How to Ship a Car? Complete Shipping Guide

how to ship car

Brantley Kendall

22 Jan 2024 6 months ago

How do you ship a car effectively while ensuring its complete and full safety? Moving cars long distances used to be a total headache. Do you brave the wear and tear and drive it yourself? Do you trust some sketchy transport company to handle your precious vehicle? No way!

But now there’s a better option. This guide breaks down the entire process of how to ship your car from start to finish. I’ll let you in on industry secrets the transport firms don’t want you to know – saving you serious cash and stress.

Most companies just throw vague info at you and leave the details up to chance. Not me. I map out the top 7 shipping tips you need from start to finish – no fluff. You’ll know how to compare quotes, choose a solid company, prepare your car properly to prevent damage, understand additional costs, and set realistic timing.

So, if you’re wondering how you can ship a car and are only drawing blanks, don’t worry. Today, you’ll go from confusion to complete control of how to transport your baby with no gray areas. And I promise – no logistics nightmares in the process!

Sound good? Read the blog post below, and let’s get you and your wheels on the road.

how do you ship a car

Step 1: Research Reliable Companies That Know How to Ship a Car

When shipping your car long distances, you’ll have to partner with a professional car shipping company. But out of the thousands of auto transport companies and brokers out there, how do you make the right choice?

The natural temptation is simply to go with the lowest bid or the first company you stumble upon. But choosing the wrong car shipping partner could cost you big time in damages, delays, and frustration.

That’s why doing your homework and knowing how to pick a reputable car shipping company is crucial for a smooth, stress-free transport experience. Let’s look at four key benefits:

Protection Against Damages

Your vehicle is a significant investment, so you want to guard against any chips, dents, or scratches during the shipping journey. While no company can guarantee perfection, reputable transporters have stringent processes and equipment, like enclosed trailers, to prevent vehicle damage. Going cheap jeopardizes that protection, so read reviews carefully to find a company known for safely handling precious cargo.

Timeliness & Accountability

Once you drop your car at pickup, reputable companies provide real-time tracking and status updates via email, text, websites, or apps. You’ll stay informed if any delays arise so you can plan accordingly. Disreputable brokers may leave you guessing about the timing and next steps.

Licensed & Insured

Per federal regulations, every MC (motor carrier) number authorized transporter must be licensed and insured. This protects you financially in the rare case of damages or accidents. Verify these bona fides on a carrier’s website or by calling before you hire.

Experience & Professionalism

Established auto shipping firms with longevity have invested in drivers, training programs, and handling procedures to ensure clients receive white-glove service. Reviews spotlight these consistent practices. Newer budget operations need that foundation, increasing risks. Why gamble on your car’s safety? Spend more for premium transport peace of mind.

Tips on What to Look for in a Shipping Company

Here are some helpful tips on what to look for when choosing a quality car shipping company:

  • Check reviews: Reviews on Google, the Better Business Bureau, and sites like give critical insight into companies. Look for patterns regarding responsiveness, transparency on pricing/timing, handling of claims, professionalism, and safe vehicle delivery. A few negative reviews are expected, but examine how the company resolved complaints.
  • Verify Licensing & Insurance: Only work with an FMCSA licensed and bonded carrier, easily verified via their MC number on the Federal database. A minimum of $100k cargo insurance should also be carried. Financial coverage protects you if anything happens during transport.
  • Ask About Drivers: Inquire how drivers are vetted, trained, overseen, and rewarded. Well-compensated professionals with safety/performance incentives provide superior service to cheap spot labor. These drivers represent the shipping company directly.
  • Examine the Condition of the Equipment: Good companies invest in modern trailers, quality tie-downs, and handling equipment to secure cars properly in transit. Damage prevention is a priority. 
  • Understand Communication Practices: Clear, regular delivery updates through a customer portal, email, and text keep you informed as transport progresses. Access to live transport coordinators when questions arise also signals an emphasis on service.
  • Price Transparency: While cost matters, extremely cheap deals likely carry hidden fees for extra stops, adjustments, etc. Get complete price breakdowns upfront and read the fine print on contracts before signing and handing over your car. There should be no pricing surprises.

Step 2: Open vs. Enclosed Transport – What’s Best for Your Car?

When hiring an auto shipping company to move your car long distances, you’ll choose between open carriers and enclosed transport trailers. What’s the difference, and which is better for safely getting your precious vehicle to its destination? Let’s break it down.

Open Car Shipping

This is the most common shipping method, used to transport around 90% of vehicles in the U.S. Open car haulers are trucking rigs with open trailers that can accommodate 6-10 vehicles, double-decked.

Your car is secured via tie-down straps on a metal or fiberglass rack. The vehicles are thus exposed to the elements throughout transit. Open shipping costs significantly less than enclosed – $900–$1300 for cross-country vehicle transport, depending on car size and route.


  •  Lower cost
  •  More shipping flexibility and availability
  •  Potentially quicker transport times


  • Vulnerability to elements like rain, road debris/weather
  • Less vehicle security against theft

Enclosed Car Shipping

As the name suggests, enclosed carriers offer fully covered trailers, so walls and roofs shield vehicles. In the past, enclosed shipping was only used for high-end exotic car transport, but it is gaining broader popularity for protecting ordinary vehicles.


  • Maximum protection against damage/weather
  • Increased security – cars not visible
  • Often climate controlled


  • Substantially higher cost – $800–$2500+ for enclosed transport
  • Slightly longer transit time
  • Size accommodations – less capacity

Determine Which Method Fits Your Needs

Weigh your budget versus the required level of protection and security for your move. Enclosed shipping provides peace of mind for vintage or high-value cars heading into harsh weather regions and grants extra safety when shipping your car in winter. Open works well for more routine transports in fair conditions.

Reputable companies have both shipping options available. Communicate any special accommodations so they can customize the proper transport method. Be sure to get guaranteed pricing and timeline commitments in writing before pickup, regardless of the carrier type you select.

Depending on your exact preferences, SAKAEM can provide you with the top-notch quality service you need. We offer both enclosed and open car shipping and are always ready to assist you in transporting your vehicle to the selected destination.

Step 3: Prepare Your Car for Shipping

how do you ship a car

You’ve booked your transport. It’s time to get your vehicle ready for the journey ahead. Want to know how to prepare a car for shipping the right way? Follow this comprehensive checklist so your car arrives safely at the final destination:

  • Remove all personal items. Clean out the car of any personal possessions, aftermarket parts, toll transponders, mounted electronics, etc. Leave only the spare tire, car jack, and original factory-installed parts. Transporters are not liable for any items you leave behind.
  • Check fluid levels: Top off essential fluids like motor oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, windshield wiper fluid, etc. This prevents leaks or hazards during transport vibration.
  • Disconnect battery: Disconnect the battery cables to protect vehicle electronics and prevent accidental battery drainage during multi-day transport.
  • Check tire pressure: Inflate tires to the recommended pressure listed inside the driver door frame. Properly inflated tires prevent flats.
  • Disable security systems: Turn off vehicle alarm systems with fobs/key codes as needed so the car may be safely started once relocated.
  • Take detailed photos: Should pre-existing damages falsely be claimed, document any existing exterior flaws with date-stamped pictures. Provides proof if needed.

With these preparations crossed off pre-shipping, you’ll have confidence your automobile is secured for a smooth freight transfer. Double-check locks, print transport documents, and you’re ready for pickup!

Step 4: Insurance and Safety Measures

When using an auto transport service to ship your vehicle, the transport company typically carries insurance that covers potential damage to your car during transport. As the vehicle owner, comprehensive and collision insurance is generally not required but can provide extra protection. 

Here’s all you need to know about the importance and types of insurance you may need to ship your vehicle.

Verify the Transport Company’s Insurance Coverage

When shipping your car with an auto transport service, verify they have adequate insurance. Their policy should cover damage that may occur during pickup, transport, and delivery. Carefully check that coverage limits are sufficient to replace your vehicle if it is badly damaged.

Transport companies are usually legally required to carry this insurance. However, specific requirements vary, so check policies closely. Some only cover once your car is loaded. Others exclude certain situations. Make sure you understand what is and isn’t covered.

Consider Supplemental Insurance

As an extra protection, maintain your own comprehensive collision insurance during transport. While not mandatory, it can help cover deductibles or shortfalls from the shipper’s insurance. Fortunately, significant issues are rare, but this provides peace of mind.

Ship Stress-Free

Follow these tips, and you can ship your car stress-free, knowing adequate insurance safeguards are in place. Reputable transporters will have coverage to handle potential problems professionally and smoothly.

Step 5: Essential Documentation for Hassle-Free Transport

Relocating across the country and need to ship your vehicle? Proper documentation is crucial for a smooth process. When entrusting your automobile to a transport service, specific paperwork helps protect against issues down the road.

The Bill of Lading: Your Official Receipt

The most vital document is the Bill of Lading (or BOL). This is the official receipt proving your car’s condition when accepted by the carrier. Before release, thoroughly inspect for any existing defects with the transporter’s representative and ensure every dent and scratch is notated on the BOL, no matter how minor. Only pre-transport damage recorded on this form can be claimed later if necessary. 

Once both parties sign the BOL to confirm the vehicle’s condition, take dated photos as additional confirmation. Only sign the form when reconciling any unnoted damage found during the inspection.

Verifying Adequate Insurance

As the customer, your insurance is generally unnecessary, provided the transporter carries policies with sufficient coverage limits for your car’s value. Still, it is wise to examine policy details to understand exclusions and ensure your vehicle is fully protected during loading, shipping, and delivery. Purchasing supplemental coverage through your insurance provider does offer additional peace of mind.

Other Potential Requirements

  • Lienholder approval: If financing your vehicle, written authorization from your lender may be mandated before shipping a car to another state. This principally affects Hawaii exports.
  • Owner authorization: Designates another individual to collect your vehicle from the destination point if you cannot personally be present. This is, however, not required for inland transport within the contiguous United States and applies to overseas shipments only.
  • Extra insurance: While typically redundant, it can help where the transport company’s insurance seems inadequate.

By gathering critical paperwork like the Bill of Lading and confirming satisfactory insurance, auto transport can proceed seamlessly from start to finish. An ounce of preparation prevents untold headaches!

Step 6: Tracking Your Vehicle

At the very least, a reputable company will update you when your vehicle is initially loaded, departs the pickup area, arrives at its destination, and is ready for delivery. But many take customer communication even further with email or text alerts at every stop along the multi-day journey across state lines – think morning wake-up notifications when pulling back onto the highway after the driver’s overnight rest break.

GPS Vehicle Tracking 

For hardcore hover parents of cars, real-time GPS vehicle tracking allows peeking in on the transport truck’s location at any moment. Mobile apps and online dashboards let you check detailed maps plotting your car’s progress, ensuring the quoted route is followed and delays are avoided. Be bold about politely checking in if your ride seems too long off-route!

Pro Tip: If possible, request to track the individual truck hauling YOUR vehicle rather than the entire company’s fleet. No mix-ups that way!

Special Requests

Get old school with scheduled check-in calls! Some specialized transport outfits catering to vintage vehicles or custom builds will phone daily with personal progress reports. Ask at booking if this or other reassurances are available for precious cargo devoured by nerves till drop-off day.

Step 7: Receiving Your Vehicle

After days or weeks in transit, collecting your automobile from the transport carrier likely causes relief and excitement. But before taking to open roads, crucial final actions exist to certify delivery goes smoothly:

Conduct Thorough Inspection

Carefully examine your vehicle to identify any new defects, no matter how minor. Review corresponding photographs and documentation from the initial pickup to compare conditions. Note all inconsistencies or damage immediately to the representative; this preserves your right to file a claim if desired. Only sign to accept full delivery after reconciling any issues to your satisfaction.

Verify and Retain Paperwork 

With vehicle inspection complete, collect and peruse all associated paperwork – Bills of Lading, pre-transport images, proof of delivery receipts, etc. Confirm that all documents align regarding the stated condition and match your visual findings. Raise any discrepancies in writing as soon as possible, appending additional photographs. Proper documentation now smoothes out potential snags down the line.

Test Critical Systems 

Before the carrier’s departure, thoroughly road test your automobile, verifying flawless mechanical and electrical operation, including:

  1. Engine and transmission performance
  2. Electronics charging and functionality
  3. Brake, steering, and suspension response
  4. Heating, cooling, and other systems

Swiftly address any concerns before the vehicle’s release. If apprehensions about sound operation emerge, consider third-party emissions and safety inspections.

Completing these vital final steps safeguards against future hassles. With diligent inspection, paperwork in order, and performance verified, congratulations – insert your keys and commence enjoying your automobile without hesitation!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How much does it cost to ship a car?

The costs of car shipping vary widely based on distance, vehicle type, transport method, etc. However, expect to pay $500 – $1,500 for a typical sedan shipping 500-1,000 miles. Get free quotes from multiple carriers to compare and get the best deal.

How long does vehicle shipping take?

Again, this depends on mileage and the transport method selected. However, plan for 5-10 days for most regions and up to 2 weeks coast-to-coast. Those timeframes include pickup, transit, and delivery.

Does insurance cover my car during shipping?

Yes, reputable transporters carry insurance on all vehicles in transit, although verifying coverage specifics is wise. Customers’ auto policies may offer backup coverage as well.

Can I put personal items in my car during shipping?

Most companies allow additional cargo up to 100 lbs but verify size and weight limits for your transport type. Remove valuables and loosely pack other items to prevent shifting during transit.

What documents do I need to ship my automobile?

Essential paperwork includes proof of ownership or registration, driver’s license, liability insurance, lienholder approval if required, and signed Bill of Lading or release orders.

Can every vehicle type be shipped?

If dimensions permit, nearly all passenger vehicles are transportable, along with many specialty cars, trucks, SUVs, and RVs. Boat shipping may utilize different carriers.


Shipping your vehicle to a new home or military base doesn’t need to be stressful. As we’ve explored, reputable auto transport providers offer end-to-end services to relocate your car, truck, or SUV safely and efficiently across town or nationwide.

The key lies in finding the best car transport company which offers an insured, transparent service and communicates every step of the way. Verify that both their Better Business Bureau rating and Google reviews left by clients praise their reliability, equipment standards, and honest pricing. Cross-reference that with other reviews that you find on other pages. Once you’re ready to commit, be sure to request information regarding the pickup date, direct routing, and contingency support.

Most importantly, understand how to protect your investment by completing thorough inspections at both ends, retaining diligent paperwork, and immediately noting every scratch or scrape.

Arm yourself with the consumer know-how detailed here, and your wheels can arrive trouble-free. When you’re ready to transport your automobile confidently, we encourage you to request a commitment-free quote from the team at SAKAEM Logistics. Our years of combined industry expertise guarantee your prized vehicle is “Driven with Care!”

You may also read: 10 Key Benefits of Auto Transport Services

Brantley Kendall