The Automobile Shipping Process from Start to Finish

At first glance, the automobile shipping process can seem somewhat…daunting. Prices seem expensive, the wait times and transit times can seem exorbitant…it can seem frustrating at first glance.

But that’s not entirely true! The automobile shipping process can be a bit complex, especially for new customers, but it’s really not that involved once you understand how it works. That’s what we’re going to be talking about today: how the entire thing works, from start to finish.

Understanding the process is an important part of shipping your vehicle, if for no other reason than you’re informed. You’d be surprised at how many customers seem to not really care how things work…that is, until something doesn’t go the way they thought it would. Something as simple as a pickup or delivery window can be misinterpreted or, worse, ignored by people who don’t understand the process.

That is why we’re writing this today. Understanding the process will make your shipment better for you in the long run. It will help you understand why things happen how they happen and how you can work with your shipper to make your shipment as smooth as can be.

How to start the automobile shipping process

Automobile Shipping ProcessThe best way to start your auto shipping journey is to get quotes. It really is that simple.

It’s the same with any other process, really. Whether it’s hiring a new landscaping company, deciding which restaurant to eat at, or which auto shipper to book with, people want to know prices, they want to understand their services, and they want to know who is going to be taking care of them. We understand that. Most people in this industry understand that.

Which is why it always starts with quotes.

When you ship a car, the more quotes you can get from different shippers, the better. While it’s true that every auto transporter uses the same pool of trucks, prices can vary wildly. What makes these prices vary so much when everyone uses the same trucks?

Well, for starters, there are over 10,000 carriers on the road today, so there’s variation in price right there. One company may be able to move a car on a route for $850, while another may say they can do it for $750.

While carriers are the ultimate deciders of the loads they take, going rates play a major role in that. Typically, the more you offer a carrier, the easier it will be to move your vehicle on time. This is why it’s important to understand how to read your quotes and use them to find the right company for your needs.

Please note that no reputable shipper will ever require pick up or delivery addresses or payment information (such as a credit card number) to give a quote. That information is collected only once you decide to hire a company and actively book your order with them. We’ll discuss that more in a minute.

Choosing the right transportation company

As we said, quotes play a major role when it comes to choosing who you want to book your shipment with. But it shouldn’t be the only factor that determines who you hire to ship your vehicle.

Auto transporters know that their quotes are their best chance at making a good first impression. So many of them will include not just the total price, but also information about their company. This may include the services they provide, their reputation history, links to review sites, and more.

While every quote will be different in the information it provides, quotes are the best way to choose who to ship with. Peruse them – read them thoroughly and understand what these companies offer.

You should never book with the company that provides the lowest quote. You should also never book with a company that does not give you a price in the email you get. Make sure to look at companies that offer services you require, such as enclosed transportation or terminal to terminal shipping.

But really, what you want to do is contact them as soon as you get their quote. You should speak to someone at the company over the phone. Ask them questions, whether about their quotes or services or otherwise. This will help you greatly in choosing the right company for you.

Booking your shipment, deposits, and dealing with the wait

Booking a shipment means you actually hire a company. This is the part of the automobile shipping process where you provide pickup and delivery addresses and payment information. Booking your shipment is a tacit agreement with the transport company that means you agree to hire them and only them. Many of them will include verbiage in their terms and conditions that effectively says the same.

While terms and conditions are not something most people read, when you ship a car, it’s important to. Terms and conditions will cover what every entity does – your broker, the carrier, and you. It outlines liabilities for all parties involved and discusses how things such as refunds, transit times, dispatch windows, and everything else works.

This is an important part of your automobile shipping process that you need to understand. Most every transportation company will require you to sign their terms and conditions when you book. When you go to sign, just read over them. You should be wary of companies that don’t make you sign terms and conditions.

Some companies will require a deposit upfront. Others may require it at the time of dispatch. A deposit is their fee to move your vehicle. We’ll discuss payments in just a bit, but for now, know that you will need to pay two different entities: your broker (the one you booked your order with), and the carrier (the company that physically moves your vehicle).

How auto transport payments work

As we mentioned, part of the automobile shipping process is paying for it. Who you pay, how you pay, and how much you have to pay depends very much on who you book with and the carrier they hire. But suffice it to say, almost every shipment works the same way:

Step 1: Pay the deposit. Some companies may call it a broker fee, a deposit, or a down payment, but the result is the same: you pay your broker their fee. This is often within the $150-250 range, and you want to avoid companies whose deposit falls below or above that range.

How you pay depends on the company, but almost all accept credit/debit card payments. You should avoid any company that cannot take a credit card. However, if you do not have a credit/debit card to pay with, other options are available. You will need to ask your shipping company which options they offer, but most will have various ones. They want to help as many customers as possible, after all.

Step 2: Pay the carrier. The rest of the shipment will be payable to your carrier, usually upon delivery. While you can pay the broker fee/deposit with a credit card, carriers do not take card. They also do not take checks. They only accept certified funds at pick up or delivery (usually delivery). This can be paid via cash or cashier’s check or even money order.

Carriers do not take non-certified funds because they will not be able to recoup losses stemming from stopped payments or bounced checks. Many carriers need cash on hand to keep their trucks fueled and on the road. Having to wait for funds can throw a wrench in the day-to-day operations of a carrier, so they avoid it if they can. Be prepared to pay your carrier via some form of certified funds.

Please note, however, that many carriers are also able to take electronic payments such as Cash App, Zelle, or Venmo. Speak to your carrier about payment methods if you have further questions.

Dispatch windows and transit times

Automobile Shipping ProcessSo. You’ve booked your shipment, you’ve paid the broker fee, and now you wait.

This can be a frustrating time in the automobile shipping process, especially if things don’t move all that quickly. While the typical dispatch turnaround time is 1-7 days, it can take longer depending on a number of factors.

The wait time between booking your shipment and actually having it assigned for pickup is called a “dispatch window.” Some companies may have other names for it, but it’s going to be the same in practice. Many companies will offer different levels of service depending on how long you want to wait. For instance, while the typical dispatch window is 1-7 days, some companies offer faster services at higher prices. Remember, money moves metal, so the more you pay, the fast it gets picked up (usually).

Once your vehicle is picked up, however, you then have to wait for it to be shipped. The amount of time it will take depends very much on where you’re shipping from and to as well as the carrier’s schedule. They do pickups and deliveries every day, and they don’t always deliver in the order the vehicles were loaded. It depends on where they’re moving to next and what city they are passing through next.

Regardless, the longest transit times are for cross-country shipments, and most only take 7-10 days. Some routes may take upwards of two weeks. But typically carriers can travel about 400 miles per day. So, for a 3000-mile shipment, it takes about 7-10 days.

The “400 miles per day” guideline is a great way to estimate your transit time. Of course, your carrier will also keep you appraised of how long it will take.

Get started with Automobile Shipping Quotes

If you have further questions about the automobile shipping process, feel free to give us a call. You can speak to one of our helpful auto transportation experts. They know a thing or two about shipping cars because we’ve been helping customers ship vehicles for over 15 years now.

If you’re ready to start the automobile shipping process for yourself, great! You should start by reading our reviews of top-rated shippers. We look at lots of different shippers and the ones featured here are always good to their customers. You can read about their prices, services, other customer reviews, and get a real snapshot of your prospective shippers, all right here!

We make sure they’re fully licensed and bonded, have solid reviews from customers, and are well-known in the car shipping world. From there, you can contact the ones that pique your interest and move forward on your auto transportation journey from there.