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Shipping a Small Vehicle vs a Big Vehicle: What to Know

You’re moving across the country, heading south for the season, or going to your favorite car show — and you’ve decided that shipping your vehicle is the best way to go. Good choice: car shipping can save you time, energy, and money. It can also save your vehicle hundreds (if not thousands) of miles of wear and tear. Once you’ve made the choice to ship your vehicle, it’s time to determine what the shipping process will look like for you. This is largely dependent on where you’re going, where you’re coming from, and what kind of vehicle you’re shipping. In this guide, we focus on the latter.

Most consumers drive any one of several kinds of vehicles: cars, SUV’s, vans, or pickup trucks. The shipping process for each of these vehicles, though similar, is not exactly the same. Below we cover essential differences between all these types of vehicles. Read to learn how to ship your vehicle with our team here at Direct Express Auto Transport today!

Shipping Preparation for Cars, SUV’s, Vans and Pickup Trucks


One of the most important steps in shipping a vehicle is preparing it for the journey ahead. Thankfully, this step is pretty much the same for all of them. Here’s what you need to do.

  • Clean your vehicle. Cleaning your vehicle ahead of a long road trip may seem counterintuitive, but it’s one of the most important steps of the shipping process. (Yes, even for down-and-dirty pickup trucks used on the jobsite.) Giving your vehicle a thorough interior and exterior wash will make it much easier to find any imperfections or damages before it’s shipped. Clean your ride, take note of what you find, and take pictures. This will help you assess whether any damages occurred during car shipping at the end of the process.
  • Remove all items from your car. To keep track of your belongings, and to reduce gas mileage for your car shipping company, take all items out of your car, suv, van, or pickup truck before shipping it. (Yes, pickup truck drivers, that includes everything in the truck bed.)
  • Give your driver any special information pertaining to your vehicle. Some cars are touchy when they shift gears. Others have particularly sensitive pedals. Others make loud noises that may be concerning for everyone but their owners. The list of vehicle idiosyncrasies goes on and on. If your vehicle has a quirk that may be important to mention to your car shipping company, make sure to mention it.
  • Charge your battery and leave your tank quarter full. If your car stops running during the car shipping route, your car shipping company may charge you extra fees. (After all, it takes a long time to rearrange cars on a trailer when one of them won’t move on its own.) To ensure that this doesn’t happen, and to eliminate unnecessary stops at the end of the car shipping journey, leave your tank quarter full and charge your battery before shipping your vehicle.
  • Check your antifreeze level. Cars, SUV’s, vans, or pickup trucks traveling through freezing temperatures (and extra hot temperatures) will need antifreeze to prevent damages to the engine. No matter what season you’re shipping your car in, we suggest adding antifreeze to your vehicle just before you ship it.

Shipping Cost: Size Matters

What does size have to do with car shipping? Quite a lot, actually.

We’ll start with one of the two biggest components of size: weight. A vehicle’s weight plays a huge role is car shipping simply because it influences the efficiency of the freight truck and trailer to which it’s attached. When a freight truck has to haul more weight, it has to work harder and use more gas. It takes on more wear and tear and consumes more gasoline. This makes the shipping process more expensive, and some of those costs get passed on to you. The heavier your pickup truck is, the more you’ll have to pay to ship it.

So where is the dividing line in regards to vehicle weight? Generally speaking, car transporters start becoming concerned right around 5,000 lbs. and require more compensation to haul that vehicle. There is a step ladder of sorts whereby the heavier a vehicle is, the higher the compensation. So a 6,000 lb. vehicle is likely to cost significantly more to haul than a 5,000 lb. vehicle. And so on. The auto transport carrier is also very cognizant of the weight scales he must pass on the highway. He cannot exceed his maximum weight.

Moving on to the second component of size — length — we see that the same principle applies. Pickup trucks that take up more space are often costlier to ship. Again, this is an issue of resources. Freight truck trailers only have so much room, and if a large pickup truck is taking one-and-a-half car spaces on the trailer, that means there’s one fewer car that can fit on the trailer. For the car transport carrier and the shipping broker, that means fewer customers and lower earnings. To compensate for this loss, most car shipping companies will charge customers extra if their vehicles take up a sizable amount of space.

Okay, so where is the demarcation for vehicle length? Again, it is a general rule and there are exceptions. But most vehicle shippers become concerned around 200 inches in length and require ever greater compensation to haul. The average sedan such as a Ford Mustang, Honda Accord or Toyota Camry will range from 188 to 194 inches. The average long haul carrier can comfortably fit ten of those. If a vehicle is over 200 inches, now the carrier is looking for a shorter vehicle to balance his total load. If he cannot find a smaller vehicle, he may need to charge the longer vehicle more to make up the difference.

Curious to know how much extra it will cost you to ship your vehicle? The answer depends on the company you’re working with, your departure and destination cities, and the type of vehicle in question. To get a definitive answer before making a decision, look to secure a free quote from a highly reputable shipping company. Here at Direct Express Auto Transport, we can tell you how much it will cost to ship your pickup truck with our team in seconds. Use our Online Quote Calculator to get started.

Shipping Type: Uncovered or Covered


If you have decided to ship your car, SUV, van or pickup truck with a professional auto transport company, you will have your choice of two shipping options: uncovered shipping and covered shipping. Before discussing the differences between these two, it’s important to note that not all companies offer both. If you’ve found a highly-rated company whose services you like, check to make sure they have each option. This will make your decision-making process much easier. Here at Direct Express Auto Transport, we are proud to offer both uncovered and covered shipping options for cars, SUV’s, vans and pickup trucks.

So, what is uncovered shipping, what is covered shipping, and what are the key differences between the two? The answers are quite simple. Uncovered shipping involves a trailer without walls or a roof. Vehicles are parked and secured within the trailer but exposed on all sides to the open road. If you’ve ever driven on a highway, you’ve likely seen an uncovered car shipping trailer or two carrying a collection of cars. Uncovered shipping is by far the most common option, as it is more space-efficient for the truck driver and more cost-efficient for the vehicle owners.

The other option, covered shipping, involves a covered trailer with walls and a roof. This offers a higher degree of protection for shipped vehicles, but it sacrifices a bit of space and fuel efficiency to do so. For this reason, covered shipping is more expensive than uncovered shipping.

Wondering which one to choose? Unless you drive a collectible (or very expensive) car, uncovered shipping should work just fine for you. Your car may end up a little dusty by the end of the trip — but it’s nothing a quick wash won’t clean up. (If you’re a truck owner, you should be used to a little mud on your tires and truck bed anyway.) More serious damages rarely occur with uncovered car transportation, as the freight truck serves as a shield between oncoming hazards and the towed vehicles. In the very unlikely event that damages occur, insurance from both the vehicle owner and the car transport company will likely cover them in full. To save money and open up more shipping flexibility, most vehicle owners should choose uncovered shipping for their needs. About 97% of all car shipments are uncovered, or Open Transport. Those who are willing to pay significantly more for extra protection should choose covered, or Enclosed Shipping.


Learn More and Ship Your Car, SUV, Van or Pickup Truck with Our Team

Want to learn more about how to ship your vehicle? Need help preparing your vehicle for shipping? Our team at Direct Express Auto Transport is here to help. Visit our Blog and FAQ pages for a host of car shipping resources, or contact our team directly to have your questions answered. Ready to ship your car, SUV, van or pickup truck? You’re in the right place. Visit our Why Us? page to learn why shipping with our team is the right choice for your vehicle, and use our Online Quote Calculator to start the shipping process now!

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