How to Ship a Car

There are a variety of reasons to it's necessary to know how to ship a car. Moving or relocating a car across the country is usually at the top of the list, followed by anyone buying a buy a vehicle out of state from a someone like a seller, dealership, at an auto auction, or from other places to buy a car online.

what is auto transport

What is Car Shipping?

Car shipping, which is also referred to as vehicle shipping or auto transport, is a service used for the purpose of relocating a vehicle from one place to another using a method of transport, usually that of a motor carrier which is provided by a car transport company. This carrier can take a car across the country, to another state, or deliver locally.

open carrier truck
smaller car carrier pulled by full size pickup

How Can a Car Be Shipped?

You will hear the terms open and enclosed transport used very frequently to have a car delivered. This because open transport is the most common method used by car shipping companies.

It is a service that is typically door to door and provided by using auto transport companies. The second most used is the enclosed shipping method. Along with those, there are other methods as well.

Of the methods of trucking, a similar one exists offers increased safety is enclosed shipping. This is also provided by using and car shipping company.

While both open and enclosed door to door and on a truck, there are also options in certain trucks to provide only terminal to terminal shipping with either type of carrier.

Additionally, there is what is known as "driveaway", where you hire someone to drive your car, usually a professional. This can be a dedicated service or provided by an auto transport company. They can drive your car across the country or to another state.

Open Transport

What is open car transport? Open transport as just mentioned is he most common way to ship a car. It is the cheapest way to ship a car. Most typically open transport refers to the two level trailers on the road, hauling a number of vehicles that are traveling from one place to another.

Auto transport companies also have smaller configurations that can be pulled by a diesel truck that hold just 2-3 vehicles. A flatbed that takes one or two cars is still considered open transport.

It is suitable for all kinds of cars, trucks, SUVs, vans, and more. Unless your vehicle is a show car or does not ever see rain and snow, then open is the safest and best option. 

These are not tow trucks, as wheels are not on the ground. For that reason, they are known as a car carrier as they literally carry the vehicle to the destination. Car shipping is normally done with the wheels off the ground.

Open carrier is the most affordable as it is the cheapest way to ship a car and a service that is provided by an auto transport company. Open carrier is the most common used by nearly everyone.

It is suitable for all kinds of cars, trucks, SUVs, vans, and more. Unless your vehicle is a show car or does not ever see rain and snow, then open is timely as well as cost effective. We see less than 1% of vehicles damaged on open carrier. If there is, we help you with the insurance claim.

Enclosed Car Transport Services

For those looking to ship a car with the best protection possible, then enclosed car transport is the best choice. Enclosed transport is the safest way to ship a car.

Your car will be loaded in an enclosed trailer which is basically a rolling shipping container that has a roof and all four walls. These carriers also have additional coverage for high value cars.

You will not have to worry about your car getting scratched or dented if the shipping truck happens to encounter, rocks, road debris in the air. Then enclosed may be your best choice.

Also, enclosed is the safest way to protect a car from bad weather like snow, rain, hail, and (for some delicate vehicles) sun's damaging UV rays. For this reason enclosed is the choice for classic cars, exotics, and high end luxury vehicles.

In these cases, enclosed transport with a quality car shipping company might be a worthwhile investment if the car you are shipping has a high value or is a high end vehicle, or new car. That value can be monetary or just sentimental. 

If you you would like to avoid any risk of slightest damage because of road debris or any other external damage, enclosed carriers are the choice for you. As a bonus, since enclosed auto transport takes fewer cars, in some cases your car arrives faster.

Most companies serious about enclosed transport will use hard side enclosed trucks whenever possible to ship valuable cars.

Hire Someone to Drive Your Car

Another way to ship a car is by hiring a driver to get your car to the delivery location. This is exactly what it sounds like.

A professional driver will take your vehicle and drive it themselves. It's an option that helps out if a vehicle is filled with personal items or to move a pet.

Although more expensive than the open transport type, it is convenient to ship your car because less weight limitations for vehicles that have a lot of personal items.

Other Ways to Ship a Car and Types of Transport

Intermodal Shipping

Just as the word sounds, intermodal auto shipping is a method used by vehicle shipping companies which will relocate a car using one ore more "modes" of transportation. This is most common way to ship your car overseas.

For example, if you ship your car to Puerto Rico from the United States will be picked up on an open transport type of truck, and then taken to a port to be sent to the final destination on a ship. In this case to "modes" of transportation were used.

Expedited Car Transport

With this option, you will be able to see your car at the destination faster with almost immediate pickup. Expedited shipping will cost more but this will be a small price to pay for the added satisfaction and convenience that comes along with it.

Open transport and its variations like flatbed shipping, as well as enclosed transport are the methods that can be used with an expedited shipping company.

For example, a buyer of a vehicle travels to the location to assess and purchase a car. They only plan to be there for 2 days. They will need expedited shipping to get same or next day pick up in order to maintain their travel plan to return home while they await the car. Another example is being kept waiting by a bad auto transport company and time has run out.

Multiple Car Shipping

This is shipping more than one vehicle at a time. Transport of multiple vehicles will provide a discount on the shipping costs.

Inoperable (Non Running Cars)

If a car does not run, it does not impede an auto carrier from taking it. The average fee can be about $200 more for long distance, or $75 for local transport. A non running car shipped can be a salvage car as well. Most non running cars can be taken with a carrier equipped with a winch. If it does not roll or steer, it will require loading assistance.

Who Needs to Know How to Ship a Car?

Vehicle shipping companies have been moving cars for individuals and businesses for decades. Most individuals normally won't ship a car more than once or twice in a lifetime. That's why you may not know the process of doing so.

Why Individuals Need Car Shipping

There are many types of people who need to ship a car for a variety of reasons. This can range from individuals moving to a new house, classic car buyers, exotic vehicle collectors, military personnel, and students going to a school. However, there are plenty of situations where an individual person may need know in which way they can accomplish this.

Examples of individuals needing to know about car shipping would be someone moving from California to Texas.

There are seasonal visitors that live in Florida for the winter, known as snowbirds. Another example of an individual needing a car shipping company would be person buying a car from a seller residing in another state.

When Businesses Need Auto Transport

There are businesses that need to know how to ship a car. These businesses are dealerships, auctions, companies doing corporate relocations, fleet purchasing agents, and fleet relocation companies. Insurance companies and lenders are also businesses that will need car shipping.

An example of a dealership that needs a car shipped is an out of state sale. An example of a lender or insurance company is the recovery of a vehicle that has been repossessed and needs to be returned or sent to an auction for resale.

How Much Does it Cost to Ship a Car?

An auto transporter will compute an average cost per mile at a certain rate, generally in cents per mile. This can be from $1 a mile to $0.30 a mile for long distances, for example 2000 miles.

However, the final price depends on a number of factors that influence how much more or less you will pay for vehicle shipping.

For more information, see how much it costs. For an instant quote, go to our car shipping cost calculator.

Generally, the main factors that influence the car shipping rates are:

  • Distance Vehicle will Travel

  • Shipping Options (the type of carrier)

  • Vehicle Size and weight

  • Condition (running or not running)

  • Location

  • Time of Year

  • Speed (standard or expedited)

  • Fuel prices

Here some basic example pricing:

DistanceCost Per mileSample Rate
500 Miles$1.00$500
1000 Miles$0.75$750
2000 Miles$0.55$1,100
2,500 Miles$0.50$1,125

Remember, quotes are usually a good faith estimate. That means when it comes time to reserve the quote it should be the same or vary by very little. Once an order is booked, it should be done for the exact price.

You can shop around to save money, but be careful with "too good to be true" pricing.

How to Find an Auto Transporter

There are very important reasons research is key in order to find the right car shipping company to deliver your vehicle.

Unlike other types of shipping, auto transport has been considered to be a tough business for customers because of bad actors and scams you are better off avoiding.

It's very important important to know how to choose. We have a great guide on how to choose an auto transport company that goes over this in detail. Briefly however, remember these key points:

Make Sure the Auto Transport Company is Licensed and Bonded

Check them with the FMCSA. You will need a Motor Carrier number. For example, ours is located at the bottom of every page on our site. If they are not showing the MC number, then it's possibly a scam or a lead provider site.

Check Reviews to Assure You are Working with a Reliable Company

Third party online reviews, not just reviews listed on the company site should be looked at. Not everyone is going to be happy, but there should be a consistent theme of the auto transporter doing what they are supposed to do.

If you look at other cars and customers the company has worked with where there is a distinct pattern of late pick up and/or delivery, as well as damage to vehicles, it's a sign to move on and look for an alternative.

Phone a Friend

Someone you know may have already shipped a car across state lines, wether it'd be a new car or because they are moving. Gather recommendations from friends, family, and co-workers you trust.

Don't Just Look for the Lowest Price

It's easy to gravitate towards just trying to save money. The car shipping process is a complex one, with a lot of moving parts.

An auto carrier needs to cover the costs of the journey and turn a profit at the same time. Bargain deals could be very far from the actual price thanks to hidden fees.

How to Ship a Car Step by Step

Auto transport companies will have options, as discussed. But what are the steps to have a car shipped?


Step 1 - Instant Car Shipping Cost Quote

You will begin an instant and accurate quote to ship your car. With us, you will do so with our calculator. Since we don’t require personal information, it takes seconds to get a price and then proceed if are a fit for you.

Most established auto shipping companies will have automated shipping quotes. This makes it easy if you want to get multiple quotes to see what type of transport you want to use.

Step 2 - Secure Vehicle Shipment

Secure your vehicle transportation by phone or online selecting a the first available day they we can come get the vehicle. You can call us at 800-284-7177 to speak to person.

At this point, we’ll need some more information about you and your vehicle(s). This will include the pickup and drop-off information, as well as billing information.


You will need all this set up for when we set up the carrier to come get you.Remember, the great thing about working with National Express is that you never get charged a penny until we have a carrier scheduled to come get you.

Step 3 - Car Pick Up

auto transport carrier driver

Then comes the part you’ve been waiting for! When we schedule your pickup. Once your vehicle is assigned a carrier, we’ll send you a dispatch notice.

This is an email with important information such as the date of pickup, expected delivery, and the driver’s contact information.

Then comes the part you’ve been waiting for! When we schedule your pickup. Once your vehicle is assigned a carrier, we’ll send you a dispatch notice.

This is an email with important information such as the date of pickup, expected delivery, and the driver’s contact information.

The driver will then reach out to you to confirm dates and times. When they show up they will perform a pick up inspection with the bill of lading

Most auto shipping is organized on to large car transport carriers like the one pictured above. Usually for local and shorter distance (especially those traveling under 500 miles) a smaller carrier is used to transport your vehicle, as also pictured above.

There are many configurations, makes, and models for both the larger and smaller carriers, however the examples above are representative of what is most typical.

All transporters are required by the FMCSA to be licensed, bonded, and insured. The average insurance for our carriers is a million dollars. Carriers are required to maintain licensing and insurance or could face civil, even criminal penalties.

Step Four - Vehicle in Transit

The vehicle is in transit on its way to your destination. While the carrier travels you can always call and check status confirm travel time.

In your dispatch notice, you received the estimated date of arrival. As the driver nears your destination, they will call to update you if they are meeting their projected time. 

We also follow up with drivers to make sure they are on schedule and update you accordingly.  

Step Five - Delivery!

Then comes the best part. The arrival of your vehicle, safely and expediently to the destination.  As the driver nears, they will each out to you to confirm you are ready to meet them.

When they show up they will perform a delivery inspection with a copy of the pickup bill of lading. 

Make sure you compare the two in order to absolutely make sure not a single mark or scratch is on your vehicle.

If your order is COD (collect at delivery) , you will pay the carrier the remaining balance of your shipping with them directly

Preparing for Pick Up

  1. Be ready when shipping a car. As a courtesy, keep less than a quarter in the gas tank of your vehicle.

  2. If shipping pickup trucks, be sure to remove any loose items in the truck bed.

  3. Remove or wrap toll transponders in foil or you may get charged for tolls if you leave it in the car.

  4. Do not have more than 100 lbs of personal items in the vehicle.

  5. Be ready to inspect the vehicle with the Bill Of Lading

How Long Does it Take?

Shipping a car does not happen overnight. The average car transport carrier can cover around 300-500 miles a day on a full load and if the route is planned efficiently. This can fluctuate based on road conditions, road closures, and more. Read about all this in detail over at how long it takes.

Some east coast to west coast (and vice-versa) auto transports occur very quickly because there are no pickups or drop-offs in areas between both locations. The same goes for transport up and down the east coast.

A great example would be shipping a car on a route going from Los Angeles to Miami or West Palm Beach to New York City. There are safety rules that each carrier must abide to when shipping a car across the country.

Why Does it Take Many Days?

An auto transport driver can only drive a total of 11 consecutive hours if they have rested 10 before that run. He or she may not be on duty more than 14 hours.

These hours can include driving or other tasks having to do with the transport. Again they must have rested 10 hours to work the maximum of 14.

The driver of the carrier must stop driving after 8 hours since the last sleeper berth break of at least 30 minutes. (Berth means on a bed or bunk that can be on in the transporter’s cabin.) Most driving is limited by the 60/70-hour limit.

Driving time is to be no more than 60 hours within seven back to back days, or can drive up to 70 hours if working 8 days nonstop. See for more details on hours.

Deciding if Driving It Yourself is A Good Idea

This seems self explanatory, but you can ship your car yourself by driving it to the destination. This will not require the use of a car transport company.

It Normally Does Not Save Any Money

A solid plan must be made to assure the route has needed stops and hotel stays for rest and food, as well as calculating fuel costs and making sure you take routes near gas (and in some cases charging stations).

After factoring all the costs to drive the vehicle, it may not be cost effective to do so. Especially if you consider the time it will take for you to complete the task.

It Can Be Risky to Drive Your Vehicle

Additionally, there are inherent risks with doing this on your own. Driving long hours can be exhausting. Falling asleep at the wheel could occur if driving at night.

You also have the risk of running into adverse weather than could be dangerous, especially driving through areas known for tornados and lightning.

If your vehicle is older, there could be the danger of having it break down from the stress of cross country driving. You may be stranded on a dark and desolate road.

An accident along the way could make your insurance skyrocket as well. Not only that a large enough accident could be very bad news.


We have covered what car shipping is. Hopefully, you have decided if it's right for you. If it is, give us a call at 800-284-7177 or get an instant quote. Our car shipping advisors are ready to help you!