In a 2016 announcement, “Consumer Advisory About Automobile Transporters,” the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) alerted the public that there had been a “dramatic increase” in reported issues with vehicle transporters and vehicle transport brokers. The FMCSA noted that the best defense to avoid fraud and other problems with transport is to gather as much information as you can.
The FMCSA mentioned a couple questions to ask, and other key ones have been highlighted by consumer and automotive experts. This below list is divided into a few sections, starting with the federal government’s ones on deceptive practices and fraud before getting into questions on other core topics.
Fraud & deceptive practices questions for car transporters
1.) What is your MC Docket number?
Transporters and transport brokers that do business crossing state lines must have current registration with the FMCSA. These entities will be given an MC Docket number, which will always be six digits, by the agency. Once you have that number, you can do a search through the Licensing and Insurance Public page.
Note that the FMCSA actually advises not to do business with a transporter that does not “prominently” display this number on its website – but that is an extreme position. That number should be readily available to you upon request, though.
2.) Are you a car transporter or a car transport broker?
The FMCSA advises not to trust companies that are non-specific about their status as a broker or transporter. A transporter (as its name suggests) conducts the actual move of the vehicle itself. A broker simply sets up the shipment, connecting transporters with transport customers.
While brokers are typically legitimate businesses, the FMCSA mentioned this distinction because some of these organizations present themselves as if they were directly doing the transport.
Questions about the transport services offered
3.) Do you offer covered and uncovered transport?
A basic service-related question has to do with the nature of the carrier, in terms of the protections provided for your car as it moves. These terms are straightforward: covered shipping means the carrier has a roof, while uncovered means it does not. While uncovered is compelling because it is so affordable, Ronald Montoya of Edmunds cautioned that “your vehicle will be susceptible to the elements and any debris that may fly in the path of the truck” if you choose that service.
An additional option is enclosed transport, in which your vehicle is completely encased within the trailer.
4.) Do you offer door-to-door and terminal-to-terminal transport?
Another question related to the type of service (and impacting the cost) has to do with where the car is loaded onto the carrier. With the door-to-door option, you get the ultimate convenience. The carrier will typically be able to do pickup and dropoff at any addresses you choose. Sometimes with this service, the car will have to be unloaded at a designated point nearby (such as a parking lot), as when a road does not allow large trucks.
A more budget-friendly choice is terminal-to-terminal transport. With this form of shipping, you would have to get your car to pickup and dropoff locations that are chosen by the company — in which case the transporter is able to perform a simpler shipment that incurs less cost. The only issue, said automotive author Lauren Fix, is that “your vehicle could spend extra time sitting in a terminal parking lot (exposed to all the elements) until a full load is ready.” Note that for international shipping, another extension of the terminal-to-terminal category is port-to-port transport.
5.) Do you offer open shipping and scheduled pickup?
A transporter can let you know when there is a truck that is getting ready to leave in the same direction as you want your car to go. You also may be able to specify the day that carrier arrives to load your vehicle. The price rises when you need timing to be exact. However, scheduled pickup often makes sense because you do not want to end up having it arrive too early (in terms of getting it home safely or storing it) or too late (in terms of needing it to get around town).
Billing questions for auto transporters
6.) What are the variables that you use to calculate your rates and fees?
Especially if you are transporting the vehicle internationally or across the country, you want to know how the transporter arrives at its rates. The charge will typically be directly related to the number of miles the car is going. The price will also sometimes be dropped when there is more than one car that needs the same pickup and dropoff cities.
7.) Do you charge more for larger cars?
Often transport companies will charge differently based on the type of vehicle being transported. The price will typically be higher when you want to transport a truck, full-size SUV, luxury car, or other larger or more expensive vehicles.
8.) What services will be included with the quote that you get?
When you are looking for auto transport, you may not know how to evaluate different services – in which case cost can become the sole determining factor. The smart way to shop for any product or service is to know more about the specific service that you are getting for the price. A forthright transporter will be able to provide you with an itemized breakdown of costs so that everything is clear.
9.) Is shipping insurance included in the quote?
Ask the car transporter whether the car is standardly insured for its complete value while it is in transit, or whether you need to buy insurance separately. The carrier may cover you under its liability policy. One way or another, insurance is always a good idea given the value of what you are shipping and the distance it is going. Think about the worst-case scenarios: while the car is being transported, it could be stolen, consumed in a fire, downed in a sunken ship, or even a subject of piracy. Insurance should be available in some form. Otherwise, you will need to get it through your car insurance carrier.
Time-related questions for car transporters
10.) Do you have a delay policy?
As Fix noted, you want to know what happens if a delay occurs – whether the organization will issue you any type of refund in that event.
11.) How far in advance do you need to book?
If you are just shopping around at this point, you want to know how much lead time to build into your schedule. If you were to book a car just a couple days before your move and it couldn’t ship until after you left, you might end up having the car arrive significantly after you. The expectation for a delivery time varies greatly based on the route, so ask about the amount of time it will take to go from your departure and destination cities. To get a general idea, it will usually take one to two weeks for coast-to-coast shipping in the United States.
Are you in need of car transport? Unfortunately, fraud and deceptive practices are common in the industry, which is why it is critical to perform due diligence. By asking the above questions of potential transporters and checking their reviews, you can gather sufficient knowledge and perspective to make an educated decision.