Using a Car Shipping Container

Transporting a vehicle in a car shipping container is typically used for overseas / international shipping. It's the way many vehicles make it to locations like Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Containerization increases efficiency. They make it much easier to move vehicles on ships because they can be placed one on top of the other vertically and side by side horizontally like blocks.

Container ships are gargantuan.. The largest container ships are over 1300 feet long and 200 feet wide. There many container sizes to accommodate a variety of goods. However in terms of auto shipping, the average car shipping container is about 20 feet long. That means one of these ships ca take 19,000 of these stacked car shipping containers on the water. In recent years, the overall size of these have not increased by much. However the capacity has increased as advances in engineering have helped hold more car shipping containers.

How do Car Shipping Containers Transport Vehicles?

When your vehicle is received at a port it is inspected and then driven on to a facility where it is then loaded onto a container. Most containers hold two vehicles because they are 20 feet long. In many cases one vehile is pulled in flat, and another vehicle driven in at a 35 degree angle. This is done to make maximum use of the not only the length, but the height of the vehicle container.

Remember, if you ship a vehicle and the term RoRo is used, that means literally "roll on and roll off", so as you can imagine your car transport will consist of your vehicle being driven into what looks line a garage where the vehicles are tied down using soft straps around the wheels. With containerized auto shipping, you ship a car inside of a metal box before it is loaded on to a container ship.

And just like other types of overseas auto shipping, all wheels are securely strapped. If using container shipping to move a 3 wheel vehicle such as a Slingshot or a Can Am Ryker, they will be secured by the front and rear towing hooks along with any wheels that reach the width of the wheel strap locations.

What are the Car Shipping Container Sizes Used?

The 20 Foot Container

For auto shipping, usually it will be the 20 foot standard container. They are nearly 8 feet wide (7.8 feet) and 19.5 inches long. The height measures 7.9 feet. You can fit either two sports cars, two sedans, or two full size SUV's. They will usually mix and match different vehicles. For example an XL SUV and a compact car.

The 40 Foot Container

You will see much larger vehicles in these. Expect large trucks like dually trucks and big vans. In some cases a single long RV that is 7 feet tall or less. These are the same in width and height as the 20 foot. Just literally double in length. This is done so both container sizes can fit with each other.

Other Containers

There others, however rarely are they used for overseas auto shipping. The most common are the 20 foot and 40 foot containers.

Can I Pick What Size Container is Used?

Unless you are renting a container and having it filled, overseas car shipping companies like Matson, Pasha, Crowley, and more will designate what size container is used to determine the best one to use to evenly and most efficiently load all the other car shipping containers being taken on that voyage.

Since it may be cost prohibitive to just ship one vehicle and rent a container, auto transport companies that dedicate themselves to moving vehicles overseas will pair your vehicle up with others on the same voyage, with lessens the cost of the containerized shipping. By all the vehicles on the ship sharing the costs, the price becmes affordable. If you are moving household goods and a vehicle, there still may be restrictions.

What Kind of Vehicles Can I Ship in a Container?

Just about any vehicle that is seven feet tall or less and usually not more than 7 feet tall, 8 feet wide, and 18 feet llong can fit in a car shipping container. The exception to this rule is Matson. They have their own proprietary car shipping containers. For them, the sizes var but not by much. The max size for the standard shipping rates (passenger vehicle rate) is 21'8″ L x 8′ W x 7′ H

Is Container Shipping Safer than RoRo Car Transport?

Both forms of shipping are considered to be extremely safe. Each as their benefits and drawbacks. For example, containerized car shipping does further seal off your vehicle from the outside and are tied in very well and is considered a little bit better for protection. However, there are additional steps involved such as driving the car into the container and then stacking that container. \

Although accidents moving the containers are rare, it is an extra possibility. With RoRo, vehicles are simply driven on to the ship's "garage". Another vehicle could come loose if things get rough on the water, but again, quite rare. Both are comparably safe, with container auto transport used to move more vehicles on the same ship by stacking them vertically.

What Ports Are Equipped to Handle Car Shipping in a Container?

The following ports have terminals that will handle car shipments in a container here in the U.S.

  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Charleston
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • New Orleans
  • New York
  • Oakland
  • Savannah
  • Seattle

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.