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If you want to ship something, it’s usually a fairly simple process: Choose a company, prepare your package and send it off or have it picked up for delivery. However, when that package is something larger, like a car, the task can seem overwhelming.
Luckily, there are shipping services that specialize in transporting vehicles from one area of the country to another. While these companies are familiar with the process, the average individual isn’t, so it can be hard to find a quality service.
We want to arm you with information so you understand the process and know what to expect when it comes time to transport your vehicle. Additionally, we will help you avoid common mistakes when choosing a car transport service, give you tips and answer the most frequently asked questions about shipping your car.
If you are simply looking for a reputable service that can help you move your car, consider the companies that we’ve spotlighted elsewhere in this article.
Key considerations that affect the cost of a car transport service
There are two main types of transport services
Vehicle transport can be broken down into two broad categories: open and enclosed.
Open: The most affordable method of shipping your vehicle is open transport. With this method, multiple cars are secured to a trailer to reduce the cost. A vehicle that is transported in this manner will have no protection from the elements or road debris, so when it arrives at its destination, it will more than likely have a layer of dust that will need to be cleaned off. While this method sounds risky, it only exposes your vehicle to conditions that are similar to driving. For the average vehicle, open transport is usually suitable.
Enclosed: If your vehicle is rare, valuable, a collector’s item or should not be exposed to weather and road conditions for any reason, you will want to consider the more costly option of enclosed transport. The two levels of protection available in this category are soft- and hard-side trailers. While both offer protection from the elements and common road hazards, the hard side trailer is the more expensive option. It is important to realize that not all companies will offer both of these enclosed options.
Because it takes time and fuel to travel, distance is the factor that can influence price the most. For example, shipping a car from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, will cost much more than transporting a vehicle from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The size, weight and condition of your vehicle will all factor into the final cost of using a car transport service. For example, a compact car will cost considerably less to transport than a large SUV. If your vehicle is inoperable or will require special care when loading and unloading, you can expect to pay a premium.
Special considerations for California residents
The time of year makes a difference
Most people tend to travel to Los Angeles, San Francisco and other areas of California in the summer. This can have an impact on not only scheduling but the price of using a car transport service. If you have any flexibility in your schedule, the best time to use a car transport service is spring or fall because that is when you will get the best rates and have the most flexibility.
Are you traveling to or from a major city?
If you are having your car moved from one major city to another, the price will be lower than if the company has to travel to a remote area of California just to pick up or deliver your vehicle. This is also a good place to mention that you do have pick up and delivery options. Asking for door-to-door service will cost more than picking up your vehicle after it has been dropped off at a metropolitan terminal.
Consider a company based in California
One strategy that may help you get better rates and more flexible scheduling is to look for a company that is based in the area where you will be either shipping or receiving your vehicle. For instance, when transporting a car to Southern California, a service that is located in Los Angeles may have greater flexibility with scheduling and possibly better pricing because there will be more trucks traveling to and from the company’s home base. A company that is based on the East Coast, on the other hand, may only have trucks that travel to or from Southern California once each week.
Common mistakes to avoid
Mistake #1: Not understanding the rates or what’s included
There are a lot of variables when it comes to shipping a car. These can include anything from current oil prices to the size of your vehicle. Before deciding on a company, it is important to know how much you will be paying and what is included with that price so there will be no surprises when you get the bill.
Mistake #2: Accepting service from a company with limitations
Due to logistics, you will probably have to make some minor compromises when it comes to delivery dates or other details. This is understandable, to get the rate you want, you will have to wait until a truck is full. However, if you are making concession after concession on the type of delivery, available dates, where the car can be picked up and more, you are not dealing with a company that is able to provide the level of service you require.
Mistake #3: Not doing your research
Besides checking with the Better Business Bureau, you will want to read customer reviews and do some comparison shopping. When reading reviews, look for trends, not specifics as this will give you a better feel for the overall ability of the company to please its customers. When doing comparison shopping, be wary of any company that is offering a rate that is markedly higher or lower than average.
Mistake #4: Not verifying business registration numbers
All legitimate vehicle transport services will be registered with the Department of Transportation. Additionally, the business will be registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. If the company that you are considering can not produce a DoT or MC number, you will need to take your business elsewhere.
Best car transporter companies in California
eShip is a family owned and operated auto transport service provider that places a high value on customer service.
This company offers a quick transport quote with a price lock guarantee and provides door-to-door service. eShip assigns a personal agent to be the customer’s contact for the entire shipping process, and has expedited and enclosed transport options available upon request.
The one service eShip does not provide is terminal-to-terminal transport. Very rarely, there is a glitch in the process, but the company’s dedication to service strives to make things right.
AmeriFreight is a highly rated transport service based in Peachtree City, Georgia that was established in 2004. The company values a people-first approach when doing business.
AmeriFreight will ship to and from any location in the U.S. With its online tools, the company can give you an instant quote that will be verified by phone when you decide to use the service. The additional AFta Gap coverage that the company offers can protect the customer if any damage is detected up to 48 hours after a delivery. AmeriFreight also has a number of discounted rates for individuals who fall into certain categories such as students, military and first responders.
The only downside to this service is the company does require a deposit. The good news is AmeriFreight also has a money-back guarantee if you cancel before pickup, so the two balance each other out.
uShip is a versatile company that connects shippers with carriers and handles all the details to make transporting easy and affordable.
One of the biggest benefits to using uShip is the individual has far greater control over the final price. When you submit a job, you receive multiple bids that you can review. Ultimately, you select the option that works best for your particular needs. Additionally, the uShip mobile app allows you to track your vehicle and communicate directly with the driver throughout the entire process.
Even though uShip handles all the details of connecting shippers to carriers, it is still the customer’s job to research the carrier to make sure the company is properly licensed and insured.
- Clean your car: Dirt can hide dings and scratches. Make sure you clean your car before shipping so you can more accurately document the car’s condition before you ship it and after you receive it.
- Document the condition of your vehicle: Make a detailed inspection of your car before shipping. Use notes as well as photos from all angles so you have a comprehensive record. Date the photographs.
- Read the insurance policy: For the greatest peace of mind when using a car transporter, make sure you fully understand the company’s insurance policy so you know exactly what is covered.
- Gather the necessary documents: Before shipping your vehicle, verify the documents you will need and make sure you have them with you at the time of shipping. These documents will typically include vehicle registration, proof of ownership and proof of insurance.
- Prepare the car as if it were being driven: Before shipping your vehicle, make sure it is in proper working condition. Check all fluids, tire pressure and consider taking a picture of the odometer.
- Disable your vehicle’s alarm system: To avoid irritating the driver, disable your car’s alarm system before transport.
- Secure all loose items: Anything that can be removed from your car, should be removed before shipping. Anything that can’t be removed must be secured so it does not get damaged or run the risk of becoming a projectile in the event of a sudden stop.
- Remove or deactivate toll tags: To protect yourself from receiving any unexpected toll bills, remove or deactivate any toll tags or electronic devices before shipping.
- Check your vehicle when it arrives: When you receive your vehicle, make sure you inspect it and note any issues you find before signing the Bill of Lading. This is the document that serves as proof that you received your vehicle in the same condition it was in when you shipped it.
- Work with an auto broker: An auto transport broker is a company that charges a fee to handle everything you need to get your vehicle from point A to point B, but does not do the actual transporting. The benefit to using a broker is you may be able to get a better deal, but the downside is you might not have the same relationship with the carrier that you would experience when dealing with them directly.
Q: How far in advance should I schedule a car transport?
A: Most companies request that you schedule your transport at least two to three weeks in advance.
Q: Can I use a transport service for vehicles other than my car?
A: Yes, most services will also transport motorcycles, trucks, boats and RVs.
Q: How long does it take to transport a vehicle?
A: While the average transport driver covers approximately 500 miles per day, there can be factors such as weather and road conditions that affect drive time. In general, shipping a car from coast to coast can take roughly 7 to 10 days.
Q: Should I fill my gas tank before shipping my car?
A: No. Fuel is flammable and adds weight. Before shipping your car, try driving it down to a quarter tank.
is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.