Text by Rick Jensen and Barry Kluczyk, photos by the authors.
Vehicle shipping: when done right it can be the cherry on top of a great classic-car treasure hunt, or the capper to an amazing weekend at the auctions. When done wrong, it can sabotage months and even years of automotive research, shopping, and buying. And because of the inherent logistical complexities of carefully moving a several-thousand-pound vehicle from one location to another on the back of a big rig, first-time classic-car shippers are understandably concerned when it comes time to call a shipping company.
The biggest shipping decision involves open versus closed carriers; however, there are many other aspects of this process to consider, so we’ll also give you some handy tips for researching and narrowing down companies, asking the right questions, and ultimately, making a good decision on which carrier gets to transport your classic ride.
I recently completed a move from NYC to the Tampa Bay area. During the planning of the move, I decided to ship my Turbo Buick to Florida by truck.
There are many companies out there that specialize in enclosed vehicle transport, but after I’d submitted a few quotes I realized that the roughly $1,500 and up cost of those services didn’t jive with my budget. Not everyone has a fully restored, high-dollar car–and the more I thought about it, the Buick really didn’t need an enclosed trailer: it has a weak insurance repaint, a few dents, lots of chips, and old rims. So I started looking into companies that used open carriers. Some research and a few phone calls later, and I had several well-regarded companies chosen. I visited their websites, filled out their quote pages, and sat back and waited. One day later, I had a winner: a company out of the New York Metro area was only quoting $675 for a NYC to Tampa-area transport.
Of course, if you decide to ship on an open transport, you will have to prepare yourself for the possibility of a few paint chips, some road grime, and even some fluids from other vehicles leaking onto your ride if you have a lower-level placement. I was okay with a few chips, and since I negotiated a top-level placement for the majority of the trip, I decided to proceed.
As a first-time shipper, I had a ton of questions and more than a little apprehension about giving the keys to my first hotrod to complete strangers. The company that I went with was professional, patient, and understanding through all of my questions, requests for their insurance documents, and even my special requests for the car’s security as I dropped it off at their Brooklyn terminal myself as opposed to having them pick it up. By going into this already having done the research, I felt good enough to take the next step and discuss my needs with them. But it was their customer service and follow-ups that gave me the good gut feeling turn my keys over.
While it is best to have the carrier come to you and load your car in front of your own eyes, my situation turned out great and I saved a ton of money by shipping open.
Almost all professional auto shipping companies offer enclosed shipping, as well as open-trailer shipping. The benefits of enclosed shipping are pretty obvious: greater security and protection from the elements. Additionally, many large enclosed trailers are climate controlled, which adds an extra measure of protection in the winter or summer.
That protection comes at a premium, however. Enclosed shipping is more expensive than open-trailer shipping. Depending on the shipping company, enclosed shipping can cost anywhere from 25 percent to about double the cost of an open-trailer haul–and that can add up to several hundred dollars. Also, it may take a little longer for the delivery, as the shipping company may hold the car a few extra days until a full load is booked for the enclosed hauler.
Logically, the decision to invest in shipping via a closed hauler is based largely on the car’s value. A good rule of thumb is $10,000. If the vehicle is worth more than that, it’s probably worth the extra money to ship it enclosed. Of course there are exceptions, including shipping less expensive but rare restoration candidates that have clearly visible parts that could easily be pilfered on an open trailer. Also, the actual market value of your car may be nothing compared with its personal value, so going with the enclosed option may make you more comfortable.
Generally speaking, enclosed haulers come in two types–the flatbed-style, non-stacking trailer (much like a racecar hauler designed for several cars), and the tall, stacking type that can store six or seven vehicles. Local and short-distance deliveries will likely be made with a non-stacking trailer, but if your car is going or coming from across the country, the company will almost assuredly ship in a stacking-type hauler.
Because of the type of loading equipment typically used with enclosed haulers, they may be the best or only practical choice for cars with very low ride heights. This is because the cars can be loaded more or less flatly, whereas most open carriers typically have ramps that can cause bumper/chassis interference problems.
You’ll likely find that many specialty auto shippers maintain nothing but enclosed haulers, because they cater to customers with collector vehicles. Their prices tend to be higher than the general shippers who maintain fleets of open and enclosed haulers, but you’re also working with a company that understands the needs and worries of car enthusiasts. That said, even the specialty shippers often farm out hauling duties to sub-contractors, particularly on long-distance deliveries. So, as with the shipping on an open trailer, the delivery–and your car’s delivered condition–is only as good as the driver who loads and hauls the cars.
The loading, transportation, and unloading procedures with an enclosed trailer are basically the same as with an open trailer. And while the closed transportation means it’s much less likely for weather or nature-related damage or blemishes to occur, the shipper and receiver must still inspect the car carefully for paint scratches, suspension problems, and other damage that can occur as the car is loaded, tied down, and unloaded from the hauler. This is especially true of the doors, as getting in and out of the vehicle when it’s on the trailer can be difficult. Some transportation companies allow car covers to be used after the vehicle is secured in the trailer. This can serve as an additional buffer against items or other vehicles in the trailer that become loose and could rub against the car.
The bottom line is that an enclosed hauler offers the best protection for your classic car. While you should be prepared to pay more for the service, it’s hard to put a price on peace of mind.
SHIP WITH CONFIDENCE
No matter if you plan on shipping open to save a few bucks, or spending a few more for a cushy enclosed transport, these tips will help you navigate the sometimes confusing path of shipping a vehicle.
DETERMINE YOUR SHIPPING NEEDS: open or enclosed transport, company pick up or terminal drop-off, dealing directly with the transport company or using a broker, and shipping window are all important things to decide
DO YOUR RESEARCH: Talk to your gearhead buddies, ask your mechanic and your bodyshop owner for suggestions, visit your favorite automotive web forums, check the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website at www.safersys.org for safety ratings and license/insurance information, and visit www.transportreviews.com to weed out undesirable transport companies
LISTEN TO YOUR GUT: Call the recommended companies and see if you get direct, friendly customer service. Be wary if you get an unknowledgeable person giving vague responses. Now is a good time to determine if a transport company ships direct, or uses brokers. Either method can be fine, but the key is to find a reputable company that even if they will be brokering a shipment, will still stay–and keep you–in the loop while your baby is in transit. Watch out for brokers trying to pass themselves off as direct-ship transporters
GET SEVERAL QUOTES: Do this over the phone or online for your chosen mode of transport (open for example), and for comparison, a couple for an enclosed carrier. Be sure to keep your vehicle information exactly the same for each quote (modified or stock, vehicle runs or doesn’t run, exact pickup/delivery locations)
MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION: Price is always a concern, but using a quality transport company that will safely deliver your vehicle within a timeframe that works for you is more important. If you’ve done your homework, your choice should be easy
FINALIZE THE DETAILS: Quote in hand, contact the chosen transport company. Double-check that your price won’t change, and verify lower or top-level placement. Verify the pick-up date (or if you’ll be taking it to a terminal, drop-off date) and delivery date at the new location. Verify both addresses, and let them know any specifics of both locations (narrow roads, etc.) as it will aid the truck driver. If you will be dropping off at a terminal, you’ll want to ask when the vehicle will be loaded, and which secure location it will be kept at until it goes onto a truck. Have them fax or email over their insurance documents and if you have any questions about coverage, contact an agent. It is important that you determine how any damage or a complete vehicle loss will be resolved by the shipper. Reputable transport companies will ask for a fraction of the total shipping price as a deposit at this time
INSPECT/PREP VEHICLE: The shipper will perform a pre-ship inspection with you, but take the time before shipping to clean up your ride and take lots of photos from all angles for your own records. The company reps will tell you what you need to do to be sure your ride is ship-ready; some of those things are removing/retracting the antenna, removing any hazardous items like gas cans, taking any personal items out, and disabling the alarm system
TRANSPORT INSPECTION: On shipping day, a representative from the shipping company will do a walk-around with you, noting the condition of the vehicle. Now is the time for any last-minute questions–don’t be afraid to ask! View and write down the driver’s CDL number and get the truck license number as well. Once you sign the sheet it’s time to…
LET GO OF THE KEYS: All of the work you’ve put into choosing a good company should make this step slightly less terrifying, but no promises
CHECK UP ON YOUR BABY: Some transport companies offer GPS updates on where your ride is, but most are happy to put you on hold and call the driver directly, or have the driver call you with updates
TAKE DELIVERY: The driver should give you a ring when he or she is close, and you are soon reunited with your ride. Immediately inspect the entire vehicle for any dents/dings/chips/etc. There should be absolutely no damage with an enclosed shipment, but there might be a couple of minor chips and some road grime on a vehicle that’s been transported on an open carrier. Sign the paperwork and you’re done! Finally, remember that driving one of those carriers through America’s big cities and on its interstates isn’t an easy job, so be sure to tip your driver for a job well done.