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Are you choosing between shipping your car and driving it yourself? If you choose to have it shipped, keep these tips in mind.

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You’ve been transferred or decided to move, but driving your car to your new location isn’t practical. Perhaps you bought a car on the Internet (millions of people do), and you don’t want to fly to Podunk to retrieve it. Or maybe your ride broke down in the middle of nowhere, and you just want to get it back home to a mechanic you trust. If driving isn’t part of the equation in any of these scenarios, you have other options.

You could pay a relative or a college kid to drive your car to its new home. That’s a cheap solution, but it can rapidly turn expensive if something goes wrong. At the bare minimum, it puts extra miles and wear and tear on your car – these considerations are especially important if it’s a leased vehicle or a classic collectible. At worst, it could end up in a ditch.

A better alternative would be to ship your car. According to ASWD auto transport services, you have two basic choices:

  • Terminal-to-terminal services – you get your vehicle to a designated location, and it is consolidated with other vehicles to be shipped to another terminal location.
  • Door-to-door services – someone will pick up your auto from an area you designate and drop it off as close to your desired destination as possible.

Terminal-to-terminal can be the cheaper of the two options, but it means your car may have to sit at the originating terminal waiting until the shipping service has a full load. In addition to the delays, your car will probably be sitting outside, exposed to the elements. You may have to drive some distance to reach both terminals. And you may be charged sheltering fees on either end of the trip, which will add to the costs.

How to Ship Your Car

Other decisions may include choosing between open auto shipping – those trailers you see driving down the road stacked with cars – and enclosed auto transport. While typically cheaper, open shipping can expose your car to damage from the elements beyond the transport company’s control, according to vehicle shippers Autos In Transit. They say, “Open car shipping does not protect from…hail, snow, [or] rocks kicked up from other vehicles on the highway, or even from leaky fluids or loose items coming from other cars on the auto transport carrier.”  Enclosed transport, which can be hard- or soft-sided, carries only a few vehicles at a time. As a result, you can expect to pay more for shipping your car.

Along with the type of transport service and transport carrier, prices are going to depend on variables. Some variables include the type and weight of the vehicle you’re shipping, whether or not it’s functional, time of year (rates can be lower in winter), how far you’re shipping it, and whether door-to-door will take the transport driver far from his main route.

A recent look at one of the many online calculators showed that sending a functional Ford Fiesta door-to-door from San Diego, Calif., to Miami, Fla., in an open trailer would cost around $1,000. By contrast, a BMW 745 taking the same trip in an enclosed transport would cost close to $1,500. According to Bankrate.com reporter Russell Heaps, rates charged by auto transport services “are based on not only distance, fuel cost and weight, but also on trucking routes and availability.” Estimates can and do change from day to day.

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Automotive transport service ProStar cautions against deciding on price alone. “Be careful when shopping for the lowest price. Some companies tell you about the surcharges AFTER they’ve received your non-refundable deposit.”  You’re better off comparing apples to apples and finding a company that guarantees on-time safe delivery.

Edmunds.com offers these tips for selecting an auto shipper:

  • Check online ratings and user comments for provider directories such as uShip.
  • Call the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hotline at 888-368-7238 to check on a shipper’s license and insurance record as well as any complaints.

The government requires auto shippers to carry liability and cargo insurance, but typically it only covers the Kelley Blue Book value. Things not covered should be listed on your shipping order and the bill of lading. Edmunds.com says you might want to upgrade your personal auto policy to include comprehensive coverage for theft and collision.

Auto transport blog and forum KarShipping.com advises that you not ship a car

  • if you know you’ll need it as soon as you reach your destination;
  • if it makes better financial sense to sell it and buy a new car at your new destination; or
  • if you won’t need a car where you’re going or having one would create hassles.

In that final instance, you might want to consider storing your vehicle at a self-storage facility, especially if it’s of greater value you to you than its resale price or if you’re only relocating temporarily.

Finally, if you’re thinking about saving a few bucks by packing your car full of your personal possessions, rethink that strategy. The Department of Transportation does not legally allow the transport of personal goods on auto carriers, which means the carrier’s insurance won’t cover losses or damages and your personal policy probably won’t either.

If you find that you need to store your car on either end of your journey, you can locate auto storage units near you by searching online.

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