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Guide: Preparing a car for shipping

Chris Teague

Chris Teague

Shipping vehicles has become more common as more people shop online, but there are plenty of important things to know that many people aren’t aware of. Whether you plan to ship a car on an open trailer, in an enclosed transporter, or another method, it’s a good idea to take a few steps to prepare the vehicle for shipping and assess its condition before signing the bill of lading. 

We’ve created a quick guide to help you get started. Our car shipping partner Corsia Logistics offers the right shipping tools to get your car where it needs to be, so let’s take a look at how to get the process started.

Organize Paperwork

Before anything else, track down and inventory your car’s paperwork. This includes but is not limited to The title, insurance cards, bill of sale or loan documentation, and maintenance records. It’s best not to leave any paperwork in the vehicle as it’s being shipped, and the shipper will need to see proof that the car actually belongs to you. They may also need proof of insurance and will likely need to snap a photo of your driver’s license. If the vehicle is registered to or owned by someone else, they must be present and sign for the shipping.

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Remove Personal Belongings

It might be tempting to load your car up with luggage or other gear to prepare for a move, but that’s not recommended and could end up costing you more money than you think. Shipping companies typically insure vehicles against damage during the process but don’t extend that coverage to personal items left in the vehicle. That means you should remove sunglasses, bags, trash, aftermarket stereo items (if removable), paperwork, and other gear before loading the car. 

That said, you might have to leave some items in the car. In those cases, it’s a good idea to lock them in the trunk to keep them out of sight and locked outside of the cabin. If you live in a state with toll roads, make sure you remove any toll pass tags or electronic devices to avoid being charged for travel as your vehicle moves. 

Clean the Car

Your vehicle will likely get dirty during transport, but cleaning ahead of time is an important step. You need to get an accurate assessment of the vehicle’s condition before it’s loaded on the truck, and a clean car is much easier to judge than one caked in months of road dirt. Take a close look at the underside and document existing damage so there are no surprises when your vehicle arrives on the other side of shipping. This also includes a thorough interior cleaning, which will give you a close look at the condition and allow you to find and remove hidden personal items that have fallen under the seats. 

Document the Condition

After cleaning the vehicle and removing personal items, snap some photos of the interior and exterior condition. They don’t have to be museum-worth images but should be clear enough to compare them to the vehicle when it arrives after shipping. This will help mitigate disputes and remove any doubt about the vehicle’s condition when it leaves your possession. 

At the same time, it’s important to be honest about the vehicle’s operational state. You need to disclose any mechanical issues and be careful to let your driver know if there are any unique aspects of driving the car. Don’t try to hide mechanical defects or other problems because the driver needs to be able to safely move the vehicle on and off the shipping truck and may need to move it otherwise. A problematic vehicle makes the driver’s job harder and could net an additional fee for being inoperable.

preparing a car for shipping

Check Maintenance Items

If your car has problems or is behind on routine maintenance, take care of the fixes before shipping – if you can. Change the oil and top off fluids, check the tires for inflation and wear, and ensure the battery is operational and charged. This is important because it makes shipping smoother and easier for the driver and can also prevent embarrassing issues like oil and other fluids leaking while the car is on the trailer. Document the starting mileage as well to prevent surprises when shipping is complete. You may also want to drive the vehicle to use excess fuel before shipping to avoid overweight charges or other damage. Leave at least a quarter tank, but don’t bother filling it completely before loading it up.

Sign Shipping Paperwork

Your shipper will provide a bill of lading, which outlines all information related to the shipment. The document details starting and ending locations, the vehicle condition (including mileage), and notes on special condition issues or problems that need to be acknowledged during the ship. This is your best chance to ensure everything is as you expect, and when you next see the car, it will be too late to go back and document problems.

Receive the Shipped Vehicle

When you get the car on the other side, you’ll need to perform a similar inspection to when it left your possession. Check its condition, and look inside and out for damage. While it’s less than ideal, car shipments sometimes arrive at night, so it’s a good idea to have a flashlight handy if you can’t receive it during the day. Once you’ve signed the final acceptance document, any issues are yours to deal with, so you need to be thorough to uncover damage that occurred during shipping.

preparing a car for shipping

Frequently asked questions on preparing a car for shipping

Should I set my car alarm or security system before shipping?

It’s best not to set the alarm or security system before handing over your car, as the driver may need to move the vehicle during the shipment. If there’s an immobilizer or other technology, turn it off before handing over the keys.

Do cars get damaged during shipping?

Very rarely, and you’re almost always covered by the shipper’s insurance if something happens. It’s more likely that your vehicle gets dirty during shipping, which can occur even if it’s moved in an enclosed trailer.

Is open trailer shipping cheaper than closed?

Yes, in most cases, an open trailer is the cheapest way to move a car. Closed trailers are good for more expensive vehicles, offering better protection from the elements.

Is it cheaper to drive the car myself?

It might be, but consider that you’ll have to buy fuel and may need to stay in a hotel if the drive is long enough. That, combined with the time spent behind the wheel, can make shipping the most economical option for many people.

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