Auto Transport Companies to Avoid

There are several scams and frauds online that take place every day and the auto transport sector has not been immune in the very least. Many agree, that there is a "wild west" mentality in this industry due to how some of the players decide to profit on auto shipping by coming up with car shipping scams.

This is due to lack of oversight on how services provided by a car shipping company are advertised and marketed. Current regulations focus heavily on the safety, insurance, and licensing, all which happen after the fact. That means there is very little out there regulating how an auto transport company should sell car shipping services.

There are various ways anyone can get caught up in a car shipping scam. Like using a car transport company that should have been avoided, or other type of scammer. In the end it means having the shipping of your car be a terrible experience.

auto transport scam

How Car Shipping Scams Work

The auto transport industry has grown significantly in the last few years and drawing attention from scammers looking to capitalize on the auto shipping boom. Although there are a lot of honest car shipping companies out there, some are not looking out for your best interests.

It's common for scammers to emulate a legitimate auto transport company, use a name that is confusingly similar, and create their own scam site. Your research leads you to believe that you are working with the reliable car transport company, when in reality it's a fake.

Similarly, other licensed car transport companies that have slipped car shipping scams under the radar. After reviewing the information we provide, you will be aware of most car shipping scams seen today.

common scams

Common Types of Auto Transport Scams

There are many scams involving car shipping companies. Here, we go over scams that cast a shadow over legit car transport companies. These scams can happen to anyone that is not aware of them. Anyone could fall victim if the proper steps aren't taken.

Car Shipping Price Scams

Since the market for car shipping is so competitive, customers tend to try to find the lowest price. As a result, red flags may be ignored in favor of paying less. This leaves the window open to prey on those that can't afford to pay too much. Because after all, who doesn't want to save money?

The Price Switch Scam

This is the very most common auto transport company scam you see. The price given to the customer is not one that a car carrier will ever accept. Carriers are not required to take cars first come first serve and they ignore or block listings for vehicles that don't pay them the money they expect for their auto transport services.

At this point the unscrupulous broker will have locked the customer into a signed contract that has language buried stating prices are "estimated" and "can change". Some with no stated limit, others saying it could vary by the hundreds.

It is absolutely done with the intention to use that line in their contract to their advantage. At that point the scammer auto transport company will find a carrier for the real price, charge their inflated broker fee, and announce the price change after the car is in transit because you "agreed to it".

The carrier that took the job is not at fault, but auto carriers will enforce the contract they signed with the vehicle shipping company. They are allowed to withhold the vehicle if they do not get the money they were promised. Even it's not the deal you made with the broker.

Initial Low Price Scam

This scam involves a very low fee to ship a car. Everyone wants to save money on their car shipping costs. So it's easy to be lured in that way into a scam.

As you begin booking the order, extra fees appear. Processing fee, listing fee, load board fee, etc. This is done very quickly and the scam auto shipper has already taken your credit card info. When they send the contract, the total is much more.

Since you already have taken time to give all your information. the shifty salesperson is hoping you'll say yes to get things done quickly and not have to start over.

The upside is that this is a low-level scam. If you refuse to sign the contract you can cancel or contact your credit card company. However, this scam can be used in tandem with the Price Switch Scam to put you out of even more money. The idea is to tire you out going back and fourth so you give up and just pay.

The Similar Company Scam

A lot of times a play on words with car shipping company names can cause you to believe you are looking at company reviews and other online reviews for a specific company that has a good reputation. This makes it so scam auto transport firms offer car shipping services that dupe customers to trust them while working off the backs of the legitimate company they are pretending to be. This leaves you open to the previously mentioned scams.

Car Shipping Scam - Buying and Selling Vehicles

Some scams are not isolated towards auto shipping alone, but also include stealing money from sellers and buyers for vehicles.

Fake Car Buying And Shipping Scams

The objective of this vehicle transport fraud is to scam individual car owners who are selling their vehicle. The conman will contact you and offer to purchase your car.

You agree on a price and they send you a check for the vehicle as well as shipping costs from a car shipping company they picked. This car shipping website just so happens to be a site they control with a phone number that calls them or an accomplice.

You reach out to them to pay the cost of shipping the car. You pay the money via an instant transfer or money order. The payment to you is reversed, phones go dead, and the hundreds you paid for shipping are gone.

The Fake Seller and Shipper Scam

A fraudster posing as a seller for a car you want when this happens. They list a vehicle for sale at a bargain price. You agree to purchase it happily thinking you got an awesome deal. They tell you about a car shipping company that also happens to be an escrow company.

This fake car shipping service company, usually a website operated by the scammer, confirms they have the car when contacted. They agree to release the car to ship when payment clears. Your payment clears, the site and the phones go dead. Your funds are lost.

understanding car shipping educate self

Know The Car Shipping Industry to Avoid a Car Shipping Scam

There are some ways you can successfully avoid being lured into a car shipping scam. A big part of this, is to know what types of providers exist in the industry and what you should expect from them if they are a legitimate company providing reliable auto transport.

These are:

  1. Car Transport Brokers
  2. Direct Carriers
  3. Lead Providers

Car Transport Brokers

By majority, car transport companies will operate as licensed car shipping brokers. Carriers generally are not involved in the sales process to procure customers that need auto transport services. Because most of them operate on the road, they can't take the time to do customer service, find clientele, or sit and work in an office. Their business location rides on 16 wheels across the country.

With the hundreds of auto transport companies being brokers, carriers need only to go online at marketplaces like Central Dispatch and select vehicles from a huge lists provided by hundreds of auto transport brokers.

Since multiple carriers are looking to fill their trucks, it creates competition to offer low car shipping prices to the auto transport broker. And since broker competition is also fierce, it pushes brokers to charge a competitive fee.

Are Brokers The Types Auto Transport Companies to Avoid?

In short, no. You do not have to avoid a car shipping broker. The only reason to avoid auto transport brokers is if they have bad company reviews or are involved in scam activity like price switching .

There are a great many hard working auto transport brokers that are very reputable and have excellent reviews. Auto transport brokers are the fastest way to locate a car carrier.

Direct Carriers

Just as it sounds, these are the guys doing all service and hauling for you and take you car direct. If working with a car shipping company that is a carrier, you have direct contact with the trucking company that is handling the auto transport services. They will do so with their own fleet. The most common types of carriers are open transport and enclosed transport.

There are a total of over 18,000 car shipping carriers, most of which are owner-operators that own trucks but deal only with brokers. As a result, very few advertise ore make themselves easy to find. This makes finding a direct carrier a longer process and less efficient on some ways.

Are Direct Carriers Better?

Direct contact with carriers can be more convenient but not necessarily better all-around. This is due the large amount of legwork needed to find a direct carrier that is not only running your route. Not only do they need to run the route, they must also be in the vicinity to pick up around the time you want. This is very hard to coordinate on your own. You can get more details on why carriers are hard to find.

Direct carrier companies also tend to be terminal to terminal shipping companies, so you may not get door to door shipping.

Carriers are aware that they are one of the types of car shipping companies customers believe they need most, so they will not be likely to give you a lower shipping cost. You do however ship your car and skip the middleman. You're sending the car direct with a carrier if you are successful.

Lead Providers

Lead providers or lead farming companies are unlicensed and only collect information about your vehicle's transport to sell it to brokers buying that information as a "lead". These websites are not illegal because the have nothing to do with providing auto transportation services.

Lead farming sites however to appear to be an auto transport company, with articles and photos they copy from actual auto transporters. Since they don't have any real operations, they tend to funnel profits fully into marketing their site to potential customers.

Tip: No MC or DOT Number? Not a real transport company!

Are Lead Providers Auto Transport Companies to Avoid?

It is our experience talking to customers that have encountered a lead farming site, that it was a bad experience that they would have avoided if they could.

Although lead farming sites don't operate as an auto transport scam persay, they are the cause of scam companies soliciting you that buy the leads form them. Many customers find the experience frustrating and exhausting as they are bombarded with aggressive sales calls and SMS messages.

Lead farming may not be a scam, but are deceptive in the sense they mimic a licensed auto transporter that can ship a car. If the visitor to the website would know the outcome ahead of time, (many calls, emails, texts) no one would enter their details.

To end the solicitations, each broker has to be asked individually to cease communications with you. There is no way to opt out of all of them at once.

How to Avoid Scams When Looking at Vehicle Shipping Companies

Check Company Reviews

Check reviews and ratings before entering any information to ship a car. Even the best car shipping companies don't have perfect reviews. However, don't waste your time getting a quote ship your car that is fantastic if the reviews are on the floor. Reviews are key in this industry. This is because its only way one can protect themselves aside from the basic consumer protection laws that exist.

Make sure you are looking at 3rd party reviews, not the self proclaimed testimonials on the website. Check Transport Reviews, Google Reviews, Angi, and Better Business Bureau.

You can easily check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration (FMCSA) if there are any complaints filed.

This will weed out the companies that will do more harm than good. The industry unfortunately does not protect the consumer a lot in this type of service. The rules and regulations are extremely focused on safety for the trucks and the drivers, but ends there. There is little to no regulation how the services sold to the consumer. This leaves an open opportunity fall victim to an auto transport scam.

Review the Car Shipping Contract and Stay Away From Shady Clauses

If the car shipping company is transparent about the way they operate, they will have their terms easily accessible on their website or will gladly send you a link to it anytime without hesitation. In there, you will want to look for things that will protect you Price increases, excessive delays, and insurance, no extra fees, etc.

Not having a transport contract immediately accessible could be a sign of a scam and therefore a company you should stay away from.

Read the Whole Contract

It may seem obvious, but a huge majority of customers do not read a contract. While looking at the terms, make sure the actual transport terms and conditions. Not not just the terms about website use, how they retain customer info, or generic rhetoric. They must discuss pickup, drop off, insurance, fees, everything. There should be information regarding all the details of the shipping process. Offer up no billing info until you are satisfied with the contract. This is so you can walk away without being charged anything

Avoid Auto Transport Company Scams by Not Signing Shady Contracts

Stay away from a contract that says something like that they can “increase the price and you agree with in a range of $200“. Try to not sign up with an auto transport scam company that tells you that they can charge the deposit for doing the work of without finding you a carrier first. As mentioned, common tactics in this industry are price switching and hidden fees. A lot of times there’s ironclad contract preventing you from even disputing your credit card charge so do be careful.

Be Cautious of Very Quick Scheduling

Everybody wants fast results. However, when you ship your car with reputable companies can take its time. Though it's possible a car carrier is in the area looking for that last car at the moment yours appears, it's not often the case. There are various factors such as how many trucks are in the area, seasonality, and more. See how long it takes for more information. This may be a scam company to avoid.

To be sure, make sure they provide the contact information for the car shipping carrier if they claim they have the driver. Ask them if they are providing you with all that was promised by the auto broker. Like door to door shipping and delivery dates.

Check Licensing and Cross Off Unlicensed Companies

When looking at a potential car mover, check that the company is properly licensed. If the MC Number (motor carrier number) or DOT number is not prominently displayed at the bottom of the webpage, you might be dealing with somebody that’s not even a real company. It is not legal to sell transport services without a license, so that will tell you to stay away from them. Make it easy to avoid auto transport scams by taking this simple step here.

If the Price is Too Good, It's Likely a Scam Price

Don’t jump on the lowest price you fine. Especially at that price is way lower than everybody else you’ve looked at. Shipping across state lines costs money. It is normal for pricing to be close from one company to another but if you are amazingly saving hundreds of dollars if the brakes and take a second look to make sure there’s no loopholes or scam.

Avoid Incredible Promises

 Watch out for crazy promises. For example, if most carriers are telling you they can’t do something within a certain timeframe and magically this one company can. That is always a red flag to watch for in case of a scam to distance yourself from.

Avoid Paying a Deposit or Upfront Costs Via Irreversible Payment Methods

Scammer websites will sometimes request that you pay for their deposit or the whole service upfront using a money order or wire transfer. Examples are Zelle, Moneygram, Western Union, CashApp, and wire transfer.

This is due to the fact that when you make your payment. using a cash payment app or wire transfer / bank transfer it is not reversible. The reason to also use Zelle, Moneygram, Western Union, CashApp, etc is because they are sometimes not traceable.

A legitimate auto shipper will ask for only a deposit or full fee using a credit or debit card, or PayPal when a carrier is scheduled. This sort of transaction is easily traceable in the event of fraud.

Cash payment apps, wire transfers, etc are safe however when it's COD (collect at delivery) and the carrier is dropping off the car in front of you.

Avoid Companies that Do Not Give Access to the Carrier as Your Vehicle Transport Is in Progress

During the shipping process, you should be able to have open communication with the driver of the car carrier. If the car is indeed being picked up and the carrier is on the way, then there should be no problem being able to talk to them. If this is unavailable to you, it's likely a scam auto transport service that needs to be avoided because it's not true.

Check that the Business is Running at a Real Location With Real Contact Information

Real car shippers have an office location for which the address should be prominently shown on the company website. This should not be a home address of a rental mailbox address. This could very well be a scam.

Do Not Use Companies That Use Free Voice Lines or a Personal Phone

Aa legitimate company will have a phone system with options. Not someone answering a cell phone or a free internet voice line. This could be a scam you will want to run from. It is true the greatest companies have started as a one person operation, however there should be a professional phone system in place.

Browse the Company Website

Stay away from simple, badly made, or generic looking websites. Websites are designed by professionals. There should be little to no misspellings or bad grammar throughout the site. The site should also have a privacy policy and information on how the transport works. There should be verifiable credentials listed. Answers to your questions. Mostly original photos, not just “stock” images taken from elsewhere on the internet.

Protect Your Vehicle from Damage Scams

Make sure you do a full inspection with the driver at both pickup and drop off. Each inspection will be noted on the Bill of Lading. This is your only recourse if there is damage when you have your car delivered. So be sure to walk along side the driver to make sure any new marks or dings are noted. This way you can claim them.

Avoid auto transport scams where the truck driver is attempting to rush you though the delivery process to have you miss something you won't be able to claim on their cargo insurance later. Take your time and inspect the vehicle thoroughly.

report car shipping scams

What You Should Do If You Become a Victim of an Auto Transport Scam

Make a Report to FTC

If you are the victim of an automobile transport fraud or scam, have come into contact with a questionable auto transport firm, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC can sue those that make fraudulent claims about a service repeatedly. The FTC does not handle individual consumer complaints, however, several customer complaints will initiate an action where consumers may get their money back as a result of a lawsuit.

The FTC also offers a section on its website where consumers may find information about how to claim money back.

Make a Report to the FMCSA

You can complain to FMCSA if you fall victim to fake auto transport brokers or anyone fraudulently using their license. The FMCSA will review the complaint and take potential action towards the company using deception or scamming.

Final Thoughts

Only use reputable and established car shipping businesses if you need vehicle transport. There should be a track record of excellent customer service. You can still get a great deal with reputable companies if research is done ahead of time.

All appropriate permits, registrations, and insurance should be in place, as well as the capability to provide an instant quote. The company itself does not have to have their own fleet, but should have good 3rd party reviews from customers located throughout the entire country.

Carl has a decade of experience in the car shipping industry. He has worked in nearly every aspect of the transport business since 2014, taking charge of various roles in the company such as dispatching, sales, and customer service.

During those years, Carl amassed an invaluable amount of experience which has contributed to his writing of every article and and guide on NX since taking over content in 2015.