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My Nightmare Auto Transport Story: Read This Before You Ship a Car in the U.S.

*This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you).

When I moved, I needed to ship my car from Arizona to Colorado. Simple enough, right? They’re bordering states. A straight drive would take about 10 hours. That’s a day’s drive!

What I thought would take a maximum of four days from start to finish ended up taking over two weeks because I went with the wrong broker.

After getting several quotes from an auto shipping quote aggregator, I decided to consider the bottom two. Hey, the cheaper the better right? (Spoiler alert: WRONG!)

I did my due diligence. I Googled the company offering the cheapest quote, and upon seeing their horrible 2.5-star review average, it was an easy no.

So I went to the second cheapest quote. That auto transport company had great reviews. They had an average of nearly 5-star ratings from over 100 reviews. But…here’s where the first red flag popped up.

Red Flag #1: Even though they had a majority of excellent reviews, the bad reviews…were REALLY bad. And on top of that, the company responded to BBB complaints unprofessionally. Yes, most of the reviews were great. People had used this company and gotten their car on time and in good shape. But when I read the bad reviews, and the complaints filed with BBB, they were REALLY bad. The customers claimed that the company’s employees actually harassed them over the phone nonstop. That’s never acceptable. But still…I let it slide.

The next step on my due diligence journey was to call this auto transport company to ask them some basic questions, such as how soon they could pick up my car, what kind of insurance they offer, etc.

Red Flag #2: When I called the customer service phone number provided in my quote email, the man on the phone was curt. I won’t straight out say he was rude, but it was clear he hadn’t had any customer service training. He seemed like he didn’t want to be there. When I said I’d like to ask some questions, he responded gruffly.

He warmed up eventually, but then he started getting pushy, which leads to red flag #3.

Red Flag #3: Pushy sales tactics. The man on the phone started saying, “Oh, if you order right now, I can get your car picked up tomorrow!” I knew that was way too good to be true. He said, at the latest, it could be picked up in four days. That sounded more reasonable. He kept asking if I wanted to book right then and there, but I kept telling him I needed to shop around a bit first.

Minutes after I got off the phone with the first guy, I got an unsolicited call from one of their agents. He was extremely pushy and started bad-mouthing the very Carriers he works with, saying how they’re taking advantage of the pandemic situation to drive up prices and blah blah blah. It made me very uncomfortable.

Once again, I told him I still needed to think about it. Again, he was pushy and kept urging me to book ASAP.

Red Flag #4: Missed deadlines. Despite my gut screaming at me, “DO NOT TRUST THESE GUYS!” I decided to trust them. I went ahead and placed an order with them (which did not require paying anything or giving them my credit card) and expected them to deliver on their promise of having my car picked up within four days. Well, actually, they said it would be picked up the next day.

The next day rolls around…silence. But still, I figured they’d get it picked it up within four days. By the end of the fourth day, I was really worried. I still hadn’t heard anything. But still, I waited.

ONE WEEK after I placed my order, I finally asked them what was going on. They said they just couldn’t get any Carriers to pick up my car and they were doing their best.

So I waited. Then, the next day, I got a call from my agent! He left a voicemail saying he finally got me a Carrier and to call him back immediately.

I called him back before I had even gotten out of bed because I was SO stoked to finally get my car shipped.

Red Flag #5: The price jumped by $255. So when my agent answered, he told me the bad news: Yes, they got a Carrier, but it was going to be $845! That’s $250 more than the $595 they had quoted me. I told him no, I couldn’t afford that. He seemed irked that I didn’t want to pay $250 more. Then he hung up.

At this point, I was getting extremely anxious because I was about to move and needed that car before I had to move out.

After thinking about it for a couple of hours, I decided to cough up the extra $250 because I really needed that car.

Red Flag #6: Radio silence. But at this point…for some reason, I couldn’t get a hold of my agent! Which was highly unusual, given how often he reached out to me before. I called my agent’s and his company’s number three times. I even emailed my agent too. I got no answer from anyone.

Red Flag #7: They claimed they tried to call me, but I had no missed calls or voicemails.

Strangely enough, the next day, I got an email from a DIFFERENT agent saying that he’d found me a Carrier and had tried to call me but didn’t get an answer. This simply can’t be true. I checked my phone: no missed calls, no voicemails.

At this point, I’d had enough. This company had promised to pick up my car AT THE LATEST FOUR DAYS PRIOR. I called this new agent and told him I wanted to cancel.

That’s when he acted all shocked and said, “But we found you a Carrier for $750!”

This was news to me. And like a fool, I fell for it. I didn’t want to try to find a new auto transport company at this point, so despite everything that had happened, I decided to stick with them.

Red Flag #8: They took my credit card info and never sent any order confirmation.

He said all they needed now was my credit card information, which I gave to him over the phone. He said he’d send an order confirmation shortly. When I still hadn’t received any confirmation, I tried calling the agent, and he said he’d call me right back. Two hours later, he still hadn’t called me back. It was now four hours since I’d given him my credit card information. As you can imagine, I was getting nervous.

I emailed the company saying I wanted to cancel. I never heard anything. It was now nighttime, so I figured maybe they’d say something in the morning.

When morning came, and my agent STILL hadn’t called me nor emailed me back, I had my assistant give them a call. My assistant told me that the man who answered was very curt and just said, “If you want to cancel, we’ll cancel it.” And that was that.

I went ahead and put a lock on my credit card just in case it went into unsavory hands, or they tried to charge me for a service I didn’t receive.

I was SO upset I had wasted over a week on this company. I now had a VERY tight timeline and needed an auto transport company that could get my car to me within about one week.

Montway Saves the Day!

That’s when I finally decided to call Montway. And from that very first interaction, Montway and this other company were like night and day. A trained customer service representative immediately answered my call at Montway and was extremely friendly, informative, and NOT pushy. They never pressured me to place an order; they simply answered my questions.

They also never overpromised. They told me that they ask for 3-5 business days to get my car assigned to a Carrier, but it might take longer.

However, Montway made their cancellation policy clear from the beginning: They would take my credit card info when I placed the order, but I could cancel free of charge as long as they had not yet assigned a Carrier to me. If they already assigned a Carrier to me and I wanted to cancel for some reason, there would be a $1– cancellation fee, but I would NOT be obligated to pay the $909.

Montway also offers a cash discount, about $50 off the price if I paid the driver in cash upon arrival.

Additionally, Montway has 24/7 chat service on their website, and they always answer promptly.

I placed my order with Montway on a Saturday, and by the following Thursday, I got a call saying they’d found a Carrier. Now, the Carrier was asking for more money, which bumped the price up by $50, but it was only $50—not the $250 that the previous Broker had tried to pull on me. I said yes, and was immediately sent an email confirming that my card has been charged $959.

The next day, I received a Dispatch Notification email with my Carrier’s contact information. It also gave me a load date with a two-day window and a delivery date with a two-day window.

By Saturday, my car was picked up. And I had it in my driveway by Monday!

So here’s the timeline I had with Montway:

  • Day 1: Placed order
  • Day 6: Got a Carrier assigned
  • Day 8: Carrier picked up my car
  • Day 10: Carrier dropped of my car

That was pretty good! And I love that Montway kept me notified the entire time. Whenever I got nervous, all I had to do was hop on their website and I was immediately connected to a support rep via chat who answered my questions promptly and thoroughly.

I had an amazing experience with Montway.

How Shipping a Car ACTUALLY Works (THE Most Important Thing to Know to Save You From Frustration)

Auto Transport Vocabulary You Need to Know

  • Auto transport company (AKA “Broker”) – The company from whom you get a quote and with whom you place your car shipment order.
  • Carrier (AKA “contractor,” “trucker,” “driver”) – The contractor to whom the auto transport company passes that order. The Carrier is the one who actually drives your car to you.
  • National board – The online board where the Auto transport company posts your listing detailing your order. This is where the Carriers can choose orders they want to pick up.
  • Quote – The ESTIMATED price that the Broker tells you before he posts it to the national board. Your final price will likely be higher.
  • Bill of Lading – Legally-binding document detailing the shipment and verifying that your car was picked up/dropped off without any issues or damage. (And no, that’s not a typo, it’s Bill of LADING, not LANDING. I didn’t know this before…)

Okay, so here’s how it really works:

Step 1: Gather quotes.

You start the process of searching for a company to ship your car. You can go about this one of two ways:

Option #1: You can use an aggregator website that takes your details and delivers quotes from various auto transport companies. These include sites like Uship.com and ShipaCarDirect.com. They are NOT a Broker; they simply gather all the quotes from Brokers and show them to you.

Option #2: You go directly to an auto transport company/Broker’s website and get a quote from them. Some popular auto transport companies include Montway, Sherpa, and AmeriFreight.

Step 2: Place an order with an auto transport company/Broker

Once you find a quote you like, you’ll place an order. When you place an order, you usually don’t have to pay anything—you just give your credit card number. Only when a Carrier is dispatched should the Broker charge you anything, and even then, it might not be the full amount. Sometimes, you only pay a deposit upon dispatch and then upon delivery, you pay the rest of the balance off.

Step 3: The Broker posts your order to the National Board

Now, here’s the IMPORTANT part: Once you place that order, the auto transport company/Broker posts your listing to the national board, which all the Carriers have access to. Think of it like bidding at an auction. Let’s say a Broker said they can ship your car from California to Arizona for $800. The Broker doesn’t actually have any CLUE if that $800 “bid” is going to get accepted on the board. They just HOPE that it will based on past experience and the current going rate.

So the Broker posts your listing for a California to Arizona shipment, Open Carrier, for $800 to the national board. Now, we wait. The Broker has to wait for a Carrier to claim that OR the Carrier might even negotiate the price upward and say, “I’m willing to take the car, but only if it’s for $900.”

In that case, the Broker would call you and say, “Hey, we found a Carrier, but are you willing to bump up the price to $900?” At this point, you can take it or leave it. If you accept the $900, you’ll get assigned right away and the pickup should happen within the next couple of days. If you say no, you’ll again have to wait until a Carrier is willing to accept your $800 bid. This might take weeks. So really think about how much time you can stand not having this car.

In the end, the Broker keeps some of the money sort of as a finder’s fee, and the Carrier gets the majority of that fee.

The reason auto transport companies so often bump up the price from your original quote is that, again think of it as bidding, they’re trying to get you the lowest price possible by starting with a low bid. A Carrier might accept it, they might not.

A Broker cannot guarantee a pickup or dropoff date. Well, some Brokers, such as Sherpa, do offer guaranteed pickup/dropoff dates for a premium fee (think $1,000 extra), so if it’s REALLY important to you and you have the extra money, you might try Sherpa. But in general, an auto transport company can’t guarantee these things because these things are out of their control. You might end up waiting up to 4 weeks to get your car shipped, so plan ahead.

Step 4: When the Broker finds you a Carrier, the Broker will contact you for confirmation.

Yay, you’ve got a Carrier! But wait—the Broker may have to call you to confirm details. Often, the Carrier will ask for a higher amount than what you were quoted. In this case, the Broker will call you and ask if you’re okay paying the higher amount to secure this Carrier. If yes, then they’ll charge your credit card the full amount (if that’s what you agreed on) and send your information to the Carrier to complete the contract.

If no, then you aren’t charged a thing and you remain on the National Board and wait until a Carrier accepts your price.

Once the Carrier is dispatched, you will communicate directly with your Carrier.

Step 5: The Carrier will pick up your car.

You should receive an email confirmation with the Carrier’s details, including his phone number. At some point in the next few hours/days, the Carrier will call you and give you a window of time for pickup. Carriers typically try to call you 24 hours ahead of time, but sometimes they can’t. Whatever the case, they should give you about a 2-hour window for pickup.

Step 6: Receive your car!

Once your car is picked up and loaded onto the Carrier’s truck, you wait for it to arrive. The Carrier should call you about two hours before he arrives at the drop-off location.

When he arrives, he will unload your car off your truck, inspect it, and maybe take some photos. During this time you too should be inspecting your car and taking photos.

IMPORTANT: This is the time to check for any damage. If you find damage, you MUST notify the Carrier immediately and have him add it to the Bill of Lading BEFORE you sign it! If you fail to do this, the Carrier’s insurance will not be responsible for fixing the damage.

If everything looks good, you will sign the Bill of Lading, give the Carrier a tip (optional), and take your car home!

Frequently Asked Questions About Shipping a Car

Should I just go with the Broker who gives me the lowest quote?

So this is important to know because the average person who has no clue how auto transport works might make the mistake of going with the auto transport company/Broker who gives them the LOWEST quote.

Here’s why that’s a TERRIBLE idea:

  1. In the end, every auto transport company is posting to the same board.
  2. It’s going to take longer. If you’re lowballing the offer, the Carriers know they can get higher prices from other Brokers.
  3. There’s no way that quote is going to end up being the final quote. In fact, if it’s extremely beneath the other quotes you received, you can expect that quote to climb up by $300 to $400 in the end.
  4. Even though every auto transport company is posting to the same board, NOT ALL BROKERS ARE CREATED EQUAL. Trust me on this one. It’s worth it to look at reviews and speak to their customer service reps on the phone BEFORE picking a Broker. You want one who is communicative, organized, and reliable. Friendly doesn’t hurt either!

How much will it cost to ship my car?

This varies greatly, but here are some real-life examples for ideas:

  • In 2014, I shipped my car 2,400 miles on an open carrier for about $800.
  • In 2020, I shipped my car 650 miles for $950.

Do I need to buy insurance for my car?

No. By law, every Carrier must have insurance that covers damage to your car while it is being shipped by the Carrier. However, some auto transport companies offer extra insurance, so if you’re really worried about it and want extra protection, you can check with your auto transport company.

Can I put stuff inside the car before I ship it?

Yes, but it’s tricky. Typically, you have to keep your stuff inside the trunk and it cannot weigh more than 100 pounds.

Where can the trucker pick up and drop off my car?

Anywhere where a large truck can fit and unload the car. It MUST be a through street. So if, for example, you live on a cul-de-sac, the trucker can’t go there because he’ll get stuck. Commercial parking lots are also popular places to meet for pick-up and drop-off.

Can I cancel free of charge after I place an auto transport order?

Typically, yes, but always check with your auto transport company to find out their cancellation policy BEFORE you place an order.

How do I pay the driver?

It depends on the auto transport company you work with, but usually you can pay in these ways:

  • Online with credit/debit card
  • In cash to the driver when he delivers your car
  • Certified check

Should I tip the Carrier/trucker?

It is not required, but I think it is common courtesy. I tipped my driver $50 cash when he dropped off my car, and at first, he wouldn’t accept it.

What’s the best auto transport company?

This is subjective, of course, but some well-known brands that I have personally interacted with and that seemed very professional are Sherpa and Montway. Montway is the one I went with. Check BBB ratings/complaints and Google Reviews as well.

More Tips on How to Ship Your Car in the U.S.

  • Do NOT wait until the last minute. From talking to multiple people, it seems shipping a car could take up to 4 weeks on the extreme end. If you wait until the last minute, you risk having to pay a lot more to quickly secure a Carrier. Of course, shipping a car is a delicate balance because you don’t want to go too long without a car if you ship it too early to your next destination. Weigh the pros and cons here.
  • If your pick-up or drop-off location is in a rural area, expect to pay more or to wait longer. You may have to continuously increase the price to entice Carriers to accept your trip.
  • If you’re having a hard time getting a Carrier assigned, try changing the pick-up or drop-off locations to major cities.
  • READ reviews about the Broker. If there is any review stating that the auto transport company has poor customer service or harasses its customers, that is a dealbreaker! Here’s the thing though: EVERY auto transport company–even the best!– will have negative reviews. So long as those negative reviews are about how the quote went up in price slightly (like, less than $400) or how the shipment pickup or dropoff date was off by a couple of days, that’s no big deal. That’s the nature of the business, and no auto transport company can completely control that. (Remember, once your car is with the Carrier, that’s the Carrier’s job to get it there on time, not the Broker’s.)
  • BEFORE you input your email address into any aggregator or auto transport company website, create a “fake” email account for FREE with Gmail, and use that one instead. It’s not really “fake,” as in, the email can and should still work. You just don’t want to give them your primary email address because you will be spammed with messages forever and it’ll clog up your inbox.
  • Create a FREE Google Voice number, link it to your smartphone, and give the auto transport company that number instead. You want to be careful who you give your number to, in general. And in the case that you end up with a Broker who harasses you, you don’t want them to be calling our real number. So give them the Google Voice number instead. Install the Google Voice app on your phone, and you can set it up to ring through as though it’s a regular call. But the good thing is that unlike your real number, you can always unlink your Google Voice number from your phone so you don’t get harassing phone calls.
  • Be prepared to pay more than what you were quoted. In the end, don’t be alarmed if a Broker asks if you’re willing to pay more than your original quote. You do NOT have to accept. But if you want to ship quickly, it’s in your best interest to accept. Remember, some of this is outside of the Broker’s control. Carriers might ask for a higher price.

Good Luck Shipping Your Car!

Phew, I know that was a LOT of info on how to ship your car in the U.S. I hope my bad experience will save you from having one that’s similar. In the end, I’m so glad I ended up canceling with the first Broker and going with Montway. They were true professionals. And no, I’m not an affiliate for Montway! They don’t even know I’m writing this about them. I just think they’re awesome!

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