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Shipping Vehicles Across the Country

What you'll learn: How to compare transport types and other factors that affect car shipping costs


Shipping Vehicles Across the Country


Unless you’re selling everything and starting over, a cross-country move entails getting your whole life from point A to point B. Clothes. Furnishings. Vehicles. It’s one thing to pack up your belongings and send them away with a mover, but what about those items with wheels?

Car moving companies are available for every need and budget. The key is to know your options and understand the many variables that can affect costs. Here are five factors to consider to help you choose a shipping method that fits your needs and budget.

1.   Type of transport

There are many ways to transport a car across the country. Some you’re probably familiar with, while others may come as a surprise. Let’s explore the options you have available.

Open-air carrier

Arguably the most common method to ship a car across states is with an open-air carrier. You know them: the trucks pulling long, two-tiered trailers down the highway with up to 10 or 12 vehicles at a time. They’re abundant and usually very affordable – with averages between $630 and $1810 – because costs are split across many people.

What’s the catch? Open-air means your vehicle is exposed to weather, debris, and other elements on its journey. The time and place of delivery depends on the carrier’s route and number of stops before it arrives at your pick-up location (door-to-door service usually costs extra).

Open-Air Carrier Advantages

Open-Air Carrier Disadvantages


Vehicle is at a higher risk of damage

Readily available

Schedule is dependent on other stops

Driver can see and monitor vehicles

Typically delivered to a central terminal

Enclosed carrier

A step up from open-air is an enclosed carrier. Logistics are essentially the same, but the carrier itself is covered, adding a layer of protection and a greater sense of security. For these reasons, enclosed carriers cost a little more – about $420 more – for the same type of vehicle. But space is usually limited to five or fewer vehicles, which may speed up delivery time.

Enclosed carriers are commonly used for specialty vehicles such as classic cars, luxury brands, or motorcycles.

Enclosed Carrier Advantages

Enclosed Carrier Disadvantages

Protection from weather and debris

More costly than open-air

Added security and cleanliness

Schedule is dependent on other stops

Delivery may be faster

Typically delivered to a central terminal

Professional driver

Looking for the white glove experience of transporting a car from state to state? You can hire a professional driver, also known as a driveway service, to take your car cross country. They’ll pick it up at your door and drop it off at your new address. The main drawbacks of this option are the miles and the wear and tear it adds to your vehicle.

Professional Driver Advantages

Professional Driver Disadvantages

Door-to-door service


May be able to include personal items

Adds miles, wear, and tear to the vehicle


Rail is a common way for certain businesses to transport vehicles, but it’s not as readily available for consumers. Some car shipping companies do include the option to ship a car by train. It just isn’t always the most convenient or fastest method.

If you happen to need service between Orlando, Florida, and Washington, D.C., your car, SUV, or motorcycle can travel by Amtrak Auto Train. It’s economical – you and your car could travel for as little as $300 – but will only work for select situations.

Train Advantages

Train Disadvantages

Usually more economical

Limited schedules and locations

Open or enclosed options may be available

Typically takes longer than driving


Wondering if there is a ship that carries cars? Indeed, another viable option is to ship your vehicle from coast to coast by sea via a ferry or car shipping container. One bonus of a shipping container is it can double as a storage unit if you need the extra space for other belongings. Typically ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, this method may make most sense for those living near a coast or moving to Hawaii, Alaska, or overseas.

Boat Advantages

Boat Disadvantages

Safe and secure

Can be costly

May be able to include personal items



Want your car to arrive in its new home before you? It’s hard to compete with air travel, which can take merely hours instead of days or weeks. Air shipping is also seen as extremely safe and reliable. If you can afford the higher price tag, shipping by plane is a great option – especially for rare or luxury vehicles. Average prices are $2,000 to $4,000.

Plane Advantages

Plane Disadvantages



Safe and reliable

Fewer options available

How do they compare?

It’s not easy to put transport types head to head because there are so many nuances between types and individual companies. This chart offers a general idea of how they compare on price and levels of service.

Transport Type





Open-Air Carrier





Enclosed Carrier





Professional Driver





















2.   Vehicle specifications

Are you shipping a lifted Silverado, that tried-and-true Civic, or your beloved ‘69 Mustang? All three? The type and quantity of vehicles will affect your pricing.

Size and weight

Larger and heavier vehicles cost more to ship, naturally. They take up valuable space and require more gas to transport. If you’re moving across states and have the choice, ship your smaller, lighter vehicle.

Make and model

Car shipping companies ask for the nitty gritty details about your vehicle to find out if it needs special or individualized care. A luxury or classic car has additional costs to cover the extra service it requires. And the price will go up if it’s not in working condition.


How many vehicles are you shipping? Of course multiple vehicles will cost more than one, but the per-item cost is often lower because you’re helping the company fill the carrier. Delivering vehicles to the same destination makes that route more efficient and cost-effective.

3.   Distance and location

Similar to hiring a mover, shipping a vehicle will cost more the further you have to go. Here are some complexities based on where it’s going.

Shipping cars to another state

Costs to transport a car to another state or across the country depends on miles and geographic area. Longer trips are more expensive because of the increased gas costs, but the cost per mile may be less. Car shipping companies also might charge more for rural, harder to reach locations.

Shipping cars to Hawaii

Special considerations come into play when your cross-country move is across an ocean. Your options for the type of transport are limited and tend to be pricier. Your costs will increase the further you are away from a port or airport. Be sure to run the numbers and make sure the voyage does not outprice your vehicle’s worth.


When are you moving and how soon beforehand are you getting quotes? Timing is a key factor in shipping costs for cars.

Advance notice

Booking well in advance typically saves you money when shipping a car across the country. Most companies can accommodate shorter notice or faster delivery, but expect to pay more for expedited service.


Is your heart set on having your vehicle in the garage on move-in day or can you get by for a week or two without? Just like booking airfare or hotels, flexible dates can lead to discounts. It allows companies to fill their schedules more efficiently.

Time of year

There tends to be a higher demand for car shipping services in summer, which is peak real estate season and when more people are moving. You may benefit from a reduced rate during the off season – October through April.

5. Insurance needs

You’ve determined the how, the what, and the when. Does that mean you’re ready to ship across the country? Take time to consider whether the company’s provided insurance is adequate or if you want additional coverage.

Provided policy

Any professional company will have insurance, but it might not cover as much as you think. Verify the coverage limits are high enough to cover major damage to your vehicle in case something happens in transit. And keep in mind any personal items in the vehicle are typically not covered.

Special coverage

It’s possible your auto insurance will already offer some coverage, but it’s not a given. Compare the car shipping company’s policy to your own and see if there are any gaps. If you’re shipping a luxury vehicle or one with sentimental value, it may be wise to purchase special coverage.

What will it cost me?

The best way to find out how much it will cost to ship a car across the country is to get quotes from several companies. Many vehicle shipping companies use bidding processes that can make pricing unpredictable. For this article, we researched the cost to ship the same two vehicles and a motorcycle and got quotes ranging from $2,700 to $9,000!

So do your homework, compare options, and then rest easy that another item on your moving list is checked off.


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After your application, we’ll help you:

1. Discover you’re eligible to become a PenFed member

2. Open a Savings/Share Account and deposit at least $5