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Mistakes to Avoid When Shipping Your Car Overseas

In August 2014, a law firm in Oklahoma began a class-action lawsuit for military service members who had lost their vehicles after attempting to transport them to or from overseas posts. Complaints were piling up about the shipper that was contracted by the Defense Department to perform this service. The attorneys projected that damages suffered by military personnel and their families could amount to millions of dollars.

This fiasco underscores the problems and frustrations that can arise with international car shipping. If your vehicle is delayed or there are any other issues with the transport, your overseas move could quickly become a major headache. By avoiding the below common mistakes, you can get your car there safely and on time. (Note that some of these mistakes are general to all car shipping while others are specific to international transport.)

Mistake #1 – Failing to research the shipper

Look for the international transporters that have the strongest credibility and the best reviews. Since this service is so critical to you, protecting a high-value asset, it is important to know that the companies from which you are gathering information and quotes have a strong history of satisfied customers.

Mistake #2 – Forgetting to verify that the shipper is insured

Any international vehicle shipper should be bonded and insured so that it can cover any damages that occur. Request an official insurance document and explanation of exactly how the car is insured while it is en route.

If you need insurance beyond what is standardly provided to account for the full value of your car, you may be able to increase the limit with an additional fee. You can also go to your own insurer to ask about this type of coverage.

Michigan-based property and casualty insurance agent Emily Delbridge noted that most standard insurance policies do not cover motor vehicles when they are out in the ocean. Typically insurance for international car transport will cost you 1.5 to 3 percent of the value of a car. That is a rough number but would mean coverage will cost you approximately $150 to $300 per every $10,000 of vehicle worth.

Mistake #3 – Skipping the mechanic

It is always smart to have a mechanic confirm that your car is ready for an international shipment so that you are certain there are no problems that could damage your car or others being moved with it. It is particularly important to verify that it is not leaking any fluids.

Mistake #4 – Going with the lowest priced service

As recommended by British Car Classifieds, the decision of how to transport a treasured car should not be based strictly on price – and that applies to your choice of the shipper but also the method of transport. Rather than shipping your car open-air, it may make sense to use a container to protect it from the elements. (See more on forms of international car transport in Mistake #10.)

Mistake #5 – Leaving personal belongings in the car

Since your car is making the trip, it is natural to think that its interior and trunk could be used for your personal items. In some areas, there are laws that prevent auto transporters from shipping cars filled with household property. Some shippers will allow you to pack a small number of personal items within the car; however, they deny liability for loss or damage. Beyond nefarious parties, the property could actually be seized during a governmental inspection.

Beyond issues with security of your belongings, having them onboard will often result in your insurance carrier refusing to cover any vehicle damage (with many policies explicitly stating that personal items must be removed). For all the above reasons, it is a good idea to make sure there is nothing in your vehicle when it ships.

Mistake #6 – Lack of preparation with paperwork

International car shipping is not just about booking a provider and getting your car there on time. You will also need paperwork since there are various legal parameters that must be met. To be able to get your car to another country, you will need the following:

  • a copy of the bill of sale;
  • a legible original title of the car; and
  • a copy of your passport.

When you talk with your transporter, check if the arrival or departure port for the shipment will need any additional documents. For instance, you may need an import approval and/or a notarized power of attorney.

Mistake #7 – Not checking into import taxes

One aspect that is often overlooked when considering overseas automotive transport is the import taxes, as indicated by Delbridge. Taxes may seem like an afterthought, but they are often higher than the cost of the transport service itself when shipping to some nations.

Mistake #8 – Sending the car unwashed & with its condition unrecorded

You want to get all the dirt and debris off your car prior to transport. Wash both the exterior and the interior. Once the car is washed, capture both a short video and still-shots of your car so that you can inspect it once it gets to its destination.

Mistake #9 – Being unaware of auto safety standards

Your car must meet the legal guidelines to operate in the country to which it is headed. The car will not be able to get to its destination if it does not meet the emission and safety regulations of that jurisdiction.

Mistake #10 – Underestimating how long transport will take

Sending your car to another country can be slow. You want to have a sense how long it will take a shipper to get the car where it needs to be.

If you are really in a hurry to get your vehicle there, journalist Brenna Swanston suggests booking a 20-foot transport container, quickly getting all your documents to the shipper, and then paying your bill in full. Once you have completed those tasks, the shipper can get your vehicle through customs and onto the boat. Using a container is fast and offers physical protection during the trip. However, it may be prohibitively expensive. Other standard options include:

  • Roll-on, roll-off (RORO) – With this method, transport professionals drive your car into the hull of the vessel. There, it is braced and secured – but not contained. RORO is much more affordable, but you do not have the protection of a container and transport will likely be slower.
  • Vehicle shipping – There is also the option to transport the car within a container that is shared with other cars going to the same country. In these cases, the transporter may need to delay transport until it gets a certain number of cars prepared for the trip. This type of transport leverages volume to lower your price, but speed will typically suffer.

Mistake #11 – Leaving on the alarm system

As noted by Fuel & Friction, your alarm system should be disabled during transport so that it does not create a disturbance on the way.

Mistake #12 – Having too much gas in the car

Finally, you want your gas tank to be no more than a quarter full so that fuel does not spill out onto other vehicles.

Moving forward with international car shipping

Sending your car overseas is a major undertaking, and there are many ways that it can go wrong. By avoiding the above twelve common mistakes, you can ensure that your car is transported safely and on-time, without any hassle.

Joey has spent his entire teen and adult life in cars. Joey's father owned a Jeep store, and Joey had his own used car lot that he ran himself from age 22 until I was 30. At 30 years old, Joey got "out of" the car business and joined CFR Rinkens. Joey started when there were only 9 people at CFR, but the company grew to over 150 employees during his time there. When Joey started, CFR Rinkens was shipping about 40 vehicles per week from Los Angeles. Joey established locations in Houston, Miami, and New York and within the first year, CFR went to shipping 150 cars per week. Joey started as a customer service rep and later moved up to sales manager, operations manager, and marketing manager. Joey then moved to Europe for two years and spent the entire time traveling through Europe meeting with clients. In 2022, Joey and his partners purchased CFR Classic from CFR Rinkens and he returned to California to watch over the operation more closely.

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