How to Ship Your Classic Car

This article is presented by Car Shipping Carriers.

We spoke with Nicholas Dutko, the owner of Car Shipping Carriers, a vehicle shipping brokerage that has a slightly different mission than your average freight handler: Be transparent, and educate the consumer—starting with us. What did we learn? Simple: Though it may be tough loading your classic sports car onto a stranger’s trailer, it’s often safer, less expensive and faster than moving your car yourself.


Fly 'N' Drive: Is It Really a Good Idea?

Let's start by slaughtering a sacred cow: the fly 'n' drive. Yes, this method of retrieving a car is a community tradition; our forum is filled with stories of people jetting off to strange new places, hopping into strange old cars, and driving them home. Is it a fun adventure? Yes, absolutely. We've even done it ourselves more times than we can remember, including that time we drove an Alfa Spider cross country.

But in most circumstances, flying out to pick up your car will cost more than having it shipped. You'll have to cover the costs of the plane ticket, gas, food and hotel rooms, and if you add what your time is worth it's almost impossible to come out ahead. Then there's the risk: A minor problem at home, like a leaking radiator, can turn into a blown engine and a major expense if it happens in the middle of Death Valley. You'll also have to expose your car to the elements, back-alleys and hotel parking lots that go hand-in-hand with road trips.

We'll Just Tow It Ourselves

"Fair enough," you say. "I've got a truck and trailer. I'll just drive out to the car and tow it home to save money."

Nope, odds are that won't work, either.

Why? Simple economics. Say we're retrieving a car that's 500 miles away. We hitch our empty trailer to our van and hit the road, paying for food and gas along the way. We arrive at the pickup location, load up our new car, and spring for a night in a hotel before we head back. More road food. More gas. By the time we get home, our van has racked up a thousand miles' worth of wear and tear and averaged 10 mpg. Total cost? Probably around $500, and that doesn't account for money lost by skipping two days of work.

If we hire a professional shipper to fetch that car, though, economies of scale come into play. Yes, bigger trucks use more fuel--modern semi-trucks get about 7 mpg--but we won't have to pay for them to drive empty for half the trip. Plus, each truck can carry about 10 cars. Suddenly every cost is a little higher, but spread among 10 different customers. We'll need to pay for the driver's time, sure, but that's time we won't spend off the job, eating on the road, or staying in a hotel. Odds are, a professional shipper will still cost less than towing the car home ourselves or doing a fly 'n' drive. It's the same reason that a bus ticket only costs $1, even though it's professionally driven and a bit of a gas guzzler.

What about the tender loving care that your classic deserves? You may think you're the only one that could transport it without damage, but remember what a car shipper's job is: Shipping cars. You may be able to shrug off a scratch from a misplaced tie-down, but a professional can't, so you'll often find them taking better precautions than all but the most obsessive enthusiasts. They also have the edge when it comes to equipment: Look inside any enclosed auto transport truck, and the array of straps, chains, blocks, pads, and bungees will make your head spin. You may balk at spending a few hundred dollars on tie-downs for your trailer, but to somebody who earns their living transporting cars, it's totally normal to have $5000 worth of tie-downs hanging on their trailer's wall.

Step One: Get Quotes

So, let's learn how to ship a car. There are two basic business models in the car shipping industry: A company either owns a bunch of trucks, or it acts as a broker, coordinating a bunch of people who each own a truck or two. Think UPS versus your local courier dispatch.

Is one better than the other? Car Shipping Carriers, a broker, argues that its business model is superior. It gathers auto shipping quotes from many different carriers, a practice it says can lower costs. "The organization was built on the basic principle that competition is healthy as long as customers are receiving transparent information about us," Nicholas explains.

What does he mean by transparent information? Basically, Car Shipping Carriers believes its customers should know exactly what each quote they get represents‚Äďanything from a dude with a pickup truck and a single-car trailer to somebody with a big rig. This way, customers can decide which vehicle transportation option is best for them.

What factors influence the price? Here are a few of the main considerations:

Season

Just like plane tickets, spots on a transport truck rise and fall in price depending on demand. Are you a snowbird shipping your car down to Florida for the winter? That's a popular idea, so expect to pay more than you would during the sweltering summer months when cars are mostly shipping back North. Think of it like your morning commute: If you ship during off-peak hours (or against traffic, like to the Northeast in the middle of winter), you'll save money.

Type of Car

UPS doesn't charge the same price to deliver a toothbrush as it does a bowling ball. The same holds true for car shippers. A Camry is more expensive to ship than a Corolla simply because it takes up more space that could be used to haul more cars. Weight matters, too, as every additional pound is extra gas burned and extra truck and trailer maintenance required.

Special cars--think exotics, classics or heavily modified vehicles--typically cost more, too. If you're shipping a classic sports car, you'll often be able to find a company that specializes in cars like yours, skipping that Camry in favor of a higher level of service for classic cars.

Condition of Car

Here's a rule of thumb for car shipping pricing: If it's a pain, it will cost more. Cars that don't run, don't roll or are heavily modified take more time and special equipment to ship.

Location

Car shipping is affordable because shippers can put a bunch of cars onto the same truck. In a perfect world, they'd all be traveling the same route, too. That's not usually possible, so shipping companies aim for the next-best thing: clustering their pickups and deliveries to minimize the amount of time driving around half-empty and stopping to load and unload. What does this mean for you? If you ship your car along a common route, you'll pay less than the poor soul sending his car from the middle of Kansas to the middle of North Dakota.

Type of Transport

Finally, the type of transport matters. The three options are open transport, covered transport, and enclosed transport. Open transport is the cheapest, and it's easy to understand why: Your car sits on an open trailer, exposed to the elements for the entire journey. Enclosed transport is the opposite: Your car is sheltered in a hard-sided carrier. Covered transport splits the difference: A fabric that isn't totally watertight covers the trailer, and the cost is less than enclosed transport.

Step Two: Decide

Once you have a few vehicle transport quotes, it's time to take your pick. How do you decide? Simple: Just as if you were buying a new toaster on Amazon, you should read the reviews of each shipper to make sure they meet your expectations. This is also the time to pick a transport option, be it open, covered or enclosed. Your wallet will probably make this choice for you, but it's not a bad idea to think about the weather along the shipping route. An open transporter traveling through Arizona in the dry season will probably stay drier than one headed for Florida's summer showers.

For classic cars, though, it's probably worth the extra money to spring for enclosed auto transport. Even if you're loading your Jaguar onto a truck that will never see rain or snow, you still have to worry about other people. If you've stopped at a gas station, you know how much attention your classic receives. That's not always a positive thing, especially in the context of a busy rest area or city center. Every shipper should have plenty of insurance to cover any damages, but the extra expense is worth it compared to the hassle of a damaged car.

Once you pick a shipper and agree on a quote, you'll pay a deposit. This will lock in the quoted rate, and the shipper will have a set period (usually a week or two) to schedule an exact pickup time and delivery window.

Step Three: Ship

You paid your deposit, scheduled a pickup time, and cleaned your McDonald's receipts out of your car. Now what?

Usually, the driver will call an hour or so before pickup to choose an exact meeting spot. For starters, your shipper probably won't want to pull into your driveway. (Picture a semi-truck trying to do a U-turn in your cul-de-sac.) We're fond of big shopping plaza parking lots, but your driver will have the final say.

Once you meet the driver, they'll do a thorough walk-around of the car, filling out a damage report as they go. The goal? To make everybody aware of any damage the car started with. (Hey, who would want to safely deliver a car and then get in trouble for a door ding they didn't cause?) You'll sign the damage report and then get a copy for your own records.

After that, your job is over. The driver will load the car onto the truck, hop in the cab and drive away. While you go on with your life, they'll be slogging down the interstate on the way to your car's destination. Once they get there, removal is more or less the reverse of installation. They'll choose an easy place to stop, take the car off the trailer, and let you (or whoever is picking it up) inspect the car for damage against the original inspection sheet. That's it. Now all you have to do is pay the shipper, and the process is complete.

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