24 October 2016

What you need to know before choosing a transporter

If you’ve been scouring the internet for the classic car of your dreams or just looking for a hard-to-find model that’s not available locally, here’s some good news. As more car buyers have turned to long distance buying through sites like eBay and Craig’s List, car transporting has flourished. There are more companies than ever vying for your business, and increased competition has led to lower rates.

The bad news is that as with any booming business, some of the shippers jumping on the bandwagon are more reputable than others – so it’s especially important to choose yours carefully. The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has reported a dramatic increase in complaints against auto transport companies. Choosing the wrong one can increase the odds of paying too much, credit card ripoffs, delays, a damaged vehicle or some combination of the above.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tools available to help you choose the right transporter. A little time spent researching carriers and knowing what to watch for can make for a smoother and easier experience, and save you both headaches and more than a few bucks.

The best place to start is with a basic understanding of how the business works. Essentially, there are two types of vehicle transport companies. Larger and more established transporters such as Intercity Lines and Passport Transport have their own trucks, and the person you speak to on the phone works for the same company as the person driving the truck that will carry your car. These companies typically ship in enclosed trailers, use modern and well-maintained equipment, put an emphasis on customer service, and are generally the first choice for owners of high-end vehicles or valuable classics. They can also be the more expensive way to go, and the added security and protection of an enclosed trailer can add 50 percent or more to shipping costs.

The other option is using a transport broker, and there are plenty to choose from. Searching car transporters online will return plenty of hits, most of which will be for brokerage companies. Brokers work with any number of independent owner/operators, who look for vehicles heading in the direction they want to go or along their regular route. Brokers will quote you a price over the phone or online, and they make their money by taking a percentage of their quoted rate. This is typically charged to a credit card, with the balance due to the driver in cash or by certified check when the car is delivered.

While this option can cost less, it’s especially important to perform due diligence when using a broker. Because they’re working with a number of different contractors, any problems can become a frustrating exercise in finger pointing.

Regardless of who you choose, make sure you’re dealing with a reputable organization. All brokers and transporters must be registered with both the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation. Look for their registration numbers with each on the company website. If they don’t post them, keep shopping.

The FMCSA website also lets you check the safety record and other background information on a company by entering either their DOT or FMCSA numbers at https://safer.fmcsa.dot.gov/CompanySnapshot.aspx. Online car owner forums are another good source of information, gripes, and recommendations, and you can also find reviews at transportreviews.com. The Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) website is another good place to search.

Be aware that the business is ferociously competitive, and that you’re likely to get widely varying quotes. A recent inquiry about shipping a 1960s Buick Skylark from Ann Arbor, Mich., to the New York City suburbs brought quotes ranging from $375 to almost $700 from different brokers – all of which were immediately followed with questions about how their quote compared to others, and offers to match any competing bid. And then came a barrage of emails, texts and phone calls, even after the car had been shipped.

It’s also important to know that most brokers all use the same third-party database, which shows them cars that are awaiting shipment, what customers have said they’re willing to pay to ship those vehicles, and what has been paid for the same route in the past. The truckers use the same database, and will justifiably take the higher paying job if two cars going to the same area are priced differently. If you’re in a hurry, be willing to pay more. If you’ve got a bit more time, you can afford to bid less. Either way, don’t be afraid to ask your broker what comparables look like, and remember that bargaining can pay off. The cheapest quote isn’t likely to be your best bet, but don’t be afraid to stick to a reasonable budget.

In the end, the Buick arrived safely back east intact and on time. Perhaps a little dirtier, but none the worse for wear.

Shipping tips:

  • The car to be shipped doesn’t have to be registered, but it should be drivable enough to get on the trailer under its own power. Expect extra charges if it doesn’t run, and make sure to let the shipper know if it doesn’t ahead of time.
  • Avoid shipping extra parts or cargo in the vehicle if possible. This can also incur extra charges, and may increase risk of damage or theft.
  • Ask if there are any additional charges when you get your estimate, such as fuel surcharges or insurance fees.
  • Remove any aftermarket racks or accessories before the car is picked up.
  • Thoroughly wash the car before it is picked up, so any damage incurred during shipping is easier to spot.
  • Take photos from all angles, to have a detailed documentation of what your car looked like before loading.
  • Disconnect the car alarm if you have one.
  • Let the driver know of any idiosyncrasies with your car ahead of time – a faulty ignition switch, poor brakes, anything that might interfere with safe loading and unloading.
  • Thoroughly inspect the vehicle for damage upon arrival, and note any damage on the shipping paperwork. Make sure to get the driver’s signature, and report any damage to the shipping company.

13 Reader Comments

  • 1
    CJ Madson CA October 27, 2016 at 13:28
    Good coverage. Also... some of the large trucks can't get into neighborhoods, so you'll have to get the car to the truck -- and if it's not running, that could be a problem. (I had to hire a flatbed to get a car to the big truck. Oy.) Also, for those shipping small cars, some of the trucks with 2 tire ramps may be wider than the width of the car's track. Then you'll have to use a flat floor / lift gate truck. And for open trucks you should consider whether you want the car on the upper deck. It'll be in the wind but not under another car that might be dripping fluids. And ask if they already know a good drop-off point near you. Some of the spots you might suggest won't necessarily work for big trucks and tall loads.
  • 2
    Wm. King South Carolina October 27, 2016 at 14:55
    Always ask "will the car remain on this truck to destination?" If not, get another hauler.
  • 3
    gary nielsen Minnesota October 27, 2016 at 15:48
    My experience is that out of eight shipments, only one was perfect and one was a disaster, I am sure the car was off loaded and driven. I have made two claims for insurance, one company ignored me the other sent an adjuster, but denied the claim, saying a missing screw was proof that the issued existed prior to shipment, in spite of the former owners written statement to the contrary. Your advice seems sound, but I think there is little one can do to be sure, and price may not matter much. The right timing can get you a good deal, i.e. just one more car needed to complete a load. Distance from a major highway also leads to higher pricing. Good topic, however
  • 4
    Tom Ducibella MA October 27, 2016 at 16:48
    Timely topic; thank you. However, the importance and in-depth discussion of insurance was not discussed: accidents caused by the company, not by the company, theft, damage, etc. Many parties are potentially involved in insurance: owner, moving company, a "middle" party receiving the vehicle, a guilty party (e.g., theft); now throw in deductibles and am't of coverage under what conditions. Some extremely expensive collector cars have been severely damaged in transit due to accidents in transit. Perhaps the legal column in Keith Martin's publication, Sports Car Market, has or will address this crucial aspect of using any transit company. With all due respect, I would expect Hagerty to have much to say about this topic for obvious reasons.
  • 5
    Steve Toronto October 27, 2016 at 20:22
    Very timely article, just looking for a good transport company to bring a new purchase from Atlanta to Toronto.
  • 6
    Gerry Benson Plummer, ID October 27, 2016 at 11:35
    Good article with very experienced comments. Reminds me of our recent shipping fiasco. All true about the inquiry followed by days of aggressive marketing tactics on the broker's part. We learned a lot but it was too late. Don't trust that things will go well. Do research as much as possible. Ask for credentials along the way. The BBB & other resources mentioned in the article are really helpful. Hope you don't have to ship, but if you do, buyer beware.
  • 7
    TEE Northern California October 28, 2016 at 11:46
    Is it true that shipping north-south on either coast is easier to arrange & cost less compared to shipping east-west?
  • 8
    Mike Brienza Wyckoff, NJ October 31, 2016 at 09:56
    Thanks for this article, and although it is too late for me to use it, the info about brokers is extremely important! The author was too kind in his wording not to offend brokers but I'm not. One thing that can not be stressed enough, is BROKERS WILL LIE to get your business so just stay away from them in the first place. Rather than to go into detail about my recent HORRIBLE experience with RoadRunner Auto Transport in Bethpage, NY you can read my (and other nearly identical) reviews of them on transportreviews.com and see that experienced car guys like myself (asking all the right questions) can get taken even when you've done your homework. So even if you follow this article to the letter (like I did) the odds are something will not go as you planned because brokers only care about BOOKING, NOT TRANSPORTING! Once they get your fee, you're dead to them. Despite using a broker, (and all the problems because of them) my car arrived safely and I was totally satisfied with the actual transport company but I could have found them on my own. You don't have to fear the small guy, just use them without the middleman and do your research. Check out consumeraffairs.com as well (RoadRunner got a 1.2 out of 5). Google Reviews is your friend, use it wisely. RoadRunner has an awful reputation there as well with SCAM and LIES as recurring comments. If you're still not sure which transporter to use, just look at who has more than one rig at any one of the major auctions and pick one. In my case, I found Road Runner through their ad on Hemmings.com so that was a good start, right? I mean Hemmings is a reputable publication so the companies they let advertise there got to be legit. I also saw their banner ad at the top of ebay autos and kept coming at the top results of web searches for "auto transport" so they must be a big operation with a large ad budget? I checked out their website and it looked professional with video. I read the reviews on their website (which were all wonderful, go figure) and even show pics of pro athletes who used them. It also shows major TV network logos and says they were "in the news". The most misleading thing on the website is the "100% rating with CentralDispatch" which just means their carriers like them (obviously because they are giving them jobs they book). I even specifically asked if they were owner-operators because EVERY TIME I used a broker something went wrong. That's when they knew the truth would lose a sale for them, so they told me they were "a network of drivers and trucks" and even though I specifically asked more than once if they were brokers they never said "yes" or "no" just we're a network of drivers and trucks". This was a very important transport and I took every precaution (or so I thought) to assure things went well. I'm sure you've already guessed they didn't. So what do you do when things go bad? I first tried to work it out with them explaining in detail exactly how much out of pocket expenses I incurred and why I felt I was due a refund. It was technically a reimbursement, but that got me absolutely nowhere. I then got the credit card company involved. After a few months of investigation, the CC company sided with me and refunded everything I paid but it still didn't cover my out of pocket costs. Of course I was forced to pay the balance in cash at delivery to the actual transporter, so I had no other recourse. Now I have to file a lawsuit in small claims court which takes time, effort and more money and lots of aggravation. Who doesn't like saving money, especially when its a few hundred bucks? Take this article as good advice and save money elsewhere. Buy cheap toilet paper but don't skimp on transporting your vehicle. If you have a car that's valuable or can not be replaced, the best thing you can do is PAY MORE and go with a company that OWNS AND OPERATES their trucks. Again, my car made it without damage, but just for the peace of mind you can sleep well knowing your baby is going to arrive in one piece and you can call the actual driver to check in. I have years of experience in transporting several cars while building my collection, so I'm not a newbie, and thought I did my due diligence in researching this company. After asking all the right questions, they looked just as good as the next guy and were the only ones that could guarantee a specific pickup date so I went with them for that reason only. After they took my booking fee things went bad quick. For the WHOLE story please see my review on transportreviews.com. and look at the other reviews of them while you're there. Put that aside and then look at all the places I did in researching them and see if you would have used them based on everything at face value. If you take away nothing else from this article: BUYER BEWARE!
  • 9
    Dean Wilson Warren, Ma November 1, 2016 at 11:05
    Great article that covers all the bases of auto transport. As the article mentions we are available for all of your transport needs. Feel free to reach out to us at 800-221-3936 to receive a quote and learn more.
  • 10
    Tammar Hadadri San Pablo November 24, 2016 at 02:01
    Get a best car Shipping services at texas provided by the leader shipping company of Transportation at California.
  • 11
    Alexander Cage Milwaukee, WI January 7, 2017 at 05:03
    It is a very useful article. Thank you for posting it. It is really useful for people who need to transport their vehicle to some other place. My bother getting promoted and need to transport his car to the other state, so he is worried what to do and how to make it done safely. One of his friends has suggested him some of the transporting company like auto transporter, auto shipping New Jersey etc. But still he is worried about reliability, safety issues and other such stuffs. Now I think these factors which are stated here will help him to take a better take decision.
  • 12
    pdj ma March 16, 2017 at 21:26
    Pointless article unless you disclose what the Buick finally shipped for......
  • 13
    Allan Williams United States April 14, 2017 at 06:51
    Thanks for the tips.

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