How Auto Transport Works

Auto Transport Safety and Security

While accidents have been reported involving all types of auto transport, the industry's record is remarkably safe and efficient. Officials say the majority of accidents and damage losses are caused by human error rather than equipment failure.

Although such incidents are isolated, an auto carrier ship can sink. Here are a few examples:

  • In December 2002, the Norwegian car carrier Tricolor was struck by the container ship Kariba in the English Channel. The Tricolor sunk in 30 minutes with more than 2,000 luxury vehicles aboard [source: Automotive News Europe].
  • In November 2002, nearly 3,700 vehicles were lost when the Hual Europe caught fire after being grounded during a typhoon near a Japanese island [source: Automotive News].
  • In May 2004, the MV Hyundai No. 105 collided with an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore and sunk with nearly 4,200 vehicles aboard [source: Automotive News Europe].

Accidents are involving railroad car carriers are also rare, although there have been reports of rail cars hitting overpasses and damaging the roofs of the loaded vehicles.

As it turns out, auto transporters are involved in the fewest number of fatal crashes when compared with other cargo haulers. In a 2005 report, the agency reported 4,932 fatal accidents involving large trucks, 31 of which were auto transporters, or 0.6 percent. In the same study for 2006, the agency reported 4,732 fatal accidents with 40 involving auto transporters, or 0.8 percent [source: U.S. Department of Transportation].

Injuries have been recorded due to vehicles falling off open trailers during loading, including when forklifts are used to load inoperable vehicles. Other injury accidents occur when workers slip off upper decks or if the safety pins to limit ramp movement are not in place and the ramps drop quickly on an unsuspecting worker. Newer trailers manufactured by Boydstun feature hydraulic rams with screw-drive technology that eliminate the need for safety pins because they have an internal positive-lock mechanism.

Even though most vehicles are transported on open trailers, Ford and Toyota officials say their new vehicles are delivered to the dealerships damage free at a rate between 99.7 and 99.88 percent. Auto carriers have incentives to deliver the vehicles damage free as well as on time. Some automakers use a plastic wrap to protect the entire vehicle or sensitive areas. Heavy tarps mounted on the trailer sides can protect the lower vehicles against debris. Some luxury models are transported in enclosed trailers [sources: Nelson and Lowe].

Read on to learn about the future of auto transport.