Should I Drive My Car or Ship It When I Move Cross-Country?

Driving is almost always less expensive than using an auto transport company, but when all factors are considered the choice may not be so cut and dry.

Deciding whether to drive or ship your car when moving usually comes down to:

  • Cost
  • Safety
  • Distance
  • Convenience

Driving is almost always less expensive than using an auto transport company, but when all factors are considered the choice may not be so cut and dry.

If you’re moving long-distance and using professional movers, they may be able to put your car inside the van with your household goods.

It sounds crazy, but they do it all the time.

It’s safe and convenient, and if you’re using the same company for both they may offer special deals and discounts.

In addition, many big national van lines have dedicated car hauling fleets that use the same equipment as companies that transport new cars from factories and ports to dealerships.

There are plenty of independent car hauling companies and online brokers that specialize in handling automobile transportation too.

Though they’re worth considering, you’ll need to vet them carefully.

Some have solid track records of high-quality service and reasonable prices, but nefarious players abound too.

Now let’s take a look at what to consider when deciding which option is best for you.

What Are the Costs of Driving Your Car When You Move?

Gas

Internet search results for car, light truck, and SUV fuel efficiency statistics are all over the board.

With so many makes, models, and engine types it’s impossible to calculate accurately.

For our purposes, we’ll assume that the average family sedan gets 27 miles per gallon on the highway and in the city.

For SUVs, we’ll use 18 miles per gallon.

To determine how much gas you’ll use on your trip, divide the mileage by the fuel efficiency figure for your vehicle type, then multiply that number by $2.18, which was the national average gasoline price on August 22, 2020 according to AAA.

Based on these numbers, the estimated costs are:

Fuel Cost by Trip Distance

Mileage Cost for sedan/SUV
250 miles $21/ $30
750 miles $61/ $91
1,250 miles $101/ $151
2,000 miles $161/ $242

Gas prices can change quickly and often vary significantly from state to state. Fuel mileage is subject to a number of factors including vehicle age, driving habits, terrain, and season, so use the above numbers for reference only.

Lodging

Hotels and motels are among the biggest contributors to cost when making a multi-day cross-country trip.

According to statista.com, the average price for a night in a hotel in the United States is just over $100.

Most drivers can easily crank out 500 miles a day when the weather is good, so one room for every 500 miles of trip length is a safe rule of thumb.

However, when restroom, food, gas, and coffee breaks are factored in, even 300 or 400 miles can take the better part of a day, so getting an early start is imperative.

When planning your trip it’s wise to consider things like weather, fatigue, and the terrain through which you’ll be driving.

In the worst-case scenario, you may need an extra night or two in a hotel.

Food

Meals, drinks, and snacks add up quickly, especially when you’re bored, hungry, and tired of being stuck behind the wheel.

Though an egg sandwich and a mug of instant coffee may suffice for breakfast at home, while traveling we’re all more likely to splurge on eggs benedict and a high-dollar mocha latte from Starbucks.

$35 per person per day for food is a good round number, but it assumes that you’re willing to dine at reasonably priced establishments like roadside diners and truck stops.

If your tastes run to the extravagant or you’ve got an exceptionally big appetite, the cost could be higher.

Is It Cheaper to Ship or Drive Your Car?

Though shipping your car may be convenient, driving is almost always more cost-effective.

If you do ship it, however, you can opt for either open or enclosed transport.

We’ll base most of our data and conclusions on the former because the latter is usually reserved for high-dollar classics and vintage race cars, which most families don’t have.

Price Comparison — Driving vs. Shipping (Based on Mileage)

The driving figures below were calculated using:

  • A national average gasoline cost of $2.18 per gallon on September 20, 2020
  • 25 miles per gallon per vehicle
  • $35 per person per day for food, with two people making the trip
  • An average hotel cost of $101 per night

Shipping rates are from a number of auto transport companies, and are based on various car sizes moving in multiple lanes.

Estimated cost to drive Average cost to ship
150 to 500 miles $201 $604
500 to 1,000 miles $407 $984
1,0001 to 1,500 miles $622 $1,127
Over 2,000 miles $859 $1,332

The numbers speak for themselves. The cost to ship a car is usually much higher than what it is to drive.

Though other factors besides price should be taken into account, for cost-conscious families driving is almost always the way to go.

How Much Does It Cost to Ship a Car?

The costs of shipping a car are based on:

  • Distance
  • Vehicle type (size and weight)
  • Value
  • Time of year
  • Whether you need open or enclosed transport
  • Whether your car is operable or inoperable

Cost Comparison by Mileage and Transport Type

150 to 500 miles 501 to 1,000 miles 1,001 to 1,500 miles More than 1,500 miles
Open transport $604 $984 $1,127 $1,332
Enclosed transport $949 $1,459 $1,508 $1,944

Based on our research, the average cost to ship a car is just over $700.

However, that figure includes shipments of nearly every distance and vehicle type across multiple lanes at different times of the year.

The auto transport market is subject to drastic price swings based on the season, fuel prices, supply and demand, and the overall economy, so it’s always best to get multiple quotes for your particular situation.

Additional Factors

Safety

Even on cross-country trips accidents are unlikely.

However, increased driving means more risk, especially since many vehicular mishaps are the result of speeding and fatigue.

Obeying speed limits and stopping frequently will help break up the day and keep you alert.

Also, consider when you’ll be making your trip, and the kinds of weather and terrain you’ll encounter.

The Rocky Mountains may be beautiful in December, but they’re also dangerous for those without winter driving experience.

Likewise, breaking down in a remote stretch of Arizona desert in June can turn into a nightmare, especially when it’s 115 degrees, you’re 20 miles from the nearest service station, and there’s no cellphone reception.

And last, though our nation’s highways are generally safe, women, the elderly, and the very young are statistically more likely to be victims of crime, so take these things into consideration as well.


Time and Convenience

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a leisurely cross-country drive.

When you’ve got the time, the weather’s good, and your route will take you through previously unexplored areas, it can be relaxing, educational, and even therapeutic.

That being said, if you’re stressed out about starting a new job and don’t relish the idea of being cramped up in a car for days on end with your spouse and kids, hiring an auto transport company is probably the best option.


Wear and Tear

Long-distance trips can be hard on cars.

Though most go off without a hitch, an errant rock from a passing dump truck could spell the end of a perfectly good windshield.

Things like tire blow-outs and shattered windshields can be dangerous, and if they’re not covered by your auto insurance policy they can double or triple the cost of your trip in record time.

According to carinsurance.com, most Americans put about 10,000 miles per year on their cars.

That’s about 850 miles per month (or roughly the distance between New York to Atlanta).

In other words, a 2-day trip could subject your car to a month’s worth of abuse.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Is it safer to ship your car or drive it?

Generally, it’s safer for you and your car to have it shipped professionally.

2. What about towing my car behind a moving truck?

Though it’s possible to rent dollies that will allow you to tow your car behind another vehicle like a rented moving van, it’s not a great idea for those without experience pulling a trailer.

Towed vehicles can be hard to control in tight spaces, inclement weather and mountainous terrain, so proceed with caution.

3. How will I get to my new home if I ship my car?

If shipping your car seems like the best bet, you can catch a bus, snag a cheap flight, or have a friend or family member drive you to your new home.

4. Is it faster to drive or ship a car?

Driving is definitely faster. Truck drivers are subject to federal regulations that limit their daily working and driving time.

They’ll also need to make additional pick-ups and deliveries while en route, so your delivery window could stretch into weeks depending on trip length.

The Verdict

In short, deciding whether to drive your car yourself or ship it with a professional auto transport company is a matter of personal preference.

If price and speediness are the utmost concerns, driving is the clear winner.

However, from the standpoint of convenience, peace of mind, and overall safety, shipping may be the way to go for those who don’t mind spending a few extra bucks.

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