The High Cost of Mailing a Letter & The Low Cost of Shipping a Vehicle

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I am always surprised at how inexpensively a vehicle can be shipped across the country, considering the relatively massive size of a vehicle and the complexity involved with millions of possible routes.  To keep the per-vehicle cost of transport down, a trucker needs several people all looking to move a vehicle from one area to the same other area of the country, at the same time.  If you think of two major cities like New York and Los Angeles, it may not seem so hard to find 8-10 vehicles that need to be moved from and to the same place.  But pick any two well known cities, say Nashville to Tucson, and suddenly it seems a little more daunting of a task.  Yet even still, the cost-per-mile isn’t much different for these lower-volume routes as the major routes.

It got me thinking about just how good of a deal it was, so I took a look at how auto transport cost compared to some other shipping costs consumers typically incur.

How Much Does It Cost To Send Letter?

To mail a letter (up to 3.5 ounces) with the U.S. Postal Service from Los Angeles, CA to Newark, NJ costs the same $.49 cents for a stamp as it costs to mail a letter anywhere in the U.S.  Assuming you were to mail a full 3.5 ounces, you’re talking about 1/9143rd of a ton and it’s traveling 2,450 miles for a total of .27 ton-miles.  $.49 divided by .27 ton-miles gives us a cost per ton-mile of $1.83.  So is that good or bad?

How Much For A Car?

For comparison, I made the same calculation to ship a Honda Accord (which weighs 3,336 pounds or 1.668 tons) on the same route.  The current rate, using Montway’s car shipping cost calculator is $1,169 for the same door-to-door service as you would get with your letter.  This works out to a cost-per-ton-mile of 29 cents or 84% cheaper than the cost of a postal stamp.  Not bad!  Put another way, at the ton-mile rate for a stamp, it would cost $9,100 to ship your Honda Accord.

If instead you shipped a heavier car like a Jeep Grand Cherokee (4,546 pounds or over 2 tons) it currently costs only $160 more for a total of 24 cents per ton-mile.

As a final point of comparison, I did a similar calculation for the cost to fly a person (assuming 200 pounds or .1 tons) the same distance.  A typical rate you might be able to find and book currently is $546 for a non-stop flight on United.  This works out to $2.23 per ton-mile or only 22% more than it costs to mail a letter.

If you consider that most letters mailed are less than 3.5 ounces (about 18 sheets of printer paper) and not cross-country, you’re actually paying significantly more than $1.83 per ton-mile and even more than the cost of flying cross-country.

To be fair to the post office, the cost structures are also different for shipping high-volume, low-weight letters compared to low-volume, high-weight vehicles.  The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the volume discount you get by “buying in bulk.”  I hope you will now agree that shipping a vehicle is a pretty good deal considering you can have a vehicle shipped anywhere in the country to anywhere else in the country for a pretty reasonable price.

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