How car shipping really works and what it should cost
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How Car Shipping Really Works and What It Should Cost

Name
Dennis Walsh @lawjolla
Profession
Owner, Crosscut
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Surprise!  Your “shipper” doesn’t own the truck that’s about to pick up your car.

At Crosscut, we are a car dealership that ships hundreds of cars per year. This post is the result of our years of accumulated knowledge.

Vehicle transportation is nothing like Fedex.  There are a lot of misconceptions and pitfalls.  And if you don’t know how to navigate it, you’re in for a bad time.

In this post I will:

  • Show you how vehicle shipping works and dispel misconceptions (in other words, why car shipping isn’t like Fedex)
  • Explain car shipping cost factors
  • Stop you from being a shipping scam victim
  • Give tips and tricks to ensure a great experience.
But I'm not answering this questionBut I'm not answering this question

This post focuses on the most common type of car shipping – multi-car open transport.

Why vehicle shipping is not like fedex

When our customers ask for a vehicle tracking number, we are off to a bad start.

... you laugh ...... you laugh ...

Don’t expect a Fedex experience when shipping a vehicle.  Fedex and UPS dominate package shipping with a hub and spoke model. That is, all packages are delivered to a central distribution center and then sent to the destination.

That works for packages because each transport vehicle contains thousands of packages and the routes are regular.  E.g. Las Vegas will have a stable number of inbound packages every day enabling predictable logistics.

But vehicle distribution is too irregular for most routes and transports top out at 10 vehicles.  To ship everything to a distribution hub at regular intervals is inefficient because the need isn’t stable and transporting vehicles 10 at a time to out of the way hubs is cost prohibitive (consider that your Fedex air package from Houston to LA will go through Memphis… imagine the extra time and fuel cost for 10 cars to do that).

While there are a few shipping companies that operate their own trucks, you will pay dearly.  We recommend that route only for very high end, enclosed car shipments.

But the most cost effective route is the broker + shipper.  Here’s how it works.


Independent truckers make 93% of all auto ships

The lack of a hub distribution model leads to a fragmented system of truckers that work for themselves and make their own routes.  Here’s how it typically works.

A trucker may want to travel from L.A. to Jacksonville along Interstate 10.  He’ll start searching the online posting boards for vehicle moves.  Say that he finds a vehicle in Palm Springs going to New Orleans to start the route.

It worked for David HasselhoffIt worked for David Hasselhoff

Then along the way, he will look to pick up other vehicles… say one from Phoenix to Dallas, and another from El Paso to Baton Rouge.  And if he can find a couple that will pay a lot, he’ll move off his route.. like Austin to Oklahoma City.

Are you seeing the problems for customers?  For instance, what time frame did the trucker promise for the original Palm Springs move and how is this new Oklahoma City side hustle impacting that timeline?

Regrettably, most of these guys don’t care.  They’ll make up some story about how their truck is broken... if you’re lucky enough to get a call.  Or maybe you’re the pickup in El Paso that gets cancelled at the last minute because the new move to Oklahoma City is too good to pass up.

To get started with this trucker roulette fun, you have to find one first.  Enter shipping brokers.

Shipping brokers:  The supply chain's necessary evil

Shipping brokers are the middlemen between you and the truckers.  (Below I’ll tell you how to cut the broker out.. At your own risk.)  Here’s the normal flow:

You contact a broker with your vehicle’s move.  They give you a quote.  You accept and are either charged the full amount or a deposit.  The broker then puts your vehicle, pick up location, and delivery location online (often centraldispatch.com) for an amount less than you paid.

Truckers watch this website and when they see a vehicle ship on their route for the right amount, they accept it.  The broker notifies you about the scheduled move and the shipping starts.

At this point you may be rushing to the bottom of this blog to see how to cut the broker out… not so fast.

Brokers can provide real value.  First, their phone may ring off the hook with different truckers' requests, time changes, and follow ups.  Do you want that to be your phone?

And brokers help keep truckers honest.  For instance, brokers will blackball truckers that make extra stops and mess with shipping dates.  You, as a one time customer, have no power and the trucker doesn’t care how pissed off you get, but they often care about repeat broker business.

What affects the cost to ship a car after distance

There are several factors that affect shipping price beyond distance.  Here are the three main factors affecting auto transport companies' quotes.

Vehicle Size

Vehicle length, width, height, and weight play an important part.  The longer a vehicle is, the less they can fit on the transport.  The more it weighs, the more they are charged at weigh stations and may need to offset it with lighter vehicles.  The wider it is may require a specialized trailer, like dually truck shipping.  And lifted or lowered vehicles may require altered trailers.

In other words, get our your checkbook for a Ford F250 Powerstroke diesel dually lifted truck!

Time of Year

In winter, southern state prices decrease while northern state prices increase.  This can get worse when known storms are rolling through.

Location

Pick up and drop off locations matter, particularly rural vs urban.  The further you’re off a main route, the more the cost.  For instance, Tucson to Jacksonville may run $750 because both cities are on Interstate 10 while Tucson to Kansas City – a much shorter route – may be $1200.  Or Tucson to Independence, Kansas – closer than Kansas City but not close to any major freeway – may be $1500.

Common car shipping company scams and failures

If you know what can go wrong, it’s more likely things will go right.  Keep an eye out for the following…

Low car shipping quotes and non-refundable deposits

Be skeptical of low quotes.  Brokers love to underquote hoping that they’ll be able to find the perfect cheap ship trucker (for instance, a trucker that is going on that exact route with extra room).  They can waste weeks of your time “working on it.”  And worse, if you have a non-refundable deposit, you’re out.

The trucker is three hours out

Typically code for “in the next state, but be sure to wait so when we eventually get there, we won’t have to wait.”  Not always true, but… be ready for it.

...Or watching Full House re runs...Or watching Full House re runs

The truck is broken down

Typically code for “I took another ship job” or “I’m at the casino.”  This is their goto when they’re late.  Happens on 15% of our ships.

How to get vehicle transportation started

You have two options: do it yourself or hire a broker.  I discussed the pros and cons above.

Ship trucks and cars on your own with UShip

To do it yourself, I recommend uship.com.  Our customers have done very well with UShip.  It offers a good experience connecting you to truckers.

It's a good route if you're patient and a people person. But if random phone calls and changes of plans annoy you...

Or save your sanity and use a car shipping broker

For a broker, we don’t want to recommend one for obvious reasons, but ​​transportreviews.com isn’t a bad place to start – just know that many of the brokers pay for the positions … and I’m sure their sponsorship doesn’t affect reviews…

I recommend looking at the bad reviews and focus on how the business responds.  Ignore the customer’s portion.  That’ll give you a good feeling for how the business operates.

Bonus – How to take delivery of a car or ship out

Regardless if you’re receiving or shipping a vehicle, the delivery or send off process is the same.

Have your phone out and video the entire car before it comes off or goes on the trailer. Paying close attention to the roof and undercarriage.  Then video the inside and drive it down the block.

This ensures that any vehicle discrepancy can be efficiently sorted between you, the shipper, and the buyer/seller.

What to do if you buy a vehicle from us

We can quote the move out for you and handle it as a broker, without the games or markup.  Or you can hit up UShip and do it yourself.

Easy either way!

If you’re looking for some good vehicles to ship, check out our inventory, and our specialty – diesel trucks.



Want to keep up with Dennis's work? Follow Dennis on Twitter

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