We at Travel Therapy Mentor often get questions about moving across the country for travel therapy jobs, including what’s the best way to get your car across the country. There are a few options for solo travelers, such as: road tripping across the country in your car alone, road tripping across the country with a friend and the friend flies back, or flying across the country and shipping your car. For pairs trying to get two cars across the country, you could road trip in both cars, road trip in one car while your partner ships their car, road trip in one car while towing a second car if you have towing capabilities, or both fly and ship both cars. Personally, we have always driven two cars to our assignments, but our longest move was 12 hours and most of them much shorter than that. We know that a lot of travelers have chosen car shipping options for longer hauls. Since we have never shipped a car ourselves, we asked our travel PT friends Alison and Nick about their experience with shipping cars as a travel pair. Check out what Alison had to say below in case you are considering shipping your car!
Alison & Nick’s Experience
One of the biggest parts of being a travel therapist is changing job locations, and many of us end up going long distances across the US from one contract to the next. This can be a great opportunity to take a road trip if that’s your thing. However, road trips are not always the preferred option for a variety of reasons. This is where shipping a car is a good option. As a traveling pair, Nick and I have always had basically three options: road trip in two cars, road trip in one car and ship the other, or ship both cars. Personally, we’ve always chosen to ship at least one car on all four of our cross-country moves (yes, I consider our trip from Miami to Connecticut to be cross-country!).
The first step in deciding whether or not to ship your car is to decide whether or not you want to do the road trip to your next job contract. Road trips are a great way to see the United States, but there is a lot of driving involved, obviously. Neither Nick nor I love driving long distances, and the only thing that makes long car rides bearable is being in the car together listening to music or podcasts or discussing where we should stop for dinner. For that reason, we always knew that we were going to ship at least one car every time we moved a long distance. But after we drove from Miami to Connecticut in one car (and shipped the other) during our first move, and then drove from Upstate New York to Las Vegas in one car (and shipped the other) during our second move, we knew that we didn’t want to do the same cross-country road trip again so soon to Pennsylvania from Vegas on our next one. So we decided to ship both cars to Pennsylvania, and 6 months later we shipped both cars again when we returned to Vegas from Pennsylvania.
Factors to Consider for Shipping a Car
- Cost: You need to compare the cost of shipping the car(s) to what a road trip would cost. For the road trip, keep in mind the costs of gas, food, and lodging. If you’re a traveling pair, you have the option to ship one car while you road trip with the other car, or ship both cars and not road trip at all. The price quote of the car shipment depends mostly on distance from the pick-up address to drop-off address, availability of truck drivers, and number other people shipping their cars on the same route. For example, shipping your car from the Northeast US to Florida at the beginning of winter will be more expensive because many people are trying to do that at the same time. To give you an idea, we spent about $1000 to ship one car and $2000 to ship both on each of our trips. The cost was roughly the same from Miami to Pennsylvania (1200 miles) as it was Pennsylvania to Las Vegas (2500 miles). If you were wondering if there is a discount for shipping two cars- there is! We were given $150 off for shipping a second car in the same shipment. We also got $50 off for being return customers to the same auto transport broker company. We had to remember to specifically ask for those discounts. For us, since we don’t want to drive, we prefer the convenience of shipping our cars. If you are shipping your only car(s) and flying, then you need to also add in the cost of the flight(s) to the auto shipment cost.
- Flexibility of travel time: The car shipment company will need an approximate 7-day availability window for them to pick up your car. Then you car will take an additional set of days to arrive to your destination, and this amount of time depends on distance, weather, traffic, etc. For all of our cross-country trips, we have planned for a 14-day period, which assumes they pick up the car on the last day of the 7-day window and then 7 days for the car to ship across the US. If you only have one week between travel contracts, this might be a little tricky. The company that we always work with says that a 7-day availability window for pick-up is ideal for finding the best price, but I have been told that a 3-5 day window would also be acceptable. So I assume that if you only have a 10-day period between contracts, this shortened pick-up availability window would make that work. You might just end up paying slightly more for it.
- Location of your physical self in relationship to the car pick-up and drop-off: Most companies ship your car from door to door, which means you or someone you trust with your car(s) needs to be at both the origin and destination points to both pick up and drop off the car(s). If you are planning to ship one car and road trip with the other, then you need to drive the origin to destination distance in the same amount of time as the truck driver. If you are trying to do any sight-seeing, it would be tricky to be at both the drop-off and pick-up points. When we shipped our cars from Vegas to Pennsylvania, the driver made it to Pennsylvania in 3.5 days. Our road trip itinerary, including sight seeing, was about 8 days, so we planned ahead of time for my Dad to be the destination person. Terminal to terminal transport is another option, discussed below.
- Wear and tear: This last one is no-brainer. There will be less wear and tear and miles on your car if you ship it, which is an important factor to consider especially if you have an older car, are concerned about its reliability, or simply don’t want to run up the miles on your car.
The Process for Shipping Your Car
To start the process of shipping your car, or the process of considering shipping your car, you ‘ll need to get quotes from various auto transport brokers. When you research online for auto shipping quotes, the companies that respond to you with quotes are auto transport brokers. The brokers are neither the owners of the trucks nor the employers of the truck drivers. The broker will never have any physical contact with your car. They are only finding you an auto transport carrier, who is the company who owns the truck and/or employs the driver that will be physically transporting your car. The broker will list your car(s) on the “National Dispatch Boards” for a certain pick-up window (dates are your decision) at a certain price (the broker’s suggestion), and then an auto transport carrier will offer to transport your car(s). From what I understand, many auto transport carriers specialize in certain routes. For example, the truck driver who transported my car from upstate NY to Las Vegas told me that he only drove the route between upstate NY and California, and Vegas is on the way. So while we have used the same auto transport broker four times (savings of $150 in total for being return customers!), we have never ended up using the same auto transport carrier because either our origin or destination points have been at least slightly different for 3 of our 4 moves.
Things you need to know before getting a quote:
- Pick up and drop off location: You will give the broker a zip code or address where the car will be picked up and dropped off. These addresses can be slightly changed (within reason!) once your auto transport carrier is assigned to you if your housing situation is up in the air. For example, when we moved to Vegas, our first housing choice fell through, so we had to have the truck driver take our cars to our new housing address that was 15 minutes away from the original address. We let the driver know one day in advance of the drop-off and it was not a problem. I think when they have already driven your car 2500+ miles, an extra 10 miles isn’t a big deal!
- First available date: This is the first day that your car will be available for pick-up. When getting a quote, you need to plan for your car to be available for 5-7 days after the first available date. When the auto transport carrier accepts your bid, they will tell you the date within the 7-day window during which the driver will pick up your car. Our car(s) were always picked up within 3-4 days of the first available date that we provided.
- Open or enclosed transport: Open transport means that your car is exposed to the elements. Enclosed transport means that your car is protected from weather, rocks, etc inside of a transport container. You will be spending 30-65% more money if you choose enclosed transport. Enclosed transport is only really suggested for luxury cars or restored antique vehicles. I suggest that you instead use open transport and then spend $20 on the most expensive car wash you can find at the destination point to get all of the dirt and debris off of your car (trust me, you’ll need this). We have never had any damage to either of our cars while transporting them, but there was so much dirt on our cars after one of the shipments that we literally could not see out of the windows!
- Door-to-Door or Terminal-to-Terminal:
- Door to door is exactly what it sounds like: This means that the auto carrier (truck driver) will pick up your car at your pick-up “door” (house or nearby side street) and then drop off your car at your drop-off “door” (house or nearby side street). You or some other predetermined person (who you trust with your vehicle!) will need to be at the pick-up location and drop-off location. Nick and I usually are at the pick-up (origin) location with our parents at the drop-off (destination) location. This can be tricky if you don’t have a trusted person on the other end, because then your travel plans must be centered around when the truck *may* arrive (this is a 3-5 day window, depending on how far you are shipping your car and the weather). When our cars were shipped to Pennsylvania form Vegas, they arrived 1 day earlier than estimated. If you were road tripping the same distance, you need to make sure that someone is at the drop-off point to accept your car(s). When our cars were shipped to Vegas the second time, our cars arrived two days later than originally estimated. So each trip is going to be a bit different because there are so many factors involved. This is why we always gave ourselves the 14-day window.
- Terminal to terminal: You leave your car at a terminal, the auto carrier picks it up, they transport the car to the destination terminal, then you pick it up from the terminal when you arrive in town. According to the website of the broker that we use, the terminals now charge $15-$35 per day to store your car, but shipping the car terminal to terminal is slightly cheaper. You may have to pay those storage fees at both the origin and destination terminals. We have not tried this option, so we don’t have much experience with it; however, if we didn’t have parents or someone we trusted to be the origin or destination location, then this would be a good option. The other caveats with this option: it sounds like this will take a bit longer than door to door transport, and there are fewer terminals available these days. This means that there might not be terminals available near your origin or destination points, which means that you have to drive a ways to pick up your car… which is tricky if you shipped your only car.
- Avoid being in the boonies while your car is shipped: You will need to be available by text/phone starting the day before your first available date until the moment your car arrives, just in case there are any changes from your truck driver.
- Packing stuff in your car: I think this topic is a bit controversial, so I’ll share what Nick and I have done in the past. From our understanding, trucks get weighed at weigh stations and therefore your car should be the weight that your car specs say it is. Some auto transport brokers say that you can ship up to 100 pounds worth of stuff in your trunk. So that’s what we do. However, there can be NO personal belongings VISIBLE in your car when you ship it. Everything must be in your trunk. Nick and I pack each of our car’s trunks full of about 100-150 pounds worth of our stuff. And when I say “pack,” I mean we weigh every single item and then play a real-life game of tetris until our trunks barely close. You might think that shipping your car is also a great way to ship your stuff, but if you were road tripping, then you could put non-valuables in your backseat and also fill your trunk, which technically gives you more room for your stuff. Here is the other thing to keep in mind: if you put stuff in your trunk and ship your car, the truck driver (or anyone else) could steal literally everything, and you have no recourse to get it back because it was not supposed to be there in the first place, nor is it insured like your car is. Fortunately, we have never had anything stolen from us up to this point. I am now typing with one hand and knocking on wood with the other.
Overall, I think that the decision to ship a car (or two cars, if you are a traveling pair) is a personal one. There are many factors that go into it, particularly time between contracts, cost, and feasibility of taking a road trip. As I mentioned earlier, Nick and I have always shipped at least one car. The next time that we take a travel contract, we will ship at least one car again. We much prefer the convenience of this because we don’t like to drive long distances.
It has always been a pretty smooth process for us, and we recommend it to anyone who doesn’t love road trips or cannot feasibly do one (as a Florida native, I can’t imagine driving through the Midwest in the winter!). I hope that these suggestions will help you in your decision-making.
Nick and Alison are physical therapists who met while in PT school at the University of Miami. They spent two years at permanent jobs prior to taking two 4-month outpatient Travel PT contracts: one in Connecticut and another in Las Vegas. They are currently working in permanent outpatient jobs in Las Vegas because they loved living there while on their travel contract. If you have any other questions about shipping your car, you’re welcome to email Alison at email@example.com or find Nick and Alison on Instagram @TravelingwithNickandAlison