Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

So You Bought a $1 Million Car. Here’s How to Get It Home

Transporting an important automobile long distances—even across oceans—is complicated, expensive, and potentially risky. Here's how to do it right.

Say you just bought an investment-grade automobile. Lucky you!

Maybe it’s the $2.3 million Porsche 911 Carrera Jerry Seinfeld sold in Amelia Island. Maybe it’s the Toyota 2000 GT that EBay listed recently for nearly $1 million.

Or maybe it’s just a car you bought off a guy because you think it will be worth a million dollars with a little bit of luck—and about 30 years behind it—and you want to drive it on your next European holiday road trip rather than settle for renting a teensy, boxlike Peugeot.

If you're shipping something like a pristine Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, choose covered transport.
If you're shipping something like a pristine Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, choose covered transport.
Photographer: Dmitriy Shibarshin

Basically, at some point you’re probably going to need to move said car because such beauties don’t just pop up next door. And when you do, you’re going to want to do it right, because you’ve got to protect your investment.

Dmitriy Shibarshin, the head of marketing for West Coast Shipping, described the process as like putting together a puzzle.

“No two cars are alike, and each one requires a white glove service during collection, loading, shipping, and unloading on the other side,” Shibarshin said. West Coast Shipping has moved a 1964 Ferrari 330GT, a 1928 Bugatti Roadster T44, a 1972 Lamborghini Miura P400, and a 1963 Jaguar E-Type just this year alone. Those are all six- and seven-figure cars. The demands on West Coast Shipping are simple: The automobiles mustn’t get damaged, they must arrive on time, and if they travel internationally, they must be handled appropriately at customs.

Specialty shippers will use soft straps (rather than chains or ropes, which can damage paint) for transporting precious finds such as this Ferrari 212.
Specialty shippers will use soft straps (rather than chains or ropes, which can damage paint) for transporting precious finds such as this Ferrari 212.
Photographer: Dmitriy Shibarshin

“It's a business built on trust,” he said. “There is no other way customers would allow someone else to ship their priceless babies around the world.”

So how as a new client do you go about such an endeavor? Here are the key steps.

  1. Do your research. There are many U.S. carriers who specialize in high-priced domestic cargo. Others, such as West Coast Shipping, specialize in global transport. Places like the automotive website Edmunds.com use Reliable Carriers. The shipping company aggregator on EBay called uShip is a good place to start looking for reviews and rates. You can also check the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hotline for shipper licenses and insurance records. Be sure to get price quotes from a few different providers before you choose one, and ask around from others who have recently purchased valuable cars to get first-hand recommendations. 
    Leave detailed instructions with the shipper as to how to drive, park, and engage the parking brake on sensitive cars such as this Ferrari F40 LM.
    Leave detailed instructions with the shipper as to how to drive, park, and engage the parking brake on sensitive cars such as this Ferrari F40 LM.
    Photographer:Dmitriy Shibarshin
    “The less specialized the shipper it is, the greater the chances of something happening to your car,” said Jonathan Klinger, a spokesman for Hagerty, a firm that insures classic and collectable cars. “It’s worth it to pay the money for a specialized shipper. The difference that you pay for is they use soft straps to hold the car, and they’re not throwing a chain around the chassis. Their drivers are most accustomed to being around and driving vehicles like this. There will just be a much higher level of care.”
  2. Decide whether you need open-air or covered transport. This is a bit of a risk/reward proposition. Uncovered transport is cheaper, but it leaves your pride and joy exposed to the elements, not to mention rocks, insects, and other debris on the highway en route. You can use cloth car covers to help mitigate damage, but if you really want to be sure the new car is protected, opt for the (more expensive) covered-truck method. Edmunds says that this will generally cost up to 60 percent more. At least your purchase will be protected. If there are idiosyncrasies with operating your car, be sure to leave detailed instructions for the truck drivers and shippers as well. You don’t know who will be driving the vehicle next, so anything you do to help that person will go a long way.
  3. Expect to pay more for convenience. Shipping companies have routine routes and terminals they use for regular loads. If you are happy to drop off and pick up your new car from a designated terminal in a major metropolitan hub or port, that will be cheaper than hiring the company to pick up the car from your backwoods driveway.
  4. The container ship CMA CGM White Shark is tied up at the Georgia Port Authority's Garden City terminal waiting to be unloaded. Shipping between major ports is less expensive than door-to-door or obscure-city delivery.
    The container ship CMA CGM White Shark is tied up at the Georgia Port Authority's Garden City terminal waiting to be unloaded. Shipping between major ports is less expensive than door-to-door or obscure-city delivery.
    Photographer: Stephen Morton/Bloomberg
    Assume that the bigger the car, the higher the expense. As with parking garages and the gas tank, if your rig takes up more space than the average sedan and/or it’s heavier than the average sedan, you’re going to pay for it. For instance, it will cost more to move the lumbering Legacy Jeep Scrambler than it costs to move a tiny open-top Superformance Shelby convertible. For what it’s worth, sea-going shipping containers charge by volume, while airplanes charge by weight. So you could purchase the use of a 40-foot shipping container, split the cost with a buddy, and fit both new cars in the same container.
  5. Prepare to wait. Most transport companies run their trucks and boats on a predetermined schedule. When you contact a provider, it will reserve the spot for whenever the next load goes out. As a general rule, deliveries in the U.S. have roughly a month-long window from when the car is picked up until it is delivered. International deliveries take closer to eight weeks.
    Shipping via containers such as this one in Japan is more affordable, but it's riskier and slower than shipping by air.
    Shipping via containers such as this one in Japan is more affordable, but it's riskier and slower than shipping by air.
    Photographer: Haruyoshi Yamaguchi/Bloomberg
  6. Determine when you will need your new baby. Wintertime shipping generally costs less than shipping during summer months because fewer people buy and sell cars at that time.
  7. Inspect the car before you ship it and after you receive it. Most shipping companies will do a thorough walk-around of the car before it is loaded onto the truck. Insist that yours does, too; if it's at all possible, be there. Make a note of any scratches or dents  in any paperwork you sign, and snap some photos. Do the same thing when you receive the car. The documentation will become important evidence in case something happens to your car during transport.
  8. A Mercedes 300SL Gullwing in a shipping container, demonstrating clearance along the side and roof.
    A Mercedes 300SL Gullwing in a shipping container, demonstrating clearance along the side and roof.
    Photographer: Dmitriy Shibarshin
    Shipping overseas? Expect complications—and go with the pros. “Customers usually come to us and say: I need this car picked up there and then, and I want it to arrive overseas, ready for my arrival on this specific day. This is where the puzzle starts,” Shibarshin said. His company works to ensure that everything is in order for the shipment, from the enclosed transporter collecting the vehicle to the necessary export paperwork, plus any legal wrangling for a car to be allowed into a new country.
  9. If you are shipping the car across oceans, decide whether you’ll ship by air or water. Shipping by ocean cargo is by far the most popular route—83 percent of Hagerty customers do it, Klinger said. It costs a third of the price of shipping by air: General rates for sending a car from the East Coast to Europe run $4,000 to $5000 per ocean container vs. $15,000 to $20,000 by air. (For cars that are worth more than $1 million, most insurance companies require air freight.)
    Shipping a car from the East Coast to Europe usually takes from four to six weeks. Sending it farther east takes considerably longer.
    Shipping a car from the East Coast to Europe usually takes from four to six weeks. Sending it farther east takes considerably longer.
    Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
    You can even do the super-budget option called “ro/ro,” which stands for roll-on/roll-off a floating parking deck that workers literally roll your car onto and off. That costs as little as $800 and should be reserved for cars that are worth not much more than $10,000. Sending by sea takes longer—four to six weeks, compared to a few hours by plane. The likelihood of damage to your vehicle is much higher in a sea container.“Things happen when cars are shipped by sea,” Klinger said. “We’ve had cars come back completely totaled because the container was dropped. Shipping by air is exponentially the safest option.”
  10. Get the insurance. Every reliable shipping company has its own insurance policy to cover the cost of your car, should something happen. You should also purchase an insurance policy from your own provider, to be doubly safe. “If you are shipping a car, you should have your own coverage in addition to whatever is provided by the carrier,” said Klinger (who—remember—sells insurance). “That way you have your own policy that will protect your own best interests and your own property.”
    You have spent a lot on your precious car. When shipping it is not the time to scrimp on insurance.
    You have spent a lot on your precious car. When shipping it is not the time to scrimp on insurance.
    Photographer: Dmitriy Shibarshin
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