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How Auto Transport Works

Personal Auto Transport

Each year, millions of vehicles are transported to meet personal needs, such as:

  • Families moving cross-country
  • Students going to college a long distance from home
  • "Snowbirds" moving to the Sun Belt for the winter
  • Corporate relocation

Some of these situations are one-time needs and the car owner will hire an auto-transport company. Phone directories and the Internet are filled with advertisements promoting a variety of transport companies and transport brokers. Consumers need to be aware of the difference. A company handles the actual pickup and delivery of the vehicle. A broker does the legwork and sells the job to one or more transport carriers.

There are pros and cons to working with both. Transport companies have more control over delivery time and assume more responsibility in the event of damage or an accident. On the other hand, brokers have access to more options for a quicker delivery. Consumers should double-check all references to help avoid fraud or an unpleasant experience.

Transport companies are quick to stress that they can transport only the customer's vehicle. Customers are not allowed to pack their cars with clothes, small appliances or even spare parts. The fuel tank cannot be completely full, and owners are usually required to be present when the vehicle is picked up or delivered to complete the inspection.

Some car owners have frequent transport needs, so they purchase their own trailer and tow vehicle. These include car collectors or enthusiasts who display their pristine vehicles at car shows or weekend racers who compete at area tracks. Single-car trailers come in many styles and sizes to hold the vehicle, spare parts and tools. The key for a safe transport is matching the trailer weight with the towing capacity of the tow vehicle.

There is one other method of getting a vehicle from one location to another: drive it! Dedicated driveaway agencies provide drivers to customers who don't want to drive themselves or don't have the time or budget to have their vehicle transported. The reputable agencies will screen potential drivers and match them accordingly to the customer's schedule and destination. The drivers are not paid and often must pay for their own gas. But they do get the free use of a car for their travels across the country.

Can a ship carrying thousands of vehicles end up on the ocean floor? We'll look at safety and security next.