Whether you are buying, selling, restoring or showing, at some point in your classic car career you may very well need a vehicle transportation service for shipping your vehicle. Because sooner or later every classic car owner needs a transport service, it makes sense to study up a bit on how transport services work and how to get your car ready for a safe, trouble-free ride.
Hiring a transport company to ship your classic car from Point A to Point B doesn’t necessarily mean a direct, non-stop ride. Much like airlines and overnight express delivery companies, transport carriers operate on a hub-and-spoke system which enables them to offer nationwide transport services as efficiently as possible. This means your vehicle will be on-loaded and off-loaded several times throughout its journey, and you won’t always be there to supervise. Additionally, your vehicle may be parked for hours to days in a warehouse or parking lot, during which time your vehicle may be vulnerable to theft or damage.
Some transport companies provide end-to-end service using their own vehicles, facilities and employees, while others depend on third parties to provide some or even all of the transport.
Multiple factors influence a carrier’s cost to ship your classic vehicle: distance, available transport space along your intended route, time frame, the type of transport, and your vehicle and its condition. You have a certain amount of control over some of these factor. Others, not so much.
Distance: you will likely be shipping door-to-door, so the distance is what it is. You can’t do much about that.
Availability: this can have the greatest impact on an auto transport service’s quote. There’s no telling what a company’s loads and routing may look like on any given day. You could be the only car going to a city or that sixth car which gives them a full load.
Time frame: requiring day-definite delivery will always cost more than a less demanding delivery schedule.
Event delivery: transporting your car to or from a major auction, especially one held amidst a huge automotive event week such as those in Scottsdale, Arizona or Monterey, California can feel a lot like trying to book a last-minute plane ticket on the day before Thanksgiving. Expect to book extra early and expect to pay a premium price, especially for enclosed transport (see below).
Type of transport: the options are generally an open or enclosed trailer. Closed transports can be either hard-sided or soft. In a closed transport, your vehicle is protected from vandalism, the elements, and other perils of the open road. On an open transport, your car is exposed. Because of this, open transports are usually priced several hundred dollars less than closed. If you go the open route, you can request that your car be a top-load. This minimizes road debris damage and eliminates fluids leaking onto your car from top-loaded vehicles. There may be a fee for going on top.
Your vehicle: make sure the battery holds a charge, the tires stay inflated and the vehicle starts when offloaded. If it doesn’t roll off the way it rolled on, you will see an added fee. If it doesn’t run at all, be aware that not all transports have winches. If your transport does have one, there will likely be an added fee.
When evaluating a transport company, it is important to determine as much as possible up front what the vendor-customer relationship will be like. After all, they will be responsible for one of your most prized possessions. Will you be able to sleep soundly at night while your vehicle is out of sight? Will they give you regular updates as to their progress? Some important questions to ask:
Carriers are not liable for any personal items in or on your vehicle. Remove everything that can be removed. This includes electronics, removable emblems, spoilers, top racks, special mirrors, floor mats, cigarette lighters, ashtrays, the contents of your trunk and glove compartment, and so on. Speaking of removing, carriers typically ask for gas tanks to be no more than a quarter full.
A carrier is liable only for its own acts of negligence. Be sure they spell out what is and is not covered. Check with your insurance company to confirm it will cover your car during transit with “agreed value” coverage. This coverage is usually at an additional cost, but is very often worth it (at least for the time during which the vehicle is being transported). Imagine how you’d feel if your vehicle were seriously damaged before it even got to you?
It’s important to understand and agree to all fees up front. The transport company will closely inspect and document the condition of your vehicle before loading. You should do the same. Take photos and note any existing damage or mechanical issues. Be sure you take enough good quality photos to prove decisively that a dent, scratch or other damage was not present upon loading. You will be asked to sign their transport agreement. Read it very carefully before doing so. Do the same thing at the car’s destination before signing for delivery. Any concerns need to be noted on the bill of lading before signing it. Once signed, it’s a done deal.
There is, of course, an alternative to hiring a transport company: you can simply drive the car yourself (or hire someone to drive it for you). If you've just taken possession of a classic vehicle, we'd recommend thinking twice before doing so, unless the trip can be completed in a day or less and you're convinced the car is up to the rigors of near-nonstop travel for so long. If you choose to do so, we recommend taking a set of tools, spare belts, oil, coolant, and other emergency maintenance items. Having a buddy follow along in a chase vehicle would also be a good idea.