How to Ship a Car Across the US

  • Chris Teague
  • 6/10/2020

Need to ship a car to Florida, Hawaii, California or somewhere else? We’ll show you how to ship a car to the US.

Shipping a vehicle can be stressful, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. Whether you’re paying to have a truck move your car across the country or a container ship to move it across the Pacific Ocean, there are a few options available to you and each comes with its own pros and cons. We’ll explain those here so you can make the right choice.

But if you’re moving, in a hurry, or just don’t want to put up with a days-long drive then shipping your vehicle probably makes better sense. In that case, let’s break down your options and their costs - so you can pick the right shipping method and company for you.

Ways to Ship a Car in the USA

Where you land on the shipping spectrum will depend largely on the kind of car that you’re shipping. Moving a five-year-old family sedan is obviously quite different than shipping a rare antique vehicle. The good news is that there are several options available to ship a vehicle nearly anywhere in the world.

The most popular car shipping methods are:

  • By Truck - Truck shipping is the most common way to move a vehicle from one place to another. Using a truck is generally less expensive than rail transport. Depending on the company and the delivery location, it may be possible to ship directly to a specific street address. There are “covered” trucks that offer protected transport and there are less-expensive “uncovered” trucks that use open-air trailers.

  • By Rail - Trains can be faster and safer than moving a vehicle via truck, but the costs usually reflect that added convenience. There are fewer companies that offer rail transit than do truck shipping, and some require additional insurance before pulling the vehicle onto a train car.

  • By Boat - If your vehicle is an import, there’s a great chance it came to here on a boat, so it’s logical that moving it anywhere else in the world would also require a boat. This method is typically reserved for international vehicle shipping, but it is also the only realistic way to move a car to or from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, and other domestic offshore locations.

  • By Air - It sounds crazy. And as you’d expect, air shipping is the most expensive and least accommodating method to move a vehicle. Getting something as large and as expensive as an automobile onto an airplane is a complicated experience, to say the least. On the upside, shipping by air is the fastest and safest way of moving a vehicle.

Car Shipping Companies in the United States

Once you’ve settled on shipping and decided which method you’d like to use, your next step is to pick out an actual shipper. Here are a few of the most popular car shipping services:

  • uShip - uShip offers enclosed car transport, open transport, and has expedited shipping methods for people in a hurry. The company offers quotes on various services and shipping methods but says that the average cost to ship a car ranges between $0.78 per mile for longer trips (>1,000 miles) to $2.92 per mile for shorter moves (<200 miles).

  • AmeriFreight - AmeriFreight offers various shipping methods to move vehicles across the country, but their differentiating factors are the add-ons that make shipping more comfortable. The company offers extra insurance, no up-front payments, and has solid customer ratings.

  • Sherpa Auto Transport - Sherpa offers free quotes and shipping with a professional driver. The company recommends that all vehicle functions be operational and that at least a quarter tank of fuel is left in the vehicle. Sherpa works with individuals as well as dealerships and large manufacturers, so the company has experience.

How Much Does it Cost to Ship a Car in the US?

This is a loaded question because costs will depend on quite a few different factors. Anything from the type of transport to the time of year can have a big effect on the price you’ll ultimately pay to get your vehicle from one place to another. uShip, for instance, lists prices between $800 and nearly $1,000 to ship a Chevy Malibu from Indianapolis to Los Angeles. On the other side of the coin, shipping an F-150 from NYC to LA will cost well over $1,000. Those are most likely open-air shipping prices for truck transport, so the numbers may change significantly for other methods.

Those prices are for commuter vehicles, but classic cars, collector vehicles, and exotic cars all carry additional charges. In general, these vehicles can carry up to a $3,000 premium over their more “middle-of-the-road” counterparts for additional insurance and more careful shipment handling.

Just like shopping for anything, look for the best rates at a company you feel comfortable with. Buying the shipper is as important as buying their services because at the end of the day it’s your vehicle on the back of their truck. It’s also important to understand insurance, taxes, and other fees that may not be included in your initial quote. If your vehicle gets damaged in transit, who will foot the bill for repairs? You should plan on keeping your own insurance as well, because there may be situations where the shipper’s coverage falls short. Weather and other unintended damages may not be included in the shipper’s insurance plan.

International Shipping

The pain of shipping a vehicle across an international border is enough to keep the vast majority of people at bay, but there are some cases where shipping is either the only option or the best option. Fees for international shipping generally range between $1,000 and $2,000 per vehicle, depending on the destination. Then there are fees and other charges that vary for each shipper, which can include things like a destination charge to receive and hold the vehicle at the final location, agent fees, taxes, import fees, and more.

Even after you’ve paid to have your vehicle moved across the border, you’ll still have to contend with local traffic, safety, and consumer protection laws. Every country is different, so it’s important to know what you can and can’t do with your vehicle in its new home. You may also run into various regulatory issues with safety equipment and other vehicle components, so be sure you understand the laws. Vehicles can look the same from place to place, but small details make a big difference in what is legal and what is not.

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FAQs

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 car shipping 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.

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.

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