How Does Car Shipping Work? (2024 Guide) (2024)

In This Review:

  • How Does Car Shipping Work?
  • Is Shipping Your Car Worth It?
  • How Much Does Car Shipping Cost?
  • Open Vs. Enclosed Car Shipping
  • Recommended Car Shipping Providers
  • How Does Car Shipping Work: Conclusion
  • How Does Car Shipping Work: FAQ

Written by:

Dash Lewis, Writer

How Does Car Shipping Work? (2024 Guide) (1)

Written by: Dash Lewis Content Writer

01/23/2024 04:46 PM

Key Points:

  • The two most popular methods of auto shipping are open car transport and enclosed carrier shipping.
  • Based on our extensive quote research, car shipping costs between 39 cents and $2.34 per mile depending on the distance and carrier.
  • Factors such as the shipping distance, pickup and delivery locations, and chosen type of transport will all affect car shipping costs.

If you’re planning to make a long-distance move, shipping your vehicle with a car transport company could remove the hassle of a long drive. Auto shipping is a great way to avoid wasting time on the road, especially if you’re moving more than a few hundred miles away.

Our team spent more than 300 hours researching how to ship a car and we’ll use this article to explain how car shipping works. In doing so, we’ll provide cost estimates, explain whether it’s worth it, and offer recommendations on the industry’s best car shipping companies.

Featured Car Shipping Companies

How Does Car Shipping Work?

The process for shipping a car isn’t all that difficult, but it still takes a bit of explaining. Below, you’ll find some details on the steps for moving a vehicle using an auto transport service.

1. Choose An Auto Transport Method

The most popular types of car shipping are open and enclosed trailer transport. If you own a luxury vehicle or sports car, you may want to consider the extra protection of enclosed trailers. If you’re more concerned about car shipping costs, you should pick open trailer transport.

2. Compare Car Shipping Quotes

Once you’ve chosen your shipping method, start getting car shipping quotes online from various reputable auto haulers. You’ll find providers with online marketplaces as well as auto shipping companies that work as transport brokers, so decide which one you’re more comfortable with. Most providers have free quote tools and car shipping calculators on their websites to simplify the process.

The best way to vet carriers is by looking at customer reviews on platforms like the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Trustpilot, and Google. Another method is by looking up motor carrier numbers given out to reputable providers by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

3. Book The Best Shipping Option

Once you’ve found a provider that suits your needs, it’s time to book the transport. If you settle on a broker, it’ll take care of posting your bid and finding the right car carrier. Those who go with an online auto transport marketplace, like uShip, will deal directly with the winning carrier throughout the car shipping process.

4. Prepare Your Vehicle For Shipment

After booking a vehicle moving service, you’ll need to prepare the car for transport. Remove all personal items from your car and take pictures of it in case you need to file a damage claim. It’s also recommended that you leave no more than a quarter tank of gas in your car.

5. Drop Your Car Off

On the dropoff date, you’ll need to meet your trucker at an agreed-upon location. Both of you will inspect the car and record any preexisting dents or damage on the bill of lading, which acts as a form of proof that your car was picked up and delivered to its destination. At that point, you’ll sign the bill of lading and your vehicle will be ready to get loaded for transport.

6. Pick Your Car Up

If you selected door-to-door shipping, your car will head right to its intended destination. If you chose to have your car shipped to a terminal instead, you’ll need to meet the hauler at a predetermined terminal on the pickup date. Inspect it again for new damages if everything looks alright, sign off on the bill of lading, and get your car.

Is Shipping Your Car Worth It?

If you’re someone who loves a good road trip, then you may want to drive your car to its final destination. However, those looking to simplify their moves and reduce time, hassle, and stress may want to learn how car shipping works.

Shipping your car can protect the vehicle from the wear and tear that comes with a long drive. You’ll also avoid the risk of being involved in a car accident or the vehicle suffering a mechanical breakdown. Ultimately, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of your situation before making a decision.

How Soon Will My Car Arrive?

Patience is key when it comes to vehicle transport. If you’re shipping a car cross-country, you can expect the vehicle’s delivery time frame to be anywhere between seven and 10 days. If you’re shipping a car internationally or to either Hawaii or Alaska, prepare for a longer shipment. Carriers can run into bad weather, heavy traffic, and even road closures, all which may affect how long it takes for your car to travel.

Many shipping providers offer online tracking, so it’s worth using the tool if you’re looking for peace of mind and a set arrival date.

CEO of SGT Auto Transport, Jack Savov, encourages customers to, “Request frequent updates from the car carrier and ask for a notice before pickup and delivery to ensure a smooth and seamless transaction.” He also suggests “providing multiple phone numbers or contact methods … as it can help to avoid communication issues.”

What If My Car Gets Damaged?

If you’re worried about damage to your vehicle during transport, know that providers are legally required to carry insurance to protect the car. The federal government issues minimum-liability insurance requirements for auto carriers, though higher levels of protection can typically be purchased as add-ons.

Take the time to check out what a carrier’s insurance policy will and won’t cover. Once your car reaches its destination, inspect it carefully for damages and have the provider note any issues on your bill of lading. You’ll then need to contact the shipping company to file a claim.

How Much Does Car Shipping Cost?

Our research team found that price per mile is the most common way that vehicle transport rates are calculated. According to quotes we received during our research, the cost to ship a car is anywhere from 39 cents to around $2.34 per mile.

The shorter the shipping distance, the more likely you are to pay per mile to ship a car. If you’re transporting your vehicle over a long distance, you’ll pay less per mile but more overall. The table below has a breakdown of the average car shipping costs per mile for various distances.

Shipping DistanceTotal CostCost per mile
470 miles (open)$649$1.38
1,640 miles (open)$1,129$0.69
1,640 miles (enclosed)$1,549$0.95
2,985 miles (open)$1,469$0.49

*The table above is based on quotes for an operable 2019 Mazda CX-5.

To learn more about the average cost of car shipping, we led a customer satisfaction survey of 1,000 people who have previously shipped their vehicle. Here’s how much respondents reported paying for their car shipping service:

  • 6 percent paid less than $500
  • 55 percent paid between $500 and $1,500
  • 34 percent paid $1,501 or more

What Changes Car Shipping Rates?

Remember that your actual costs will vary depending on factors like your chosen auto shipper, dropoff and delivery locations, and the shipping services you pick. See below for more details on the factors that affect your vehicle shipping costs.

  • Shipping distance: You’ll receive a better rate per mile with long-distance shipping, but your overall costs will be higher than if you shipped the car a shorter distance.
  • Pickup and delivery locations: If you live in or are shipping to a rural area, your shipping prices will probably be higher than for someone from a more populous location. In addition, door-to-door transport services will cost more than if you take advantage of terminal-to-terminal shipping.
  • Time of year: If you’re choosing to ship a car in January or the summer months, you’ll pay more than if you ship your vehicle during other months of the year that tend to be slower.
  • Vehicle condition: The operability of your car influences shipping costs. Vehicles that are inoperable must be winched or forklifted onto the trailer, which costs extra.
  • Vehicle size: If you’re shipping a large vehicle such as a truck or SUV, you’ll pay more.
  • Vehicle weight: The heavier the vehicle, the more it will cost. Taking all unnecessary items and accessories out of the car and only having a quarter tank of gas in the car will help cut costs.
  • Type of transport: Open transport will cost you less than enclosed trailer shipping.
  • Shipping speed: if you’ve opted for expedited shipping or a guaranteed delivery window, you’ll end up paying more. Flexibility with the speed of your car shipment and the delivery date can save you money.

Open Vs. Enclosed Car Shipping

There are many different ways that car shipping works, but your specific needs will determine the best method for you. While it’s sometimes possible to ship a car via train, boat, or plane, the most common method is to transport it via either an open or an enclosed carrier.

As with any type of transport, there are pros and cons to enclosed vs. open car shipping. However, our research shows that the most popular method of car transport is open trailer shipping. After surveying 1,000 people who’d previously shipped a car, we found that 36 percent chose open carrier shipping while 29 percent picked enclosed auto transport.

Open Carrier Car Shipping

Open auto transport carriers allow multiple vehicles to be shipped together at once. Vehicles sit outdoors during the shipment, as they travel on an open trailer without a covering. While this shipping method is great for those looking for cheap car shipping, it leaves your vehicle exposed to road debris, bad weather, and other potential hazards during transit.

Enclosed Carrier Car Shipping

Enclosed carrier vehicle transport involves the use of an enclosed trailer rather than an open one. Enclosed carrier shipping services are the safest option to ship your vehicle, as they protect it from potential hazards that could occur. Enclosed shipping usually comes with higher limits from insurance companies, which could benefit owners of luxury vehicles and classic cars.

Recommended Car Shipping Providers

We’d encourage you to reach out to several auto transport companies for instant quotes once you’ve learned how car shipping works. Online shipping quotes are both free and relatively easy to obtain.

Our team has carefully researched the reputation, costs, car transport services, and customer experience of auto shippers to help you choose the best one for your needs. Two of the industry’s most affordable and high-quality choices are Montway Auto Transport and Sherpa Auto Transport.

Montway Auto Transport: Best Overall

Montway Auto Transport is a major car shipping company that works with over 30,000 carriers across the United States. It boasts an A+ rating with the BBB and has 4.6 out of 5.0 stars from almost than 2,300 customer reviews. All of Montway Auto Transport’s shippers are insured, and the company provides an additional $250,000 of cargo coverage in case your trucker’s policy doesn’t fully cover a valid claim.

With options for door-to-door delivery, expedited shipping, and open and enclosed auto transport, we feel that Montway Auto Transport is one of the best car shippers around. Another benefit is that the company is willing to transport vehicles with up to 100 pounds of personal belongings packed away.

Read more: Montway Auto Transport review

Best Overall


How Does Car Shipping Work? (2024 Guide) (6)

How Does Car Shipping Work? (2024 Guide) (7)

Sherpa Auto Transport: Positive Customer Experience

Sherpa Auto Transport holds an A+ rating and 4.9 out of 5.0 stars from the BBB, revealing its positive customer service reputation. A standout feature of Sherpa is the company’s Price Lock Promise, which makes sure that your initially quoted rate won’t go up mid-shipment.

You can receive either open or enclosed auto shipping to anywhere in the U.S. other than Hawaii or Alaska. Sherpa Auto Transport also offers 24/7 real-time updates on your vehicle during transport, which may ease your nerves as your car makes its way to its destination.

Read more: Sherpa Auto Transport review

Positive Customer Experience


How Does Car Shipping Work? (2024 Guide) (8)

How Does Car Shipping Work? (2024 Guide) (9)

How Does Car Shipping Work: Conclusion

The way that car shipping works is pretty straightforward, even for first-time movers. As long as you’re willing to vet car carriers and compare rates, you’ll likely enjoy a positive experience. Our team recommends Montway Auto Transport and Sherpa Auto Transport as two legitimate providers with a known history of strong customer service and competitive pricing.

How Does Car Shipping Work: FAQ

Below are some frequently asked questions about how car shipping works in practice.

What is the most cost-effective way to ship a car?

Shipping your car via open carrier transport is the most cost-effective way to transport your vehicle. This is because carriers can transport more vehicles at once and have access to more shipping terminals. However, open air shipping runs the risk of causing damage to your vehicle from road debris, bad weather, or other hazards.

How much does it cost to ship a car?

According to our research from 24 providers, the average rate to ship a car ranges from 39 cents to $2.34 per mile. Keep in mind that exact costs will vary depending on factors such as your shipping distance, type of transport, and vehicle condition. Dealerships and others moving a fleet may receive discounted rates.

What are the most popular methods for shipping a car?

We surveyed 1,000 people who had previously shipped a car and found that 36 percent of them sent their vehicle out with open carrier transport. This method is more popular than enclosed transport due to the extra costs associated with moving a car in an enclosed trailer.

How We Rate Auto Shipping Companies

Our review team extensively researches car shipping providers to deliver informed and unbiased assessments of leading companies. We evaluate several key rating factors that are important to consumers to determine which providers are the best in the industry:

  • Reliability: Providers that earn strong ratings from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and have a long history in the auto transport industry score well in this category.
  • Services: We take a look at what types of transport services are available through each company, including open and enclosed transport, door-to-door shipping, and more. Those with wider service selections are more likely to meet consumers’ needs.
  • Pricing: Our team performs a secret shopper analysis to get quotes for a variety of shipping routes and services. We compare each company’s costs to industry average prices to see how it stands up to the competition.
  • Customer Experience: We consider customer reviews on sites like the BBB and Trustpilot to better understand the consumer experience. Car shipping companies with convenient quote processes also perform well in this category.
How Does Car Shipping Work? (2024 Guide) (10)

Dash Lewis Content Writer

How Does Car Shipping Work? (2024 Guide) (2024)


How Does Car Shipping Work? (2024 Guide)? ›

Cars Getting Shipped by Rail

Sometimes the cars are loaded directly on car racks at the factory; other times, vehicles get transported by truck to the rail yard. So-called auto racks or auto carriers are usually divided between bi-level (two decks) and tri-level (three decks).

How does the car shipping process work? ›

The Car Shipping Process Explained
  1. Step 1: Have Your Vehicle and Shipment Information Ready.
  2. Step 2: Get Shipping Quotes.
  3. Step 3: Choose Open or Enclosed Transport.
  4. Step 4: Choose Door-to-Door or Terminal-to-Terminal Shipping.
  5. Step 5: Prepare Your Car for Shipment.
  6. Step 6: Your Vehicle will be Picked Up.

How are new cars shipped from the factory? ›

Cars Getting Shipped by Rail

Sometimes the cars are loaded directly on car racks at the factory; other times, vehicles get transported by truck to the rail yard. So-called auto racks or auto carriers are usually divided between bi-level (two decks) and tri-level (three decks).

Is Sgt auto legit? ›

SGT is one of the most reliable auto transport companies. It offers guaranteed pick-up dates and includes insurance in its pricing.

How does military car shipping work? ›

The military typically covers the transport costs of one privately owned vehicle (POV) from a base outside the contiguous U.S. to a continental base and vice versa. Members of the military usually have to pay for auto shipping costs if they're moving within the contiguous U.S.

How does shipping process work step by step? ›

Steps in the shipping process
  • Importer requests quotes and orders goods. ...
  • Freight forwarder organises export. ...
  • Booking of freight through a carrier. ...
  • Goods are transported by freight. ...
  • Goods are processed in customs and placed in transit. ...
  • Goods arrive in the country of destination for import clearance.
Jun 21, 2021

What to know before shipping a car? ›

As a general guide, these are things you should do before shipping your car:
  • Ensure you have plenty of insurance. ...
  • Document the condition of your car. ...
  • Empty your gas tank. ...
  • Remove any personal items. ...
  • Remove or tape down anything loose on the outside of the car.
Feb 14, 2024

How to track a vehicle in transit to dealership? ›

Included in the cost of your car shipping quote, you should be able to access this info through your company's website, a third-party app, or SMS notifications. If you're wondering how to track a vehicle in transit to a dealership (or how to track a car shipment in general), GPS is usually the answer nowadays.

How are brand new cars transported? ›

The majority of more than 70 automotive manufacturing plants in North America are served by railroads, and each dedicated freight train moves an average of 750 new vehicles from production facilities to sellers. In 2017 alone, American railroads moved 1.6 million rail car loads of new automobiles and auto parts.

Will car prices drop in 2024? ›

Prices on new cars are expected to drop in 2024 as the industry moves beyond the supply-chain issues that pushed up auto prices during the pandemic, which will gradually ease the prices on used vehicles as well. That's welcome news for car shoppers who have faced record-high prices over the past couple of years.

How do I know if my car shipping company is legit? ›

No Motor Carrier or DOT Number

Most companies display MC and DOT numbers on their websites, but if you're unable to find them, a quick search on the FMCSA website will help you determine whether the carrier you're researching is lawful and legitimate.

Who is the most reliable car transport company? ›

Top 5 Reliable Car Shipping Companies
  • Guardian Auto Transport. Google: 4.9 out of 5 stars. BBB: 4.7 out of 5 stars. ...
  • Sherpa Auto Transport. BBB: 4.9 out of 5 stars. Yelp: 4.3 out of 5 stars. ...
  • SGT Auto Transport. Google: 4.7 out of 5 stars. BBB: 4.6 out of 5 stars. ...
  • Montway Auto Transport. BBB: 4.6 out of 5 stars. ...
  • Easy Auto Ship.
Apr 29, 2024

How much can SGT auto transport weight? ›

With SGT, you can leave up to 100 pounds of personal items in your vehicle. However, these aren't covered by cargo insurance. Be ready at the pickup destination: The carrier assigned to your shipment will contact you a few hours ahead of time to let you know they're on their way.

Will the military pay for your car to be shipped? ›

Typically, the government will cover the cost of shipping one privately owned vehicle per household. Any additional vehicles will need to be shipped at your own expense. It's wise to budget around $1000 to $2500 per vehicle for this purpose.

Is military shipping cheaper? ›


According to this agreement, the level of service provided to these overseas customers needs to be the same as though they were living in the U.S., which is why the price of Military Mail postage is always the same as that of domestic postage.

What company does the military use to ship cars? ›

Military PCS Vehicle Shipping | Military Car Shipping | Montway Auto Transport. Montway Auto Transport has safely shipped 1,000,000+ vehicles to all 50 states.

How long does it take for a car to arrive once shipped? ›

Key Takeaways: How long it takes to ship a car varies based on the distance traveled, availability of auto carriers and your delivery time frame. It usually takes between a few days and two weeks for your vehicle to get from the point of origin to its final destination.

How do car packages work? ›

Packages are groups of features bundled together and offered as an option on some cars. When you add up all the features in a given trim level and package, it can make a big difference in the price of a car.

How does car logistics work? ›

The movement of auto components, replacement parts, and whole cars from supplier to consumer is known as automotive logistics and transport, warehousing, unloading, loading, distribution, and data processing are the primary operations.

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