take a few weeks, while shipping something overseas might take a couple of months.

Make sure you allow yourself enough time for loading, delivery and processing time. Delays are a standard part of the shipping business, so don’t be discouraged when they occur. You also want to make sure that someone will be available to accept the vehicle once it arrives. The last thing you want to do is leave the carrier with your car.

Empty the Vehicle

Before you load up the vehicle, you need to empty it. The shipper isn’t going to allow you to pack any goods inside the car because that compromises the safety of your vehicle and the others around it. The only thing you should leave in your car is a quarter tank of gas. Some carriers might also request that you disconnect your car’s battery, so ask in advance what their policies are.

Inspect Your Vehicle

When the carrier picks up your vehicle, or when you drop it off, you will need to conduct an inspection for damage. You should look for any dents and scratches and document them before your car goes on the truck. It’s wise to videotape your vehicle ahead of time for additional protection.

When the car arrives at its destination, be prepared to do another examination. The company will provide you with its Bill of Lading, their official inspection report. If you agree with the company’s statement, you will sign it and be on your way. If you need to file a damage claim, start that process before you sign any delivery paperwork.

How Much Does it Cost to Ship a Car?

Several factors determine the total cost of shipping a car.

1. Shipment time and distance

This is the most substantial cost associated with your shipment. The shipper will charge based on how far the origin and destination are apart from one another. The further you need the car to travel, the more you can expect to pay.

Of course, shippers also tend to charge less per mile on the longer distance shipments. In general, you can expect a driver to travel about 500 miles per day. The company needs to reimburse his time, the fuel expense, cover wear and tear on the vehicle and still make a profit at the end of the day.

2. Length of the vehicle

An average car measures about 189 inches long. If yours is shorter than that, your car becomes more desirable because the carrier can arrange it with longer cars and make more money. If your car is longer than 189 inches, the auto transporter needs to arrange it differently and that takes extra time. That’s why vans, SUVs and trucks tend to cost more to ship than passenger cars.

3. Height of the vehicle

In the same regard, the height of the vehicle affects the shipping price. Coupes and sedans usually measure under 57 inches tall, while full-size SUVs can get up to about 73 inches in height. Transporting a taller vehicle means that the shipper needs to fit a smaller car above or below it. This forces them to lose money, so it only makes sense that you are charged more as a result.

4. Ground clearance

The lower your vehicle is, the more likely it is to get damaged. Reputable shippers keep this in mind and charge you accordingly. Many companies prefer to ship any vehicle with less than four inches of ground clearance in an enclosed container. This helps them to treat your property with gentleness, but also increases your rates in the process.

5. Total weight

The heavier your car or truck is, the more you can expect to pay to ship it. Your transport carrier needs to stop at weigh stations while traveling. If your vehicle is overweight, that’s less they can carry, so they lose out on valuable profits. Not only that, but heavy vehicles cause the transport trucks to use more fuel.

6. Overall condition

Does your car run or are you looking at shipping a classic hot rod you want to restore? If it can’t drive on and off a carrier, you’ll probably have to pay some associated fees to that end. The carrier isn’t interested in spending all their time muscling cars around, so it’s only fair to compensate them for their efforts.

7. Shipment type

Most often, people shipping cars will go with open transport. This means that the car is loaded on a trailer and is exposed to the elements at all times. This is how most new car dealerships receive their cars and it’s the least expensive method to choose.

The other option you have is enclosed transport. If you have a luxury vehicle or something you don’t want to get wet, you should choose this style instead. Enclosed transport does increase your price by up to 50%, so you need to keep that in mind and determine whether your car is worth the extra price.

8. Time of year

Just like anything, shipping a vehicle is dependent on the time of year. As snowbirds move from the north to the south during the winter, you’ll see an increase in rates to California, Arizona, Florida and Texas. In the spring, northern states will see a rise of prices as those same people ship their cars back home. If you are flexible with your plans, ask the shipping company when the lowest-priced season is and plan your trip accordingly.

9. Location

The last factor in determining a car’s shipping price is the location. If you are shipping from or to a densely-populated area, your costs will be minimal. That’s because the company will be able to pick up or drop off other vehicles on the same trip. If you want to ship your car to somewhere that the company doesn’t go often, you’ll likely be looking at premium rates.


Final Thoughts about Shipping a Car

When you want to ship a car, you generally don’t have a lot on your plate. Aside from finding a reputable company and protecting yourself from being ripped off, there’s little you can do to adjust the pricing and schedule of shipping a car.

In our experience, independent contractors are just as dependable as big-box shipping companies. Just make sure you use a shipper with a solid reputation, modern equipment, and sufficient insurance.

If you’ve ever had a car shipped before, we would love to hear from you. Let us know about your experience and share some advice on shipping a car for other readers in the comments below.


Title Gods specializes in recovering lost car titles and solving all kinds of title-related issues. We are not attorneys. This article is not legal advice.

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