Car buyers search to the ends of the earth via the Internet for the auto bargain of their dreams. Last year, USA Today reported that nearly 75 percent of cars sold on eBay were interstate transactions. A growing number of consumer-oriented auto shippers are eager to help online car buyers retrieve their purchases from distant cities.
"Visitors to our site have grown tremendously over the years," said Wayne Harris, president of MoveCars.com, "especially since popular sites like Auto Trader and eBay emerged, allowing people to buy cars anywhere in the country — or the world. Then they turn to the Internet like the Yellow Pages to find companies to ship those cars back home."
Finding a slot
Auto shippers wait until car carriers are full before dispatching them, and depend on "transport brokers" to quickly fill any empty slots on a transport truck. Car buyers can work directly with the shippers or through the brokers to find an open slot. A broker may be able to negotiate a lower price for you, but doesn't offer direct contact with the car carrier during the car's shipment — which can provide a certain peace of mind.
MoveCars.com, an online directory of auto transporters founded in 1996, offers more than 50 listings with direct links or online forms to request bids from brokers and auto shippers in the U.S. and Canada. Harris recommends contacting the auto transport companies via their toll-free numbers if you have questions. "They consider people who take the time to make a call to be serious customers and give them more attention than all the e-mails crammed in their in-boxes," he said.
Using an enclosed truck to protect your car costs some 60 percent more than open trucks, but auto shippers recommend it for new or high-end vehicles.
Handling the details of your car shipment
Kenneth Resnik discovered some of the complications of shipping a car when he and his wife moved from New York to Nevada last year. "I was surprised to call one day and find out my car was in Dallas," he said, "but the guys I worked with were up front about the process." They explained that cars are transported between major hubs around the country and sometimes have to wait at a terminal until a carrier is full. Dependable Auto Shippers, the company Resnik chose, required an 18-day window for delivery.
Dependable Auto Shippers (DAS) has been transporting vehicles since 1954 and uses a satellite tracking system for its fleet of carriers. A DAS carrier picked up the Resniks' two automobiles at their home and completed a detailed checklist on their condition before loading them. One of the cars suffered major damage to the front end while being transferred from one transport truck to another. After reviewing the case, Dependable paid its maximum limit of liability ($250) to offset the $450 repair costs. Resnik felt that monitoring the progress of his vehicles' delivery provided him with details that influenced Dependable's decision.
Personalizing your shipment experience
Customers can connect with a wide variety of car transporters at uShip, a Web site founded by Matt Chasen in 2003 as an interactive shipping marketplace similar in format to eBay. Members, who can join for free, list automobiles or other large freight they need to have shipped. Then shippers — including transporters, van lines, freight brokers and smaller independent delivery services — bid for the jobs. They can offer low shipping rates because they fill remaining slots in existing shipments.
Chasen explained that in the past, customers had to search for good rates, but in the uShip system, the companies search and compete for jobs. "Essentially, the right shipper comes to you," he summed it up, estimating that on average uShip saves users 60 percent as compared to traditional transport services.
"Vehicles are by far our largest category," Chasen said. One-time shipping customers and wholesale vehicle dealers like Online Vehicle Exchange use uShip's highly adaptable system. Recently, uShip launched a new estimator tool on the site for free price estimates based on similar shipments. Soon, a checklist of steps to take before shipping a car will be available.
Tips for shipping a car
The following tips could save you money and improve your peace of mind if you decide to ship a car:
- Compare companies: The provider directory on uShip includes user comments and ratings, and ratings Web sites like Epinions evaluate auto transporters. Matt Chasen pointed out that uShip's ratings highlight smaller companies with good personal service and responsiveness. Factors to compare include price, insurance coverage and time required for delivery as well as quality of service.
- Ask Uncle Sam: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration maintains a hotline (888) 368-7238 for consumers to check on a shipper's license and insurance record as well as whether any complaints have been made about the company.
- Location, location, location: A delivery between two major cities may be cheaper because more carriers cover that route.
- Cover your assets: Large-scale auto shippers like Dependable Auto Shippers offer insurance packages, usually priced according to the value of the car. Upgrading your personal auto insurance to a comprehensive policy, including theft and collision, is another option.
- Size matters: Bigger cars take up more space in the carrier and heavier cars add more cargo weight, making them more expensive to ship.
- Season matters: Fewer cars are transported in winter, so rates may be lower then. If you ship a car north from Florida or Arizona in April or May, you may get better rates from transporters who have dropped off cars for "snowbirds" (retirees who move south during the winter months) and need to fill slots for the return trip.
- Value matters: New or high-end vehicles should be shipped in an enclosed carrier, which could cost 60 percent more than open carriers.
- Be flexible: "Typically, you contract for door-to-door delivery," according to Wayne Harris, "but you could save money if you're willing to drop the car off and pick it up at a terminal."
- Stay cool: "Be patient," Kenneth Resnik advises. "Shipping a car is a big operation and not something you go through every day, but it's worth it."
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.