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Smooth Moving: Expert advice on shipping a vehicle

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 Carl Wallin for Reliable Carriers, Inc. recently loaded the barn-find 1951 Buick Special Riviera coupe previously featured in Old Cars Weekly. The car was leaving John Gunnell’s “Gunner’s Great Garage” in Manawa, Wis., for the Sacramento, Calif., garage of the car’s next (and only second) owner.

Carl Wallin for Reliable Carriers, Inc. recently loaded the barn-find 1951 Buick Special Riviera coupe previously featured in Old Cars Weekly. The car was leaving John Gunnell’s “Gunner’s Great Garage” in Manawa, Wis., for the Sacramento, Calif., garage of the car’s next (and only second) owner.

Experts provide real-world advice for shipping a vehicle with professionals

By Angelo Van Bogart

With the Arizona auctions around the corner, hobbyists are dreaming about that next car they’ll be adding to their collection. Until the gavel falls, most hobbyists probably have not yet considered how to get that new prize safely home. Of the thousands of cars that will be sold during the January Arizona auctions, most will have to be transported by a professional company. To deliver that new purchase from the auction — or from any other destination — to its new garage, several of the hobby’s largest and most recognized transport companies shared tips to prepare owners for the long haul home, and without risking damage or other loss to the vehicle that is being shipped.

The basics to shipping

There are essentially two types of shipping companies that serve the collector-car hobby. There are those companies that own the equipment and have owner/operator drivers, and there are those that serve as brokers. Companies that own the shipping equipment are responsible for transporting the vehicle, while a broker works with independent owner/operators to ship a vehicle.

Transport companies determine the cost to ship a vehicle using similar factors, including distance, the size of a vehicle, its running condition (non-running vehicles are usually more expensive to ship) and the location of its starting point and destination.

“From Michigan to North Dakota, it is a lot harder to get a return trip out of there than it is in Los Angeles or Texas,” said Carl Wallin, who works in the field transporting vehicles as an owner/operator at Reliable Carriers. Jim Brian, owner of Auto Shippers Express, agreed, adding that major cities are easier to ship to and from than non-major cities. For example, it will likely cost less to ship a vehicle from Chicago to New York City than it will to ship a vehicle a shorter distance between small towns located off major highways, even though they are located between the larger cities.

When it comes to pick-up and delivery times, a number of factors come into play, including the pick-up and delivery locations, the time of year and the venue from which the vehicle will be shipped. At large auctions, a number of well-known carriers stand waiting to carry vehicles to their new homes. In such instances, delivery can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the vehicle’s final destination. In non-auction sales, and when shipping a vehicle to an event or between homes, carriers request a week or more notice.

Finding the right transport company

In addition to the usual questions — including “how soon can my car be delivered?” and “how much will it cost?” — transport companies recommend asking a few other questions to find a reputable transporter.

“First, ask how long a company has been in business, are they insured, are they bonded, and references are helpful,” said San Krynski, general manager of Autobahn Transportation Services.

“It’s also very important that cars do not get stored anywhere. A lot of companies, these fly-by-night companies, they will pick up the vehicles with flatbeds, put them in a storage facility, which is basically an open yard like a junk yard or towing facility, where cars are accessible to criminals.”

Wallin recommends asking the same questions, as well as completing a little homework before selecting a transport company. “If a price sounds too good to be true, it is,” Wallin said. “Look at what kind of insurance the carrier has, its Better Business Bureau business rating and look at the testimonials [from other customers].”

Brian warns owners not to send money to a bargain-priced shipping broker until a car is loaded on a truck.

“Some [low-bidding shippers] will take a deposit up front and they don’t care if the car ships or not,” he said. “Then, when the owner calls back, the shipper will ask for more money, and the person ends up spending the same amount of money. Once a vehicle is picked up, it always gets delivered, because the driver has agreed to do it for the money.”
Select a transport company with experienced drivers that also has a good reputation and track record that extends at least several years back.

Preparing for transport

Communication between the transportation company and shipper is paramount to a positive experience. If a vehicle does not run or stop under its own power, the shipping company should be alerted before the driver arrives. Upon the driver’s arrival, he or she will assess the vehicle to document its condition with the owner or shipper before it is loaded and after it is unloaded, so transporter company representatives recommend the vehicle be clean inside and out. Also, to prevent damage to other vehicles in the trailer, the driver should be warned of any fluid leaks or loose parts. (Many companies will protect the interior and exterior of cars in-transit with plastic.)

If modifications have altered the height, length or other dimension of the vehicle, transport companies recommend providing that information as it may affect the cost and the preparations required to accommodate the vehicle. No one knows that better than Wallin, who’s shipped everything from a fire truck damaged in New York City during the Sept. 11 attacks to new Porsches used during press days.

“A guy bought a lifted Ford F-150 at auction and it took up the space of two or three more vehicles,” he said. “We had to wait to install smaller tires [on the F-150] to fit it on the truck and that requires more expense.”

As someone who does the physical loading and unloading of vehicles, Wallin knows shippers need an appropriate place to load a vehicle on an 80-foot-long semi tractor and trailer.

“If I can’t access their house, we can always pick alternate locations... we can find a place with a big parking lot to load the vehicle,” Wallin said, adding, “I try to get people to be mindful of low clearances and trees. We spend a lot of money trying to keep these trucks nice.”

Shipping additional items with the vehicle should be kept to a minimum. “Some people put too much stuff in cars,” Brian added. “Drivers will allow a small amount in the vehicle, but if the driver sees six big tubs in the back of the vehicle, he’ll either ask for more money or he won’t take the car.” He also recommends keeping the fuel level of a vehicle being shipped low, with approximately a quarter of a tank of fuel.

It’s worth the work

Following these guidelines, shopping for a trustworthy transporter should be easier, and result in the safest shipping experience possible.


Professional Shippers

Autobahn Transportation Services, Inc.
Offers enclosed carriers
Owns equipment
At Arizona auctions
In business 40 years
Serves 48 states, Canada

Auto Shippers Express
Offers enclosed carriers
Transport broker
At Arizona auctions
In business since 1998
Serves 49 states (not Alaska)

Hillbilly Auto Transport
417-426-5036 office
417-594-1922 cell
In business 30+ years
Serves U.S., Canada and more

Passport Transport
Owns equipment
At Arizona auctions
In business 40 years
Serves 48 states

Reliable Carriers, Inc.
Owns equipment
At Arizona auctions
In business 50+ years
Serves 48 states, Canada

Where to Bid

Car Auciton

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The Old Cars Auction Calendar has the when and where you are looking for when it comes to classic car auctions.