Cheapest Way to Ship a Car Cross Country?

While there are many factors to consider when preparing for a cross-country move, one thing you can’t forget about is your car! But how are you going to get your car there without breaking the bank?

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The cheapest way to ship a car cross country is by using a train, but this option is limited to DC and Florida moves only. The next cheapest options are open transport, driving it yourself, and using car shipping companies.

There are many options available for long-distance vehicle shipping. By understanding the different auto transport services available, you can find the right solution for your timeline and budget. In this post, we’ll dive into some of the most popular options.

How Much Does it Cost to Ship a Car Cross Country?

Car Shipping Costs (Updated 2023)
Distance Open trailer Enclosed trailer Average cost
<500 miles $600 $940 $755
500-1,000 miles $920 $1,150 $1,001
1,000-1,500 miles $1,195 $1,710 $1,311
1,500-2,500 miles $1,501 $2,022 $1,714
2,500+ miles $1,695 $2,310 $2,001

The average cost of shipping a car cross country will range from about $500 to $2,500, depending on the options you choose and the total distance of your trip. Keep in mind that the cheapest option may not be available in your area.

There are a few key factors that will affect your shipping rates, regardless of which transport option you decide on:

  • Shipping option: Some methods are cheaper than others. For example, shipping your car by train will generally be much cheaper than hiring a driver.
  • Open car transport or enclosed transport: Open trailers are cheaper than enclosed trailers, but provide less protection during shipment.
  • Specific delivery date or delivery window: Expedited service usually comes at a premium. Setting a specific delivery date will typically result in higher prices.
  • Door-to-door service: Getting your vehicle delivered to your home will cost more than if you drop off and/or pick up at a car transport company’s delivery locations.
  • Distance: A short distance may actually cost more per mile, but total costs could still be higher for a cross country trip due to total mileage.
  • Type of Vehicle: The type of car you need to ship can increase your transport costs. For example, an SUV costs more to ship than a sedan. Luxury vehicles may also carry a higher shipping price due to insurance and liability costs.

Keep these factors in mind when requesting car shipping quotes, as they will directly affect your final vehicle transport costs.

What are your best options for shipping a car cross country?

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The following are some of the most common options used by people looking for the cheapest way to ship a car cross country. Each type of transport offers its own pros and cons, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. With so many car shipping options, the most affordable will depend on your specific situation and personal preferences.

However, for the sake of your car, always choose from the best car shipping companies, no matter which option you decide on.

1. Open transport: using a car shipping trailer

Open transport is best for people who are making interstate moves, long-distance moves, and those who want door-to-door shipping.

Shipping a car by truck or by car carrier is a popular choice, as there are plenty of companies that provide this service. When dealers ship cars, they most often ship them using auto transport companies.

The price of shipping a car with this option will vary depending on the options you desire. If you need a guaranteed pickup date, the cost will be higher than choosing a delivery window. The cost of shipping a vehicle by car shipping trailer can become expensive if you require an enclosed carrier or door-to-door shipping. Shipping a classic car or a relatively larger vehicle may cost you more.

The cost to ship your car with this option will also depend on how far you’re sending it. If you’re going a shorter distance up to 500 miles, expect to pay close to $2 per mile. For shipping distances between 500 and 1,500 miles, the cost typically ranges from 60 cents to 93 cents per mile. Distances of more than 1,500 miles can come with rates as low as 40 cents per mile.

Generally speaking, open transport is still consistently the cheapest way to ship a car cross country. However, car shipping costs tend to vary among different transport carriers. It’s best to get a free quote from multiple auto shipping companies to find the best price and shipping options.

Pros:

  • Often one of the cheapest options for shipping your car
  • Flexible service options to match your budget, timeline, and shipping preferences
  • No wear and tear on your car, since it is stored on a trailer

Cons:

  • Higher rates for shorter moves
  • Many carriers have a weight limit for how much luggage you can store in your car

2. Terminal-to-terminal shipping

Terminal-to-terminal shipping is best for people who are making long-distance moves, can wait to get their car, and have easy access to a terminal. It can also be the cheapest way to ship a car cross country.

Shipping a car with terminal-to-terminal shipping can be less expensive than standard open transport, but it can also take longer to get your vehicle.

Drivers bring their vehicle to a terminal, where it is stored until the carriers have enough vehicles to be delivered to the terminal near your destination city. This helps them reduce the number of trips they take, and is more efficient than doing door to door pick-ups and drop-offs. However, this means that you might be waiting a while before your car is shipped to the terminal closest to your new home.

In addition, terminals aren’t always located in the most convenient areas. Though they are often located near airports or along major highways, they are often outside big cities. You’ll likely have to travel farther to drop off and pick up your car, unless you hire someone else to do this for you.

As with other forms of open transport, your exact costs will vary based on total mileage, as well as the size and value of your vehicle.

Pros:

  • Can be even cheaper than standard open transport
  • Your car is stored in a secure location until it is shipped
  • You can potentially hire a driver to pick up your vehicle

Cons:

  • Drop-off and pick-up points may be far from your destination
  • Takes much longer than standard auto shipping

3. Driving the car yourself

Driving your car is the best option for DIY people who don’t want anyone else driving their car and don’t have time to deal with shipping companies.

You can certainly drive the car yourself instead of paying for a car shipping company. However, this option may not save you any money. And it can become quite a hassle to drive across the country.

Costs can add up and will likely include:

  • Gas or airfare
  • Food
  • Lodging
  • Vehicle maintenance

That being said, driving the car yourself is a good option for people who have pets. After all, you can’t ship your furry friends, so driving may be your only choice! Of course, driving will be much easier if you can find a friend to split driving responsibilities.

Handling auto shipping yourself will also cost you time. Driving instead of flying will take much longer to reach your destination. Depending on the time of year, you may need to be aware of severe weather or other potential issues on the road.

The total cost to drive or tow the vehicle yourself varies, depending on how cost-conscious you are with other expenses like food and lodging. On average, a trip from Los Angeles to New York will cost roughly $1,150, plus your time.

Pros:

  • You’re in total control of your trip
  • You can travel quickly, or stop at interesting sites along your route

Cons:

  • Road tripping can be surprisingly expensive
  • Driving for long periods of time can be stressful and even dangerous, depending on weather conditions
  • You’ll add wear and tear to your vehicle

4. Towing your car with another vehicle

Towing your car with another vehicle is the best option for DIY people who have more than one car. However, this option requires at least one vehicle to be tow-capable.

For individuals with multiple cars, another option is to tow one car behind the other. Similar to driving your car yourself, this can be a good choice when you want to avoid the hassle of dealing with a car shipping company. However, it can prove to be more difficult than driving a single vehicle on your own.

One of the first things you’ll need to do is determine if one of your vehicles is tow-capable. Pickup trucks are rated for towing, as are many SUVs. Even some minivans and smaller cars are rated for towing. However, not every vehicle has enough towing capacity for towing another car.

You’ll need to check whether either of your vehicles is tow-capable, what its towing capacity is, and the weight of the vehicle you need to tow. Trying to tow a car that is heavier than your tow-capable vehicle’s limit could be dangerous and cause significant damage to both vehicles.

Finally, keep in mind that towing one of your cars behind the other will likely result in a more expensive trip — so this may not be the cheapest way to ship a car cross country. To drive safely while towing, you’ll have to drive slower, resulting in more time on the road. This likely means added food and lodging costs because of the longer trip. The added weight can also affect your fuel efficiency, meaning you’ll have to spend more on gas.

Pros:

  • Limit wear and tear on the vehicle being towed if using a dolly or trailer
  • Transport both of your cars with door-to-door service

Cons:

  • Towing another vehicle will increase gas expenses and require slower, careful driving
  • Towing can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing

5. Rent a truck and tow

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Towing your car with your moving truck may be the best option if you’ll be driving your moving truck yourself.

If you’re renting a moving truck that you’ll drive yourself for your cross-country move, you could potentially tow your vehicle behind your moving truck. However, this will require extra equipment rentals, which can drive up your moving costs.

To tow a vehicle with your moving truck, you’ll also need to rent either a tow dolly or a trailer. Maximum loads and rental rates vary, which means that some types of vehicles may not be able to be towed behind your moving truck.

Similar to towing one of your cars behind the other if you have multiple vehicles, towing a car with your moving truck will result in a slower and more expensive trip. Many larger moving trucks only get roughly 10 mpg to begin with, and towing a vehicle can make their fuel efficiency even worse.

If towing your car with a moving truck isn’t an option, you’ll need to have a second driver to split driving duties, which can also drive up gas expenses.

Pros:

  • Get everything to your destination in a single trip
  • You can store personal belongings in your car, as well as your moving truck

Cons:

  • Safely towing a car with a moving truck takes skill and requires low travel speeds
  • Could result in even longer cross-country travels

6. Shipping your car with your moving company

Shipping your car with your moving company is best for people who are already using moving trucks, containers, and trailers since it’ll be the most affordable package option.

When you need to ship your car because of a move, you may not need to hire a separate company. Some moving companies also offer car shipping services — and this is often the cheapest choice since you’re already moving. They may act as the broker between you and a car shipping company, or they may actually offer the service as a part of their own cross-country moving services.

This is exactly why you need to hire a quality interstate moving company. They will make sure you get the best all-around experience, including working with dependable car shippers.

On the other hand, a less-reputable moving company may just choose the cheapest car shipping company. Going for the cheapest option could mean cutting corners, and the cheapest car shipping company may not have a very reliable (or safe) shipping process.

Sometimes, companies could even ship the car in the moving truck! Ask your mover what options are available to learn if this is the cheapest way to ship a car cross country.

Pros:

  • You only have to coordinate your move with one company
  • Your moving company will take care of both your car and your belongings

Cons:

  • Can be more expensive than working directly with a car shipping company
  • Some moving companies may partner with cheaper car shippers

7. Shipping a car cross country with Driveaway (hiring a driver)

This option is best for people who don’t want to do the driving themselves, but want a cheaper alternative to car shippers.

Another rather popular choice for cheap car shipping is hiring a driver — also known as Driveaway or car courier services. When you hire a driver, you will be trusting someone else to drive your vehicle to your destination on your behalf.

Driveaway companies screen their drivers before hiring, and some even require references and a deposit from each driver for your peace of mind.

Typically, the Driveaway arrangement sees the driver paying for gas, food, and lodging, while the vehicle owner pays for the insurance coverage and other fees set by the company. However, liability can vary from company to company. You should carefully document your vehicles’ condition prior to shipping and make sure you understand the company’s liability policies so you aren’t left responsible for any potential road damage.

A few advantages of Driveaway service include the ability to pack items in your car, and fast pick-up and drop-off services. This can be a good choice when you need to reach your destination by a certain date, but you wouldn’t be able to get there quickly enough by driving. Hiring a driver would allow you to fly to your destination and have your car arrive later.

While this shipping option can be cheaper than some car shipping trailer options, it does come with some risks. Just like when you drive the car yourself, Driveaway will add miles to the odometer and result in some natural wear and tear on your vehicle. There is always the risk that drivers will get into an accident or have another issue.

Pros:

  • Fast and efficient door-to-door service
  • Can usually pack belongings in your vehicle
  • Your car gets individualized attention

Cons:

  • Your car will still suffer wear and tear from extra mileage
  • Can be challenging to find reputable companies/drivers

8. Shipping a car cross country by train

Shipping a car by train is super cheap and offers an enclosed space for protection, but availability is limited and vandalism may be a risk while the train is sitting at a depot.

Amtrak offers a car transport service, mainly for snowbirds. Passengers can put their vehicle on the train and ride along from D.C. to Florida. A trip from Washington D.C. to Orlando, Florida, takes about 17 hours. Coach seats start at $115 per passenger, while rooms typically cost over $300. You’ll also pay $225 per standard vehicle, $255 per “extended vehicle,” and $155 per motorcycle.

One of the biggest benefits of moving your vehicle by train is the guarantee of an enclosed space. Most vehicles shipped by train will travel in enclosed cars, offering protection against the elements. There is also no risk of road-related damage or accidents. For environmentally-conscious movers, traveling by train also has a lower carbon footprint.

However, there are also some issues with shipping a car by train. While the train is sitting at a depot, vehicles may be vulnerable to vandalism. While you can store personal items inside your car for the trip, it’s better to keep valuables out of your vehicle.

In addition, shipping by train has relatively limited availability. Most train companies shipping vehicles intend the service for dealers moving many vehicles at once. Amtrak’s Auto Train service only runs from Washington D.C. to Orlando, though it can drop our car off along its route. However, this means that train service isn’t an option if you live outside these areas.

Pros:

  • Often the cheapest option for transporting your car
  • More environmentally friendly than other transportation options
  • You can store personal items inside your vehicle

Cons:

  • Very limited availability—the route only runs from Washington D.C. to Orlando
  • Car transport service runs on a fixed schedule without much flexibility

Essential tips to save money when shipping your car

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Want to save money when shipping your car? Consider the time of year and get several quotes from car shipping companies before making a decision.

Regardless of the shipping option that you use to get your car across the country, there are a few factors that can help you save money on car shipping costs. Depending on how flexible you can be, these can go a long way in helping you save and find the cheapest way to ship a car cross country.

Ship your car during the winter

Winter is the cheapest time of year to ship your car. This is because there are generally fewer people who are moving or shipping vehicles than at other times of year. With reduced demand, most shippers will offer lower prices in an attempt to secure more business. Winter also typically sees lower gas prices. Whether driving yourself or using a car shipping company, this can result in a less expensive trip.

While early spring and late fall tend to be more expensive than winter, they are still usually cheaper than summer, which sees the highest demand and the most moving and car shipping activity.

Embrace flexibility

The more flexible you can be with dates for having your vehicle delivered to your home or available for pick-up, the lower your rates will be. Many companies offer discounted rates for more flexible delivery options, as this makes it easier to fit your delivery in with their schedules.

Be mindful of extra fees

Many car shipping companies charge extra fees for vehicles that are over a certain size limit, are considered “collector” or “antique” cars, or are considered inoperable. This is done to offset their own added expenses such as needing extra insurance or the extra work that would be required to load or unload an inoperable vehicle.

Get multiple quotes

It’s always a good idea to get quotes from at least three providers before making a final decision. Some car shipping companies offer discounts for new or returning customers. Alternatively, you might learn that car shipping with companies in your area is ultimately more expensive than driving your car yourself. By getting multiple quotes, you can understand the market and have confidence that you’re getting the best available deal.

Finding the best way to ship your car

Whether you choose open auto transport or decide to drive your car yourself, finding an option that works best for your timeline, budget, and shipping preferences will give you one less thing to worry about as you prep for your move. By checking out your options and getting multiple quotes, you can have peace of mind as you find the cheapest way to ship a car cross country.

Whether you’re moving from New York to California or even going all the way to Hawaii, you’ll want to have a way to get around when you reach your new home.

For extra help getting your vehicle ready for cross country shipping, check out our car shipping checklist.

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