How cars are shipped?: A Brief Overview by Citizenshipper

Ulhas Sukhare Ulhas Sukhare · Updated January 16, 2024

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There are countless ways of getting a car to its destination. From the most obvious one, such as simply driving it there in person… To the more exotic ones such as air-dropping a humvee from a plane or launching a roadster into orbit.

But let’s focus on the more mundane ways of moving cars, shall we? Here’s how cars are shipped in general, using roads, rails, or the sea.

1. Shipping cars by sea

If importing a car from overseas, this is the first stage of its long journey to your doorstep. Massive ocean-going vessels load thousands and thousands of vehicles aboard for shipping. These can be standard heavy freighters/carriers that carry closed containers, regardless of what’s inside. But there are also RORO ferries, essentially floating garages which a car can roll-onto or roll-off (hence the name.) Keep in mind, though, that only a handful of ports in the continental US accept RORO auto transport.

2. Shipping cars by rail

Newly bought cars are transported by train more often than you’d expect! In fact, a majority of vehicles assembled in North America are delivered using railways. Multi-decked auto-racks can fit up to two dozen vehicles each, size permitting. And a full train of 50 or 60 auto-racks can fit 800+ vehicles. These cost-effective cargo trains provide unparalleled tonnage and can ship cars fairly reliably. The downside, of course, is the lack of access. Railways aren’t what they used to be, and shipping a car by rail will often need additional modes of transport to reach its destination.

3. Shipping cars by truck

And finally, the best-known method of car shipping. Who hasn’t seen car-carrying trailers towed up the road by trucks, hauling dozens of vehicles each? These usually feature hydraulic ramps, allowing easy loading access. The capacity varies widely, depending on the truck and the number of decks on a trailer. The price also varies, typically by mileage but also depending on the route or even season. 

Large-scale professional car haulers are typically contracted by dealerships, though many also do business with individual customers. If you’re looking to transport a car this way, your best bet is finding an independent transporter in your area.

We hope this little primer on how vehicles are shipped provides a clear, broad overview of your options. If you have more specific questions or concerns, feel free to contact us directly.

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