Last updated April 19, 2020 by John Goreham
What is the cheapest way to ship a car? Car Talk researched how to ship your vehicle affordably. We’ll compare car shipping options and show you how to get car shipping online price quotes.
Why Ship a Car?
Car Talk’s community is no stranger to car shipping. Members often have questions about the best and most affordable way to transport their cars. The three most common reasons people ship cars (instead of driving somewhere themselves) are:
- You’re moving a long distance and need to have a vehicle or vehicles come along.
- You bought a car far from home and need it brought to you.
- You want access to your car in a seasonal second home.
Here in the Northeast where Car Talk is headquartered “snowbirds” with homes in a warmer climate, typically Florida, start the annual migration South after Halloween and return tanned and relaxed by Memorial Day weekend. For many retirees, driving the car back and forth is not just a hassle, but also dangerous.
How to get cheap car shipping quotes online
The way we perform any transaction today starts and ends with the internet, and cheap car shipping is no different. There are many individual shipping companies with a web presence that are happy to offer you a deal. However, like booking hotels and flights, there are now online marketplaces like uShip which will consolidate a list of carriers for you to choose from.
The way it works is quite simple. You plug in the location from which you wish to ship the vehicle, the place you want it to arrive, and then you tell the website what car it is by listing the year make and model. You will be asked to create a free account and a password that takes just one moment of time. You then hit the go button and your quotes appear.
The price you see is uShip’s price to offer that service to you via the carrier and uShip will add a transaction fee of around $100 to $150 to your charges. Now that you have some price points established. you can take the next step.
What does it cost to ship a car?
We experimented with the price portal a bit to get a feel for what it would cost to ship some popular models. Cars like the Acura TSX (Honda Civic) and Toyota Camry are very popular so we used those as our references. We plugged in Naples, Florida as the start point and Millis, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, as the delivery point. Prices before the uShip transaction fee ranged from roughly $550 to roughly $650. The specific year, make and model of the mid size cars we plugged in didn’t change the price by a meaningful amount.
How to save on car shipping costs
Skip the door-to-door delivery
One price-saving suggestion is to not ship your vehicle door-to-door. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Time is money. Requiring an eighteen-wheeler to navigate your condo complex to pick up the vehicle, and then requiring it to navigate your rural side streets is going to add to the travel time and transaction hassles.
We suggest that you plan to use the terminal locations your shipper has as the start and endpoints and use a taxi or rideshare service to get you to and from your home when you drop and pick up your vehicle. Or better yet, get a ride from a friend. Ask your shipping company how much difference in price there is for door-to-door service. It’s worth asking just to be sure the savings are meaningful to you.
Ship your car on an open-air trailer
One important aspect of cost is whether your vehicle is enclosed or not. If your vehicle is very special in the sense that it is an antique or a very expensive vehicle, you may wish to consider having it transported in an enclosed shipping trailer. This is more pricey than the figures we have referenced above.
If you have more than one vehicle...
What did change the price was switching our entry to a significantly larger vehicle. We used a Chevy Suburban with the same start and endpoint and the prices jumped to $750. So, if you own two vehicles and plan to drive one and ship the other, you might save up to 25% by shipping the smaller one. But consider the cost of gas! Driving a Suburban from Naples to Boston will cost a good bit more than driving a Civic. In the end, it may be a wash.
Tips for successful car shipping on a budget
Don’t Forget To Check References & Insurance
As with any important service you purchase, check references. This is mostly done online now. Read the available reviews and don’t be put off by the occasional 1-star rant. All businesses drop the ball once in a while, and those events spur a lot more lengthy angrygrams than the good service love letters we usually plan to post and then forget about. Look for a 4-star average.
In addition to checking references, check with your shipping provider on insurance. Be sure your vehicle is insured while it travels. Accidents happen. Be prepared. Also, be sure you remember to call your insurance company and let them know your plans.
Preparing Your Vehicle For Shipment
The first thing to do is to load up all your fireworks, weapons, and recreational marijuana in the trunk. We’re kidding of course. In fact, your shipper is going to remind you that the rules under which they operate mean you can’t fill the car up with anything. Don’t plan to ship back your stuff in the vehicle. You can certainly ask your shipper to confirm this, but shipping the vehicle empty seems to be the norm. And don’t top off your fuel tank either. Do that when you pick it up.
Preparing For Shipment and Pickup
Before you leave your vehicle in the hands of a shipper, take images of every side and do a cell-phone video walk-around of the vehicle. This will help in the event of any damage. Manage the keys according to the shipper’s instructions.
When you see your vehicle at pick up, expect it to be dirty and covered in grime. Plan for this and you will be pleasantly surprised if it looks better. Shipping a vehicle enclosed may have a different result, but our focus here is cheap shipping. That means your vehicle was exposed to the elements and the road grime when it traveled. At a minimum, plan to have it washed. We would suggest budgeting $150 have a local shop wax and detail it.
Did You Ask Thelma How She Shipped Her ‘98 Champagne Camry?
If you have a neighbor who shipped a vehicle and was happy with the results, we suggest cross-shopping that carrier with what you find online. Ask if they will match your online price. Car Talk was built on person to person recommendations. That said, don’t let one person’s good experience negate your reference checking and other steps.
Do You Really Want to Ship An Old Car?
One reality check we would like to add to this story is the cost factor of a used vehicle. It takes just a moment to use an online car appraisal service to find out what your vehicle is actually worth. Are you a snowbird planning to ship a 15-year old Corolla back and forth from Boston to Florida each year? Think again. It is less expensive to buy a second old Corolla and just leave it behind if that is an option for you. Insurance companies will work with you to pause your coverage of an unused vehicle. Be sure you are not over-shipping an old car, no matter how much you love it.
Shipping a daily driver can be affordable and smart. Use the internet to compare prices, plan ahead, and manage your expectations. You will be surprised at just how well things will go.
Q: How far in advance do I have to arrange for shipping?
A: It varies wildly upon the vendor. Sometimes you can get a shipper to show up later the same day, but that’s rare. Generally, it’s good to be thinking two weeks in advance. If you’re going to an event like the Arizona Auctions to pick up a classic car you purchased at auction, there are a number of vendors there on site that can help.
Q: Should I ship open or enclosed?
A: That depends on your budget and your car. Generally, the cheaper options are going to be open trailers, and the more expensive options are enclosed. If you’re shipping a mint Jaguar XKE, you’d be crazy to ship it on an open trailer. If you’re shipping a 2012 Nissan Altima, you’d be nuts to put it inside an enclosed trailer.
Q: Do I have to pay a deposit?
A: Yes. If you haven’t paid a deposit, you really haven’t arranged for shipping.
Q: How long does it take to ship across the country?
A: This is sort of like answering “how long does it take to fly across the country”. If you get a direct flight from LA to Boston, you can be home in six hours, but you might have to pay more for the ticket. A cheaper option might be available, but that flight might send you to the Hub of the Universe via Denver and New Orleans. If you’ve negotiated a great rate with your shipper, you might need to wait a couple of weeks before your car arrives. Most shippers aim to get you your vehicle within a week, but distance, weather, and unforeseen issues on the road can slow that down a bit.
Q: Can I put other stuff in the car when I ship it?
A: The strict answer is “No,” but most shippers aren’t going to care if you’ve got a couple of suitcases or a box of miscellaneous parts in the trunk. Resist the impulse to pack it full of everything you own, though, because federal transportation rules put the shipper at risk.
Q: What about insurance?
A: If shipper waffles on insurance coverage, walk away. The shipper is responsible for the vehicle when it’s on or in their trailer. That doesn’t mean suspending your own insurance coverage when the vehicle is being shipped, though. Maintain your insurance coverage and closely examine your shipper’s insurance documentation.
Q: How do I prep my car for shipping?
A: If it’s leaking fluids (read: If it’s a British car), you’re not going to be a friend of your shipper. Do whatever you can to cure that before you get it on a trailer. Leave the fuel tank a quarter full, or whatever level your shipper has requested. Don’t leave it empty, as they need to be able to move it on and off the trailer. Make sure the battery has plenty of life in it. If it’s questionable to sit for a couple of weeks without starting, spend a few bucks and put a fresh one in there. Other than that, you don’t have to worry about too much.
Q: Anything else?
A: A long-haul driver is taking great responsibility for your car. Yes, she has insurance. Yes, she is getting paid for the service. However, a tip generous enough to keep her well stocked with coffee and Ding Dongs for the ride is going to go a long way toward her treating your car as if it were her own.
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