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Snowbird car shipping guide - a couple sitting on a beach holding hands

Snowbird Car Shipping Guide

Snowbirds know how to live. While most of us are preparing for winter and the cold temperatures, slick roads, and grey skies that come with it, snowbirds are getting ready to escape to warmer climates. Some have a second home in a Southern state, others go wherever the mood (and weather) takes them.

Spending the winter someplace warm and then heading home in spring or summer has a lot of appeal. But it also creates some logistical challenges. As all experienced snowbirds know (and all new snowbirds learn) moving your life across the country twice a year comes with hurdles. One that almost all snowbirds contend with is the issue of transportation.

Here’s the dilemma: If you’re going to spend months someplace, you will want to have a vehicle at your disposal, particularly when that destination is filled with picturesque places and must-see events/attractions. However, it may not be feasible or desirable to drive your own vehicle to your winter home (and back again), and renting a car for months on end doesn’t look any better. Your best option is to have your own car, something you know and like, to drive during the winter, but how do you get it there?

We will answer that question in this comprehensive guide. If you’re a snowbird (or planning to become one) and need options for travel and transport, they’re more abundant than you may realize. Discover how easy it is to live the snowbird lifestyle from the driver’s seat of your own make and model.

An older couple sitting on a beach under a striped umbrella

Quick Basics About Snowbirds

We will be using the term snowbird a lot in this guide, so it helps to establish some basic definitions. A snowbird is someone who spends the warmer months someplace north and then heads south for the winter. When do snowbirds go south? The migration typically starts the day after Thanksgiving, but some people opt to go earlier, and the trend continues until as late as the third week in January. The period of snowbirds going back north begins around the beginning of April and continues through the end of May. Keep in mind that these are broad generalizations. Anyone who splits their time between two homes (or more) qualifies as a snowbird.

The vast majority of people escaping the winters head to a state that enjoys year-round summer: Florida. Destinations throughout the state – from the panhandle through Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and all the way to the Keys – attract tens of thousands of snowbirds seeking exactly what the Sunshine State is famous for. Florida may be the most popular destination by a wide margin, but California, Arizona, and Texas also attract people seeking a respite from winter.

Regardless of your destination or schedule, the challenges of being a snowbird are largely the same. Transportation tops that list – but the solution is far simpler than people realize. One particular option makes it easy to get your car, truck, van, or SUV anywhere in the country at any time of year without you doing the driving.

Car Shipping for Snowbirds

Every year, thousands of snowbirds rely on auto transport companies and vehicle haulers to get their car from north to south and then do the reverse a few months later. People have lots of different reasons for choosing this option which we will outline soon, but the core value of auto shipping is the same for all: getting a vehicle from point A to point B without being the driver. Here’s why so many snowbirds ship instead of drive:

  • Travel Flexibility – With a vehicle hauler getting your car where it needs to go, you’re free to travel however you wish. Fly to your destination, take a train, rent a larger vehicle to handle luggage: it’s entirely up to you because you’re no longer bound to your own vehicle.
  • Time Savings – Depending on where you’re coming from, it can take days to get someplace like Southern Florida. Most people don’t want to spend that much time on the road and would rather reach their destination ASAP. Car transport makes that possible – spend a few hours in an airplane compared to a few days on the highway.
  • Cost Savings – An extended road trip can cost more than you expect factoring in gas, food, lodging, mileage, and any unexpected expenses along the road. In addition to saving on time (the most important currency for many snowbirds) auto transport can also save on travel expenses in some cases. In all cases, the cost of shipping is comparable to the cost of driving yourself.
  • Safety and Equity – The road is a dangerous place, and every mile you put on your odometer reduces the value of the vehicle a little. Car transport solves both problems. Your vehicle is well protected on the back of a secure vehicle trailer driven by a professional who spends his life on the road. You can also get that vehicle from one side of the country to another without any of the wear and tear that would normally entail. Compared to the alternatives, auto shipping is what’s best for whatever your drive.

An empty truck ready to ship cars to Florida

Tips for Successful Auto Transport

Snowbirds needing Florida car transport or some other form of vehicle hauling can do themselves major favors by following some insider advice. Make sure you have the most hassle-free experience possible with these tips:

  • Be Realistic – It’s important to realize that the snowbird season is also the busiest time of year for vehicle haulers. Tens of thousands of travelers need help from a limited number of auto haulers all within that same small window. Not surprisingly, competition can be fierce and setbacks are common. These outcomes aren’t inevitable, but they’re possible and something all snowbirds need to be realistic about.
  • Act Early – With so much competition for auto shipping in early winter and late spring, it pays to make arrangements early. As a general rule of thumb, you should put in place a backup plan (contact) before you need your car to arrive at your destination. Be flexible, too. Unless you’re willing to pay a premium price, you can’t guarantee your auto will have a spot on an auto trailer headed exactly where you want exactly when you want. Arrange for shipping no more than 10 days before you are due to depart.
  • Comparison Shop – The first auto hauler willing to take your shipment isn’t necessarily the best vehicle hauler willing to take it. Only work with haulers who are properly licensed and insured and have a clean track record. Beyond that, compare their rates and availability. During snowbird season you can’t be too selective, but you shouldn’t rush to book something either. Rely on Direct Express Auto Transport to quickly connect you with multiple appealing options.
  • Avoid Holidays- Like most people, car haulers take holidays off and may spend a prolonged period off the road around Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years or other seasonal holidays. Around these holidays also tends to be the most popular time to travel, meaning that demand is especially high when supply is especially low. When possible, pick a time auto shipping a week or more away from major holidays.

How Much Does Auto Transport Cost?

The cost depends on a number of factors. First, when you decide to ship. When people first migrate south and during the period of snowbirds going back north, the cost of auto shipping is higher than at any point in the year because of simple supply and demand. Second, the make and model of your vehicle. In general, the bigger and more valuable the automobile you want to transport, the more it will cost. Finally, your schedule affects the cost. As with most types of shipping, the sooner you want a car picked up or dropped off the more it will cost. With all those caveats out of the way, the cost of snowbirds wanting Florida car transport or a similar service could be less than $1,000, much less in some cases. Compared to the amount of time you save plus the expenses you get to avoid by not driving, the cost of auto transport looks like money well spent to most snowbirds.

Should You Prepare Your Vehicle Before Shipping?

Even though your car will ride on the back of an auto trailer (or inside of an enclosed trailer if you’re willing to pay more for the added security), you need to get it ready for the journey. Spend an hour working through these steps a day or two before you plan to meet your vehicle hauler to hand over the keys.

  1. Wash the Outside – Starting with a thorough wash of the exterior helps with the next few steps. It also means your car arrives at your winter home looking its best.
  2. Inspect the Exterior – Walk around the exterior of the car looking for any dents, scratches, dings, or other exterior damage. It’s important to identify this damage early so that you don’t blame the car hauler for it later.
  3. Take a Few Pictures – Photographing any damage you find on the exterior of the vehicle gives you something to reference if you feel your car was damaged in transport. Take quality photos from multiple angles.
  4. Look for Leaks – Is your car leaking oil or any other fluids. If so, try to correct the problem before shipping. You will also want to record your odometer reading as a way to confirm your car hasn’t been driven more than necessary.
  5. Get On Top of Maintenance – You want your vehicle in perfect running order when it arrives at its destination. Before handing it over to the hauler, top off all fluids, make sure the battery has a full charge and the tires are properly inflated. Finally, leave only about a quarter tank of gas in the car because unnecessary gas adds extra weight.
  6. Secure the Exterior – Remove anything from the exterior like bike and luggage racks or decorative flags. Fold in the side mirrors if possible, close the sunroof, and secure anything else on the exterior that could damage the car  or something around the vehicle.
  7. Empty the Interior – Similar to the exterior, you don’t need to get the car interior spotless, but you should remove any personal objects, particularly anything electronic or valuable. These personal items could move around in transport and cause damage, or they could attract thieves. Get the interior as clean and empty as you want it to be upon arrival.
  8. Deactivate Auto Subscriptions – If you pay for toll access or parking that you won’t need while you’re living in another state, make arrangements to cancel/suspend the subscription while you’re gone. Remove toll tags so that you don’t accidentally accrue fees along the way.
  9. Keep the Essentials – The less clutter the better inside your vehicle, but don’t remove anything essential: the spare tire, the tire changing tools, the license plate etc.
  10. Note Anything Unusual – The auto hauler will drive your car very briefly on and off of the trailer. Write down any mechanical problems the vehicle has or other quirks the driver may need to be aware of.

Where Do I Go for Car Shipping?

A large truck on a highway with a desert landscape

Snowbirds understand better than most how beneficial car shipping can be compared to the alternatives. What may be less clear is how to find experienced, trustworthy car haulers to work with. Arranging auto shipping used to mean calling every company in the area until, hours later, you had enough info to compare options. Now, thanks to Direct Express Auto Transport, that same process takes about a minute.

As far back as 2004, we invented the Internet’s very first online car shipping quote calculator. You enter a few basic details about your pickup and drop off location, what you want to ship, and when. One click later, you receive a list of available vehicle haulers along with their rates and earliest pickup time – the exact info you need to quickly select the best choice.

Direct Express Auto Transport has been an innovator and leader in auto transport for more than 17 years. We’ve also become a partner to snowbirds across the country who rely on us to broker transport every year at the start and end of the season. For all things auto transport, rely on Direct Express Auto Transport.


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