Open vs. Enclosed Auto Transport: Which Should You Choose?

Deciding between shipping your car via open or enclosed transport may seem like a tricky decision.After all, each type of carrier has its pros and cons.More on those shortly.But first, after compiling quotes from multiple car carriers, we found that enclosed transport can be as much as 40% more expensive than transport with open-air carriers.

Of course, your cost will depend on several factors, including –

  • The distance between origin and destination
  • The length, height, width, and weight of your vehicle
  • Your vehicle’s value and the insurance you choose
  • The time of year you need it moved (it’s most expensive in the summer)
  • How quickly you need it (quicker delivery costs more)
  • Whether it runs or is inoperable
  • Any other issues like low ground clearance that’ll require haulers with lift gates

In short, whether you’re having your vehicle transported across the country or to a neighboring state, most car haulers provide safe, convenient, and reliable service. Still, nefarious players and shady brokers abound too.

This is why for peace of mind, we recommend getting instant quotes from vetted companies with tons of experience and verified customer reviews, like the ones on our list of the 5 Best Car Shipping Companies. 

What is Enclosed Car Transport?

With enclosed transport, your vehicle is shipped inside a trailer surrounded by a weatherproof roof, walls, and doors.

Though many customers assume their vehicle will be the only one inside the trailer, that’s rarely the case.

You can opt for “exclusive use,” but it’s prohibitively expensive and is generally reserved for priceless classics, imported supercars, and irreplaceable race cars.

In other words, with standard enclosed transport, there will be other vehicles inside the trailer with yours.

That said, enclosed trailers can’t haul as many vehicles as open trailers, so in addition to being protected from the elements and road debris like rocks, sand, and salt, your car will have more open space around it.

You Should Use Enclosed Auto Transport if:

  • Money isn’t an issue
  • You demand the highest quality service
  • You’re shipping vintage, classic, custom, exotic, or high-end luxury cars
  • Your want to sign your vehicle up for an auto show, race, or museum

What is Open Car Transport?

As its name implies, open car transport means the company is shipping your vehicle on an open-air trailer that doesn’t have a solid roof or walls.

Open-air transport exposes your car, truck, van, or SUV to everything from rain and sleet to sandstorms and bird droppings.

If you’ve ever seen open car carriers barreling down the highway, you’ve likely marveled at how many vehicles were on board – sometimes ten or more depending on size.

Though it looks precarious and dangerous, it’s relatively safe. It’s how dealers transport most new cars and other vehicles from factories and ports to buyers and other dealerships across the country.

You Should Use Open Auto Transport if:

  • You’re shipping your vehicle on a budget
  • It’s not valuable enough to warrant enclosed transport
  • An extra ding or a temporary layer of dirt or ice won’t make a difference

Pros and Cons of Open and Enclosed Auto Transport

Deciding which transport option is best for your particular situation usually comes down to a simple cost-benefit analysis.

The Pros of Enclosed Transport

  • Your vehicle is better protected from the weather and flying road debris
  • Enclosed transport drivers are often more experienced than their open transport counterparts
  • You’ll get a more personalized “white glove” service

The Cons

  • It’s significantly more expensive
  • There may be limited availability, especially during the peak season between June and August
  • Delivery times may be longer if you’re moving to a rural area

The Pros of Open Transport

  • It’s more economical
  • More year-round nationwide availability
  • Shorter delivery times (this isn’t always the case)
  • Most vehicles arrive safely and damage-free

The Cons

  • Your vehicle is more prone to minor damage (chipped paint, missing antennas, etc.)
  • More cars onboard may mean longer delivery times.
  • Less personalized service

How to Get Your Ride Ready for Vehicle Shipping

Before the shipping company picks up your car, they should provide you with a complete list of things to do to get it ready.

They usually include –

  • Making sure it has a quarter tank of gas or less
  • Inflating the tires and topping off the oil, coolant, and transmission fluid
  • Removing personal items from the trunk, glove box, and back seat
  • Having a spare set of keys ready for the driver
  • Providing proof of insurance and vehicle ownership like a title or lease agreement

For more details, check out our Car Shipping Checklist.

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

Why are enclosed car carriers so much more expensive than open auto transport?

Enclosed auto transport carriers are more expensive because their car trailers offer more protection for your vehicle. Also, open carriers can haul more cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs and use less fuel per automobile which translates into lower prices.

Is auto shipping worth it for an old car?

Auto transport carriers will gladly ship your old vehicle, but if transportation costs more than its value, it’s probably wiser to get rid of it unless it has sentimental value.

Is an enclosed container always the best shipping method for sports cars and classic cars?

Yes, for expensive vehicles like race cars, sports cars, and vintage classics, enclosed car shipping services are usually the best option.

What’s the difference between multi-car and single-car transportation?

When you book “exclusive use,” your car will be in the trailer by itself, but it’s much more expensive than shipping your vehicle with others.

Are instant shipping quotes accurate?

They usually are, but sometimes they just estimate, so be sure you know if you’re getting a firm price or just a “ballpark” quote.

What’s a two-level trailer?

Most transport trailers (even enclosed trailers) have two decks to haul a row of vehicles on the bottom and another on top to maximize efficiency and keep costs low.

To learn more about how to transport your car, check out our list of the top-rated auto transport companies and find out which one is best for you.

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