Every year, a large number of people moving to a new state ship their cars for the first time. Shipping a car isn’t hard, but a few common mistakes can cost you a lot of time and money, especially when trying to juggle the logistics of moving your house too.
So I’m using my decade of expertise to help. Here’s how to (safely) do an auto transport using a step-by-step process.
How to Find an Auto-Transport Company
If you reside in a big city, these days it’s as simple as typing “my city auto transport” into Google. The “my city” being either the city you are shipping to or from.
Literally hiring a company online to move your car is usually the easiest part of the entire auto transport process. It’s cheaper than hiring a professional driver, keeps miles off your tires, and it’s helpful if you aren’t able to drive the car to your new place yourself.
Does the company have to be located where I’m going or where I am now?
No. Finding a company based in either your origin or destination city isn’t crucial. You can absolutely hire a company from anywhere in the country to ship your car. But companies based on where you are or are going are ideal because of the flexibility they might offer with scheduling. The shippers will be in your city of origin or destination for a few days, as opposed to passing through, which usually leads to more flexibility.
What if there is no auto-transport company near me?
Unfortunately, finding an auto transport company specific to your city isn’t always possible, especially if you live in a rural area.
If you live where there are few options near you, your first step is to search for a company based in the opposite place that you are shipping your car either to or from. Every state typically has at least a few auto transport companies that can help.
If you still can’t find one (or you don’t like any of the ones that you do find), move on to just a general search for auto transport companies elsewhere in the country. Yes, you can still receive fine service from a company not based in your state, it’s just an advantage to have someone familiar with your route to work for you.
I always recommend calling them, as opposed to emailing, because you get a much better feel for what working with that company will be like.
Also, call more than a few of the (reputable) companies that show up in your search. (More on finding reputable companies below.)
How much does it cost to transport my car?
This will vary significantly based on lots of factors, but transportreviews.com reports that the average cost is $983, based on the average distance of 1,662 miles. Obviously, this price will fluctuate lower or higher, depending on where you’re transporting your car, as well as how big your vehicle is.
How do I get a quote?
Be prepared to tell the company this basic information:
- Where is the car is coming from?
- Where are you going?
- When do you want to have it shipped?
Knowing the basics is all it takes to get a quote. Want to be really sure what your best option is? It’s standard to get as many as four different quotes to get a good idea of what a fair price is. (Or at least tell them you’re collecting quotes.)
How to Hire a Good Company
How do you know who a bad company is? Knowing this begins with understanding what is happening behind the scenes. There are two types of car shipping services, and first-time shippers usually have no clue which they are (or how good they may be) until well after they ship their first car.
What’s a “Broker” and what’s a “Carrier”? And why does it matter?
Brokers are companies that don’t actually own the truck that ships your car.
Almost all of the companies that you find online are brokers and don’t actually own the transportation. Their purpose is to find the carrier who will actually ship the car. This can sometimes be a necessary step because finding a carrier without the connections that brokers have can be extremely difficult.
You generally want to avoid brokers who are not upfront that they themselves are not shipping your car!
Brokers charge a set fee for their service and make an educated guess on what the rest of the transport will cost when they give you a quote. Whether or not they tell you they are a broker upfront depends on what kind of company you find.
Carriers are the companies that own trucks and employ drivers. This is the company that will do the actual relocating of your vehicle. The reason brokers are necessary is due to most of these shipping companies being extremely small.
It’s not uncommon for the owner of the company to be the driver and sole employee. These small companies don’t have websites and don’t do any marketing because they rely on brokers for their freight. If you are not already inside the industry, finding a company on your route and on your schedule would require hours of work.
With the magic of the internet, it’s easier than ever to check who is and who isn’t legit. Before you request a quote from a company, check their reviews. Car shipping companies have many different sales tactics to trick you once they get your information.
What’s the most common tactic to trick customers?
After ten years of experience, I know it’s simply to promise impossibly low prices in order to get you to book right away.
Do not simply request quotes from as many companies as you can. By giving away your info, you will run into very persistent sales people that will never stop calling you. Furthermore, there are some companies that look like transport companies but are actually what are known as “lead generators”. This means the information you put on their site is going to be sold to 10 or 15 different companies. Your phone will not stop ringing for days!
You want to get as many quotes as you can, but you need to make sure the company is a legitimate broker or carrier before you inquire. How? Check for and read verified reviews before requesting quotes. This will help you avoid bad websites. Did you get an extremely low quote? That’s a red flag.
Get a Written Contract (Then Read It)
If you found a good broker, getting an easy to understand contract should be a breeze. But you still have to be careful (just like you should with every contract you sign!).
What should I watch out for?
Read through the contract very carefully. If your contract says anything – and it will be small – about the price “not being guaranteed”, this is a major red flag.
I have heard plenty of stories from customers about how they signed a contract with a broker, only to be told at the last minute that the price is a $100 to $500 more “than expected”.
Just imagine the moving truck has all of your things, then the broker calls and says they have a carrier but it is going to cost $150 more. You won’t really have a choice by that point.
Correctly Prepare The Inside and Outside of Your Car to Be Shipped
It is standard practice to get your car inspected by the shipping company, but first, you need to clean the car so that an accurate inspection can be done.
If the car is dirty, the driver might miss something when they do the inspection on pick up, or you might miss something when the inspection is done on delivery. An accurate inspection is vital in case there is a problem.
Do auto-shippers charge by weight?
Yes. Lighten your car as much as possible. Auto shippers will charge you by the weight of your car, and bigger vehicles will cost more to ship.
Most drivers allow 100 pounds or less for free. (Remember: the personal items you put in the car cannot be insured.) If you exceed 100 pounds, you could be charged extra for the added weight. For a totally packed small car, the driver will ask for around $200-$300. A totally packed large SUV or truck could be from $300-$500 extra, or the driver might even refuse the shipment. If you need to put things in the car, let your broker know ahead of time when you are booking so that they can arrange it with the carrier.
Drivers also prefer you leave the car with a quarter tank of gas. That’s enough so that they don’t have to worry about it running out when moving it, but not so much that they haul additional weight for no reason.
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Arrange to Get Your Car Exactly Where You Can Get It
Now that you’ve found a good company, you’ve signed the contract, and you’ve readied your car, you need to tell the company the best place to have the car picked up.
When will my car be available for pick up?
If you are flying, think about which end you need the car more. Is it the city the car is being picked up in, or the city it is being dropped off at? Trust me, in my experience, you will definitely beat the trucker to your destination. Remember that all delivery dates are estimated.
Moving trucks have one pick up and one drop off, so you can imagine that a moving truck estimate is much more accurate than auto transport trucks, who routinely have to deal with around 10 different pickups and drop-offs a day! Because of this fact, make sure that you have a backup plan on the day of pick up and drop off.
If the car isn’t delivered when and where you need it, ask a friend that can hold onto the car for you, or maybe a neighbor. It’s not even unheard of for a hotel manager or car dealership to offer this as a service.
What to Do When Your Car Shows Up
When the truck comes to pick up the car, make sure the driver does an accurate inspection and that you get a copy of the inspection report on pick up. This ensures the state of your vehicle cannot be altered. The inspection report is the only thing that can support your claim if any damage occurs.
The delivery driver does the inspection on pick up, you do the inspection on the delivery. Remember that if you sign the inspection report, you are releasing the driver and the company from all liability. That means if you notice something later, there is nothing you can do!
In my experience, damage doesn’t happen often and the process for getting reimbursed is not difficult if you do everything right. Almost all damage during transport is extremely minor. Small scratches or a dent is the most common of these things.
Most companies will prefer to handle the matter directly rather than have you go through their insurance company. The most important thing is that you do not sign the inspection report until you have received your reimbursement. Again, damage almost never happens in the first place, but you need to make sure you handle the paperwork properly if it does.
Do I have to do anything else after the car is delivered?
Hopefully, everything is done correctly and the process will be seamless. But if not, leave a review.
If you were happy with the service it’s always nice to leave a review saying so. The best place online to do this is on transportreviews.com, which in my experience is the biggest and most sincere community for car transportation reviews online. By leaving an honest review, companies know what they are doing right and you’ll help the next person transporting their vehicle make a more informed decision.
Similarly, if you weren’t happy with the service, let your broker know. Some things are out of the control of the broker and the driver, so be understanding if your car was a day late. Like I mentioned earlier, dates are always estimates in the auto transport industry.
If however, you feel that your experience was poor, then it’s especially important to leave a review. This helps future customers and the companies that are doing good work out there.
Max is the owner of MiG Auto Transport. He has been in the auto transport industry for over seven years. Originally from New York, he now lives in (sometimes) sunny Jacksonville, FL. He loves his wife, dog, cars and (sometimes) the Jacksonville Jaguars.