Ship a Car by Train: Your How To Guide

So you’ve decided to pull up stakes and move to a new city. This is an exciting adventure, but there’s just one problem: You need to relocate your car to your new home. Driving it yourself can be a hassle, so this isn’t always the best move.

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Fortunately, car shipping services exist and are a solid way to move your car from point A to point B. If you’ve never heard of this shipping method before, don’t worry — moveBuddha is here to tell you everything there is to know about shipping your car via train transport.

Check out the following guide to decide if hiring an auto shipper makes sense for your move and to learn how much you can expect to pay as well as how shipping via train works.

When it makes sense to ship a car by train…

Vehicle shipping is no small decision, so it’s important to choose the option that works best for the unique circumstances of your move.

Shipping a car by train is pretty similar to shipping a car by truck. Using an auto train service makes sense if:

  • You want the convenience of shipping your car for a lower cost. Shipping via train has a lower average cost than shipping a car via truck.
  • You’re moving other belongings via train too.
  • You bought a passenger ticket and are traveling via train. You may have the option to be on the same train as your car. This can make things far more convenient, and you might have more peace of mind knowing your car is physically present with you on the train.
  • You want to limit any potential damage to your vehicle. Since you won’t have to worry about the hazards of the highway, damage is less likely when you ship your car on a train.

Opting for car transport services via train allows you to take advantage of a lower price tag. You can also save money on your move by filling your vehicle with other things you’re moving.

…And when it doesn’t

On the other hand, you might not need to ship your car by train if:

  • You’re perfectly fine with driving your car to a new destination.
  • You want to avoid the expense of car shipping costs.
  • You need more flexibility. Unfortunately, shipping a car by train doesn’t offer much flexibility: Your pick-up and drop-off points will be limited to the stations along the rail line, which are usually only in major cities.
  • You’re in a hurry. Shipping by train is usually slower than shipping by truck, because trains wait until they fill all available space before making the trip. You might have to wait a few weeks for your car to arrive at its final destination.
  • You live in a rural area. Train shipping is a popular option on the East Coast because it has such a robust rail infrastructure. A move from Washington, D.C. to Virginia would be easy as pie. But other parts of the country? Not so much. For example, If you’re moving from Orlando, Florida to California, you may need a different option.

The cost of shipping your car by train

In most cases, shipping by train is the most cost-effective way to ship a car cross-country. Because trains require less fuel, they’re one of the cheapest car shipping options out there.

The cost generally ranges from $500 to $900, but this depends on factors like:

  • The type of vehicle (standard vehicles like sedans are fine, but you might pay more for an SUV)
  • Availability
  • The rail service you choose
  • Total distance
  • Whether you choose enclosed or open-container shipping

Every carrier is different, so it’s important to ask for a free quote from several car transport companies before making your choice.

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You can also pay extra for door-to-door delivery, which some auto transport companies offer.

With door-to-door transport, you won’t need to go to the train station to pick up your vehicle. Instead, a shipping company will pick it up and offload it at your chosen location by truck. You might need to arrange this service with a third party, however, because most vehicle transport companies don’t offer door-to-door service.

This is a pricey add-on, too, so keep in mind that your shipping quote could be much higher if you spring for white-glove service.

How to ship your car by train

If you’ve never shipped your car by train before, don’t sweat it! Most people haven’t. Follow these tips for a successful shipping experience.

1. Find an auto transport service

First things first, find a reputable car shipping company. moveBuddha’s list of car shipping companies is a great place to start, but you can also consult the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to find trustworthy companies in your area.

Some national companies, like Amtrak’s Auto Train, are also worth looking into. They have a limited route, but if you’re cool with transporting your vehicle from the Lorton, Virginia train station to Sanford, Florida (in the Orlando area), this is a solid option.

Regardless of who you book with, it’s important to know that you won’t work directly with Amtrak, CSX, Union Pacific, or Burlington Northern to book your car shipping by train. Instead, you’ll work with an auto transportation company.

Many of the best auto shipping companies offer multiple options, which makes it easy to compare the costs of shipping by train and by truck.

2. Choose between open and enclosed car carriers

When shipping your car by train, you’ll need to choose between an enclosed carrier and an open carrier:

  • Enclosed carrier: You’ll pay more to ship your car in an enclosed container, but if you don’t want your vehicle to be exposed to the elements, using enclosed transport makes sense. Enclosed container rail shipping makes sense for antique vehicles, classic vehicles, or any vehicles you want to fully protect.
  • Open carrier: If you’re looking for the cheapest option and you’re not worried about the weather or other hazards, shipping in an open container may be for you. There really isn’t much to worry about with open transport rail shipping; just plan on getting a car wash once your vehicle arrives. If you’re shipping a regular, everyday vehicle, it probably isn’t worth the extra cost to pay for an enclosed carrier.

3. Prepare your vehicle for rail transport

Once you’ve chosen and booked a car transport option, it’s time to get your vehicle ready for shipping. Tick these items off your to-do list before loading your vehicle on the train:

Remove anything of value

Remove all valuables from the car before it goes on the train. This includes anything you don’t want to lose, like:

  • Documents
  • Medical supplies
  • Personal items

Anything can happen during a big move, so keep your valuables with you. The last thing you want is to arrive at your new home and realize you’ve lost something important or sentimental.

Check the battery

Make sure your car’s battery is fully charged and ready to go. Your car could sit on the train for a few weeks, so making sure the battery is juiced up will prevent a car that’s DOA!

Check the tires

Do you have old, bald tires? Now’s the time to change them. Make sure the tread on your tires is in good shape, and inflate the tires based on the instructions in your owner’s manual.

Take pictures

Hey, stuff happens during any move. Light vehicle damage and dings are possible, especially if you go with an open container. You need proof that the damage happened during transportation so you can file a claim with your insurance company or the rail shipping provider.

Always take 360º photos of your car before shipping it. Save the photos both to your device and in the cloud so you always have access to them. If you need to file a claim, the company will ask for proof, and these “before” photos could be a lifesaver.

Simplify shipping your car by train

Shipping your car by train might sound complicated, but it’s really not much different than shipping your car by truck. There are pros and cons for shipping by train, though, so take the time to consider whether this is the best approach for your move.

If you’re worried about busting the budget with your move, we’re here to help. Check out our moving cost calculator to see if shipping by train fits into your budget and moving plans.

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