MILEPOSTS Garage - The Online Classic Car Magazine 1968 Imperial CrownGetting a classic car from here to there safely and on time with an auto transport company might seem easy at first glance, but there's a lot you need to know about before making a final decision - welcome to Auto Transport 101!

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Vol. 2, No. 9
January 6, 2004

Auto Transport 101
by The Automotive Mileposts Staff

Image: MILEPOSTS Garage

So you've found your dream car. Or a nightmare car that has the parts to make your dream car a dream car. You might think the hard work is over at this point, that the road ahead is clear and straight. Think again. You still have to find a way to get the car home. If it runs, and has been maintained and operated regularly by the previous owner, you probably can just hop in and drive it home, after first making a few mechanical inspections. If the car hasn't been maintained, or doesn't run, driving isn't an option, so you'll have to make other arrangements.

There are lots of companies that move cars from Point A to Point B. Some of them have been around for a long time, and are quite good at what they do. Some have been around for a long time, and aren't so good at what they do. Others haven't been around very long, but are really good and dependable, while still others that have recently appeared on the scene are not so hot. If the car you're transporting is a parts car, and you just want to get it moved as inexpensively as possible, you might decide to hire the least expensive service you can find and hope for the best. Since you're not worried about maintaining the condition of the car, a few extra scratches or dents probably won't matter. However, keep this in mind: If you go the cheap way, with a company that seems to be a bit on the shady side, an unscrupulous driver could very well just dump your car in whatever town he happens to be in at the time to make room for another car that will possibly be a longer haul, and thus more money, for him. It has been known to happen! Now you're probably going to be out some additional money, the car will be sitting on the street in some strange place, potentially getting ticketed or towed, it won't be delivered anywhere near the promised time, and you'll have to hire someone else to finish the job. Not really worth the potential savings in our book.

There are big national companies that do this for a living, and some of them are pretty good at what they do. There are also some Mom and Pop operations that are also quite good. But don't just assume that because it's a big well-known company you will receive good service from them. Do your homework first. Some of the best transporters out there are small, family-owned companies, and they often have the best rates as well.

Here are a few basic things to be aware of and consider before making a decision on who to hire:

Door-to-door service: Some cities or municipalities have restrictions on large trucks driving in certain areas, especially residential areas. Find out if the car is located in such an area, as there will be additional charges to relocate the car to an area accessible by a carrier. For a vehicle that's non-operable, it usually means hiring a tow truck to move the car. Other things to consider that prevent door-to-door delivery at either end include narrow roads or roads with tight turns, speed bumps, and trees with low hanging branches. These trucks do require a considerable amount of room to navigate, so be sure to keep this in mind.

Very low rates: Call at least ten different companies, and compare their rates. If any come in considerably lower than all the others, ask them why. A small company with less overhead can do the job for less money and make a profit, but this is a definite red flag that needs to be considered. Fuel costs will be about the same for all carriers, and so will most of the costs on the road. A small office run at home can save a lot of money when compared to a big company with multiple trucks, drivers, and an office staff to support them.

Short delivery times: Ask yourself how a company can be in a position to get the car to you so much faster than the others. If the car you need to move is close to another pick-up of theirs, or if they have a partially full carrier in the area at the same time you call, they might just want to fill up the carrier, so it's possible. But find out if that is the case. It could also be that they aren't any good, and don't have any work, so they're desperate to drum up some new business. Ask questions, find out why they are in a position to make such a fast delivery. If the response isn't adequate, or doesn't make sense, keep looking.

No contract: Beware the company or individual who agrees to pick up the car without a written contract. Some will give you a verbal promise over the phone, which does you no good if there's a problem. GET IT IN WRITING! A reputable company will have no problems providing you with their terms, fees, pick up and delivery dates, driver's name, and a phone number where you can check the status of your shipment. If you don't have it in writing, you basically have nothing. Read the terms and conditions carefully, and make sure you understand them and agree with them.

Proof of insurance: Oh, really? Make sure you have a copy of their insurance policy, and call the insurance company to verify it's valid and in force. Never, never, never take someone's word for this. If they give you the run around at all on this, keep looking. We won't even begin to tell you some of the horror stories we've heard over the years about classic cars being damaged, lost, or stolen and there was no insurance to cover the loss. Don't allow yourself to be put in this potential situation.

Cancellation terms: Make sure this is included in the contract. Some companies have unconditional cancellation fees. This means they could keep several hundred dollars of your money, even if they don't live up to their end of the deal. If they promise to pick up your car on a particular date and then don't, or won't, some will "do you a favor" and cancel the contract, but they'll keep the cancellation fee! Why go to the bother of actually hauling cars when you can make good money just by collecting cancellation fees? If you agreed to it, you have little recourse.

Odometer readings: Make sure there's a place to note the mileage of the vehicle at pick up and delivery. In most cases, the driver won't need to move your vehicle, but in cases where multiple vehicles are loaded on the same carrier, it's possible your car will need to be moved en route in order to make room for pick up or delivery of another car. Reputable companies protect you, themselves, and their driver by documenting the vehicle's mileage.

Business ownership: There are companies that change their name and/or ownership every year or two. Some companies are known by more than one name, and don't seem to have much of a history, even though they'll profess to have been in business for years and years! Another red flag! If anything looks out of place or unusual, keep looking.

References: Get your own references on a company, never use the ones they may provide you, unless it's a name or company you recognize. Be sure to call that person or company to verify their endorsement. A few parties have been surprised over the years to learn that they did business with a particular company in the past! Search the Internet, ask friends, consult news groups and mailing lists for information. If there's little or none out there, unless you know the company is new and can verify their service with someone you trust, you might be best advised to pass on this one. We understand that all companies have to be new at some point, but you need to decide if you want to be one of their first attempts or not.

Preparing the vehicle: Fluids should be low enough to allow for expansion, and all loose parts should be removed or secured to the vehicle. Batteries must be secured and the cooling system should have adequate freeze protection for the areas of the country and season in which the car will be transported. Gas tanks should be 1/4 full or less, as a full tank adds considerable weight. To prevent glass breakage, be sure to slightly lower a window to allow for temperature and pressure equalization in the car. This is especially important if the car will be traveling through mountainous areas with considerable changes in elevation. If using open transport, make sure convertible tops or vinyl roofs with split seams, cuts or ripped areas are repaired or sealed to prevent fast moving air from causing further damage.

Open or enclosed transport: Consider whether you want enclosed or open transport. Enclosed transport will cost you considerably more, but is the best way to go. Open transport subjects your car to various weather conditions, as well as possible damage and vandalism. Also be wary of open transport where they may use a car cover to protect your car. Improperly secured covers can do considerable damage to paint and trim. Ropes can rub paint, and metal grommets on covers can cause serious scratching. Even a seam in the cover can scuff a painted area, or mar a vinyl roof.

Finally, make sure the company you choose is licensed and bonded. Call the Department of Transportation in your state, or the state where the company is located, to see if there have been any complaints. A little extra time spent before making a commitment could pay off in the long run. When your car arrives undamaged and on time, you'll be glad you invested the additional time.

Copyright © 2004, Automotive Mileposts, Inc.
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