How to Transport Vehicles

Using an auto transport service to move a vehicle cross country

You depend on your vehicle to get to work, run errands and take you on adventures. And if you’re moving across the country, you’ll probably want to bring it, too. Depending on how far away your new home is, you may want to use an auto transport service to ship it. This guide will help you explore the types of car shipping services, the costs and how to prepare a vehicle for travel. We also suggest alternative ways to transport it if shipping isn’t an option.

Cars on a vehicle transport trailer moving across the country.


Car shipping options

There are several ways to ship motorized vehicles.

For smaller vehicles, like motorcycles or ATVs, U-Pack® is an affordable choice. You can move them with your household goods (so everything arrives at the same time). Learn more about moving motorcycles with U-Pack.

To move a larger vehicle like a car, truck or SUV, you may need to use an auto shipping service. Popular ways to consider depending on your situation are:

  • Open-air trailers
  • Enclosed trailer
  • Train
  • Ocean container

Explore different car shipping companies to determine which would work best for your circumstance.

How much does it cost?

Everyone’s situation is unique, and vehicle transport companies charge differently, so there’s no fixed amount for shipping a car. The cost is based on factors like:

  • Delivery (seasonality and expedited shipping options)
  • Type of delivery (door vs. terminal)
  • Type of equipment used to ship the automobile
  • Current cost of fuel
  • Type of vehicle being transported
  • Whether or not the car operates
  • Distance and location

Preparing the vehicle for transport

Check with the car shipper for their specific guidelines on preparing the vehicle. In general, here’s what to do:

  • Check for issues. Inspect for flat tires, low tire pressure, leaks or any other significant problems.
  • Remove personal items. Auto-shipping companies aren’t typically licensed to ship household goods, and leaving personal items in an unattended vehicle puts them at risk for damage or theft.
  • Drain some of the fuel. Most companies will require you to drain the fuel to a quarter of the tank. This helps reduce weight and avoid safety hazards.
  • Disable alarms and tolls. Don’t forget to disengage your alarm and automatic toll reader.
  • Clean the car. Clean the exterior and interior, and then take good pictures. This will be helpful if you need to file a claim in the event of damage.


When should I book my shipment?

Most companies recommend reserving at least 30 days in advance. During the booking process, look at the transit time and your desired delivery date. To figure out the best date, count backward based on the time it will take the auto shipping company to transport it and when you need it.

How long does it take?

Most auto shippers provide an estimated transit time determined by the distance between your locations. If guaranteed delivery is available (usually at a higher cost), the company will deliver the vehicle on the exact day you need it.

Where will the carrier deliver my car?

Most companies offer door-to-door and terminal-to-terminal delivery. While you may opt for the convenience of having the car delivered straight to your door, it’s not always possible. If your new home is on a narrow street, you may have to schedule a pickup at the company’s location. On the plus side, terminal deliveries typically cost less.

What is the process for receiving the vehicle at destination?

When the shipper delivers the automobile, examine it for damage. It’s easier to check in daylight, so avoid accepting the vehicle at night, if possible.

Is auto transport insurance included in the price?

It depends on the carrier. In some cases, insurance is included to cover accidents or damages during transit. However, it’s wise to not only compare the coverage each company provides, but also contact your insurance agency to find out if there’s coverage on your personal auto policy while it’s being transported. Whatever you do, read this information closely and make sure you understand what is covered and what isn’t before booking.

Alternatives to shipping a vehicle long distance

Don’t want to use a car shipping company? Here are three other options:

Drive it

If you can, this is usually the most affordable way to get your vehicle across the country. Drive strait to your new home and start getting things ready while you’re waiting for your belongings to arrive (it won’t take long with U-Pack!) or make it an adventure. If you have the extra time, consider planning a fun road trip along the way.

Tow it

If you’re driving a rental truck or a vehicle capable of towing, you could rent a vehicle trailer (and then travel together). Trailers are an option for cars, motorcycles and other small vehicles. But there are certain things to be aware of before deciding to tow. Learn more about towing costs, options and risks here.

Sell it

It may not always make sense to move a vehicle, especially if the cost to ship is more than the vehicle’s value, or if you’re moving someplace where a car isn’t necessary. If that’s the case, selling it and buying something comparable in your new hometown or using the city’s public transportation may be more cost effective.

Have other questions about vehicle transport?

Leave a comment below if you have any other questions or concerns about moving a car across the country. We’re here to help!

If you decide to ship your car, check out U-Pack affiliate Mr. Car Shipper® at 877-528-9627.

This page contains an affiliate link. An affiliate link means U-Pack may earn referral fees if you make a purchase through the link or through a phone call — at no extra cost to you.