What's Cheapest Way to Ship a Car Across the Country?

Shipping a car across the country is not a task that has to be difficult or break the bank. If you're on a tight budget and looking to trim down the shipping costs, there are a couple of car shipping options that can save money. These will be described from cheapest to most expensive.

The cheapest way to ship a car cross country is using open auto transport terminal to terminal car shipping.

cross country auto transport company

Method 1 - Using an Auto Transport Company

Just about everyone has seen these trucks on the road. They carry about 8-10 cars, are two stories high, and can be as long as 70 feet and designed exclusively for car shipping services. These are known as open auto transport carriers.

The other kind may not be as easy to spot, as they offer privacy and are sealed trucks used for auto shipping. This is known as enclosed auto transport.

Auto shipping cross country is common, and there are over 18,000 trucks on the road doing so. That is another reason why you will see so many auto transport companies.

open carrier transport

Using Open Auto Transport

Open carriers are the industry standard for auto shipping, accounting for about 90% of all car shipments. While your car will be exposed to the outside world during transit, it's important to note that the likelihood of damage from these exposures is relatively low.

Typical Car Shipping Costs

As of 2023 to car shipping costs to send a car 100-200 miles will be $1.75 per mile. Shipping 200-300 miles will typically be $1.50 per mile. If you take a trip that is over 500 miles, like a state to state transport , you will then look at auto shipping costs of about $0.80 per mile. These numbers reflect open auto transport with door to door shipping for cars that are not inoperable.

Is Using Open Transport the Cheapest Way to Ship a Car Cross Country?

Yes, open transport / open car shipping will be the absolutely cheapest way to ship a car cross country. Compared to other methods, it offers the best pricing and flexibility due to the thousands of carriers on the road and their ability to hold 8-10 vehicles.

Pros of Open Transport

Cost-Effective

Open car shipping is significantly cheaper than enclosed. This is because open carriers can haul more cars at once, allowing the cost to be divided among more customers. It is the go-to for cheap car shipping.

Availability

Open carriers are more readily available than enclosed carriers. The majority of the carriers on the road are open, meaning you're more likely to get faster service.

Flexible Scheduling

Due to the high availability of open carriers, you have more flexibility when scheduling your transport. There's a greater chance of finding a carrier that suits your timetable.

Lower Fuel Consumption

Open carriers are lighter than enclosed carriers, which leads to lower fuel consumption. This makes open transport a more environmentally friendly option and of course cheaper.

Cons of Open Carrier Shipping

Exposure to Elements

One of the primary disadvantages of open car transport although cheap, is that vehicles are exposed to the elements. This includes weather conditions such as rain, snow, and sun, as well as potential road debris.

Lack of Privacy

Since the cars are openly visible, there's a lack of privacy. This is not typically a concern for most people, but for owners of high-value or exotic cars, it might be a consideration.

Potential for Minor Damage

While major damage is rare, minor dings and scratches from road debris are possible. It's a risk, albeit a small one, that comes with open car carrier.

enclosed carrier truck

Opting For Enclosed Auto Transport

For those that want extra peace of mind, enclosed carriers offer more additional protection for the vehicles they transport, shielding them from weather elements and road debris. However, these extra benefits come at a cost making it far less cheaper. Usually 40-60% more in cost. So definitely not for the frugal.

Not only do you pay a premium price for safety, enclosed carriers carriers can haul less cars at once, which does not allow the cost to be split among more customers, effectively making this type of vehicle shipping a more expensive option for that reason as well. Like all options, it has its pros and cons.

Pros of Enclosed Auto Transport

Protection from Elements

Enclosed auto transport services protect your car from adverse weather conditions and potential road debris. This is particularly beneficial if your vehicle is being transported over long distances or through areas with harsh weather.

Increased Security

Enclosed trailers offer more security for shipping vehicles than open carriers when used for cross country car transport. They not only protect from potential theft or vandalism but also offer privacy, keeping high-value such as exotic cars, classic cars, vehicles out of sight.

Extra Care

Typically, enclosed transport services also offer more customized, white-glove service as far as the auto transport industry goes. The drivers are often more experienced in handling high-value vehicles compared to an open car carrier, and the cars are strapped down securely to prevent any movement during transit.

Insurance Coverage

Enclosed auto transporters often carry higher insurance limits due to the value of the vehicles they transport. If your car is particularly valuable, this added insurance can provide peace of mind.

Cons of Enclosed Transport

Higher Cost

The primary disadvantage of enclosed auto transport is the cost. It's typically significantly more expensive than open transport because fewer cars can be transported at once, and it provides a higher level of service. Not for those looking to move a car on the cheap.

Availability

Enclosed carriers are less common than open carriers, meaning they may be harder to schedule. There may also be fewer available routes, and it may take more time to arrange transportation.

Less Environmentally Friendly

Enclosed trailers are heavier than open trailers, leading to higher fuel consumption per vehicle. This makes enclosed auto transport less eco-friendly compared to open auto transport.

Deciding on Open or Enclosed Carrier

In the end, the decision between open and enclosed transport depends on your specific needs, budget, desire for cheaper alternatives, and the kind of vehicle you're shipping.

For standard vehicles and for those seeking a cost-effective option, open transport is typically a good choice. However, if you have a luxury, classic, or otherwise valuable car that you want to protect as much as possible, you might opt for the extra protection that enclosed transport provides.

Always weigh the pros and cons, and choose what's right for your situation.

Ways to Save Money Using an Auto Transport Company

Ship Off Season

Busy seasonal routes often attract a premium due to high demand, while less popular routes not heaving with traffic can be cheaper due to less customers needing space on a truck. The car shipping industry, much like many others, has its busy and slow periods. The busiest months for auto transporters are typically between May and September.

While this might not always be possible, especially if you're able to ship during times of the year where there's less transport traffic, you can score a much better deal.

Be Flexible

When it comes to the timing of your shipment, flexibility is key. Shipping companies are often faced with fluctuating schedules and last-minute changes. By offering them some flexibility in your pickup and delivery dates, you might secure lower costs. If you're not in a hurry to receive your car, you can opt for a longer delivery window, which is generally cheaper. On the flip side, urgent shipping or requesting exact dates often entails additional costs due to the extra logistical challenges involved.

Book Early

One of the simplest strategies to employ is to Book Early. Just like with flight tickets or hotel bookings, reserving your car shipment well in advance can often help you lock in a better rate. AutoStar Transport Express recommends booking at least a week ahead to secure more affordable rates. Early booking gives the carrier more time to plan their routes efficiently, helping them cut down on their costs, a portion of which they pass on to the customer.

Get Multiple Quotes

As with any service, it's always a good idea to get multiple car shipping quotes. Prices can vary widely between different shipping companies based on factors like their operational costs, routes, and services offered. Aim to get quotes from multiple providers and compare them to make sure you're getting the best possible deal. While doing this, remember to compare not just the prices but also the services included in each quote. Don't jump on the rate of the first car shipping company you find. Do research.

Use Qualified Car Shippers

There are so many car transport companies to choose from. But it's important to not go with the cheapest car shipping company for the service. At least without taking steps to assure the company is a legitimate shipping provider. In most cases if there is one that significantly lower, it could be a sign of a car transport service scam. Fair market shipping price is the goal, and that should be in a $100-150 range.

Ask about Discounts

Don't forget to ask about Discounts. Some car shipping companies offer special rates for different groups of people or circumstances. For example, National Express provides discounts for snowbirds (people who migrate from the colder northern parts of North America to warmer southern locales), military personnel, students, and seniors. If you fall into any of these categories.

drive away auto shipping

Method 1 - Using a Drive Away Auto Transport Service

A drive away auto transport service, also known as a drive away service, is a method of vehicle transportation where a professional driver personally drives your car to its destination. This service is different from other types of auto transport where your car is loaded onto a truck, train, or plane. Instead, your car is driven from point A to point B, much like if you were to drive it yourself. You pay for the driver and gas expenses. It's not as expensive as other transport methods, but it can sometimes not be the cheapest way.

How it Works

Drive away auto transport, also known as a drive away service, works by employing professional drivers to drive your vehicle from its current location to your desired destination. The process typically begins with you contacting a reputable drive away service and providing details about your vehicle and the transport route. Once the details are confirmed and a contract is signed, a professional driver is assigned to your vehicle. At the scheduled time, the driver will arrive at your location to pick up the car.

They'll perform a detailed inspection to record the car's condition before the journey begins. The driver then drives your vehicle to the predetermined destination, following all necessary road rules and regulations. Upon arrival, another inspection is performed to ensure that the vehicle is in the same condition as before the journey. This is a straightforward and convenient service, but it does add mileage to your vehicle and relies heavily on the professionalism and expertise of the driver.

Pros of Drive Away Service

Convenience: One of the main advantages of a drive away service is the convenience it offers. You don't have to worry about driving the car yourself, especially for long distances, which can be time-consuming and tiring.

Door-to-Door Service: Typically, the service includes door-to-door delivery, meaning the driver picks up and drops off your car at the locations you specify, eliminating the need for you to get the vehicle to a shipping terminal or pick it up from one.

No Need for Loading and Unloading: Since your car isn't being loaded onto a truck or other transport vehicle, there's less risk of damage from the loading and unloading process.

Cons of Drive Away Service

Wear and Tear: The most obvious downside of using a drive away service is the additional mileage and wear and tear on your car. If you're transporting your car across the country, that can add a substantial amount of miles.

Exposure to Elements: Like with open transport, your car is exposed to the elements and potential road hazards.

Dependent on Driver: The service quality is heavily dependent on the driver. If they're not careful and responsible, your vehicle may be at risk.

Time: While a drive away service can be faster than shipping by truck or train, it's generally slower than air freight. The speed also depends on the route and traffic conditions.

Insurance: Not all drive away services offer comprehensive insurance, so it's essential to check what is covered before you choose this option.

While a drive away service might be suitable for some situations, it's not the right choice for everyone. If your car is a classic, luxury, or particularly valuable model, other methods of transport might be more appropriate to protect your investment. As always, consider your specific needs, budget, and the nature of your vehicle when deciding on the best method of transport.

train car shipping

Method 3 - Shipping a Car Across the Country by Train

Shipping a car across the country by train is another option that some people may consider. This method involves transporting the vehicle on a rail system rather than by truck. While not as common or readily available as truck transport, it can offer some benefits.

Here's how it works: Your car is loaded onto a train, often along with many others, at a specific rail station. It's then securely fastened to prevent any movement during transit. The train transports the cars to a station near their destination, where they are unloaded for pickup.

How it Works

Shipping a car by train involves using rail freight services to transport your vehicle. Initially, you'll need to provide details about your vehicle and your desired shipping dates to a train freight company. Once your booking is confirmed, you will typically need to deliver your vehicle to the designated railway station. There, your vehicle is loaded onto a specialized auto carrier train. It is securely fastened to avoid any movement or damage during transit. The train then embarks on its journey to the destination station, transporting the vehicles over the rail network.

Upon reaching the destination, the vehicle is carefully unloaded from the train. You will then need to pick up your vehicle from the destination railway station, or in some cases, the train freight company may offer delivery services to bring the car directly to your location. Shipping a car by train can be an economical and eco-friendly alternative for long-distance vehicle transportation, although it does require careful scheduling and access to suitable train routes.

Pros of Shipping a Car by Train

Lower Costs (sometimes)

If you're shipping a car a very long distance (for example, from the east coast to the west coast of the U.S.), train shipping can sometimes be cheaper than shipping by truck. However, this is not always the case, so it's important to get quotes for both methods.

Environmentally Friendly

Trains are generally more fuel-efficient than trucks, especially over long distances thereby reducing gas expenses. So if environmental impact is a concern for you, shipping by train could be a more eco-friendly choice.

Less Wear and Tear

Since your car will be transported on a train and not driven, it will avoid the wear and tear that would come with driving it a long distance.

Cons of Shipping a Car by Train

Limited Availability

Not all locations are accessible by rail, and service might not be available in your specific area. This is particularly true in more rural areas where rail service might not be available.

Logistics

Shipping by train often requires you to drop off and pick up your vehicle at the train station, which could be inconvenient if it's far from your location. You may also need to arrange for truck transport or another method to get your car to and from the train station.

Scheduling

Trains operate on fixed schedules, which may not align with your preferred timeline. You may also need to book further in advance compared to truck shipping.

Costs

While it can sometimes be cheaper to ship by train to ship your car cross country, this is not always the case. Particularly for shorter distances, shipping by truck is often more cost-effective.

As always, the choice between shipping by truck or train will depend on your specific needs, including your budget, timeline, and location. It's a good idea to explore all options and get quotes for each before making a decision.

Method 4 - Shipping a Car Via Plane

Car shipping cross country by plane is the fastest, but also by far the most expensive, method of auto transport. It is mentioned here for comparison. This method is generally reserved for extremely valuable cars, such as luxury, exotic, or classic vehicles, or for circumstances where time is of the essence. It's far less common than shipping by truck or train due to the significantly higher cost which is about $2000-4000 domestically and $20,000 and up internationally. Ouch!

How it works

To ship your car by plane involves using air freight services for auto transportation. The process starts with choosing a reputable air freight company and providing them with information about your vehicle and the desired shipping dates. Once the booking is confirmed, your vehicle is typically picked up from your location, or you can deliver it to the airport yourself. Upon arrival at the airport, your car is secured and loaded into a cargo plane using special equipment to prevent movement during the flight.

The vehicle is then flown to the destination airport where it is unloaded with the same care. After arrival, it undergoes an inspection to ensure no damage occurred during transit. Finally, the vehicle is either picked up by the owner at the destination airport or delivered directly to the final location by the freight service. Shipping a car by plane is the fastest, but also the most expensive method of auto transport, often reserved for high-value or luxury vehicles, or when time is a critical factor.

Pros of Shipping a Car by Plane

Speed

If time is a critical factor, shipping a car by air is the fastest method available. This can be particularly useful if you're moving a significant distance in a short period of time, or if the car is needed for a specific event or occasion.

Safety

Cars shipped by air are exposed to fewer risks than those transported by other methods. They're not subject to road hazards, and the overall handling is minimal, reducing the risk of damage.

Convenience

Many air freight services offer door-to-door delivery, making it a highly convenient option. They take care of the entire process, from picking up your vehicle at your current location to delivering it to your new destination.

Cons of Shipping a Car by Plane

Cost

Shipping a car by air is substantially more expensive than other methods of transport. It can cost several times the price of shipping by truck or train.

Availability and Flexibility

Air transport for cars is not as widely available as other methods. There are fewer service providers in this space, and scheduling can be less flexible due to the logistics involved in air transportation.

Limited Delivery Locations

You will likely need to travel to the nearest major cities where airports are normally situated.

Environmental Impact

Air transport has a much larger carbon footprint than other methods of transportation, making it a less environmentally friendly option.

Shipping a car by plane is a specialized service that's typically used for high-value vehicles or in situations where speed is paramount. It's essential to research and get quotes from several air freight companies, verify their credentials, and read reviews to ensure you're choosing a reliable service if you decide to ship your car by air.

overseas car shipping ship car on a boat

Method 5 - Auto Transport via Ship

Shipping a car via a ship is a common method for overseas or long-distance auto transport. Several options are available, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, including Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo) shipping, container shipping, and exclusive container shipping.

How it Works

Auto transport via ship is a method typically used for international or long-distance vehicle transportation. The process begins with you booking the service with a shipping company, providing details about your vehicle, and choosing a shipping method such as Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo), container shipping, or exclusive container shipping.

Once the booking is confirmed, you'll need to deliver your vehicle to the port, or the shipping company may offer to pick it up. For RoRo, your car is driven directly onto the ship and secured on the deck. For container shipping, your vehicle is loaded into a large container, then hoisted onto the ship.

The ship then travels to the destination port, where your vehicle is unloaded and inspected for any potential damage. Once it clears customs and any necessary inspections, you can pick it up from the port, or arrange for it to be delivered to your desired location. Transporting a car by ship is a cost-effective way to move vehicles across great distances or between countries, but it can be a complex process requiring careful coordination and handling.

Types of Ship Transport

Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo) Shipping

RoRo is a type of shipping where vehicles are driven onto the ship and secured on the cargo deck. They're then driven off again at the destination port. It's a highly efficient method often used for new car transportation.

Pros of RoRo Shipping
Cost-Effective

RoRo shipping tends to be the most economical way to ship a car overseas because it uses space efficiently and doesn't require extensive loading and unloading procedures.

Simplicity

The process is straightforward as the cars are driven on and off the vessel, without needing to be loaded into a container.

Wide Availability

RoRo services are widely available and cover numerous routes worldwide, making it an accessible choice for many.

Cons of RoRo Shipping
Exposure to Elements

Vehicles shipped using the RoRo method are exposed to the elements IF while on the ship's deck. (many have garage style parking)

Limited Protection: Cars are more vulnerable to potential damage during transit due to their exposure.

Container Shipping

Container shipping involves packing the car into a large shipping container, which is then loaded onto the ship. The car is securely fastened within the container to prevent movement during transit.

Pros of Container Shipping
Increased Protection

The car is protected from the elements and potential handling damage since it's enclosed in a container.

Additional Storage

You can also transport personal belongings in the same container with your car, which can be an advantage if you're moving overseas.

Cons of Container Shipping
Higher Costs

It's generally more expensive than RoRo due to the additional handling and the cost of the container.

More Complex Process

Loading and unloading the car from the container requires more time and planning.

Exclusive Container Shipping

Exclusive container shipping is a variation of standard container shipping where your car is the only one in the container. This is different from standard container shipping, where multiple vehicles are often packed into the same container.

Pros of Exclusive Container Shipping
Maximized Protection

It provides the highest level of protection, as the car has the entire container to itself, minimizing the risk of damage from other vehicles.

Increased Flexibility

With exclusive container shipping, you have more flexibility with your shipment and can often choose when your car is shipped rather than waiting for a container to be filled.

Cons of Exclusive Container Shipping
Increased Cost

This is the most expensive option because you're paying for the whole container yourself.

Overall Pros and Cons of Car Transport via Ship

Pros
Cost-Effective

For international shipping, transport via ship is often the most economical choice.

Suitable for Long Distances

It's a practical method for transporting cars over long distances, particularly for international moves.

Cons
Slow

Transport by ship is slower than air freight. It can take weeks, depending on the distance and route.

Complex

Shipping a car by sea involves dealing with ports, customs, and other logistics, which can be complicated.

trailer your car

Method 6 - Tow it Yourself Using Dolly or Trailer

Using a tow dolly or trailer to transport your own vehicle entails hitching your car to a tow vehicle and personally driving it to your chosen location. This approach provides cost benefits, flexibility, and enhanced security. Nonetheless, it necessitates the use of an appropriate tow vehicle, may only be feasible for certain types of cars, and shifts the entire burden of the transport process onto your shoulders.

Advantages:

  • Cost savings: Opting to rent a tow dolly or trailer is often more affordable than engaging a professional vehicle shipping service, appealing to budget-conscious individuals.
  • Enhanced security: Being in charge of the transport allows you to directly oversee the safety of your vehicle throughout the journey.
  • Control and flexibility: Handling the towing yourself grants you full command over the timing, pathway, and breaks during the journey, offering the freedom to modify plans as required.

Disadvantages:

  • Increased responsibility: Managing any arising issues or challenges during the transport falls entirely on you, potentially leading to stress and additional time investment.
  • Not All Vehicles Can Be Towed: Some vehicles may not have tow hooks are be made to be towed. Others like electric vehicles are more difficult to tow as they require certain steps and wheels off the ground.
  • Capable tow vehicle: A sufficiently powerful vehicle is necessary to tow your car, which means if you don't have one you'll have to borrow or rent one at a cost to you.
ask a friend to drive car for you

Method 7- Ask a Buddy or Family Member

A family member or good friend can drive your car across the country.

Advantages:

  • Personal Touch: A loved one's involvement adds a caring element to it all, so you know that your vehicle is handled with care and not abused.
  • Trust: Allowing someone you know well and trust to take charge of your vehicle provides you plenty of peace of mind that it will arrive in once piece.
  • Cost Efficiency: This option may be more cheaper or even free, as friends and family might offer their help at a for just food and lodging or even free.

Disadvantages:

  • Dependence on a Suitable Volounteer: The chances of this method working in your favor completely hinges on whether your friend or family member is able and willing to take the time to do it.
  • Wear and Tear: Extended driving can exacerbate the wear and tear on your vehicle, possibly leading to future maintenance issues you were not expecting to deal with.
  • Potential Increased Liability: Should anyting occur, accident, your family member or friend gets hurt, or an accident to the vehicle or the driver during the trip, you might bear the responsibility.

Questions People Ask Us:

Is Shipping Cheaper than to Drive a Car?

If you are traveling only a short distance, driving your car is always less expensive than shipping it if your route is less than 400-500 miles. Looking at in the prospective of time and money, you can cover a 400 mile drop miles in around 6 hours. Your fuel and food expenses will be minimal, and you won't have to pay for lodging because you get there the same day. Start by getting an instant quote to see where you stand.

That changes however if you are trying to move multiple vehicles or an inoperable (non running) vehicle or if you need to add a food and hotel budget for a longer trip.

How Can I know if Driving is Cheaper for Me?

You may not be sure if picking from car shipping companies to get your car home. There's an easy seven question checklist you can go by to determine if driving will be the cheaper of the two options or if you will pay extra (or rather pay) to have it shipped:

  1. How much will fuel cost?
  2. How much will lodging cost?
  3. What is my time worth to me?
  4. Do I feel safe driving long distance?
  5. Am I ok with driving on long desolate roads? (long distance)
  6. Will my car make it safely to the delivery location?
  7. Do I feel safe renting a car shipping trailer to pull my vehicle? (usually inop)

My Vehicle Doesn't Run is this OK?

Yes, as mentioned before we do take inoperable vehicles and salvage vehicles. It doesn't matter what the condition it is as long as they either roll and steer without anything holding the wheels from moving or there is loading / unloading assistance with either a fork lift or tow truck on site at each end. Carriers do not drag cars on to their trailers or carry boom / crane or forklift. You still benefit from door to door service.

Can I Hire a Carrier Directly?

You can absolutely hire a car shipping carrier directly. Finding an open carrier directly can be the cheapest car shipping option. Unfortunately it does take a lot of time, research, and patience. This can be for shipping a car cross country as well as state to state. Not only that, in searching online you will always run into brokers because the most popular shipping sites will be broker sites.

In fact, car carriers won't have even a website or a phone number listed anywhere. They do not want to deal with the sales portion of the business but just the car shipping portion because they simply don't have to. With a broker, the work has been done for them and they have a vehicle that is sitting on a marketplace like Central Dispatch for which they can take the vehicle with just a click.

We also will say that a carrier can also not be cheaper directly because of situations with brokers. In some cases, carriers will try to make more money because the customer believes they are paying for something superior. That is a concept to keep in mind!.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the cheapest shipping method depends on your specific needs, including your budget, timeline, and the level of protection you want for your vehicle. Always ensure to check with the shipping company about insurance coverage, and verify their credentials and reviews to ensure a smooth shipping process.