What is the Best Time of the Year to Ship My Car?

5 min to read
Transport car across country

A move will usually come with a timetable, whether you’re relocating because you’ve just bought a home, you received PCS orders, or you’re pursuing a business opportunity. But if you can be flexible when you’re planning to transport a car across country, you may be able to get a deal on the cost of shipping. There’s no one best time to transport a car across the country but auto shippers have high and low seasons just like other industries do. Knowing when these are (and how they’ll change your quote) is one way to ensure you get a great experience at a great price.

In this post, we’ll explain why timing matters when you transport a car across country, what the high and low seasons look like, how you can benefit from a more flexible schedule, and what you need to do to safely ship your car no matter what the season.

Timing is everything

Most auto transport companies prefer or even require clients to have some degree of flexibility when they transport a car across the country. Clients may not receive a pickup date immediately and the initial delivery date given may be a rough estimate. That’s because auto shippers are trying to coordinate trucks crisscrossing the US as efficiently as possible. An empty carrier isn’t doing anyone any good, after all. The schedules of each carrier can also fluctuate somewhat unpredictably based on the weather, traffic en route, issues related to the health of drivers, mechanical problems, and other delays and changes that are unforeseen. Predicting a delivery date with perfect accuracy weeks before a vehicle even ships is extremely challenging.

Location is part of the equation

Your pickup location and delivery destination will play a big role when you’re scheduling your transport. Cars moving across the country generally get where they need to go faster and possibly for less money when they’re moving along a well-traveled route. Think of shipping routes like airline routes. The flights between big cities are frequent and so you can wait to buy tickets until the very last minute knowing that you’ll get on a flight. But if you’re flying from one small, regional airport to another you’re going to have fewer options when it comes to dates and times. To transport a car across country, your auto transport company needs to find a carrier with an open slot. More carriers going where your vehicle needs to go means it will make it onto one sooner. But if you’re shipping a car to a remote locale, finding a carrier will take longer.

If you’re relocating to a rural area but can get a lift to the nearest urban center, have your car shipped to a city instead. Chances are good you’ll get it more quickly.

Rush delivery means paying top dollar

As you can probably imagine, people who need to ship their vehicles immediately because they need them ASAP will pay a premium. Auto transport companies can move as many cars as they do because they spend a great deal of time coordinating pickups and deliveries for not only maximum efficiency (i.e., fully loaded trailers moving between population hubs), but also driver safety. It is possible to get expedited service (either a quicker pickup, faster delivery, or both) when you transport a car across the country but your auto transport company will have to jump through hoops to make it happen. You’ll pay more for that extra effort and because carriers may end up driving your route at reduced capacity.

The best-case scenario involves booking as far in advance as you possibly can. Once you know you’ll be relocating, begin looking at auto transport companies and getting quotes immediately so you can take your time choosing a transporter. You’ll pay less because your car shipper will be able to fill every berth on the carrier.  

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Be aware there is a car hauling season

The auto transport industry has high and low seasons, though these can be different from those experienced by other moving companies. The high and low seasons are driven by demand, traffic fluctuations over the course of a year, the season, weather, and other factors. How much of a role these factors will play in your car shipping quote will depend on where you’re shipping from and where you’re shipping to. For instance, when you transport a car across the country east to west, the annual north-south snowbird migration probably won’t impact your price.

Here are some ways your quote might be affected by car hauling season:

Shipping in summer is pricier in the city

People will tell you that shipping a car in the winter months is always more expensive, but if you transport your car across country in the summer and it’s leaving from a major city, you may find that your route is the exception. Many auto transport companies charge more in the hottest months of the year when vehicles are being picked up or delivered to urban centers. This is because there is a higher demand for shipping in cities in the summer months and the fact that the roads between major destinations are more congested with travelers so carriers are on the road longer using more fuel.

Shipping in winter can cost more for different reasons

There tends to be lower demand for auto shipping in the wintertime, and so some auto transport companies will reduce their prices to attract customers. So why not wait for winter deals? If you’re shipping from or to a locale with harsh winter weather conditions you may not feel comfortable putting your vehicle on an open carrier. You can transport your car across the country on an enclosed carrier, but this will always cost more.

Given the effects of weather, you might assume that shipping would be less expensive in wintertime in the south but the fact is that more people (including the retiree population that heads down to the warmer southern states in winter) travel south then. Some auto transport companies raise their rates because there is increased demand as snowbirds schedule their bi-annual shipments.

The winter slowdown is real

Shipping your car up north in the wintertime may take longer because some established shipping routes in the US become impassable. Not all truckers are comfortable hauling carriers in winter, so there may be fewer drivers available to cover routes. And in some cases, haulers will totally stop servicing routes in states with very dangerous winter conditions. All of this taken together can result in longer ship times and overall delays.

As noted above, you might not always get a discount when you transport a car across country in wintertime but you may have more choices when it comes to your ship date. That’s because there are generally fewer cars being transported during the colder months. Though there might be fewer carriers on the road and hazardous conditions can make the transport process slower, shipping can take less time. That’s because some people will wait to ship until the warmer months, so there are more open spaces available on carriers and those carriers may have to make fewer stops along the way.

Prepping your car to ship by the season

Timing matters when you’re prepping your vehicle for transport – especially if you’ve opted to move it in an open carrier and you’re anticipating extreme weather. For the most part, preparing to transport your car across country in an open car carrier will involve cleaning it, emptying it out, taking off any loose parts, driving until the gas tank is about a quarter of the way full, and then doing a bumper to bumper visual inspection. But you should also consider the weather conditions at your destination. Preparing your car for its journey also means getting it ready to drive in its new location, whether you’re topping off your engine coolant, getting the AC charged up, or having snow tires put on. In some cases, weather conditions will necessitate wrapping your car before transport.

Be prepared to be flexible

Not knowing when your car will ship can definitely be stressful, but it’s less so when you’re familiar with the ins and outs of the auto transport industry. If you give yourself plenty of time to choose a transport company and you’re prepared to hand off and then receive your vehicle in some window of time (versus on an exact date), then the relative unpredictability of shipping a car won’t stress you out. You can focus on your move knowing that your car will ultimately get where it needs to go.