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See Article— USA Today

How Do You Ship Heavy Equipment?

Published by Tamar Hela.

What's in this article?
  1. What is Heavy Equipment Shipping?
  2. Regulations
  3. Heavy Equipment Shipping Methods
  4. Container Shipping
  5. Flat Rack Transportation
  6. Lift-on/Lift-off Method
  7. Roll-On/Roll-Off Method
  8. Preparation
  9. Packing
  10. Costs
  11. Final Thoughts
How Do You Ship Heavy Equipment?

Nowadays, many companies specialize in transporting all kinds of cargo, from small, packaged products that come in bulk and are moved in shipping containers to big, heavy machines that can only be transported by huge ships and need specialized crews to handle them.

Logistics can be one of the most essential parts of this process, especially if you think about international shipping. How does a machine go from point A to point B in the correct amount of time, delivered safely and in good condition? And if you think about heavy equipment, what are the challenges of this kind of transport?


What is Heavy Equipment Shipping?

It's hard to determine what falls under heavy equipment, as it is a broad term. It usually consists of large machinery or equipment with a minimum weight of 10,000 pounds or more. Because of its size and weight, this equipment must be loaded and unloaded by cranes if it can't be driven in and out of the transport mode.

When transported, these heavy machines usually require permits, escorts, route surveys, and experienced carriers with specialized trailers to haul this equipment safely. These machines are considered heavy. Still, we can separate them into a few categories:

  • Construction Equipment: Includes excavators, bulldozers, loaders, cranes, and concrete mixers.
  • Mining Equipment: Involves large machinery used in mining operations, such as drills, draglines, and haul trucks.
  • Agricultural Equipment: Includes tractors, combines, harvesters, and other farm machinery.
  • Industrial Machinery: Encompasses various heavy machinery used in manufacturing processes in industrial plants.
  • Specialized Equipment: This can include any oversized or overweight equipment that requires special handling and doesn't fall into the above categories, such as military equipment.
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When considering heavy equipment shipping, you need to understand that, in the United States, many rules and regulations come into play when moving any machinery or equipment that may pose a challenge to logistics and safety.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are the governing bodies responsible for providing these rules and regulations for transport. But it would be best if you also kept in mind that states also have their restrictions, so checking them out beforehand is critical. If you have trouble following and understanding all these regulations, contacting an expert in the field might be a good idea.

Heavy Equipment Shipping Methods

Transporting heavy equipment can be done via different methods, mainly including container shipping, flat rack shipping, lift-on/lift-off shipping, and roll-on/roll-off shipping—the choice regarding which one you want to use might depend on a few factors.

First is how you want your equipment to arrive. If you don't mind the disassembling and assembling process, containers are your solution. But if your machine cannot be broken down into parts, you might need to consider other methods. Then you feel the size of the equipment or its parts because some may not even fit into a container, so you won't have any choice.

Let's take a closer look at those four methods:


Container Shipping

Container shipping is the standard in the shipping industry: it involves packaging cargo in large, standardized containers placed on flatbed trucks or cargo ships for transport across large distances. They usually measure from 20 ft to 53 ft long.

The advantage of container shipping lies primarily in its standardized quality, which means efficiency in transport and logistics. Your equipment inside the container can be stacked alongside other cargo in the same ship, impacting shipping costs to drive them down.

You can use many different types of containers to transport heavy equipment, such as flat rack, open-end, half-height, open-top, and refrigerated containers.

Flat Rack Transportation

Flat rack transportation might be the solution if your machine or equipment needs to be loaded from the top or sides, primarily due to irregular shape and size. These flat rack containers only have bulkhead support, meaning your cargo can stick out from the sides during transportation.

They usually come in the standard 20-foot or 40-foot sizes, and many of these containers have forklift pockets for ease of lift and movement. They are manufactured using strengthened steel, so they stand rigid throughout transit.

Since they are open to the elements, it might be essential to use heavy-duty tarps to protect sensitive cargo while on the move, so this type of transportation is more advantageous if your equipment can be exposed to the elements without worrying about damage.

Lift-on/Lift-off Method

Also called the LoLo shipping method means loading and unloading cargo over the top side of the shipping vessel using derricks or cranes. Most ships capable of transporting using this method already have onboard cranes for this shipping technique.

As a result, they can accommodate a much larger container capacity since they don't need as much legroom or space for vehicles like forklifts to move around when loading or unloading cargo.

Roll-On/Roll-Off Method

The last one on our list also has a nickname, the RoRo method. This means driving vehicles onto a shipping vessel and maneuvering containers instead of lifting them into their spots by crane.

This method can be used to ship cars, trucks, and tractors by utilizing their wheels and engines to get onto the vessel, and it means that it is employed for heavy equipment vehicles in general.



If you carefully plan your shipping, this process will go smoothly and with no mishaps. One crucial factor to consider is the density of the equipment, as it will determine what kind of shipping method you can use, so gathering information about the type and size of machinery is a must right from the start.

To help you along the way, you must contact a shipping company with experience in heavy machinery transportation. They can advise and recommend preparing any special permits and licenses you might need. They can also connect you with reliable and experienced drivers who can safely deliver your equipment while keeping cost-efficiency in mind.

You will also need to obtain the appropriate insurance coverage to protect your heavy equipment during transport, as it is a requirement not only of the US government but also a guarantee that any unforeseen circumstance will be covered in the process.


The next step before shipping is to prepare your machine by packing it properly. You want to pay attention to this step as it is essential to protect your equipment and ensure it will be delivered in the best condition.

This step will change according to each kind of machine, so it might be a good idea to check the user manual or consult support for the appropriate and recommended measures. But some of the common ways to prepare your equipment include:

  • Cleaning the machine of dirt, dust, or debris
  • Draining fluids that may potentially leak in transport and damage your cargo
  • Removing detachable parts, attachments, or accessories that may move during transport and be a safety hazard
  • Securing moving parts that cannot be extracted and could shift during transport
  • Covering the machinery with protective materials to avoid contact with the weather
  • Making an inventory of the machine and labeling relevant details will ensure drivers take necessary precautions in the shipment.


Right from the get-go, we'd like to give you the exact numbers on what to expect regarding the price, but many factors are involved in making a quote, such as:

  • Size of Your Heavy Equipment: The bigger, heavier, and more oddly shaped the piece of equipment, the more it may need specialized trailers, permits, or route planning, which will likely raise your shipping price.
  • Time of Delivery: if you have requirements about your cargo being delivered at a specific time or faster than average, this can also impact the shipping price.
  • Pick-up and Delivery Location: the distance your equipment needs to travel is directly seen on the cost. Additionally, problems with your route, like going through big cities, might increase your shipping costs.
  • Time of the Year: weather conditions like snow in the winter months or summer storms can affect your pricing if specific routes are shut off, making the journey longer. From April to October, flatbed peak shipping season will also increase flatbed demand and rates.
  • Fuel Rates: seasonal changes in fuel costs will directly affect the final quote on your shipping.
  • Permit or Licenses Required: transporting heavy equipment usually requires permits. Costs vary by state, and some states may take longer to issue permits, so be aware of that during the planning stage.
  • Escorting: Considering the height and width of your freight, if you need escort cars for your cargo, that must also go into your budget. Check your routing to see if escort cars are required.

Final Thoughts

When transporting a heavy machine, you must consider the above. But if you're still unsure how to proceed, contacting an experienced company in the market is your best bet.

A1 Auto Transport is the perfect choice. They have many services to offer you, and you can even get a free shipping quote if you want to make plans. They also present you with exceptional help if you need heavy equipment shipping.

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Tamar Hela is one of our featured writers at A-1 Auto Transport, researching everything from AI auto shipments out of China to what paperwork is required to move long distance. We can safely say she's become well versed in all things shipping and logistics while making the information easy to digest and understandable. 

Tamar has been a copywriter for over 16 years and was trained in the 7-Figure Copywriting Accelerator course through American Writers & Artists, Inc. (AWAI). She's also an incredibly seasoned copyeditor, having previously been the Chief Editor and Publishing Director for Cosby Media Productions, based in Atlanta, Georgia. 

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A-1 Auto Transport is a disclosed agent for the following shipping companies:

CSI Logistics
435 Division Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07201
FMC 22206
Intl Cargo
45 Campus Drive
Edison, NJ 08837
NO. 17858N
Trans Global Auto Logistics, Inc.
3401 E Randol Mill Rd,
Arlington, TX 76011
NO. 018191NF
CFR Rinkens
15501 Texaco Avenue
Paramount, CA 90723
NO. 013055NF
ABC Worldwide LLC
2840 NW 2nd Ave #105
Boca Raton, FL 33431
NO. 025472F
ShipYourCarNow LLC
1160 South Rogers Circle Suite 1
Boca Raton, FL 33487
NO. 025646
Merco Air & Ocean Cargo, Inc.
6 Fir Way
Cooper City, FL 33026
NO. 021869F
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