Should I Ship My Car or Tow It Behind the Moving Truck?

The decision usually comes down to a few basic factors, so we’ll focus on cost, safety, convenience, and expediency.

There’s no denying that moving is difficult, expensive, and disruptive.

Saying goodbye to family and friends and relocating to a different state isn’t easy.

Moving the contents of your home is often overwhelming, but worrying about moving a car usually adds more frustration and cost.

Thankfully there are plenty of options, like:

In this guide, we’ll analyze the pros and cons of shipping vs. towing.

The decision usually comes down to a few basic factors, so we’ll focus on cost, safety, convenience, and expediency.

You may also want to consider selling your old car before moving and buying a new when you’re all settled in.

Trailers vs. Dollies – What’s the Difference?

Though they’re both used to tow cars, trailers and dollies have a few important differences.

Auto transport dollies like those used by U-Haul usually have one axle and two wheels.

During transport, the front (steer) tires of your vehicle are secured to the dolly, while the rear ones rest on the road.

When it’s being towed, the rear wheels spin like they would if you were actually driving it.

On the other hand, auto transport trailers have two axles and four wheels, and during transport, all four tires rest on a flat platform and remain motionless.

Since they’re elevated above the road surface and their tires aren’t in contact with the road, vehicles hauled on trailers are less likely to experience tire damage than ones on dollies.

Trailers also tend to be more stable and are capable of hauling larger and heavier vehicles.

Weight Capacities and Restrictions

Tow Dollies

  • Empty weight – 750 pounds
  • Maximum load – 3,450 pounds for front-wheel drive vehicles
  • 3,900 pounds for rear-wheel drive vehicles

If you’re using your own vehicle to tow a dolly, restrictions include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Your vehicle must have wiring compatible with 4-way flat light connectors
  • It must weight at least 750 pounds more than the vehicle it’s towing
  • It must have a Class 2 hitch with a weight rating of at least 3,500 pounds
  • It must have a 1 7/8″ or 2″ ball hitch lower than 25″
  • It must have outside mirrors on both sides

Tow dolly equipment includes vehicle securement chains and ratchet tire straps.

Vehicle Trailers

  • Empty weight – 2,210 pounds
  • Maximum load – 5,290 pounds
  • Maximum gross weight (trailer plus vehicle) – 7,500 pounds

If you’re using your own vehicle to tow a trailer, restrictions include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Your vehicle must have wiring compatible with 4-way flat light connectors
  • It must weigh 3,500 pounds or more, and at least 80% of the combined weight of the trailer and vehicle being transported
  • It must have a minimum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds
  • It must have 1 7/8″ or 2″ hitch ball hitch capable of handling at least 5,000 pounds
  • It must have outside mirrors on both sides

Trailers come standard with loading ramps, security chains, and ratchet tire straps to make tie-down easy.


Conclusion

If you’re unfamiliar with towing, the process of determining which equipment is right for you can be mind-boggling.

Though U-Haul’s website is full of helpful information, it’s always wise to take your vehicle to a location near you and have them assess your needs.

They’ll be able to tell you whether it’s compatible with their equipment, and if it’s capable of towing another vehicle.
If you feel overwhelmed or unqualified to tow a car, go with your gut instinct and opt for professional auto transport.

We’ve vetted some of the best car shipping companies in the industry.

Things to Consider When Towing a Car

Price

Compared to having an auto transport company ship your car, renting a dolly or trailer and doing it yourself may be a less expensive option.

Surprisingly though, sometimes the cost difference is negligible, and when other factors such as safety and convenience are taken into account, the choice may not be so cut and dry.

The following chart compares shipping and towing costs.

Cost of Shipping vs. Towing With a Rental Truck

Phoenix to Los Angeles (375 miles) New York to Miami (1,200 miles) Dallas to Seattle (2,100 miles)
Average auto transport cost $438 $927 $1,355
Tow dolly rental alone (with 10-foot U-Haul truck included) $59 ($201) $145 ($2,797) $149 ($1,604)
Vehicle trailer rental alone (with 10-foot U-Haul truck included) $79 ($221) $293 ($2,945) $300 ($1,755)

The figures are for customers renting a 10-foot truck and a trailer or dolly and are based on transporting a 2018 Toyota Prius in mid-November 2020.

When renting from U-Haul, customers have mileage allowances and a limited number of days in which to use the equipment. If either are exceeded, additional charges may apply.

Note: If you’ll be renting a trailer or dolly but not a truck, prices are typically 25-45% higher.

Learn about shipping a car and how much it costs.

Safety

From a safety standpoint, shipping your car with an auto transport company is almost always better than towing it.

Trailers and dollies are prone to erratic behavior, especially in inclement weather, mountainous terrain, and when piloted by inexperienced drivers.

If you decide to rent a truck and trailer together, you’ll not only contend with a large vehicle you’re unfamiliar with but with a heavy trailer too.

And remember, when towing a trailer or dolly you’re actually in control of two vehicles connected to one another.

What happens to one always affects the other–sometimes in dangerous and unexpected ways.

Trailers and dollies are also prone to a phenomenon called “fishtailing” or “whipping.”

It’s usually caused by excessive speed, improper weight distribution, or an erratic movement like swerving to avoid something in the road, after which the trailer or dolly begins swinging uncontrollably from side to side.

It’s not particularly common and can generally be avoided by driving slowly and positioning your vehicle properly, but for those who experience it, it can be terrifying.

Likewise, due to their size and weight, moving vans take much longer to stop than cars and light trucks.

Add a heavy trailer and the stopping distance can double or triple, especially at highway speeds on wet and icy roads.

Due to their closeness to the road, towed vehicles are also susceptible to damage caused by debris like rocks, sand, and metal fragments.

Cracked windshields, chipped paint, and tire damage are common on towed vehicles too, especially ones on dollies.

Though towing can be a safe and cost-effective option for some conscientious drivers, for others it’s a hassle worth avoiding.

Maneuverability

Maneuverability is another big concern with trailers and dollies.

Navigating tight city streets and crowded parking lots like at hotels, service stations, restaurants and apartment complexes can be challenging.

Statistically, inexperienced drivers are more likely to clip a parked car or take down a light post with a trailer.

Not only will the resulting damage significantly delay your trip, but it’ll open you up to tons of liability too.

And if you get yourself into an impossible position that requires backing up?

Well, good luck.

Convenience

Unless you’ve got a light truck or SUV capable of towing another vehicle, you’ll probably need to rent a truck.

However, it’s important to note that many truck rental companies won’t allow you to tow your own trailer or dolly behind their truck.

In this case, you’ll need to rent one from them.

Towing a trailer or dolly behind a moving van may seem easy enough, but you’ll need to worry about proper coupling and making sure your car is secured throughout your trip.

Overlook something important, and you’re putting yourself and others at serious risk.

Failure to follow company instructions could also negate your insurance policy and even your vehicle’s warranty in some situations.

In other words, towing a vehicle isn’t particularly convenient.

If you’re not detail oriented or mechanically inclined, leave your car in the capable hands of an auto transport professional.

Expediency

When it comes to getting your car where you want it on your own terms, towing is the best option.

Drivers for auto transport companies make multiple pick-ups and deliveries between cities.

Keeping their trucks as full as possible helps them operate efficiently and offer low rates, but it also means that delivery windows on long-distance trips are often measured in weeks.

For some families looking to hit the ground running, this just isn’t an option.

However, moving a vehicle between September and May can decrease cost and delivery times, making shipping particularly attractive.

The Verdict – Should I Ship My Car or Tow It Behind the Moving Truck?

When it comes to moving a car, shipping is almost always a better choice than towing.

Driving a large vehicle pulling a heavy trailer just isn’t a good idea for most drivers.

In fact, for some, it’s downright dangerous.

Though towing is usually cheaper, the price difference is often negligible, and a few hundred dollars may be a small price to pay for peace of mind.

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