Open vs Enclosed Car Transport
Relocating interstate can be a real logistical nightmare. With so many schedules to make, details to take care of, and things to coordinate, your planning and organisational skills will be put to the ultimate test.
And even when you’ve found a reliable moving company to transport your household belongings, booked your move, and put your paperwork in order, you’ll still have some more strategic choices to make – such as how to get to yourself to you new home.
You can drive to your final destination or you can have your car shipped while you fly to your new city.
Either way, there will be important decisions to make and plenty of things to organise.
If you’re relocating interstate and prefer to have your vehicle shipped rather than drive it across the country, you’ll generally have whether to use either open or enclosed car transport options.
While both methods involve transportation by truck, they have their own specific advantages and disadvantages.
Here is everything you need to know about open vs enclosed auto transport in order to make an informed decision about which option is better for your circumstances, your budget, and your vehicle.
Differences Between Open and Enclosed Vehicle Transport
When it comes to open vs enclosed car transport, the main difference between the two lies in the type of truck used in each transportation method.
Open Car Transport
With open air transport, your vehicle is transported in an open car trailer.
Open transport car shipping companies use long (typically around 23 metres in length), two-level trailers with a longer row of cars on the top level and a shorter row on the bottom one. There are no sides and no roof on the open-air trailer, so the vehicles are exposed to the elements.
There are also single-level trailers that are used for luxury and prestige vehicles, expedited deliveries and short-distance or local deliveries.
Open transport is suitable for any type of vehicle and more affordable than enclosed auto transport, so it is much more commonly used. About 90% of vehicles are shipped using open carriers.
Enclosed Car Transport
With enclosed car transport on the other hand, your vehicle is transported in a fully-enclosed trailer which has a roof and four sides and provides a safe and secure environment for vehicles during transportation.
Covered trucks are generally the same size as open car trailers, but due to the restrictions created by the enclosing walls, they cannot fit as many vehicles – while an open-air carriers can transport up to 12 standard cars, a multi-car enclosed trailer can only ship up to 7 or 8 cars.
Some companies may also have one and two-car enclosed trailers which are selectively used for extremely expensive, antique or rare vehicles.
Hard-sided trailers look like standard moving company trucks. They have solid walls made of tin, aluminium or fibreglass and provide the best protection to the vehicles inside them.
Soft-sided trailers on the other hand have hard shells in the front, back and top and a soft canvas pulled tight on the sides.
The canvas doesn’t provide as good protection to the vehicles inside the track as solid walls, but it takes less space, weighs less and as a results can be more efficient in terms of the truck’s fuel efficiency.
Enclosed car transport is safer, but more expensive than open auto transport.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Open Car Transport
Open car transport is the most affordable and efficient method of transporting a vehicle across the country.
Even though the cars are exposed to the elements, auto transport companies tend to take care to deliver the vehicles to their final destination in the same condition as they were collected with the cars neatly strapped and packed in the truck so they don’t move during transit and vibrations are greatly reduced.
Advantages of Open Car Transport
- Open car transport is the most affordable option;
- Open car transport is the industry’s standard, so there are more open car carriers available, transporting along more lanes. This means that you can easily secure an open-air car shipping service on short notice;
- Open transport is very efficient as more vehicles can be transported with each shipment – ten to 12 vehicles can be loaded onto a two-tier trailer and shipped at once, which saves fuel and time on the road (and therefore, money);
- Open transport is faster than enclosed transport due to greater number of open car carriers and the efficiency of open auto transport;
- Open car transport suits all types of vehicles, regardless of their size, height, weight, or model;
- The driver can easily inspect the vehicles during transport and make sure everything is all right with one look in the side mirrors;
- An open-air trailer is lighter than an enclosed trailer, which means that it uses less fuel; protecting the environment and reducing fuel surcharges.
Disadvantages of Open Car Transport
- Open car trailers are “open-air” which means that vehicles are exposed to the elements and have no protection from the weather (rain, snow, sleet, hail, etc.);
- The vehicles on an open trailer are not well protected against dust and potentially damaging debris that may get kicked up on the road;
- Cars transported in an open trailer aren’t individually covered, so your vehicle may arrive dirty and in need of a wash;
In summary, open auto transport is cheaper, faster, and more flexible than enclosed auto transport, but less secure as vehicles are exposed to damage caused by harsh weather conditions and debris.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Enclosed Car Transport
Enclosed car transport offers the highest level of security and protection to a vehicle in transit.
When it comes to prestige and antique vehicles, luxury cars and sports cars, it is the transportation method of choice. Enclosed auto transport, however, is more expensive and less efficient than open auto transport.
Advantages of Enclosed Car Transport
- Vehicles transported in enclosed trucks are protected from the elements, so the weather conditions have no effect on them;
- Cars on enclosed auto trailers are protected from road dust and debris;
- Enclosed car transport provides high level of security – there is no road hazard and no risk of damage during transportation;
- Enclosed trucks are equipped with drip pans to keep any transmission fluids from the upper level vehicles from getting on the bottom rack vehicles;
- Enclosed trailers are equipped with lift gates or hydraulic ramps that lower all the way flat to the ground. This allows vehicles to be loaded in a horizontal position, thereby ensuring the safety of low-clearance vehicles;
- Enclosed transport involves fewer stops along the route;
- Drivers of enclosed auto trailers are specialists and have rich experience in caring for high-end vehicles;
Disadvantages of Enclosed Car Transport
- Enclosed car transport is more expensive than open car transport;
- There are fewer enclosed car carriers on the road which makes enclosed car shipping harder to schedule;
- Fewer cars can be moved in a covered truck which makes enclosed auto transport less efficient than open auto transport and results in slower service;
- There is less opportunity for the driver to make routine inspections of the vehicles during transit;
- Enclosed trailers are heavier, so they’re less fuel-efficient than open-air models (which leads to increased fuel costs).
Important Things to Know about Enclosed Car Transport
Enclosed transport is more expensive and could cost as much as 75% to 100% more than open auto transport, so the cost benefits may vary from person to person and may depend upon the condition of the car, and intrinsic value of the vehicle.
New cars are shipped from the ports to dealers on open auto transport trucks because the factory paint jobs are very resistant to damage. Newer custom paint jobs may be softer, and more prone to catch dust.
Enclosed car transport prices are higher because:
- Covered trailers are more expensive than open car trailers, as they’re fully enclosed and outfitted with specialised equipment (such as lift gates and hydraulic ramps);
- Enclosed auto trailers cannot fit as many cars as open auto trailers, which makes them less efficient and, therefore, more expensive;
- Fuel consumption is higher with enclosed auto transport;
- There are fewer enclosed carriers on the road (less than 10 percent of the car transport companies) which makes them scarce and therefore more expensive;
- The enclosed car transport service includes more personal care from the driver.
Should you Choose and Open or Enclosed Car Transport Service?
To find the right answer to the question “Should I ship my car open or enclosed?”, you’ll need to consider your specific circumstances, personal preferences and available budget.
Open car transport is your better option when:
- You’re shipping a standard vehicle – hundreds of new cars are transported via open carriers daily, so you can rest assured that open car transport is safe;
- You would like your vehicle to be delivered faster – open car transport is more easily available and more efficient, which leads to faster deliveries;
- You’re moving on a tight budget (open transport is much cheaper, after all).
Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re deciding whether you need enclosed car transport:
- You’re shipping an expensive vehicle (classic or prestige vehicles, collectible car, luxury car, sports car, etc.);
- You consider your car an “investment” or one where you want to reduce the risk of damage during transport;
- You’re moving during the winter and want to protect your vehicle against harsh weather conditions and salt and sand on the road;
- You’re concerned about dust, dirt, pollution, or other debris your car might be subject to over the course of transport;
- Your vehicle has low-ground clearance;
- Is your car old and/or have a custom or unique paint job;
- You want extra protection against theft;
- Related useful read: How to prepare a car for transport