Shipping Vehicles by Sea – The Basics of RORO Vessels

With the growing trend towards shipping vehicles by sea, you may be wondering, how is it done, what is a car transport vessel and how does the whole process work?

In this article, we’ll help you understand a little more about RORO (Roll on Roll off) ships, how they work, why they’re used, and everything else you need to know about shipping vehicles by sea. 

What Is A Car Transport Vessel?

Shipping vehicles by sea usually involves the use of a ship specifically designed for vehicle transport known as a “RORO” vessel.

RORO stands for Roll On, Roll Off and is a term is used to describe how the vehicles are loaded onto the ship.

Unlike standard container ships, RORO vessels have large internal holds that look like parking garages. Vehicles are simply driven or “rolled” onto the ship at their departure point, then driven or “rolled” off when they arrive at the destination. 

Their first use of a RORO vessel for shipping vehicles by sea was in the early 1960s, with the first cargo ships built exclusively to support car transportation coming into widespread use in the late 1970s.

Today, RORO shipping is the most widely-used transport methods for all sorts of wheeled vehicles. 

RORO shipping is not only cars, but also trucks, semi-trucks, heavy duty wheeled and tracked construction equipment, utility vehicles, truck trailers, agricultural equipment, and anything else that can be driven or towed on-board and will fit into the cargo hold of a RORO vessel.

In most cases, shipping vehicles by sea is more efficient and up to 40%-60% less expensive when compared to rail or line haul (truck) services. In some cases, particularly when transporting between east and west cost, they can also be quicker.

Can Cars Be Transported On Cargo Container Ships?

Yes they can.

Standard 20-foot and 40-foot cargo containers can hold most cars. They can also be equipped with straps and tie-downs to keep your car safe while shipping.

Shipping cars by container is generally more common for people who are permanently moving to a new location (interstate or overseas). This is because household goods can also be shipped in the same container.

However, if you’re only moving the vehicle, it doesn’t make as much sense to use a cargo ship and containerised shipping. It will take longer to ship your car and it may cost more money when compared to shipping your vehicle using a RORO car transport vessel. 

I’ve been told that Shipping Vehicles by Sea is Friendlier to the Environment. Is this true?

It certainly is.

Improvements in energy consumption of sea-going vessels means that sea transport is considerably more climate and environment friendly than road or rail transport.

In fact, according to an Australian Government Inquiry into National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities from March 2018, “Coastal shipping has the potential to grow its share of the national transport system in order to meet the growing transport task efficiently, effectively, safely and with the least impact on the environment of all modes of transport.”

Which Companies Offer Vehicle Shipping by Sea?

There are several companies specifically focus on shipping vehicles by sea with services ranging from international shipping to domestic coastal shipping services.

Do I Still Need a Traditional Trucking Company if I’m Shipping a Vehicle by Sea? 

That depends on your location.

If you live near the port where your car will be shipped, you can drive it there and drop it off yourself. Similarly, if the destination port is easily accessible, you can simply pick it up there when it’s been unloaded and processed, and drive it to your destination. 

However, if you are not located near either port, you may need to hire a car transport truck to pick up your car and take it to the port – or to pick it up at your destination and deliver it to your new residence. 

When requesting a quote, our service providers will provide you with comprehensive pricing that incorporates both pricing to the nearest terminal or depot or a full service pricing the incorporates pickup and delivery to a residence or other location.

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Customer Success Story

Why Car Transport Services Exists Today!

When I had to move my car from Melbourne to Perth, the journey of finding the right transportation service felt almost as daunting as the 3,400 km drive itself. Through trial and error, a bit of luck, and a few missteps, I learned a great deal about how to select the best service for such a task. Here’s my experience, and I hope it can guide you smoothly through your own process.

Start with Research

The first thing I learned was the importance of research. Initially, I made the rookie mistake of choosing the first service that popped up in my Google search results. Big mistake. The company had hidden fees I hadn’t anticipated, and the service was far from satisfactory. What I learned was to dig deeper. Read reviews on multiple platforms, ask for recommendations from friends or family who’ve undertaken similar moves, and don’t skip on checking the forums where real customers discuss their experiences.

Check for Licensing and Insurance

One good decision I made was ensuring the company was licensed and insured. Insurance is important. Transporting a vehicle across such a long distance has its risks, and you want to ensure that your car is covered in case of any mishaps. Verify the transporter's accreditation with transport authorities and ensure they have valid insurance that covers your vehicle during the transit. This gave me peace of mind, knowing my car was in safe hands.

Compare Quotes

Getting multiple quotes was another area where I initially faltered. I assumed all prices would be roughly the same and didn’t bother shopping around. However, after a pricey quote from the first company, I decided to get several more. The price differences were significant, and some companies offered more comprehensive services at lower costs. Always compare quotes from at least three to five companies. This not only gives you a better idea of the price range but also allows you to negotiate better terms.

Understand the Service Types

I wasn’t aware initially, but there are different types of car transport services: door-to-door, terminal-to-terminal, open carrier, and enclosed carrier. Each has its pros and cons. I chose an open carrier for its cost-effectiveness, but in retrospect, considering the long journey across Australia, an enclosed carrier would have been better to protect my car from the elements. Understanding these options beforehand helps in making a more informed decision based on your needs and budget.

Communication is Key

One of the best decisions I made was selecting a company that had excellent communication practices. They provided updates at every major juncture of the journey, which eased my anxiety. Ensure that the company you choose has a point of contact who is reachable and willing to update you throughout the process. This is vital for peace of mind and to ensure that any issues are quickly addressed.

Timing and Flexibility

I learned the hard way that flexibility is key when transporting a car such a long distance. The initial service I chose promised a delivery within a week, but it ended up taking more than two weeks, which disrupted my plans significantly. Ask about the expected delivery times and check if the company can offer guarantees or compensation if they exceed the estimated delivery times.

Avoid Rush Decisions

A bad decision I made was rushing into booking without fully understanding the terms and conditions. This led to unexpected charges for additional services I wasn’t aware I had agreed to. Take your time to read the fine print or have someone else review it. Make sure you understand every aspect of the service contract.

What I Wish I Knew

If I knew then what I know now, I would have placed more emphasis on checking customer feedback about their post-service experience, especially regarding how companies handle damage claims and disputes. Knowing a company's track record in these areas can save you from potential headaches if something goes wrong.

Open vs Enclosed Car Transport

Open car carrier with new vehicles

Open Car Transport

Open car transport involves shipping vehicles in an open-air trailer, exposing them to weather and road conditions.

This method is cost-effective and widely available, making it a popular choice for transporting vehicles quickly and economically.

The main benefits include lower costs due to multiple vehicles being transported simultaneously and quicker delivery times. However, the downside is the potential risk of damage from environmental elements and road debris.

moving cars in an enclosed car carrier

Enclosed Car Transport

Enclosed car transport uses fully enclosed trailers to provide maximum protection for vehicles against weather, theft, and damage during transit.

This method is preferable for high-value, classic, or luxury vehicles requiring extra security. Enclosed transport is more expensive and less readily available but offers higher insurance coverage and peace of mind.

Specialised services include GPS tracking and expert handling, ensuring vehicles are delivered safely and discretely.

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