11 Need-to-Know Tips for Shipping a Car

Dawn M. Smith
Written by Dawn M. Smith
Updated April 21, 2022
Cars carrier truck at asphalt highway road
Photo: Roman Babakin / Adobe Stock

Successfully shipping your car is all about the details

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Most people ship their cars because of a cross-country move, but there are other reasons for transporting a vehicle, like an injury, car show appearance, or a surprise delivery. Whatever the reason, you’ll need a basic understanding of car shipping to start the process of hiring a trustworthy company to transport your vehicle. 

Check out these tips to help you research reputable vehicle shipping services and prepare your car for pick up and delivery. 

1. Round Up Your Car’s Documents 

Before you start your search for the right auto shipper, find the paperwork the shipper needs to document that you own the car. Find these documents early in the process; you don’t want last-minute paperwork hiccups to derail your pick-up date. 

Car shipping companies will likely ask you to upload copies of:

  • A valid identification, like a driver’s license or passport

  • Car title

  • Proof of ownership, like the bill of sale

  • Registration 

  • Proof of insurance

International Shipping 

Talk with your auto carrier about the additional paperwork you’ll need for international shipping. Depending on if you’re importing or exporting your car, you might need to show the certificate of title, import duties and tax payment, and the bank’s consent if you’ve financed your car overseas. 

2. Research Car Shipping Companies 

It’s not every day that you need an auto shipper, so you’re probably wondering what to look for in a car shipping company. Since you’ll likely invest thousands of dollars in shipping your car, it pays to research several businesses to check out their online reviews, years of experience, licensure, and insurance.

Talk to your shortlist of shipping companies about whether they offer specialized services, like oil drip pans, car covers, floor mats, and GPS tracking. Some companies cater to the specific precautions that antique and luxury cars need. 

Use these resources to find the best auto shippers:

3. Learn About Car Shipping Options  

If the car shipping industry is new to you, it's a good idea to understand how the industry works—it's different from other services you would hire, especially when it comes to the bottom line. Car shipping quotes often change from the start of the journey due to traffic, weather, accidents, or other unforeseen circumstances.  

There are two ways to ship a car: through a broker or through a carrier. Each option has its pros and cons, so picking the best method depends on the details of your trip, car shipping budget, and schedule. 

Car Shipping Broker 

Car shipping brokers don’t normally own their trucks. Instead, they operate networks of car shippers to fulfill their client’s needs, making them more nimble if a problem pops up. Since they bid out to their network, they can substitute drivers in a hurry. Brokers typically offer a faster schedule and multiple quotes from different shippers, helping to keep your costs down. 

If you hire a broker, you might face challenges with communication. Once the broker hands your car off to the contracted shipper, it’s up to you and the driver to connect and keep in touch during the route. 

Car Shipping Carrier 

One of the biggest benefits of using a car shipping carrier is comprehensive customer service. You’ll keep in touch with the same customer service team the entire trip without communication gaps. 

Carriers are also more likely to supply specialized equipment like enclosed shipping containers, hydraulic lifts instead of ramps, and nylon straps or wheel nets instead of chains to prevent damage. They’re also known for their professional driver skillset, with experience properly unloading and loading and navigating routes. 

However, it can be more difficult to find a car carrier that works with individuals. If you hire one, you’ll pay more for hands-on customer service and likely have a slower delivery time than a broker. 

4. Choose Between an Open or Enclosed Trailer 

Truck driver securing vehicle
Photo: Tomasz Zajda / Adobe Stock

The choice between an open or enclosed trailer comes down to your budget and how comfortable you are exposing your car to the outdoor elements.  

Open Trailer 

You’ve probably seen open car trailers on the interstate. The Jenga-like way the cars are driven onto the trailer, layer by layer, is impressive. Hiring a car shipping service that uses an open trailer has its advantages, including keeping the costs low, but there’s an increased potential for damage during the trip and when loading or unloading the car. Your vehicle could encounter road debris and bad weather. 

Enclosed Trailer 

Enclosed trailers decrease the chance of car damage, so avid car collectors appreciate the extra protection. Thanks to the anonymous appearance, there’s also less of a chance for theft. You’ll pay more to shop your car in an enclosed trailer, not only for additional protection but because they don’t hold as many cars as an open trailer. 

5. Ask About Deposits and Payments 

Each auto shipping company (particularly brokers) has specific payment requirements. Some require deposits and some require payment at pick-up or delivery. When you're researching your shipping company, talk to your representative about how they safeguard your deposit. 

You should also ask about the type of payment the company accepts. Some use a combination of credit cards, cashier’s checks, and cash. Always read over your contract for the designated payment schedule and hidden fees.

Should You Tip Your Car Transport Driver? 

There isn’t a tipping standard for this industry, so the tip amount is up to you. If your driver kept to the schedule, took great care of your car, and went out of their way to communicate with you the whole time, a tip is an appreciated gesture. 

6. Discuss Your Schedule, Location, and Destination 

Your schedule, location, and destination are essential details your shipping company needs before they can plan your route and services. When talking with your shipping representative, share the specific points that are important to you.

Schedule 

Pick-up and delivery dates aren’t an exact science in the car shipping industry because of uncontrollable variables like traffic and weather. The company will most likely offer you a window of five to seven days for pick-up and drop-off.

If you need your car in its new location by a guaranteed date, stress the importance to the company. They could charge more for the strict schedule. You should also avoid last-minute bookings to access more date options. 

Pick-Up Location and Destination 

Your pick-up and delivery points make a big difference in your estimate and how your transporter will load and unload. If you don’t have enough space on the street near you, you’ll have to coordinate a meet-up location with a large enough area, like a store parking lot. 

Some companies use their terminals for pick-up and delivery if they’re local. As an alternative, ask your company about concierge services to pick up and deliver your vehicles to your house. 

7. Verify the Car Shipper’s Insurance 

It’s essential to talk to the shipping company about their liability insurance for your car. You should also check in with your personal auto insurance provider to uncover any issues or the option for additional coverage while in transport.  

Type of insurance is another difference between brokers and carriers. Broker companies don’t always have their own insurance, deferring to the actual transport company they contract. Carriers usually have their own insurance policies. In either case, ask to see certificates of insurance or other verifying documents before loading up your vehicle. 

8. Use Money-Saving Tips When Possible  

It's a well-known fact that shipping your car is pricey, but there are a few ways to try and save some money. 

Talk to your shipper about discounts for: 

  • Shipping in the offseason, like fall and winter

  • Adding your car to a household goods shipment with a local moving company  

  • Pick up and delivery in major cities instead of your home address 

9. Prepare Your Car for Shipment

After all of the research and communication with the shipping company, you can finally focus on preparing your car for the ride. 

Here’s more on how to prepare your car:

  • Clean the car inside and out: Dirt and dust camouflage minor dents and scratches, but a clean car shows an accurate description of the condition. Remove valuable items and things that could move around during the move, like your E-Z Pass, change, and weather-related tools. Leave the spare tire, emergency kit, jack, and license plate in an emergency.

  • Take pictures and videos of the car: This step is the best way to document your car’s condition at drop-off and pick up for insurance claims.

  • Check the car for leaks: If your car leaks, your shipper could reject service because the leaks could damage other people’s property. 

  • Document your car’s mileage: Take note of your current mileage at pick-up and delivery to ensure your car wasn’t driven unnecessarily. 

  • Ask your shipper about their requirements: Most companies ask that you leave less than a half tank of gas to manage the weight load and have enough to drive in case of an emergency. They might also ask that you check your battery and tire pressure and turn off your car alarm.

  • Remove special accessories: If you have removable accessories, pack them away until delivery. 

  • Lock the car doors: Other than an emergency, the car doors should stay locked during the trip. 

  • Give the driver a cheat sheet: Of course, your car’s quirks are no-brainers to you, but your driver will appreciate tips and tricks for managing odd features, especially for new or antique cars.  

10. Leave Your Keys in a Safe Spot

Ideally, you would hand your car keys directly to the shipping company’s driver, but it’s not always possible to be there for the hand-off. If you’re not able to be there when the shipping company picks up your vehicle for transport, don’t worry, there are other options available.

You can park your car at a local hotel and leave the keys with the front desk or concierge. This method works well with hotels with 24-hour desk service so that the shipping driver can pick up the keys at any time. If you have a neighbor or trusted friend who lives nearby, leave the keys with them so they can facilitate the hand-off. As a last resort, you can leave your keys in a hidden spot outside of your car and give the shipping company instructions on how to locate them at pick-up.

11. Review the Contract or Bill of Lading 

Signing the bill of lading is the last step of the process. It's a legal contract filled with details of the trip. Double-check that all is in order before signing and read the fine print.  

Ensure the following points are correct:

  • Pick up and delivery locations

  • Vehicle condition report 

  • Special issues you’ve noted 

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