Car Shipping Containers – How to Ship, Costs & Dimensions

Wondering how to ship your car and what the costs will be? Check out our guide on car shipping containers for all the info you need.

Car Shipping Container

If you need to move a vehicle from Point A to Point B, you are probably looking at what’s known as roll-on roll-off (RORO) shipping options. However, this method doesn’t work for everyone, forcing some people to look closer at car shipping containers. 

What are car shipping containers and how do you use them? In this guide, we answer your top questions, plus we discuss the average cost and show you the dimensions of the containers. At the end of the article, we talk about the different sizes and which one is appropriate for various situations. 

What are Car Shipping Containers?

The car shipping container is also known as an intermodal container. It’s a rectangular box that’s oversized, specifically designed for the cargo industry. It can hold a vehicle but is also used for transporting other items.

These shipping vessels can be transported from one place to another in a variety of ways. Most often, they are used on cargo ships, but they can also be loaded onto a truck, plane or train. 

Some customers use car shipping containers to hold other cargo. They can even be found in backyards these days, used for household storage containers instead. Interestingly enough, people are now using shipping containers to build houses and unique structures too. 

How to Ship with a Car Container

The majority of car shipping containers are used to transport items through ocean freight. It’s the top way that overseas manufacturers send their new vehicles to the States. However, car shipping is also performed in the private market if you want to move your personal vehicle overseas. If you want to get your vehicle to Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico, you might prefer using a container and a boat to get it done. 

The only way to ship your vehicle in a container is to employ a company that specializes in this type of transport. You can get a quote from multiple carriers to see which option best fits your needs. Once you move forward with the contract, you will be responsible for either dropping off your vehicle or having someone transport it to the dock. 

Your vehicle is put inside the container with a special racking system. It gets secured with ratchet straps so it doesn’t roll around in the container. Because it’s in an enclosed container, you don’t have to worry about the weather or vandalism, the same way you would if it was placed with a RORO service. 

Car Shipping Containers Cost

1. Size of Container

Obviously, one of the most critical factors determining your cost is the size of the container. The more a transporter can fit on the ship, truck or railway, the more money can be made. Therefore, if you are choosing a large container without other vehicles inside, you are going to pay a premium price.

Depending on the size of the container, you could spend as low as $1,000 to as much as $5,000 or more. However, the price isn’t figured out solely by the size of the container but in conjunction with the other aspects listed below. 

2. Vehicle Size

The size of the container is one side of the cost, but so are the vehicle dimensions. If you have a smaller car, you are probably going to spend a minimal amount.

The more cars that can be fitted into a container, the less of the expense you need to cover. Therefore, if you drive a compact vehicle, your bill should be less than another driver that has a full-size model. With that said, expect a high price if you drive a full-size truck, SUV or passenger van. 

3. Vehicle Type

When a vehicle is shipped, there is cargo insurance involved in the price. If you drive an older car that’s not worth a lot, your cargo insurance isn’t going to cost a lot.

On the other hand, if you have a classic car or an exotic vehicle, the insurance is going to cost more. The carrier wants to know that they aren’t going to be liable for any damages done to your precious vehicle. 

RELATED: 20 Types of Cars (Vehicle Body Styles Explained)

4. Shipping Distance/Time

Another major factor is how far the shipping container will travel and how long it will be in transit. If you are shipping a car on a truck across the country, the price should be lower than if it needs to go overseas.

You also have to think about how the vehicle is getting to the shipping container. If you transport it there yourself, the price will be lower than if you need to have the company pick it up at your home.

Furthermore, you have to consider how long your vehicle will be in transit. You are going to pay for all of the mileage accrued, with longer distances taking more time. 

5. Time of Year

You wouldn’t think that the time of year would have an impact on the cost, but it does. If you choose to ship your vehicle during a prime time, you can expect to pay more.

In general, the summer months are going to be considered a peak time because many people relocate when school is out of session. January is also a busy time as people make changes at the beginning of the year. 

On top of that, think about the days of the week when the transport will take place. Most people want the transport to occur over weekends. If you need transport for a few days across the country, you might prefer to book during the weekdays to save a little money. 

Dimensions of Car Shipping Containers

There are a variety of car shipping container sizes available. However, the most common include 20’ and 40’ long. The typical 20’ container is going to hold one vehicle, especially if it’s a 4×4 or something on the larger side. 

The 40’ container can hold multiple cars, especially if they are smaller. Ideally, you will want to share this container with another vehicle or two to pay the lowest price possible. With that said, there are also smaller and larger containers available, with the option to choose something specialized too.

Whichever length you choose, the majority of shipping containers measure 8’ high and 8’ wide. Because of these dimensions, not every vehicle is going to fit comfortably in a container. Still, most passenger vehicles fall within these dimensions, making it easy to ship most types that are on the road today.

Choosing the Right Car Shipping Container Size

1. Small

With the small cargo container, you may not need to spend as much. It’s going to be easy to load and unload, plus it’s perfect for housing a compact vehicle.

However, there’s going to be limited capacity inside the container, so you won’t be able to share the area with another vehicle. In the end, that might cost you more than choosing a larger container with another vehicle. 

2. Medium

The medium-size container offers the perfect balance between the smaller and larger options. It can be the most affordable option if shared with other vehicles. Since it’s still on the smaller size, it’s also quite maneuverable and easy to move.

Not every carrier has the medium-sized containers. You may have to do a little hunting to find one, which will take more legwork on your end. 

3. Large

You can fit just about anything you want in a large-sized container. You can also add multiple vehicles to keep the price lower. 

However, there are numerous downsides to choosing this option. For starters, it’s going to be one of the more expensive options. It’s also difficult to maneuver, so not all cargo companies want to work with the larger containers. 

4. Customized

A customized cargo container is designed for a specialized shipment. Inside the cargo container, there might be special equipment to secure the vehicle or it might have unique dimensions to better fit the cargo. 

Either way, you have to find a company with a container to fit your needs. This process is going to take longer and you are going to be subject to whatever the cost is because there won’t be a lot of options available. Additionally, depending on the size, the container might not be simple to ship or maneuver.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many cars can fit into a shipping container?

In a 20-foot shipping container, you can fit up to about two medium-sized cars or one large SUV. For a 40-foot shipping container, you could fit about 3 to 4 medium-sized cars.

How many cars can be loaded in a 40ft container?

A 40ft container can hold around three to four medium-sized cars. The number of cars that will fit in a container depends on the size of the cars. The length of the car is very important to calculate how many cars you can fit in a 40 ft container.

How are cars removed from containers?

There are a few different ways that cars can be removed from containers. The most common way is to use a forklift. Using a winch together with ramps is also a common way to remove cars from a container. If the car’s width is narrow enough, you can also drive the car out of the container.

Is it safe to store a car in a shipping container?

It depends on the container. Most shipping containers are weatherproof and secure, so your car will be protected from the elements and theft. However, the condense levels can be high in a shipping container, and this will cause your car to rust fast and therefore it’s not recommended as permanent storage.

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Magnus Sellén
Written by:

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