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How to Ship a Car

truck hauling cars down a highway

It used to be that if you wanted to buy a car you’d head to the nearest auto mall, and spend the day shopping. After a while the cars, dealerships, salespeople, and deals blended together. Who hasn’t made an offer as the dealership was closing just to make it all go away?

The world is different now. You have access to more information than ever before. For a car seller, that means the target audience stretches well beyond the immediate vicinity. As a buyer, access to information means you can buy the car of your dreams, at a price you can afford, regardless of geography.

The globalization of car sales is nice in theory, but getting the car from there to here is the real challenge, right? Not quite. Transporting a car is a lot easier than you might think.

Let’s say you’re looking for a midnight blue 1965 Ford Mustang three-speed and you can’t find one locally. You figure you’re out of luck, right? Not so fast. With a little sweat equity, sleuthing, and patience, there’s a good chance you can find your dream car online. And if the car is nine states away, it doesn’t matter because you can have the car delivered.

If you can order a pizza online, you can certainly buy that midnight blue 1965 Mustang and have it delivered to your front door. Buying a car from someone from across the country isn’t complicated (as long as you’re not in a hurry).

Part 1 of 3: Finding a carrier

Once you’ve found your car and decide to have it shipped, you must next arrange for delivery of your vehicle. The shipping process is easy if you know what to do.

state selector
Image: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

Step 1: Find a reliable carrier. Develop a list of carriers you have an interest in using.

You can perform a search online to find a wide range of carriers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration helps consumers check shipper’s records, licenses, insurance, and prior complaints.

Step 2: Compare prices. Research the transportation prices of the companies you have an interest in using.

If you live in a small town, ask the shipper if it would be less expensive to have the car delivered to the nearest big city. A road trip to pick up your new car might save you a few bucks.

car being delivered to a person

Step 3: Decide on a shipping option. Decide on where you want the vehicle shipped.

You’ll need to decide if you want to ship the car door-to-door or terminal-to-terminal.

Door-to-door is just what the name implies. The carrier picks up the car from the seller and delivers it as close to your house as possible.

Keep in mind that trucks that haul cars are huge, so if you live on a narrow street, you may have to meet the driver at a more open space.

Terminal-to-terminal is a less expensive and is more labor intensive for the buyer. The vehicle is sent by the sender to a terminal, via the shipper, in the destination city. The buyer then picks up the car at the terminal.

Step 4: Scheduling the pickup. The next step, once you have found a shipper and determined how you want to have the vehicle delivered is to schedule the vehicle pickup.

Unfortunately, the buyer has little control over this decision. The shipping company will call you when they have a truck with room that’s heading your way.

If you want an exact pick up and drop off date, be prepared to pay extra.

car being delivered in an enclosed truck

Step 5: Purchase insurance. Another important step is to purchase insurance to cover your vehicle while on the delivery truck heading to your location.

You’ll be asked if you want to cover your car to protect it from rocks and other flying objects as it’s traveling across the country. The alternative is to not cover your car and take your chances.

Car covers cost extra. If you can afford it, you can rent an enclosed truck, which offers the most protection. The cost for an enclosed truck is about 60 percent more.

Step 6: Set up a delivery date. The last step in the delivery process is to work with the shipper to determine a delivery date for your vehicle.

When shipping a car it’s helpful to remember that transport companies don’t deliver overnight. The average wait time (depending on distance) for delivery can be up to four weeks.

Delivery trucks tend to be less full during winter months, so you might be able to get your car more quickly if you buy during the slow season. Winter is also a good time to haggle for a discount.

Part 2 of 3: Loading and unloading

Before your car is loaded on the truck, there are a number of steps you should follow. Ask the vehicle owner to remove most of the fuel from the car’s tank, have photos taken of the vehicle before it is loaded, and inspect the vehicle for damage once it arrives at its destination.

Step 1: Empty the fuel tank. Drain any remaining gas to prevent a fire in case of an accident.

You can either siphon the gas out of the tank or run the vehicle until the fuel tank is mostly empty.

It is OK to leave between an eighth to a quarter of a tank of gas in the vehicle.

person taking pictures of car before it

Step 2: Take photographs. Have the owner of the car take photos before it is loaded on the truck.

Compare the photos with the car upon arrival. This allows you determine if the car suffered any damage during transport.

Step 3: Arrange a meeting point. Be flexible with the driver about a meeting point.

While it may seem cool to have your car delivered to your front door, your carrier is driving a huge truck. If he says it’s easier to meet in a parking lot, it is better to oblige his request.

Step 4: Be aware of the terms of payment. When you and your carrier have agreed on a meeting time and place, make sure you understand the terms of payment.

Many carriers prefer cash on delivery in the form of straight cash, a cashier's check, or a money order.

buyer inspecting the car upon arrival

Step 5: Inspect your vehicle. When you pick up your car, conduct an inspection, comparing the photos the seller took with the car itself. If there is any damage, note it on the Bill of Lading before you accept the vehicle. This is your only opportunity to inspect the car and report damages caused by the transporter. Make sure the driver signs your record of damages.

If there are any damages, file your insurance claim as soon as possible.

starting vehicle with carrier in the back

Step 6: Make sure the vehicle starts. Before the carrier leaves, start the car and make sure it works.

  • Tip 1: If you have any reservations about the car or the seller, consider using an escrow service to protect yourself. An escrow service, such as Escrow.com, holds the funds until the buyer accepts the vehicle. If the buyer declines possession of the vehicle, they are responsible for return shipping fees.

The ability to ship a vehicle opens up your options when purchasing a car. Make sure that you follow all procedures when it comes to setting up the delivery, making payment, and inspecting your vehicle upon arrival. In addition, you can have one of our expert mechanics perform a pre-purchase car inspection to make sure nothing is wrong with the vehicle before you buy it.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
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