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Car Shipping (not SHOPPING)

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

Now that I've got my new ride, I'm giving my daughter

the old Toyota pickup. She lives 2670 miles from me.


A 9-car open hauler... a "parking lot" in trucker slang.


Last year I posted CAR SHOPPING WITH DANNYM., a compendium of lessons I've learned while buying and selling my cars over the decades. And I recently chronicled the latest installment of my car-shopping adventures, an intensive multi-state search that involved planes, trains, my economics degree, and a hotel stay. (See "The Art of the Pickup," Parts One and Two.) This effort eventually put me behind the wheel of this rare and wonderful 2023 4x2, 2-Door Ram 1500 Classic Tradesman, a.k.a. "Bianca"...

Hand-crank windows, push-button locks, and the biggest freaking doors in the auto industry...

almost as if they knew that the Grumpy Old Mansplainer was headed their way.


My quest for this rare example of automotive excellence also freed up my 2020 Toyota Tacoma for an early Ph.D. graduation gift to my daughter, and thus began an unexpectedly bumpy adventure.


* * * * * * *


Driving the Toyota to from Rochester to Seattle would entail (for either my daughter OR me) 130 gallons of fuel, highway tolls, motel rooms, a return flight, and a week of either missed school or missed work. We quickly dismissed that idea and started looking for a professional automobile transporter. We soon learned that auto transport is a 3-tiered business: at the top we have the Big Company, which one might consider a "meta-broker." The actual Driver is at the bottom, and in between sits the Broker/Dispatcher, who connects the other two. (Spoiler Alert: they ALL take your money.) The Big Company does the advertising, they appear in your google searches for "car transporters," and, once selected, they put your request out for bidding among the invisible thousands of Broker/Dispatchers who cannot afford to effectively advertise their services by themselves.


The Big Company takes your deposit, leaving you to deal with the Broker/Dispatcher you select... which would normally be the lowest bidder. The Broker/Dispatcher then puts the job out to the independently operating drivers in their network, finds one who will be in your area at the right time, and then agrees to pay him an unspecified percentage of the amount they are charging you.


Our first two attempts yielded a mishmash of shady characters with unintelligible accents, drivers with burner phones, and a U.K.-based Big Company that had the audacity to tell me, after everything fell through, that my deposit was redeemable ONLY as a credit toward my next car-moving adventure and would expire in two years. This is why, Dear Reader, I ALWAYS recommend doing all of one's online business via American Express... no other company steadfastly stands behind us consumers and protects our interests like they do. (Yes, I got my deposit back.)


One needs nothing but a regular driver's license to drive this thing for money.

That's why there are a lot of trucker wannabes out there in F-350's hauling cars around.


The third time was the charm, sort of... the driver showed up to collect the Toyota as scheduled. He was a real truck driver with a 9-car open hauler like the one shown at the top... not a trucker wannabe with a camper-friendly F-350 and a flimsy-looking 3-car carrier (as shown directly above) that might well turn into a very expensive kite in the stiff western crosswinds:


It gets a tad breezy in places on the way to Seattle.


We were doing just fine for a few days. I spoke to the driver when he was in Montana, where it was snowing but still driveable. I spoke with him again on Thanksgiving evening, when he reported that he was delighted to have enjoyed an unexpected dinner with his wife in Spokane. Then I called him on Saturday, wondering why he hadn't delivered on Friday, as promised. His sudden case of amnesia, coupled with the fact that he was fishing on the Snake River several hours north up in Idaho, got my brain and bloodstream working overtime. He stopped taking calls from both me and my daughter, leaving us wondering whether we should report the Toyota as stolen, and to whom. We sweated it out until Wednesday, when the Toyota finally materialized in Seattle.


Mission accomplished, finally, but I have a list of pointers for anyone considering moving a car.


CHOOSE YOUR BIG COMPANY / "META-BROKER" CAREFULLY.

They should act and sound like a real company and do nothing that brings their trustworthiness into question. They should be US-based, answer their phones PROMPTLY AND professionally, and be knowledgeable and transparent about their services. Make sure you understand their refund policy, and make your online payment with Amex. If all of this seems self-evident, just wait until you actually talk to a few. (Pro-Tip: They don't really call themselves "meta-brokers," even though that describes them perfectly.)


YOU SAVE MONEY BY BEING FLEXIBLE.

Professional car movers necessarily move multiple cars on every trip and try to coordinate multiple deliveries for cost-effectiveness. The more flexible you are on the desired pickup and delivery dates, the cheaper their price.


INQUIRE ABOUT INSURANCE AND LIABILITY.

Ask the "meta-broker," the broker, and the actual driver about their insurance coverage and policies. Ask your own insurance company what exactly they cover and don't cover when moving a car.


YOU WILL BE INUNDATED WITH BIDS AND OFFERS.

The brokers– the guys between the "meta-brokers" and the actual drivers– will be doing the bidding, and the bids will come furiously at first. After a few bids you'll develop a sense of roughly what the move will cost; check your email every hour at the beginning of the process and delete the bids that are way too expensive. This will make your inbox more manageable.


GET TO KNOW THE DRIVER.

Before the driver arrives you should already know a little bit about him from telephone conversations... like whether he has a real phone that takes incoming calls. (HERE is some info on spotting burner phones.) When your driver arrives, take pictures of him, his driver's license, and the plate & DOT # on his rig. Politely let him know that you are trusting him with expensive property and that you therefore wish to know where it is from time to time.


"ARE WE THERE YET?"

That being said, don't nag the driver... he has a tough job and isn't getting a huge chunk of what your paying, so cut him a little slack. If he stops taking your calls, inform the broker.


* * * * * * *


It took 10 days rather than 5, as promised, but my Toyota pickup has made it safely to Seattle. My daughter now has the vehicle she has long coveted, and she might well now be The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA. I'm happy for her.


And finally...

Expensive cars require expensive treatment. When shipping, say, your $4 million vintage Ford GT-40 from Sotheby's Auction House, you would rightly opt for an "inside carrier" rather than an open carrier to protect it from the elements, the curious eyes of thieves, and the sharp keys of the jealous.

The Ferrari-killing Ford GT-40 in its signature blue & orange livery.




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