Complete car shipping guide that explains the entire process
Before choosing a car shipping company to transport your vehicle, it is important to do your research to ensure the company is reputable and trustworthy.
In this detailed guide, we explain the importance of researching auto transport companies and the things to consider prior to booking your vehicle’s transport.
This guide was created to navigate you through the car shipping process, as well as help you find a reliable and dependable company to ship your vehicle.
Company Research and Quote Requests
Free Instant Quote Form
Reputable auto transport companies invest a lot of money to integrate car shipping calculators on their websites. If you are not able to get a price instantly, we do not recommend working with this company. More than likely, a lead generation website will sell your information to another company.
To calculate a rate, standard car shipping quote systems require the following information:
- pickup and delivery information
- type of auto transport (open or enclosed)
- vehicle year, make, and model
- first available shipping date
- e-mail and/or phone number for contact
Confirm USDOT and MC Number are active. Real auto transport companies should not hide this information from you.
- USDOT Number – Whether transporting passengers or hauling cargo, all companies with commercial vehicles must be registered with the FMCSA and have a USDOT Number.
- MC number – In general, companies that transport passengers in interstate commerce and federally regulated commodities are required to have an interstate Operating Authority (MC number) in addition to a DOT number.
Check if the company is a Carrier or a Broker. It is important to know whether you are dealing with an auto transport brokerage company or the actual transporter (carrier). Whether a company is a carrier, or a broker should be disclosed on the company’s website.
- A broker typically works with a huge network of car carriers serving the country. A broker can give you a lower rate as they have numerous carriers competing to transport a vehicle. Brokers also confirm and verify the carrier company transporting your vehicle has USDOT authority, federal licenses, and cargo insurance.
- A carrier operates trucks and often is an owner-operator that schedules shipments through a broker. Most carrier companies have a limited number of trucks and do not cover all USA states.
Read reviews on Google and Better Business Bureau, NOT on the company’s website.
The marketing team will not publish anything less than a 5-star review on the company’s website. For this reason, you should read the reviews on their Google and BBB profiles.
- Start with a few 5-star reviews. Every company has them. If they sound similar or generic, they might not be real. Believe it or not, companies are selling 5-star reviews on Google.
Therefore, look for personal stories. Real customers leave positive reviews when they are happy with the service and describe the situation in more detail. In addition, look for information about the route, vehicle, what impressed them the most, and how the service solved their problem.
- Next, read a few 3-star reviews. Three-star reviews are usually very honest. In most cases, the vehicle arrived at its destination, but with a few hiccups.
Take note if similar problems like increased rate, bad communication, rude truck driver, late for pickup or delivery, dirty vehicle, etc. are mentioned numerous times.
- Do not skip 1-star reviews as they are the real source of information. Car shipping is a complicated process, and many things can go wrong. Damage and increased rates (bait and switch) are two of the most important reasons for a negative review.
If you notice a review mentioning damage, please read the company answer and look for words like claims department, claims officer, and claims specialists. Professional companies have employees specializing in such situations and will assist customers in case of a damaged vehicle during transportation.
Moreover, if you notice a lot of reviews mentioning last-minute shipping rate increases – stay away. This is a very common practice in the auto transport industry.
All companies include insurance in their quotes, but not all specify what is covered. In a nutshell, your vehicle is covered bumper-to-bumper, but the insurance doesn’t cover many of the damages listed below.
- Mechanical damages
- Damages to the interior caused by personal items left in the vehicle
- Preexisting damages noted on the Bill of Lading (inspection form)
- Everything that is not noted on the Bill of Lading
Here is what a Bill of Lading (inspection form) looks like...
Look for phrases like Guaranteed Rates, No Price Changes, No Hidden Fees, Price Match, Locked Rates, No Upsells, etc.
After you’ve found a few companies and have received a few quotes, you’re probably asking yourself; How do I know which car shipping rate is accurate and fair?
Most believe getting a quote a month or two before the shipping date will lock in a better rate. Unfortunately, this is a myth!
The best time to get a car shipping quote and book order is one week (7 days) before your vehicle is first available for pick-up. That is because quotes and rates determined for auto transportation are based on various factors.
Factors include, but are not limited to, trip distance, car size (sedan, SUV, etc.), vehicle condition (running or non-running), transport type (open or enclosed), location, weather conditions, gas prices, and the time of year you ship.
Although car shipping calculators have automatic surcharges for car size, vehicle condition, transport type, and location, the algorithms can’t adjust to sudden weather changes (winter storms, hurricanes, etc.), gas price changes, and sudden increases in the number of vehicles on the load boards.
Some auto transport companies manually adjust rates in certain regions, where these factors affect the car shipping rate.
You may be wondering, How does this affect the shipper?
Remember the winter storm in Texas (February 13th – 17th, 2021)? In less than a week, the car shipping rates from Dallas, TX, to anywhere in the USA increased by more than $250. Everyone who booked an order before February 7th had to pay more than the quoted rate to have their vehicle shipped.
In addition to the factors previously explained, the broker will not actively start searching the load board for a carrier until 3-4 days prior to the first available pick-up date.
The reason is everything in the transport industry changes very quickly, and dispatchers have no awareness of truck availability very far in advance. It is a supply and demand industry, and the right timing is important if you want to save money and have your vehicles picked up.
What is a load board in the auto transport industry?
Believe it or not, there is only one industry-standard platform auto transport companies, brokers, and carriers use. The platform is called Central Dispatch. Central Dispatch is available to DOT-registered companies only. It’s one of the main platforms used to post and accept orders.
The load board is the main reason prices fluctuate. If more vehicles are available on a certain route, prices go up. The opposite is also true.
Questions to Ask Auto Transport Companies Before You Book
- Ask for a new quote without disclosing that you already have one.
Some companies’ software will recognize you by the phone number, but if you haven’t used either to get the online quote, you should be ok. See if the price provided by the agent will match the online calculator. If it does, move on to the next step. If not, ask him/her about the discrepancy.
- Ask about the pick-up date.
Most sales agents are not very forthcoming with the pick-up date. Often, they say that your vehicle will be picked up by/around your desired date, but honestly, they have no idea. They can only guess based on past shipments on this route.
For example, if you are shipping a sedan from Chicago to Miami, the vehicle will most likely be dispatched and picked up in 1 to 3 days after it is first available. However, if you are trying to ship Ford F-150 Raptor from Butte, MN, to Boise, ID, you may have to wait more than 3 days.
Depending on the conversation, you can see if the agent is trying to genuinely help you with the shipment or if he/she just wants to close the deal. Assuming you know your area well if you do not see many car haulers passing through, maybe it is not a very common location for the auto shipping industry. Learn more about pick-up time here – Pick-up time in car shipping.
**Do not trust a company that promises you a quick car shipping service if your vehicle is coming or going to a rural area.**
- If you need your vehicle picked up on a specific date, ask about a Guaranteed pick-up service.
Some companies offer this type of service in a certain area. Confirm that the service is Door – to – door. It usually is. However, pick-up or delivery to your front door is not always possible.
Vehicles are transported with an 18-wheel truck, and if your location is not easily accessible, do not expect them to make it to your house, condo, or apartment complex. You can go over this important detail with the sales agent.
- Ask if the company is a carrier or a broker.
After browsing their website, you should know the answer, but you can keep testing the honesty of the sales agent.
- Ask who will be your primary point of contact.
Large brokerage companies have different departments (sales, support, dispatch). They can assign multiple agents to work on your order, but that doesn’t always guarantee a smooth process. We recommend you request one point of contact -an agent who will oversee the car shipping process from start to finish.
- Ask about the personal items in the vehicle policy.
We strongly suggest not leaving unsecured personal items in your car during transportation as it will increase the price of the shipment and make the load less attractive to truck drivers. Also, damages to the vehicle’s interior caused by personal items left inside the car during transportation are not covered by insurance.
As previously mentioned, insurance must be included in the quoted price; however, you should still confirm with the agent. They are trained to say that your vehicle is covered bumper-to-bumper. That usually leaves people with the impression that if something happens, they are fully covered.
As you know from reading this article, the below damages are not included: mechanical damages, damages to the interior caused by personal items left in the vehicle, preexisting damages noted on the Bill of Lading, and everything else that is not noted on the Bill of Lading.
- Who provides the insurance?
The answer should be: “the carrier company”. The brokerage’s job is to verify that the carrier assigned to transport your vehicle has an active insurance policy.
Moreover, the coverage must be enough to cover damages for all the vehicles loaded onto the trailer. Some carrier companies are getting the cheapest possible insurance to save money. A reputable broker should not use them!
- Ask if the brokerage is willing to provide the carrier’s insurance policy after dispatch.
They must have it on file. If they refuse, at least ask them to verify that the coverage is not just the minimum.
You can read more about insurance coverage here -> Car Shipping Insurance. Complete Guide.
- Reputable brokers have additional insurance that covers you if there is a problem with the carrier’s insurance. It is called Bond. You can even ask about this.
- Ask if they have a dedicated claims agent or department to assist you in case of damage.
That’s the difference between small companies and well-established professionals. The claims department can help you greatly if something happens to your vehicle during transportation.
Payment Options for Vehicle Transportation
- Billing option
Pay everything with a debit/credit card. You are asked to provide the payment info at booking; however, you are not charged immediately. You will be charged when a carrier is assigned to transport your vehicle.
- COD – Cash on Delivery
This is a cheaper option. You are required to provide a credit/debit card on file at the time of booking. However, when a carrier is assigned, you will not be charged the entire amount. Instead, there will be a partial payment.
On average, the partial payment is between $100 and $400. The remaining balance is due on delivery. You must pay the driver with cash, a cashier’s check, or a money order. Truck drivers do not accept card payments or personal checks.
Another important question is who will be your primary point of contact. Large brokerage companies have different departments (sales, support, dispatch). They can assign multiple agents to work on your order, but that doesn’t always guarantee a smooth process.
We do recommend you request one point of contact -an agent who will oversee the whole car shipping process.
Few customers know what happens between booking an order and having their vehicle picked up. During this time, the auto transport management company needs to find a transporter, check their authority and insurance, and agree on pricing and dates.
Auto transport companies that already have a network of vetted car carriers can simply send an email to companies operating in that area and dispatch the vehicle as soon as prices and dates are agreed upon. This can speed up the dispatching process significantly.
Posting an order on the load board:
After an order is posted on the load board, the broker adjusts the carrier pay depending on when the vehicle is first available for pickup. They usually start low and raise the carrier pay until a dispatcher from a car carrier company calls and asks for details.
For example, if you are transporting a 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe from Chicago, IL, to Miami, FL, the price is around $1050 for an open car carrier. Let’s say today is September 1st, 2020, and your vehicle is available for pick up on September 10th. The broker will wait until September 5th to post it on the load board for $650 (carrier pay).
If no one calls for 2 days, the broker will increase the offer to $700 or $750, depending on how much the other loads on the same route are going for. By September 9th, the price may be around $775, which will attract a few carrier companies to call and negotiate. Carriers always ask for more, and the brokers try to offer less.
On September 10th, you are expecting your vehicle to be picked up, but in reality, it hasn’t been dispatched yet. You call the car shipping expert and receive a generic answer: “We are still working on assigning a carrier. I am currently following up with a few carriers, and very soon, I will have pick-up dates for you”.
At that point, most customers are getting confused and start asking questions they had to ask before booking. For some reason, they didn’t do their research, didn’t ask the right questions, and more than likely, the sales agent was not completely honest.
If you are not in a hurry to pick your vehicle up, you have nothing to worry about. However, if you need your vehicle picked up on the 10th or 11th, you’re probably nervous.
After you call the broker and express concern, they will raise the carrier pay again to $850 – $900 to attract more carriers. There is a good chance of having your vehicle assigned at that rate.
The carrier company will provide pick-up and estimated delivery dates, and if they are reasonable, the broker will assign them to the load. In that case, the breakdown looks like this:
- Total price of car shipment: $1050
- Truck driver receives: $900
- Broker fee: $150
Why car shipping companies are asking for more than the quoted price
Unfortunately, in auto transport, finding a carrier is not always easy. Due to the competitive nature of the industry, brokerage companies are trying to offer the cheapest price possible. They often misquote customers or offer huge discounts only to win your business.
Let’s go back to our previous example when the vehicle was dispatched for $900 carrier pay and $150 broker commission. Very often, during the first call, the customers are hesitant to book or ask for discounts. Sales agents know this might slow down the process, but they offer a lower price or price match because they don’t want to lose the client. You agree on a total of $950.
The broker posts it on the load board for $650 and raises it to $800 on the 10th of September, but no one is interested. The broker realizes the price is low and increases it to $850 or $900. A carrier calls for $900 ready to transport the car. It sounds like a done deal, but it is not. Most brokers will not dispatch the order for $900 carrier pay and only make a $50 commission. They will call the customer and ask him for more money!
This is a very bad practice, but many auto transport companies are doing it. That’s why, when you read 1 – Star reviews, pay close attention to people mentioning “price increase,” “bait-and-switch,” and “asked for more money.”
At Unlimited Auto Trans, we strongly believe that auto transport companies DO NOT have to call customers for more money if they misquote or provide a huge discount to the customers. That’s why we offer Guaranteed Car Shipping Rates. We do not ask our customers to pay more if we feel like we are not making as much profit as we want.
Finally, your vehicle is scheduled for pick-up, and you’re now waiting on a timeframe. Usually, the truck driver or dispatcher will call you with a 2 – 4-hour window for pick-up.
Be patient because another client might slow down the driver. Many people don’t have their vehicles prepared for shipping. Check out this article: “How to prepare your vehicle for transport.”
We strongly recommend cleaning your vehicle. Remove all personal items from the inside, especially things that are not secured. If your car’s interior gets damaged by unsecured personal items, the insurance will not cover it.
Clean the exterior of your vehicle. This will help you and the truck driver do a proper inspection and note all pre-existing scratches and damages. If your vehicle is dirty, it will be noted on the Bill of Lading. In that case, if damage occurs, some insurance companies may not pay the claim.
You are now ready to release your vehicle to the truck driver. He will do a walk around the vehicle and inspect it. Make sure to check everything before signing. If you have questions, do not hesitate to ask the truck driver. If there is a problem, call your broker before signing the inspection form.
Reputable carrier companies are now using different fleet management applications for inspection. They take about 5 pictures of the vehicle, record the odometer reading, take electronic signatures, and electronically file it.
We strongly recommend releasing your vehicle during daylight. If you are not available to do it yourself, you can always ask a relative or a friend to do it.
Can I have my car picked up without being present?
Yes, you can, but the broker will ask you to sign a waiver stating that no one will be there during the inspection. Hence, no signature on the Bill of Lading. That often means you can’t file a claim if your vehicle gets damaged.
There is not much you can do during transit. Yet the most common questions are “Where is my car now?”, “How can I track it?”, and “When will it arrive?”
Tracking your vehicle during transit
The simple answer is to call the truck driver or the dispatcher directly. If they don’t answer, call your broker.
Live tracking is possible, but only for dispatchers. Carrier companies don’t like to disclose the actual location of the truck. There are many reasons for this.
Truck drivers can drive for 14 hours per day, and they need to take a break of 10 hours every two days. Do not expect them to drive nonstop, straight to your drop-off location. Transit time is also affected by weather conditions, traffic, restrictions, and other customers.
Remember that the trucks are constantly on the road, and breakdowns happen. Even something as simple as a flat tire can slow down the driver for an entire day.
If something more serious happens, like an engine breakdown, it will delay the delivery significantly. You just need to be patient. Do not expect to be reimbursed if the delay is less than 14 days. All delivery dates are estimated.
Generally, you can expect a call from the truck driver/dispatcher or the broker a day before the delivery. They will provide you with a 2 – 4-hour delivery window. You will receive another call on the delivery date to arrange the exact location and time.
Friendly reminder. If your delivery location is not easily accessible for an 18-wheeler, be prepared to meet the driver elsewhere, either at the nearest plaza, a shopping center with a big parking lot, or a major street. Do not get frustrated if the vehicle is not dropped off in front of your garage.
The truck driver will unload the vehicle and perform a detailed inspection. It is the same Bill of Lading from the pickup. Ensure you or your designated delivery contact pay close attention during the inspection. You can also take pictures and videos.
If you notice damage, call your broker immediately. Make sure all damages are noted on the inspection form and take a copy. If the Bill of Lading is electronic, make sure you receive a copy of it in your email.
Even if the vehicle is damaged, you are still required to pay the full amount of transportation. Later, the claims department will help you file a claim with the carrier’s insurance company. This is one of the most important reasons you must work with a broker.
If everything looks good, sign the inspection form, and pay the remaining balance to the truck driver if any.
Congrats, your vehicle has been delivered!