How to Prepare Your Car for Shipping: 5 Essential Steps

When getting ready to move, one thing that often gets overlooked is how you’ll get your cars to your new home. Not all moving companies are equipped to provide vehicle shipping services, which means you’ll likely need to enlist the help of one of the best car shipping companies, as well.

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After you’ve selected a car shipping company to work with, there are still a few things you need to do to ensure your vehicle is truly ready to be shipped.

In this article, we’ll help you understand how to prepare your car for shipping, as well as the difference between different car shipping methods, and give you some tips to make sure everything goes smoothly.

5 steps to prepare your car for shipping

Before your vehicle shipper arrives, you’ll need to take care of the following tasks to ensure your car is ready for transport.

1. Gather your paperwork

When you drop off your vehicle for shipment, you’ll need to prove that you’re the actual owner. Make sure you gather all necessary paperwork for your car transportation company in advance. The last thing you want is to waste time digging through your glovebox or realize you left something at home.

Car shipping companies will generally need to see your vehicle registration, the original car title, proof of car insurance, and a valid photo ID (typically either your driver’s license or passport). Overseas shipments and car shipping for military moves may require additional paperwork. Check with your shipping company to confirm what you’ll need.

2. Wash your car and document damage

A clean car may not seem like a big concern when you’re about to ship it across the country, but this can make a big difference when you fill out the vehicle condition report. When your car is clean, it is much easier to identify pre-existing damage, such as dents, dings, and paint chips.

Be sure to take photos to document any existing damage for yourself. With this evidence in hand, it will be easy to compare how your car looked before and after shipping. Though your vehicle is unlikely to suffer additional damage during transportation, photographic proof will make it much easier to file a claim for damages on the bill of lading.

Related: How to ship a non-running car

3. Remove personal belongings

Auto transport companies generally require you to remove all personal belongings prior to shipping your car. A few companies will allow you to pack one box of items in the trunk, but this is the exception to the rule. Car transportation companies are prohibited from moving certain types of items and they also want to reduce the risk of theft.

Pack away all loose items inside the car, including GPS devices and phone chargers. You should also remove parking passes or toll tags — toll tags could actually be charged as your car is transported through toll booths. This is also a good time to clear out any junk that might have accumulated, like water bottles or food wrappers. Removing personal items can help your vehicle interior look nice and clean when you arrive at your new home!

You should also remove external add-ons, such as custom spoilers and bike racks. This minimizes the risk of theft and damage during transportation, and will help keep shipping costs down by reducing the total weight of your vehicle.

4. Take care of maintenance needs

Most vehicle shippers won’t ship cars with major mechanical problems, as this could result in damage to your vehicle and others while in transit and cause delays on the road. Check your tire pressure, top off vehicle fluid such as oil and coolant, and check for leaks or other mechanical issues.

If you are shipping an inoperable vehicle, you must note this when you book your shipment — and make sure that it won’t present any problems during shipment.

Other maintenance tasks prior to auto shipping include turning off your car alarm system, lowering the antenna, and folding in the side mirrors. Your truck driver doesn’t want your car alarm going off during transport!

Finally, it’s better to not have a full tank of gas during car shipping. Load your car with roughly a quarter tank to reduce its weight during transport.

5. Have an extra set of keys ready

Your truck driver will need a set of keys to load and unload your vehicle. You don’t want to give them the only set of keys for your car. If you don’t already have two sets of keys for your vehicle, make a copy (and make sure it works).

Car shipping methods

The car shipping process can primarily be divided into two main options: open and enclosed transport. The transport process that works best for your needs will largely depend on your budget and the level of protection you desire for your vehicle. Here’s what you should know.

Open carrier transport

Open carrier transport moves vehicles using an open-air trailer. There are no walls or roof, but all vehicles are securely fastened to keep them in place during transport.

This method of transportation is the most commonly used because of its lower cost. Open carrier transport is significantly cheaper than enclosed transport, which makes it a much more budget-friendly option for shipping your vehicle across the country.However, open carrier transport does leave your vehicle exposed to the elements. During shipment, your car could be exposed to severe weather and bird droppings. Cars on open carriers are also more vulnerable to dings and dents from road debris.

So, while open transport is good for budget-minded movers, it isn’t recommended for shipping valuable or antique vehicles.

Enclosed transport

Enclosed transport is designed to give you true peace of mind. Cars are shipped inside a trailer with weatherproof walls, doors, and roof. There is no risk of your car getting damaged by a hailstorm or road debris.

Enclosed carriers generally provide the highest level of service, especially if you pick one of the best enclosed car shipping companies. This is because enclosed transport involves shipping fewer vehicles in a single trailer so that each individual car has more space.

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However, the extra protection and space adds up to significantly higher transportation costs — as much as double the cost of open transport. Because of this, enclosed transport is generally reserved for high-end luxury or antique vehicles, or for transporting vehicles for auto shows or museums. It’s best for shippers who aren’t as concerned about cost as they are about risking any damage to their car.

Car shipping tips

In addition to following best practices for preparing your car for shipping, there are several other steps you can take to help the car transport process go smoothly.

Here are some key tips to keep in mind:

  • Research multiple companies. Always get quotes from multiple car shipping companies before making a selection. Do your research to ensure each company you get quotes from is a reputable car transporter with good reviews and the capacity to meet your shipping needs.
  • Door-to-door vs. terminal-to-terminal. With door-to-door transport, your vehicle is picked up and dropped off at your home — but it comes at a higher cost. With terminal-to-terminal shipping, you need to pick up and drop off your car at the shipper’s terminal. This is less expensive, but also less convenient. Be mindful of which options different shippers offer.
  • Check insurance coverage. Double-check your own auto insurance policy to see what level of coverage is available for car shipping. You should also check the car transport company’s liability policies to ensure they have enough car shipping insurance coverage for any repairs that might be needed.
  • Plan your timeline. Car shipping can be a surprisingly time-consuming process. Be mindful of when a car shipper can pick up and drop off your vehicle, and consider what transportation alternatives you might need to use if you’ll be without your car at either your old or new home for a few days.

FAQs about how to prepare your car for shipping

How do I prepare my car for cross-country shipping?

To ensure your car is ready for cross-country shipping, start by gathering all necessary paperwork for the shipping company. Wash your car and document all pre-existing damage in case you need to file a claim later.

Remove your personal belongings (including external add-ons like bike racks). Address any maintenance issues that could cause problems during transportation (like oil leaks).

Finally, be sure you have an extra set of keys for your truck driver.

Does your car need to be empty when you ship it?

Most car shipping companies require that you remove personal items prior to shipping. This reduces the risk of theft or damage while in transit. Some companies allow you to store a box of personal belongings in the trunk, but with limitations on the type of items that can be transported. Be sure to check with your auto shipping company for their specific policies.

What is the average cost of shipping a car?

The average cost of vehicle shipping ranges from $500 to $1,200. However, car shipping costs vary based on factors like the size of your vehicle, the distance it needs to be shipped, and even the time of year, fuel prices, or the level of demand for a particular route.

Always get multiple car shipping quotes to see what options are available in your area. You can also check out our car shipping calculator to get a better idea of your costs.

What can I do to make the shipping process easier?

Car shipping isn’t much of a hassle, but there are still things you can do to make it easier — especially when its time to prepare a car for shipping. Our car shipping checklist offers a comprehensive list of everything you need to consider for each stage of car shipping so you can go through this process with confidence.

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