Auto Transport Trailer Types

By: Christine Harrell

Shopping for the right auto transport company is intimidating for most people. It's not a service that people use very often so it is difficult to know what features to look for. Although there are a number of decisions to make, let's focus on the types of trucks and trailers that could be used.

Truck Types

Auto transport is carried out by one of two types of trucks: tractor trailers or hotshots. A hotshot is a small truck similar to a pickup.

Because hotshots are small they transport only one vehicle at a time. This means they are available faster because the shipper doesn't have to find other customers to fill the empty slots. On the other hand, that means all costs of operation are shouldered by the one vehicle being transported so they are more expensive. Their small size means residential street navigation is easy and they deliver your car right to your door.

Tractor trailers transport anywhere from three to twelve vehicles at a time depending on the size of the attached trailer. The more cars, the cheaper the transport fee because costs of operation are spread among several customers. To be economical, the trucks need to run as near to capacity as possible. That means the auto transport company needs a significant lead time between a customer's call and the shipping date so that they can find several vehicles headed in the same direction.

Another downside to tractor trailers is that they may not be able to travel in some residential areas because of the tight streets. You may need to meet the vehicle at a nearby parking lot to pick up your car rather than having it delivered to your door.

Trailer Types

The first decision about trailers is single-vehicle vs. multiple-vehicle. This decision isn't made by the customer but rather dictated by the truck. Hotshots have single trailers; semis have multiple.

There can be cases where a semi transports a single vehicle, such as a vehicle won't fit on a typical trailer due to size, modifications, or other characteristics. In this case it has to be shipped on a flatbed along with whatever other cargo the driver picks up. This is one of the more expensive ways to ship but may be necessary depending in your vehicle.

When shipping on a multiple vehicle trailer, there is a lot of debate about whether it is better to request a position on the upper deck or the lower deck. Cars on the upper deck are more exposed to the environment while the lower deck may get oil or other fluids dripping from above. In the end, it seems to be about the same.

Another option is a closed trailer. Most car shipping is done in open trailers, leaving the vehicle exposed to the elements. This is fine for most cars but if you have an expensive or collectable vehicle, it might be worth the extra expense of a covered trailer.

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