What Is Auto Transport


When you are getting started with shipping a car. it’s important to know all the details of how this industry works. In the simplest form auto transport can be explained as the shipping of vehicles from one place to another. But there is much more to it.  It might seem to some thinking of cars as needing to be transported since they can be driven. But for a number of reasons, cars often need to be shipped to other locations instead of being driven there.

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what is auto transport

You might find yourself having one of these reasons at some point too. For example, if you’re moving to a new state, for safety and convenience, you might choose to fly there and have your car hauled independently, rather than drive the long distance.

Manufacturers also prefer to ship cars to individual dealerships instead of driving them there to avoid adding any mileage to the cars that may demote them to the used status. As you would expect, auto manufacturing companies employ the services of auto shipping companies, much more frequently and for much heavier loads than private individuals would. In 2007 alone, there were over 16.1 million cars manufactured in assembly plants across the country, and all of them had to be shipped from the plants to the 14 285 car dealers in the US. Auto transport can also be used for shipping used cars to used dealers, auctions, wholesale operations and private individuals.

When you’re referring to the shipping of cars, you’re not bound to the phrase auto transport. You can also refer to it as car shipping, car hauling, car transport, or auto hauling, whichever you want to name it as, but it’s all the same.


The History of Auto Transportation


It was the French Nicholas Cugnot who built the first self-propelled vehicle that was powered by a steam engine back in in 1769. That was only the beginning of the revolution that brought on by cars. In 1886, the German Karl Benz built what would be internationally recognized as the first true automobile in the world, a gasoline powered vehicle that was complete with a throttle system, spark plugs and gear shifters. It didn’t take long for the mass production of cars to begin. By the 1900s, millions of cars were being produced each year. And in addition to being produced at an increasingly large scale, cars were also in very high demand at that time. Soon manufacturers found themselves in need of methods to transport these cars from plants to dealers, and that’s when the auto transport industry started garnering popularity.

At first, manufacturers looked to boxcars for their shipping needs. But they soon found out this method was not only very inefficient, but it was also expensive both in the time it took and the money it cost. These enclosed railway freight wagons could only carry 2-4 vehicles at once and loading them was exceptionally difficult. The cars had to be manually pushed inside the wagons, then jacked up to make space for cars that had to be loaded underneath them, an all in all exhausting procedure.

Then in 1898, Alexander Winton, a Scottish-American auto designer and racer who was starting up an auto manufacturing company called Winton Motor Carriage Companies, quickly realized that he needed an efficient solution to transport his cars to the customers that lived outside his home state of Ohio. So he came up with the first semi-truck by attaching a flat cart to the top of the engine of a modified truck. The only problem though, was that these trucks could transport only a single car at a time. And getting the car onto the ramp involved wheeling it up to the platform and securing it, then mounting the cart onto the pulling car manually. To close the truck, the edge of the platform then had to be lifted up and attached to the top of the pulling car. But Winton’s idea caught on, and soon, other manufacturers began designing their own versions of the semi-truck to support their increasing car sales.

In 1918, John Endebrock developed what he called the trail mobile, an iron chassis mounted on wheels and springs that could be trailed behind a Ford. The design of the this trail mobile made it much easier for a single individual to be able to hook the trailer to the car. Then in 1920, the trail mobile was taken to the next level when a car salesman who grew tired of having to rely on car haulers to get his cars to the customers invented an auto-trailer that was pulled with a two-ton Dodge truck. This trailer could haul up to four vehicles at once. Between 1929 and 1944, a truck manufacturing company called Mack Trucks, which particularly dealt with the production of heavy duty trucks, began manufacturing semi and full trailers at a mass scale. It wasn’t long before what began as a small town man’s simple semi truck, became an 18-wheeled semi-trailer with three axles.

Today, the auto shipping industry continues to evolve. Innovative shipping methods spring up regularly and inventors and designers alike continue to find more efficient, more environmentally friendly, and more affordable ways to ship cars. Not only do we now have airplanes that can ship our cars within hours, but we also have cargo ships that can carry over 8000 cars at once. On top of that, we have closed trailers that are equipped with advanced computer technology to ship our cars in climate controlled enclosures so that our cars endure minimal damage by the weather. The number of shipping companies we have at our finger tips also continues increase.


Types of Auto Transport Companies


These days, when you’re shipping your car, you not only have to worry about choosing the right company to do the actual loading and transporting of your car, but you also have to think about which companies you want to trust with helping you arrange the details of the shipping.

There are three major types of companies that you might choose to deal with when shipping your car: lead aggregators, auto transport brokers, and, auto transport carriers. Each of these will offer you a slightly different service to the others.

Lead aggregators are just companies that exist almost completely online. What they do is ask you for information about your car and your shipping requirements, and use that information to connect you to brokers or carriers. But unfortunately, just like most things that are purely internet based, using them comes with some risks. They are not reccomended. When you do your Google search and end up on a lead aggregating site, it’s almost impossible to tell if the website is legitimate or if it’s simply a scam to collect personal details of innocent people for malicious purposes. Considering that the information you get from these kinds of sites is almost identical to what you could get if you had just searched directly for brokers and carriers, running the risk of putting your details into their forms might not be very advisable.

Auto transport brokers also connect you to other companies by act as a liazon between you and your carrier. They deal with handling all the details involving the auto shipping. They will be responsible for not only making sure the carrier you use is reputable and has up-to-date insurance requirements, but they will also handle claims for you should any mishap happen during the shipping. Few of us can confidently say that we know exactly what to look for when searching for a shipping carrier. That’s why it’s advisable to use companies like brokers. Reputable auto brokers are usually experts in the shipping industry and they’re more likely to know which carriers are trustworthy, safe, and affordable. In addition, repairable auto brokers will be able to connect you to your best carrier much easier than you would on your own because they have access to many resources and trucking companies. They can also use load boards. These are places where auto carriers go to find new loads and contracts that they can carry out. All that a broker has to do is create a lead for your car, to which carriers can reply with their own quotes and bids. That way, the broker will be able to compare the offers available to you at that particular time, filter out the suspicious looking ones, and give you the best deal you could have. If you want the shipping of your car to be as stress-free as possible for you, then you probably want to use a broker.

You might be thinking of bypassing the broker option, in which case you would have to go directly to the auto transport carrier. Auto carriers are the companies that would do the actual shipping for you. They are the ones that will be responsible for loading, transporting, and delivering your truck to your chosen destination. You might think that since this option will allow you save money on a broker and to have the most accurate information regarding your shipping, it must be the best option. But that’s not necessarily the case. If you go directly to a carrier, you will have to take on all the responsibility for the shipping all the way from contracting the most suitable carrier, to making sure they have the right insurance, and noting any damages or mistakes in the delivery on the bill of lading. You will also have to make sure you have enough time in your schedule to take on all this responsibility, and that it will not cost you in lost productivity. Unless you are someone affiliated with the shipping industry, or you happen to have studied a lot about car shipping, chances are you will miss some details in the shipping that might cause you a great deal of annoyance in the future.

Keeping in mind that a broker’s sole job is brokering so they would be particularly skilled in it, it’s quite unlikely that you will be able to do a better job doing it for yourself. Your shipping experience might end up being unnecessarily time-consuming, stressful, and expensive.


Types of Auto Transport Carriers / Trailers


One of the ways in which the shipping industry has evolved, is that now you have a variety of trailer types to choose from when shipping your car. Which one you end up going with will depend on the type of car you have, your budget, and the location of your starting point and destination. The three main types of trailers you will find in the market are open-air trailers, enclosed transport trailers, and flatbed trailers. Open-air trailers are the most common, and the most affordable for most people. With open transport, your car will be hauled on a trailer that is exposed to the air and does not have aluminum sides covering the cargo. Open-air trailers are usually two level trailers that transport up to ten cars at once, but they could also be much smaller trailers that only load one or two vehicles at a time.

Although this is the cheapest option, it might not be best for your car if your car happens to be classic or exotic. That’s because with open transportation, your car will be exposed to the elements and to road debris that could damage it. Enclosed auto transport trailers will have your car shipped in an a four-walled enclosure so that your car is shielded during the transportation. Naturally, this will provide your car with much more protection from damaging weather and incidental road debris. It’s the more expensive option, but usually that comes along with a much higher insurance policy limit. The cars that are often transported with these kinds of trailers are mainly those of higher value, so shipping companies take out more insurance on their enclosed transport cargo. If your car is very valuable to you, either financially or sentimentally, then you might want to go with this option to avoid it being damaged in any way.

Flatbed trailers are the least common of the three and you’re unlikely to readily find them. They are usually reserved for vehicles that are either too tall, too long, or too wide to fit on a regular trailer. Flatbed trailers are used to prevent damage to these rather queerly shaped cars. Ordinary carriers are often two-tiered trailers designed for transporting upwards of ten cars and during the loading, care has to be taken to avoid damage to the bottom of the cars on the top tier or the top of the cars on the lower level. When you’re shipping a large car like an SUV or a large pick up truck, it may be impossible to load it onto a standard carrier without damaging anything, and that’s where flatbed trailers come in. But because they’re so rarely used, the tend to be more expensive and the shipping would usually take much longer than usual.


Types of Auto Transport Services


When shipping your car, you can also choose how you want the service provided to you by detailing how you want your car picked up and delivered. Most shipping companies will offer a number of different types of shipping services, but some will be more specialized to one or two. The kind of service you want will determine the company you choose.

Here is how three of them, door-to-door, terminal-to-terminal, and intermodal shipping, work:

Door-to-door shipping – With this service, you will have a trucker pick up your car at your home, work, or garage, and deliver it as close to your doorstep as possible on the other end. Most people consider this the most convenient kind of shipping. It’s much more expensive than the alternatives though, since the drivers will have to take on more tasks. And it might not be an available option for you. The destination you want your car delivered to might not be easily accessible for the truck because some residential areas have narrow road that are difficult for a truck to navigate. You might either have to settle with your car being dropped off at the closest parking lot, or you might have to go with terminal-to-terminal shipping.

Terminal-to-terminal shipping – Here, you will have to drive your car to a storage location where it can be loaded onto a truck, and pick it up at another storage location at the destination. This is usually cheaper than the door-to-door option because it allows companies to easily haul a large cargo of vehicles, and deliver them at one location without having to worry about dropping each of the cars off individually at different locations. On both ends, the storage facilities where the cars are stored are usually secure so you do not have to worry about theft or damage. Storage facilities for terminal to terminal shipping are often located near airports or off major highways, so they can usually be accessed easily. And unlike door-to-door shipping where you have to be ready to pick up your car at a particular time, you might have a little more flexibility about the date you show up to pick up your car with terminal-to-terminal shipping. If you don’t mind the added inconvenience of having to drive a couple of miles to drop off and pick up your car, then this might be the most suitable option for you.

Intermodal shipping – This option involves your car being transported with more than one carrier. Although mostly refers to overseas shipments, iIt may be a necessary solution in certain special cases though. Automatically anyone a little familiar with it knows you if you happen to be shipping your car overseas, then usually the car will be transported by a trailer up to the harbor or airport, and then loaded onto a vessel or to ship your car by plane. At the destination, another trailer would transport your car either to a storage location or to your doorstep. But intermodal shipping might also be an emergency solution taken by a shipping company when the truck that your vehicle was meant to be shipped in has mechanical issues. You car will be transferred to a different hauler for the rest of the journey to ensure timely delivery. Most companies try to avoid intermodal shipping though, and they only use it only when it’s the last option on the table. It’s not economical, it’s inefficient, and it may result in having to split profits with a different carrier.


How Much It Costs To Ship A Car


The cost of shipping your car will depend on some of the factors listed above. For complete details on this refer to our car shipping calcualtor page. The type of auto shipping companies you choose to work with, the type of shipping trailer you specify, and the type of shipping service you find most suitable will factor into the cost. Some companies will be more expensive than others, brokers can be influential in reducing the costs, enclosed trailers and door-to-door transport will cost more than the alternatives. But there is still a host of other facts that can affect how much you end up pulling out of your wallet for your car’s shipping. Here are some of these additional factors:

Distance – Naturally, the further away you wish to ship your car, the more the shipping will cost. Your shipping company will have to spend more on fuel, and the truck driver will have to spend more time on the road if your taking your car a little further away. You as the customer will have to carry some of those costs. The cost of shipping doesn’t increase linearly with the distance though. Usually, you pay a higher per-mile cost for the first 300 miles or so than you do for 1000 miles or over. The online estimates range from $0.75-1.54 for the first 300 miles and $0.30-0.46 for anything above the 1000 mile mark. The per-mile costs may be higher or lower depending on the auto shipping company you and your broker choose.

Location – Where you ship your car from and where you wish to ship it to will also determine the cost. For example, in metro areas, the population is higher so the demand for shipping companies is much higher. Also, most shipping companies usually base their routes around metropolitan areas where the roads are more suitable for the driving the large hauling trucks. The combination of higher demand and high competitive supply means that most companies will keep their costs fairly low when you’re shipping between metro areas. On the other hand, in rural areas, not only is access limited, but there are also fewer people looking to ship their cars. So because it’s outside the customary routes for shipping companies, and they won’t get many customers there, shipping companies will drive up the prices to make it worthwhile for them to go venture out to the countryside.

Time of the Year – The shipping industry is like any other industry. It has a high season where higher demand drives up the prices, and a low season where you might be able to ship your car at a fraction of the high season costs. Summer to early fall is the high season for auto transport companies. With many people wishing to take advantage of the warmer work-free months for travel, the number of people looking to transport their cars is much higher. Shipping companies will charge you more because they will have the freedom to welcome other customers in case you decline their offer. Not every auto shipping company drives up their cost in the summer though. Companies that don’t have as strong of a customer base as the major carriers might look at the summer as their chance to gain more customers with lower bids so they might keep their low season charges.

Type of Car You Have – expect to pay more if you’re shipping an exotic or classic car that is fairly high in value. You would probably be charged more for a Ferrari than you would for a Honda. This not unnecessary discrimination though. Shipping companies have to charge more for cars higher up on the luxury scale because it costs them more in insurance when they transport these cars. The size and weight of your car will also play a role in the costs. As you may expect, larger and heavier cars cost more to transport than their smaller and lighter alternatives. If your car is larger, it will be taking up space that could have been used for another customer’s car, and if it’s heavier, it will be chipping into the weight allowance that could, again, have been used for someone else.

Insurance – Some of the cost on a shipping company’s quote or invoice to you will be for insurance. It’s legally required for them to have insurance for their cargo, but the insurance deductible might not necessarily be applicable to you depending on the policies of your own auto insurance company. Some car insurance companies will cover accidental damage during shipping while others will not. If they do, you might be able to tell your shipping company to exclude that insurance deductible for you if you just provide them with proof of coverage.


How Long Does Auto Shipping Take?


The length of time your car takes to reach its destination will depend on the weather conditions on the roads, the distance to be covered, the budget you have for your shipping costs, and a number of other factors. These variables make it quite difficult to predict accurately how much time your car will spend on the road. Things like snow, hail, and thunderstorms will delay a hauler. If you ship your car in the winter, it might take longer than it would in the summer if the roads happen to be unexpectedly covered in snow. And if you’re really unlucky, and your hauler happens to get stuck because of a hurricane or tornado during the shipping, expect your car to take even longer to reach the other side.

As you might expect, the further you have to ship your car, the longer the time it will take. If you’re shipping your car just to the next state, then you might see it there in 2-7 days. On the other hand, if you’re shipping your car all the way across the country, some say you should expect to wait up to a month to see your car on the opposite coast. Should you happen to be shipping your car to a different country, expect it to take even longer. Here it won’t only be the distance that factors into how long it takes. You will also have to schedule time for the legalities that you and your shipping company will have sort out to get your car over the border.

Depending on your choices, your carrier might have to make several stops along the way to pick up or drop off other cars. That will make your car take longer to get where you want it to be. On the other hand, if you happen to choose something like air shipping, your car will reach the destination much faster than it would with land transport. You may also choose to pay extra so the shipping of your car could be expedited. A lot of auto shipping companies have this as an available option and it works well if your schedule has little flexibility, and you need your car on the other end as soon as possible.

Despite these guidelines, you have to remember that the length of time it takes to ship a car is not necessarily just the amount of time your car spends on the road. After you book your shipping, you might have to wait before your car is assigned to a departing carrier. Following that, you might have to wait again if the carrier you are assigned to leaves much later than the assignment date. Then only do you get to the time your car spends on the road. And in the end, how long the process of shipping your car takes will depend on how efficient your auto carrier is with the logistics around auto shipping.

Auto shipping is certainly a complex industry that takes a little longer than a minute to understand. Hopefully, the minutes you just spent trying to understand it have left you with a much clearer perspective about the business.

A Regulated and Important Industry

A lot goes into car shipping. Drivers are professionally trained, licensed, and insured.  Having a qualified auto carrier capable of handling the responsibility needed to move nine cars across the country is paramount.  The auto shipping industry is booming.  It is considered as necessary as health care, tech, or the food industry. Everyone needs doctors, tech to be productive, food is needed toto live, and all that ties in to freight. Transporting vehicles is just one type of interstate transport that is necessary and will never go out of style.

Map of How we Transport

Auto Transport is planned by Time and Cost Efficiency


Routes must make sense. A carrier shipping a vehicle has already skillfully planned a schedule to make the transport as cost efficient and time efficient as possible in order to maximize the use of their time and resources. Some carriers focusing on specific routes are booked all year long. Others work less rigorous schedules.  Many customers wonder why some transports are planned days ahead, and others are dispatched just days before the pick up date. The answer is volume. When a more rural or less travelled route is organized, the dispatch department plans farther ahead, looking to have vehicles accumulated to make the trip make sense. Other trucks are filled so quickly, that they are planned last minute because these carriers pick and choose from the wide variety of available loads in a radius available from that moment or up to 48 hours later, hence why some customers do not get notice of pick up being scheduled until a couple of days prior to their move. That’s why we say 1-3 days for common routes and up to a week for less common routes from your first available pickup date.


Brokers or Direct Carriers


Here’s something you may not know. Everyone is a broker. Let’s say it’s our trucks. We can only have so many in a limited number of areas at a time.  Even if we had the largest auto shipping fleet in the U.S., there’s no way to have a truck in a every area needing transport at any given time.  If we could have that many trucks on the road, not a day would pass that you would not see a carrier with the National Express Auto Transport logo on it.  The difference is  in the network.  Having an established network or proven carriers is the key to  customers having the best service. Having a known database of trucking professionals means they were -selected- to join our list and are -allowed- to move vehicles for us. Newer companies or those that have little regard for customer service do not filter their carriers. They simply hand off loads to the lowest bidder. That creates the lowest form of customer service possible.


Types of Transporters

Open Carrier - 10 Car Carrier
4 Car Hauler - Shorter Distance

Most auto shipping is organized on to large car transport carriers.  Sometimes, on more local moves, especially those under 500 miles, a smaller carrier is used to transport your vehicle, as pictured above. There are many configurations, makes, and models for smaller carriers, however the example above is 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.


Travel Times and Driving Schedules


The average car transport carrier can cover around 300 miles a day on a full load and if the route is planned efficiently.  Some coast to coast auto transports occur very quickly because there are no pickups or drop-offs in areas between both locations. A great example would be A car shipping 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.  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. That 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.

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