Auto Transport Scams and How to Avoid Them

Let us guess. You’re ready to ship your car, but you’ve been reading about auto transport scams on the internet, and you’re worried it’ll happen to you. We’re here to help. We’ve got a rundown of common scams to watch out for, and we’ll even give you some tips to avoid them in the first place.

Common Auto Transport Scams

Fly By Night Companies

Car transporters are required to register with a government agency called the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. And to get that registration, they need to have certain minimum amounts of insurance coverage. But some outfits take the easy way, and operate illegally. It’s not always easy for the authorities to catch them, so it’s possible you’ll encounter one. These are definitely auto transport companies to avoid, and the way to do that is pretty simple. Ask for their motor carrier number. If they don’t have one, they’re not legit. If they give you one, double check it by plugging the number into the FMCA’s website. It’ll tell you if they’re properly registered, and verify that they’re carrying the required levels of insurance.

Unknown Drivers

Some auto transport companies aren’t direct carriers. That means they don’t actually ship your car - they’re brokers who find other companies to do the actual work. They make their money by taking the difference between what you pay them, and what they have to pay the transporter.

That’s not a scam, but it’s possible with the way they go about securing drivers for jobs, that it can become a scam. If a broker wants your deposit before they tell you who the carrier company will be, that’s a red flag. Many contracts state that if you cancel within a certain number of days of the job, you won’t get your deposit back. Some disreputable companies will use that language to give you a lowball price, then wait until after the cancellation period ends to spring the news on you that no carrier will work for such a low payment.

You then have a choice: Pay extra to actually get the car shipped, or cancel and lose your deposit. A reputable company won’t pull that stunt. If they want an up front deposit without telling you who the carrier is, pass on that. This practice is not good for the consumer.

Hidden Language in the Contract

This one isn’t a scam, per-se, but it certainly can feel like a scam if you end up on the wrong side of it. That contract is a legally binding document. You’re agreeing to everything it says, even if you don’t read everything it says. The only exception is if a clause isn’t legal; those aren’t enforceable, but you often have to go to court and get a judge to agree that such clauses are invalid. That’s expensive and time consuming.

The trouble is that sometimes contracts say things that give a significant advantage to the company. A common example is that clause we talked about above, allowing the company to keep your deposit even if they cancel too close to the shipping date. That’s a clause that’s ripe for abuse, so be wary if you find it in the contract.

But don’t just look for that - there are all sorts of ways a contract can be stacked against you, which is why you need to read them very carefully before you agree.

Hide the Damage

This one happens at the end of the job. Sometimes cars get damaged in transport. Driving a car on and off trailers involves very narrow spaces, and sometimes the car can get scraped or dented in the process.

A reputable company will accept responsibility for the damage - they’ve got insurance to cover it. But lesser companies might try to prevent you from discovering the damage until it’s too late. You need to find the damage when you accept delivery of the car - finding it even a few hours later is too late. And disreputable companies can edge the odds in their favor by making it hard for you to find that damage.

Be suspicious if they want to deliver the car at night; that’s a great way to hide damage, by making it hard to see in the dark. Also be suspicious if your car’s dirty. You should have gotten it washed just before you turned it over to the carrier, and if it’s covered in dirt, that could be an attempt to hide damage.

Add On Fees

You’ve found a company that’ll ship your DeLorean to Guam for $300. That’s a great price! Probably too great. Suspiciously lowball prices are a sign that there might be hidden costs demanded of you after you agree to the trip. Make sure all costs, including taxes, fees, service charges, and more, are disclosed to you before you agree to anything.

Tips To Avoid Being Scammed

You can take some steps to protect yourself from being scammed, or just ending up on the wrong end of a bad business deal. First, as we’ve said before, read that contract. Every word. Even non-scam companies might have clauses in there you don’t want to obligate yourself to. It’s a lot harder to cancel the deal without financial penalties if you sign a contract that says you can’t.

Check online reviews. The scammy companies will often have lots of people they’ve scammed before, and those people will be mad and post negative reviews. One or two accusations is probably nothing to get worried about - review sites are famous for being places where less than honest customers sometimes go to damage a business’ reputation. But if the company has 3,000 reviews, and 2,800 of them are 1 stars with comments saying it’s a scam, well, it’s likely enough that it is a scam. In this case, it’s a good idea not to risk it.

Check the Better Business Bureau’s site. If there are lots of negative customer reviews, or it has a low rating from the BBB itself, that’s a sign you might be looking at a company that you don’t want to tangle with.

And if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. You probably aren’t going to get a reputable company to take your car across the country for much less than $1,000, even when average prices are low.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to always pay with a credit card, not a debit card or any other form of payment. Credit cards have certain legal protections that make it easier for you to claw back charged funds if you’ve been ripped off.

What To Do If You've Been Scammed

The first step is to make absolutely sure you’ve been scammed. If the driver delivers the car an hour late, they might just be caught in rush hour traffic. The last thing you want to do is falsely accuse someone of being a scammer when they’re not.

If you’re sure, contact the transport company. If you booked via a broker, the transport company probably isn’t the company you booked through. That’s another reason we told you above to get the contact info for the driver - you’ll need to deal with them if any problems occur.

If you’ve paid money but haven’t gotten service, and the company won’t talk to you, that’s when it’s time to call your credit card company and ask for a chargeback. But make sure you’re right about this - if the contract obligates you to forfeit a cancellation fee, for instance, the credit card company will reverse the chargeback after investigating the incident. Expect this process to take a long time, though your credit card company may credit your account before the investigation is over.

Recommended Car Shipping Companies

We don’t ship a whole lot of cars - being Car Talk people we prefer driving them ourselves! But we have done a ton of research into the Car Shipping industry. You can check out our Best Car Shipping Companies article here.

But if we were to pick a few trusted names, we would consider AmeriFreight, Montway and also, uShip which is a shipping aggregator that will gather quotes from lots of different shippers and give them to you. It’s easy to snag some quotes, then do your research of the carriers before deciding which one to pick.

For the same reason, we’d look at GetCarrier, which is another broker with very good online reviews. But regardless of who you go with, we recommend doing your own research to make sure you’re comfortable with the company before spending money with them.

Golden Wrench Winners for Best Car Shipping Companies

4.9 of 5

AmeriFreight is one of the most prominent and well known names in the auto transport industry. With coast-to-coast delivery and discounts available for military, seniors and students, AmeriFreight remains a big player in car shipping.

4.5 of 5

Sherpa Auto Transport is a very trusted name in the car shipping industry. With door-to-door delivery and a large array of auto transport options available for the consumer, Sherpa is a great choice.

4.9 of 5

Montway Auto Transport is a very well known name in the car shipping world. This company simplifieds the car shipping process and even includes the cost of insurance in the price. Their quote process is simple and they sustain excellent reviews within the industry.

4.1 of 5

Easy Auto Ship is a newer player in the car shipping game, but very respected. This shipper has excellent reviews and many options to choose from, including motorcycle, classic and international shipping options.

4.1 of 5

This nationwide shipping company is based in Chicago and is one of the only options available that offers a refundable deposit, should your plans change. They have a very easy quote process in place, even though they have not been in business as long as some of the other companies in the industry.

4.0 of 5

This well known auto shipper uses a trusted network of approved carriers and can ship your car to far away destinations like Alaska and Puerto Rico. They are known for high quality service and reasonable pricing.

3.8 of 5

This very reasonably priced company is a meta-search shipping option. uShip will provide you with quotes from multiple shipping companies to find the best deal for your needs. They have good reviews and many options available.

3.9 of 5

This nationwide auto transport company offers real-time, online vehicle tracking and instant quotes for the consumer. They are known for reasonable prices and a large list of shipping options.

3.1 of 5

Ship a Car Direct maintains a large network of qualified drivers, and is able to offer very reasonable prices. The company maintains excellent ratings and review, and offer many options for consumers.

See all auto shippers »

FAQ

How do I know if a car transport company is reliable?

It’s hard to know for sure, but the best way is by looking through online reviews. A large number of negative reviews is a red flag.

Is it safe to have a car shipped to you?

Yes, provided you contract with a reputable company.

Are there any reliable car transport companies?

We think so - check online reviews and our recommended car shipping companies to get an idea of which ones you might want to go with.

How do car shipping scams work?

Most car shipping scams involve overcharging after the agreement is struck, or not providing service but charging you anyway. But there are other types - scroll up in this article to learn more.

What are the best car shipping companies?

The answer really depends on your needs. Our general advice is to look at several companies that do what you want, and check their reviews to make sure they’re on the level.

Editor's note and disclaimer: Car Talk is supported by our fans, readers and listeners. When you click on some of the links on our website, we may receive referral compensation. However, you should know that the recommendations we make are based on our independent editorial review and analyses.