How to Ship a Car Cross-Country: The Ultimate Car Shipping Checklist

When moving to a new place, most people focus on packing and transporting household goods. They only start to wonder how to ship a car cross country later.

The good news is that many vehicle shipping services are available if you’d rather not drive your car yourself. Many companies even provide door-to-door service, where they pick up and drop off your car at your home so you don’t have to do any driving at all.

While using professional transport services can relieve long-distance driving stress, you still need to do your due diligence to ensure the shipping process goes smoothly. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to do to ship your car successfully.

Where to start?

Before you get your car ready to be shipped, choose the right car auto shipper. There are several choices on the market today. The best car shipping companies offer competitive prices and reliable service to get your vehicle safely to its destination.

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Take the time to research different auto transportation companies. Look online to make sure a solid reputation and glowing reviews back the company you choose. You can also check their rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and that they are licensed with the Department of Transportation.

Experience matters when choosing a car shipping company that can address your specific needs. Some specialize in transporting large vehicles, while others do not. Make sure your chosen provider has experience with your type of vehicle.

To help you get started, here are some of our car shipping company reviews:

Additional considerations for choosing an auto transport company

When figuring out how to ship a car, you’ll want to look beyond a company’s reputation (even though it’s an important starting point). Here are a few additional factors to consider as you make your pick.

Open vs. enclosed auto transport

One of the most common decisions is using open or enclosed auto transport. Open transport uses a trailer that exposes your car to the elements. Enclosed carriers keep your vehicle inside a fully covered trailer to protect against road debris and bad weather.

Most people opt for open transport carriers for the lower price, but you should consider enclosed transport if you have a luxury, classic car or want the best possible service. Enclosed trailers also offer extra protection against theft and vandalism.

Get multiple car shipping quotes

Once you find a few good options for shipping your car, get at least three car shipping quotes before finalizing your decision.

You want to make sure you’re getting the best option for a price you can afford. The cheapest quote may not be the right one, and comparing a few options will give you a better picture of what you’re paying for with each auto shipping company.

When you get free quotes, consider different shipping options and quoting policies. Car shipping costs can vary based on several factors, including:

  • Delivery location: Door-to-door service is more expensive than terminal shipping, which requires you to drop off and pick up your vehicle at a carrier’s terminal.
  • Distance: The farther you need to ship your car, the more it will cost. For example, shipping your car to Alaska will cost a lot more than somewhere in the continental US, like Los Angeles, California, or New York.
  • Expedited delivery date: Some carriers charge extra if you need a guaranteed or earlier-than-usual pickup date for your vehicle. Be sure to ask!
  • Time of year: Spring and summer are peak moving seasons, so car shipping can be more expensive than fall and winter.
  • Type of transport: Your shipping method matters. As noted earlier, an enclosed car carrier is more expensive than an open carrier.
  • Vehicle size and value: Many carriers charge extra for oversized or high-value vehicles since they take up more space and cost more to insure.

Call your insurance company

You should ensure your insurance policy covers your vehicle while in transit. Calling your insurance agent will allow you to verify your insurance coverage. If you need additional coverage, your agent can recommend it. Shipping companies also provide optional add-on coverage.

What is the cheapest way to ship a car?

Generally speaking, the cheapest way to ship your car is open transport, terminal-to-terminal delivery. However, other less common options, such as shipping your car by train, could save you money.

Here’s a quick glance at other questions people consider when wondering how to ship a car cheaply (with links to more detailed answers):

How to prepare your vehicle for car shipping

After choosing the right shipping company for your vehicle, it’s time to move to prepare your car for shipment. Preparation is essential to car shipping; you want to do it right.

Check off all of the items below before shipping your car.

  • Clean your vehicle: After a thorough cleaning, it’s easier to spot any cosmetic damage.
  • Document all cosmetic damage: Take pictures of your vehicle and write down any cosmetic damage (dents or scratches) you find inside and out. Make sure your pictures include a date and time stamp. Make sure you take pictures of the undercarriage, as well.
  • Remove personal items: Most auto transporters require that you remove all personal belongings from your vehicle for shipment. Similarly, if the exterior of your car has a bike rack, ski rack, or luggage rack, remove it. You should remove radio antennas and other exterior items that could fall off or snap off, such as spoilers, ground effects, or spoilers.
  • Basic maintenance checks: Before shipping, make sure your car’s battery is fully charged. Check that all tires are inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure. If you find any fluid leaks or mechanical issues, try to fix them in advance. The car shipping company should know about them. They may have to take special precautions if there’s a mechanical issue with your car — and they may not ship a car with leaks. Finally, make sure your vehicle’s fluids are topped off.
  • Check the gas tank: It’s best to leave your vehicle with a quarter tank of gas or less so it will weigh less during shipping.
  • Miscellaneous: Secure the top if the vehicle is a convertible. Make sure the emergency brake works so the car stays in place while in transit. Fold in your side mirrors after bringing the car to the auto transporter. Consider making a spare key to have an extra in case something happens to the original.

Once you’ve gone through this car shipping checklist, you’re ready to transport your car. You will need to verify your current mileage and any existing damage or issues found by the shipping company and sign the bill of lading before the vehicle is shipped. Make sure your documentation matches theirs so everybody is on the same page.

Your car isn’t running? No problem! Here is how to ship a non-running car.

Shipping a motorcycle? We’ve got a guide for that too: How to Ship Your Motorcycle.

Our car shipping checklist for vehicle arrival

Your vehicle’s delivery isn’t the end of the process. You’ll want to check a few things before signing your final paperwork. The post-car shipping checklist won’t be as long as the preparation list, but it’s just as important.

Inspect your vehicle

Just as you did when you prepared your vehicle for shipping, inspect your vehicle for damage. Make sure any damage to your vehicle matches the damage found before shipping the car.

If there is any new damage, don’t sign the bill of lading until you’ve documented it. You’ll need to take pictures of the damage and document it as you would for a regular insurance claim.

During your inspection, check the odometer and start the vehicle. The goal is to note any new damage or change in condition. If the car is in the same condition, you can sign the bill of lading and move on. If not, you may need to file an insurance claim.

Filing an insurance claim

You’ll want to file an insurance claim as soon as possible if necessary. Thoroughly document the damage with pictures. Include both the before and after pictures for the insurance company, along with copies of the bill of lading.

Update your auto insurance and driver’s license

When shipping your vehicle across the country or to a new state, you will need to update your auto insurance and driver’s license as soon as possible. Most states give you up to 30 days to complete this process, but the sooner you can complete it, the better.

You should also update your insurance if you added coverage for car shipping. You might only need to do something if it was a separate policy.

Leave a review for the car shipping company

Finally, consider leaving a review for your car shipping company. When you choose a shipping company and you write a review, whether positive, negative, or somewhere in the middle, it helps other customers make the right choice.

It’s a good idea to point out anything you liked and anything you didn’t like about the process. Honest reviews help other customers. If you had a bad experience, waiting a few days might be a good idea so you’re not leaving an emotion-driven review.

Are auto transport services right for you?

When deciding how to ship a car, there’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all answer for which option is best. Some people will choose professional car transport services. Others forgo car shipping services and drive their vehicles themselves.

Yes, shipping prices have an average cost that is usually higher than if you drove your car yourself. However, vehicle transport providers can offer much-needed peace of mind and give you one less thing to worry about as you prepare for a major move.

Your best bet is to get multiple quotes from reputable vehicle shippers, and then compare the costs and convenience against what it would be like to transport your vehicle yourself. Our moving cost calculator can help you get a general idea of what different options would cost so you can confidently plan your move.

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