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Auto Transportation 101: Everything You Need to Know

Auto Transportation 101: Everything You Need to KnowAuto Transportation 101: Everything You Need to Know
Learn everything you need to know about Auto transportation

Published: July 1st, 2024.

In our rapidly evolving society, the demand for auto transportation is increasing due to personal relocations, online car purchases, and business operations. Efficient auto transport companies are crucial for moving vehicles across states or the country, ensuring timely and safe delivery. 

Readers will gain insights into pricing models, preparation tips for a smooth experience, and future industry developments to consider. This comprehensive guide aims to equip readers with the essential knowledge to make informed decisions and ensure the best possible auto transport experience.


Understanding Auto Transportation

What is auto transportation?
What is auto transportation?

Auto transportation refers to transporting vehicles from one location to another via carriers. Given its versatility across different industries, it has multipurpose uses, including moving people’s vehicles, inter-dealer transport, and transporting cars for auctions and exhibitions. Initially, cars could only travel by rail and sea, which limited their mobility. 

The transition from smaller auto transport trucks and general carriers as a means of transporting cars can be attributed to a significant overhaul that improved the service delivery and capacity of vehicle transport service providers. Nevertheless, technological developments persist to make the industry safer and more secure throughout transportation processes.

Types of Auto Transportation Services

Open vs. enclosed transport

  • Open transport: This method involves the vehicles being transported on open vehicle trailers that expose them to vandal road debris, among other things. It is preferable and commonly used in economy trips due to the accessibility of the supply and the relatively low expenses incurred
  • Enclosed transport: With this method, cars are conveyed in enclosed trailers for safety purposes against various weather implications. Though more expensive than their standard counterparts, enclosed car carriers mainly transport high-end or classic automobiles that may attract attention during transit. This means that enclosed transport costs more than open carriers, but it guarantees a clean and safe delivery environment

Door-to-door vs. terminal-to-terminal

  • Door-to-door service: With door-to-door, trips are point-to-point, which means vehicles are hired for pickup and drop-off at the provided location. This service is convenient but attracts higher expenses because of the tailored service
  • Terminal-to-terminal service: This is an alternative to door-to-door transportation, where customers give their cars to drivers or pickups at stations and get the cars from other stations. However, it only provides bus transport to and from terminals, and customers need to arrange their transport to the terminals

Specialized transport services

Specialized transport services cater to vehicle types such as motorcycles, boats, RVs, and luxury cars. These services utilize specialized equipment and handling techniques to ensure the safe and secure transport of these unique vehicles. Custom-built carriers and secure strapping systems are used for motorcycles. 

Boats require trailers designed for varying sizes and types, while RVs need heavy-duty haulers with appropriate weight capacities. Luxury cars are often transported in enclosed carriers to protect them from weather and road debris. Each type of vehicle receives tailored care to meet its specific transport needs.

Cost & Pricing

The cost of using an auto transportation company
The cost of using an auto transportation company

Factors influencing cost

It is clear that distance, type of vehicle, size, and transport method, whether open or enclosed, are the primary factors that affect the transport cost. 

Other considerations include costs linked to fuel, fluctuations in demand based on seasons, the popularity of a particular route and its availability, and the price offered by a carrier.

Understanding quotes and estimates

Transport cost estimates must be requested in measurable detail from any selected transportation suppliers, with differentiation between binding and non-binding quotes. 

Therefore, it is necessary to scrutinize the terms and conditions to understand which service fee is included in the quoted amount and the extra charges that may apply.

Cost-saving tips

Measures such as pre-arranged transport booking, willingness to be more precise in the choice of pick-up and delivery dates, choosing terminal-to-terminal service, and checking with several carriers save transport costs.

Choosing an Auto Transport Company

Research and reviews

Ensure you take your time to read customer ratings, look at the ratings in the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and get a referral from someone you trust. Conduct detailed research on all companies’ reputations, history of timely delivery, service quality, and compliance with security measures.

Credentials and licensing

Cross-check the auto transport company's FMCSA license number and ensure the firm has the requisite insurance coverage, especially in case of loss, damage, or injury during transport.

Questions to ask

Some relevant questions concerning the company’s ability to provide auto transport services include its years of experience, insurance details, cancellation policies, such as its response to delays or damage claims, and customer support services.

Common Challenges & How to Overcome Them

How to overcome the challenges associated with auto transportation
How to overcome the challenges associated with auto transportation

Delays and scheduling Issues

Eliminate typical sources of time loss, such as weather conditions, traffic jams, and other pertinent issues affecting the movement of vehicles from one place to another. To avoid such risks, schedule trips in advance and keep an open line of communication with the transport company.

Damages and claims

If your vehicle is destroyed during transport, here are the essential steps to follow:

  • Documenting the damage: If you have your car, examine it closely for signs of impairment. Document the damages by taking well-lit pictures from different angles to illustrate the severity and characteristics of the occurrence
  • Noting damage to the bill of lading: The BOL stands for ‘bill of lading’ and is an important document the transport company supplies when the vehicles are delivered. BOL has areas to note any visible damage that is visible and thus, be sure to record any signs of damage before signing the document
  • Contacting the transport company: Contact the transport company immediately and inform them of the damage incurred. Explain all the existing problems to them and get them to see the photos you took
  • Filing a formal claim: The transport company will send you copies of the appropriate forms required to file the claim. Complete the forms to the best of your ability and follow all instructions regarding the damage, shipment of the product, and insurance
  • Understanding the claims process: It is important to note that the transport company has the right to consider and possibly investigate your claim. They can ask the involved party to submit other proofs or documents to meet the requirements of the claim
  • Resolution of the claim: The transport company will arrive at some decision about ordinary or special damages arising out of your claim. If your claim is approved, they may provide you with the amount of money owed or the service of organizing the replacement or repair of the damaged goods based on the insurance policy terms
  • Reviewing insurance coverage: It's crucial to comprehend the transport company's insurance protection. Assess whether acquiring its replacement through the vehicle’s insurance policy is required or helpful to improve safety in transport damages

Scams and fraud

Awareness of possible scams and fraud is crucial when dealing with auto transport services. Here are critical red flags to watch for and tips to protect yourself:

  • Unusually low quotes: It is essential to be cautious of quotes significantly lower than market rates. Such offers may indicate hidden fees or poor service quality
  • Lack of proper credentials: Verify that the transport company is licensed and registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). You can protect yourself by conducting thorough research, verifying credentials, getting everything written, and avoiding cash payments


This guide covers essential aspects of auto transportation, from understanding different transport methods like open versus enclosed and door-to-door versus terminal-to-terminal services to specialized options for motorcycles, boats, RVs, and luxury cars. It highlights the importance of recognizing cost factors, obtaining accurate quotes, and avoiding scams. 

To ensure a smooth experience, choose a reputable transport company by conducting thorough research and verifying credentials. Properly prepare your vehicle and stay informed throughout the process. Use this knowledge to confidently plan your move, purchase a car online, or explore transport options, ensuring a safe and efficient auto transport experience.

To explore the top auto transportation companies in the market, check out our reviews and use our comparison tool to evaluate how the providers stack against each other. Additionally, visit our blog for deeper insights into the industry.

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