How to Ship a Car You Bought Online (6 Simple Tips)

Buying a car online is easy, it can be harder to get it home. Here's how to easily ship a car you bought online

How To Ship A Car You Bought Online

For so many years, one of the drawbacks to using platforms like Autotrader has been that of locality. For most people, they would only want to check out listings in their local area, because who in their right minds would want to buy a car online, right? Cars were seen as one of those things that the fast-paced world of online retail would never touch, but as the 21st century progresses, they are being proven wrong.

Questions arise, however, in the absence of shipping from those companies that provide it when you buy a car online (and some do, sometimes even free), how do you go about shipping a car to your home? Let’s say you live in Indiana and you bought a car from a private seller on Autotrader listed in California. It’s exactly the car you need, and beat out anything closer, but how does one move that thing from California to Indiana? You can’t expect the private seller to ship it to you for free. We’ll cover the necessary steps in today’s blog:

Let’s go through step by step and look at how to ship a car from another location to your home state, city and/or town.

1. Research Shipping Companies

Car Shipping Company

You’ll likely be glad to find out that there are a number of reputable companies which you can hire to be your main shipper for your car. Below we’ll briefly introduce some of the biggest and most reputable ones, but there may always be smaller companies based where you’re shipping from that can offer a more personalized service.

Once you’ve chosen a company, or perhaps have a shortlist of companies in mind, there are other factors to consider along the way. We’ll talk more about these in subsequent steps. Below are some of the best-known auto shipping companies in the US.

  • Montway Auto Transport: With an average shipping cost of about $1,040, Montway is among the best-value nationwide auto transport companies in the country. They also maintain the highest overall rating from customers with a star rating of 4.7. They have 14 years’ industry experience, and the quotes they offer includes insurance coverage, and even zero upfront payments.
  • AmeriFreight: With an average shipping cost of about $900, AmeriFreight is the budget-option. Their online shipping quote calculator makes life easier as you can plan ahead even before you purchase your vehicle and see how much you will have to pay to ship it. They also maintain a high customer rating of 4.6 stars, and have 16 years’ industry experience.
  • American Auto Shipping: This is the most experienced of the bunch with 22 years’ industry know-how. They do have a higher average shipping cost of $1,290, however, which is less competitive overall. A simple inquiry to the website can get you a free and no-obligation quote and they offer priority shipping and expedited shipping for fast turnaround times of up to just 24 hours. They even offer a complimentary car wash valued up to $20.
  • UShip: With an average shipping cost of $1,160, UShip is not the cheapest, but neither is it the most expensive. Among the company’s USPs they list GPS tracking, more insurance options, the ability of customers to choose their specific carrier , and the promise of no unsolicited sales calls as a result of doing business with them.

Spend time studying different companies’ USPs and other strengths and match them with your own needs. We advise favoring those that offer strong insurance options for if and when something goes wrong on the road. This is something you don’t want to think about, but really should.

2. Get Quotes and Compare

All of the above providers and others will typically give an instant, free and no-obligation quote. You might have to supply an email address or valid phone number to secure that quote, but that’s par for the course with many suppliers. Just be sure to check or uncheck (according to wording) any boxes that help you to opt out of marketing emails and other unwanted communications.

Compare quotes first for their initial rates. Obviously the supplier that is offering you the lowest and most competitive-looking rates is the one you might initially favor, but take the initial comparison of total price as just the first step. Follow steps 3 to 5 to get a deeper and more meaningful comparison on that quote.

3. Consider Transport Types

First, what kind of transportation does your quote include? Just about every auto shipping company offers an open-top truck option. You’ve likely seen these trucks on the highways and freeways carrying multiple cars on their way to dealerships and other locations. You might never have thought you’d be using this service for yourself, but here you are.

An alternative to the open-top is a closed-container truck. This option is typically more expensive, but obviously has added security benefits and ensures that not even loose debris thrown up from the road can have a chance of impacting the vehicle at any point in the journey.

So, when looking at your quotes, be sure what kind of transport vehicle they are offering you. Most will offer an open-top truck as a default option, but you should check and be sure. That one that is just $100 more expensive might include a closed-container truck, and that might just be worth the additional $100.

4. Consider Pricing Factors

There are other pricing factors that you have to consider when looking at your final quote. For instance, the size of the vehicle you’re shipping will have a marked impact on price, but you likely expect that. Some companies may charge a fixed rate for hatchback and sedan cars, for instance, but then a surcharge for an SUV, large SUV or pickup truck. These charges typically range from $50 to $200 depending on supplier/platform.

Another consideration is the condition of the vehicle. If the vehicle you’ve bought isn’t roadworthy yet and requires winching gear or a forklift to get it onto the transport truck, then that will inevitably cost you an extra $100-400 or thereabouts.

The time of year and economic conditions also have a bearing on your quote. Some may notice that they get a quote in the fall but then don’t follow up, thinking it won’t change. In the winter they go for what they hope will be a repeat quote only to find the cost goes up because winter transport obviously has more challenges. If government policies have forced up the price of gas, too, then that could negatively impact your quote.

Finally, check to see if your quote is a terminal-to-terminal cost, or door-to-door cost. If it’s terminal to terminal, then that means the auto shipping company only moves it from their terminal to the one near your final destination. You will then have to arrange a separate moving of the vehicle to the terminal at the other end, and from the destination terminal to your home. If it’s door-to-door, that means the auto shipping company will bring it from wherever it is (a private seller’s home, a dealership, etc.) to your home, company or whichever address you indicate.

5. Ask About Insurance

The final factor to look into with regards to your quote and shipping cost is the insurance. What kind of coverage is the shipping company offering? The normal deal is that the auto shipping company will offer liability coverage from $50,000 to $100,000. Anything above that will likely cost extra. If the car you’re shipping has a value that falls outside of those parameters, then you may have to purchase additional coverage.

6. Inspect the Vehicle on Arrival

A reputable auto shipping company will perform checks on the vehicle before they begin their journey. They will normally prepare a report that they should share with you about the condition of the vehicle. They might share that as they set off, or when they arrive, but they should be able to prove that they inspected the vehicle before setting off and show any scratches, dents or other imperfections.

It’s imperative as a final step once you receive your vehicle that you compare the vehicle against their initial report and ensure things are as they should be. This is true regardless of what kind of transport you use, but especially in the case of open-top truck haulage, in which there is arguably a greater risk of something impacting the vehicle and causing some damage.

Follow the above steps and you’ll be sure to have a positive experience and outcome when shipping a car that you’ve bought online. 

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Written by:

Magnus is the owner and main author of MechanicBase. He has been working as a mechanic for over 10 years, and the majority of them specialized in advanced diagnostics and troubleshooting. Certified Automotive Diagnostic Technician.