Information on various car shipping companies can be obtained from referral services like us. You can also search on the internet or in publications like Sports Car Market and Hemmings Motor News.
It’s easier to assess a car shipping company by asking for their length of service in the car shipping business. Museums and top auction companies are also good recommendation sources. Finally, you can ask collectors, restorers, and members of your local car club.
Your decision should not be based only on price. You will get your money’s worth in auto shipping just like when buying other services or products. The cost structures of highly recommended transporters are mostly the same.
Of course, there are some exceptions, but transporters that offer a lower price may be cutting corners. For further information about a company’s insurance status and safety records, you can check the website of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration at www.safetys.org.
Key point: Shipping cost should not be the single basis of your decision; auto transport, like any other services or products will deliver your money’s worth.
Closed vs. open transport
You have to choose whether your car will be transported via an enclosed or open trailer. You can save some money with an open trailer, but the best way to transport a high-value or restored vehicle is in an enclosed truck.
High end or collector cars are transported with maximum protection within enclosed trailers. Transporting them on open trailers can put cars at risk of damage from road hazards, which a carrier may not be accountable for.
It’s also possible for fluids from other cars to drip onto those placed on the lower level. This kind of situation is not a problem when using enclosed carriers because their floors are solid or they have ramps with drip pans underneath.
Using a cover or tarp on an open trailer will not do much. It may be blown away by the wind or it may hit the surface of your car and chip the paint. Most likely, your car will need a good wash if after being transported on an open trailer. Nevertheless, considering the cost, open auto carriers are more appealing to an average driver or for cars under restoration.
A lot of open trailers don’t have a winch to pull non-running vehicles onto them. The carrier may ask for an extra fee for loading an inoperable vehicle. Settle the loading fee in advance and in writing if your vehicle is inoperable.
Lastly, open trailer transport is not possible for some types of vehicles such as those with window curtains or light convertible tops due to possible damage during transportation. Narrow track vehicles should be carried with lift gate trailers.
Ramp loading vs. lift gate
Loading vehicles using inclined ramps is commonly used by open and enclosed auto carriers. However, ramps have some limitations. It can be challenging to load vehicles with low ground clearance on the trailer. It is risky for some cars with spoilers such as Viper, Dodge, and for sports cars like the Austin-Healey 3000.
Also, vehicles with extremely limited tracks can be damaged by ramps due to slippery conditions. This can make the loading process dangerous especially for vehicles with great torque and performance tires. Lastly, the drivelines of vehicles can be stressed due to inclined loading. Wearing off clutches may happen when loading with a ramp.
Hydraulic equipment or lift-gates are good alternatives to ramp loading. Loading via lift-gate is very safe. It’s like an elevator that lifts your car. It will be lifted to the height of the trailer’s deck and then winched forward or driven and secured.
Key point: It’s recommended you choose a transporter that can load your car with a lift-gate because ramps are dangerous during wet conditions especially for cars with narrow tracks or limited ride height.
Not all enclosed trailers are equipped with a lift-gate. Soft-sided enclosed trailers are open trailers with roof and vinyl sides. They provide some protection but not as much as the enclosed trailer provides. Generally, they are loading ramps similar to open trailers. Before choosing a type of trailer, talk to the carrier about the equipment.
There are a few criteria you need to consider when choosing a car shipping company, and a very important one is insurance. Some carriers do not fully understand the difference between true insurance and their liability to the owner of the car. Hence, their customers are not properly informed about the policy.
All licensed car shipping companies carry cargo-loss and liability insurance. This policy insures the carrier and not the customer. Also, licensed insurance agents are different from carriers.
Only licensed insurance agents can sell insurance legally. In most cases of minor damage, customers tend to look for the carrier instead of the insurer because most likely the carrier has a substantial cargo deductible policy. That’s one more reason to make sure you choose a reputable and stable car shipping company. Overall, claim settlements depend on the bill of lading and not on the insurance policy. This is because the bill of lading is the receipt or contract given by the carrier to the shipper.
This fact about a transporter’s liability is the most misinterpreted. Carriers are not insurers who are in charge of anything that could take place during the transport. Rather, carriers will be accountable only for their negligence.
For example, the carrier will be liable if the transporter backed a car with your car. However, in the case of force majeure, carriers are not responsible for any damage to your car. For full protection, secure the agreed value coverage from a car insurance collector upon purchasing your car. The coverage must take effect immediately after the title and money are exchanged. Remember, coverage from a seller ends after the sale, and your car will only be covered by the transporter once loaded on the trailer. It may take several days for the car to be legally yours.
Key point: For full protection, secure the agreed value coverage from the car insurance collector upon the purchase of your vehicle.
Though transporters do not usually deny liability for things that happen beyond their control, a dependable transporter should never ask customers to have a damage waiver released from any liability due to their negligence. You must not sign that kind of waiver because your insurance company’s right to collect on your behalf may be compromised.
Lastly, be cautious of agreements that set up the liability of the transporter on a low limit, or agreements that have complicated rules to define what the carrier will cover in case of a total loss. Transporters will have the advantage and less liability if you sign these kinds of agreements. At the very least, check the following on your bill of lading:
- A full acceptance of liability for losses due to the transporter’s negligence and a complete explanation of their coverage.
- Realistic liability limitations (not less than 100,000 USD per car via enclosed transport) including the option to buy increased liability at a reasonable price if needed.
- A concise and clear explanation of the filing procedure of the carrier’s claim, including notice requirements and filing deadlines.
A dependable carrier is capable of providing a USDOT number and proof of insurance.
Preparation and pickup
Most classic car movers offer door-to-door car shipping services. They pick up and transport your car to the desired destination except if local laws restrict trailers with a height of more than 75 feet. Some carriers offer a price reduction for terminal pickup and delivery. Most often, a terminal is an outdoor storage or yard. It may be located in an unfamiliar neighborhood so be cautious.
Your car’s loading preparation and time of shipment is up to you. It’s best to clean your car so the carrier can perform an easy and proper inspection. It can prevent problems and damage claims at the point of destination.
You can also provide the carrier written instructions or particular information about your car’s performance, battery, fuel, and switches. You should also indicate how your alarm system should be operated or disabled. Beside these issues, ensure the following:
- Do not fill your fuel tank. Filling ¼ of the tank is best.
- Make sure you charge the batteries to avoid extra charges for winching.
- Loose articles should not be left in the car or inside the trunk because they may shift and damage it.
- Check the antifreeze level. Make sure the level is suitable for the weather at both ends of the trip. A cracked engine block is caused by insufficient antifreeze in the coolant.
Key point: When transporting a car, provide written instructions about your its performance, battery, fuel, and switches.
Car shipping via rail or air is an irregular scheduled service. Once your transport order is placed, the dispatcher should load no more than six vehicles including yours. It may take several days or weeks depending on the season and destination.
Your scheduling may be affected by late pickup as well as the queue on car deliveries. Because of this, carriers provide pickup quotes and a several days time window for delivery. If you are involved in auction or have cutoff date, tell the carrier about it. Ask for confirmation in writing.
Usually, you will be asked for an extra fee for a guaranteed delivery or pickup date. This extra fee is for the driver that may pass up or miss some pickup opportunities just to meet your deadline. Before the driver picks up and loads your car on the trailer, he/she will inspect it for damages. Another inspection will be done on delivery.
Because of this, you should be there or ask someone to receive the car for you if you can’t be there. You should check for any damage during the inspection for a greater chance of winning a claim. Before you sign off, make sure your vehicle was delivered clean and inspected where and when there is enough light.
Key point: The driver will pick up and inspect your car for pre-existing damage. You should inspect your car upon delivery as well.
Lastly, there are some ways that you can consider to save money. During the snowbird season, most carriers badly need cars from some states. For instance, their trucks in Florida are empty during fall. They need vehicles from Florida going to the East Coast to pick up several snowbirds.
During spring, the situation is the opposite. Usually, during this season, drivers are paid by carriers to move their trucks to places with more freight. Getting some pay from your car service even at a lower rate is a lot better than moving empty. Transporters will need your vehicle, so if you are planning to move it out of FL between October and early December, negotiate with the transporter. However, if the price is too low, it may be a sign of something being wrong.
Shipping a vehicle to a competition via an enclosed trailer is recommended and very safe. If you’ve just bought an unfamiliar classic car, it’s advisable to have it shipped rather than driving it. Usually, sorting out newly restored vehicles should be done close to home and during the daytime. Choosing the right car shipping company will give you the biggest advantage.
Written By:Joe Webster
Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing.
After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood.
With over 30 years experience in the industry, we've been helping people ship their vehicles, motorcycles, RV's, heavy equipment, household goods and more across the country or overseas without a hitch. Ask us anything.