shopping for an exotic vehicle

How Do They Ship My Car if I Bought It Online?

How Do They Ship My Car if I Bought It Online?

David Stone
Updated April 30, 2021 by David Stone

Table of Contents

    shopping for an exotic vehicle


    There are several ways a car can be delivered in today’s bustling online marketplace. Learn more about how it happens and how you can make sure delivery goes smoothly.

    Key Takeaways

    • Online car purchases are on the rise
    • There are best practices to ensure online car shipping goes smoothly
    • Many dealers are stepping up to offer local home delivery
    • Longer distances usually mean shipping is up to the buyer
    • Shipping a car will be either dealer-driven or via open, enclosed, or flatbed truck


    The number of Americans buying their next car online has boomed in recent years. Some cyber sellers have seen online used sales increase 36% from 2020. It’s a situation driven by consumers’ growing love of technology, the rise of platforms like AutoTrader and Carvana, and the ongoing COVID-19 chaos. That last reason has also contributed to the growth of contactless car shipping.

    Buyers who’ve purchased a new or used vehicle online know it’s going to take more than a mail truck to get it home. How can you be sure something that big and valuable will be shipped safely and securely? Our guide will take you through three online shipping scenarios and what buyers can do to make sure delivery goes smoothly.

    1. The Local Delivery

    The simplest and quickest shipping scenario is when the vehicle you bought online is already close by. Many dealers will now bring the car directly to the buyer’s door. Home vehicle deliveries rose 35% between March and September of 2020; a figure literally driven by fierce competition between sellers because of the pandemic.

    This pro-sales, pro-customer environment means online dealers are likely to deliver even when there’s no formal policy favoring it, so we recommend asking. Companies like Carvana offer the buy online home-delivery experience, which can be cost-free or refundable on certain vehicles. AutoTrader offers the same, while adds a badge to online car ads that offer the service.

    Local delivery will take one of two forms: Dealership staff will personally drive the vehicle to the customer’s location, or the vehicle will be loaded onto a flatbed truck. In both cases, delivery teams should observe COVID-19 precautions like vehicle disinfection and social distancing.

    2. In-State and Out-Of-State Delivery

    Taking care of all shipping arrangements for home delivery is traditionally the turf of big luxury brands, especially when it comes to longer distances. Most online car purchases don’t fall into that category (many don’t even involve dealerships and are person-to-person) which means longer shipping in- and out-of-state is most often left up to the buyer. 

    This means you’ll have to observe some best practices for a successful delivery. The top two steps are knowing how to find the right auto transport company and being able to tell the difference between an auto carrier and an auto broker.

    In- and out-of-state delivery will involve the car being transported either by open, enclosed, or flatbed transport. Our previous blog goes into more detail on how each of these has pros and cons when it comes to pricing, security, and wait times. 

    Some online buyers may feel that in- or out-of-state pickup is something they can handle all by themselves. They view this as a cost-cutting exercise and maybe even a fun journey, but there are hidden expenses and risks involved with traveling to pick up a car in-person and driving it back that should make online buyers think twice about skipping professional shipping. You’re liable to pay more in the long run to do it yourself.

    3. Cross-Country Delivery

    This is the big one: Shipping an online car purchased from someone on the opposite coast can mean a trip of 2,500 to 3,500 miles. This is where hiring a seasoned auto transport team to handle shipping really pays off.

    Brokers and their approved carriers know the best ways to optimize your shipment for fast, safe, and affordable delivery. They also know the best routes to get cars quickly to buyers, and you won’t have to pay for gas, snacks, rest stops, or accidents. All of those are typical expenses on an extended road trip, and they can soon dispel the myth of personally handled shipping being the cheaper option.

    Cross-country delivery offers the same auto transport options we mentioned above (open, enclosed, and flatbed), but enclosed transport is the best way to go when your online purchase is going long-distance. Closed transport trucks protect cars against the elements, cushion against accidents, guard against theft, and shield them against on-road debris.

    These three online shipping scenarios cover the nuts and bolts of how an internet buy gets to you. There are a few other shipping tips that can help you get the most out of your online car shopping experience.

    A 6-Point Checklist for Easier Online Car Shipping

    Online buying takes relatively little time compared to the weeks buyers may have to wait to get their car. Remember the following tips to make things move more smoothly:

    1. Try to work with local dealerships when it comes to shipping times. There are several staff members who have to sign off on home delivery and at least two have to make the drive. Arranging to have your online purchase shipped outside of peak busy times for the dealer will increase the chances of the car coming right to your door.

    2. Carriers must be insured. In some instances, the buyer may be asked to take out shipping insurance for their online purchase. This is a very good idea that helps protect your investment.

    3. Don’t be too quick to choose a shipping method based on price alone. Cheaper can be costly in the long run, while expensive teams may not be worth the cash. Let an auto broker do the deep dive on potential vendors, so you don’t have to.

    4. Buying online during the low season for shippers (typically winter) can be both quicker and cheaper. This differs based on location, so consult a broker to find more ways to avoid peak shipping times.

    5. Always obtain a copy of the vehicle’s service history, an inspection report, and lots of photos or video of the car’s interior and exterior. Online buying is essentially sight unseen, so be sure it’s what you want before shipping starts.

    6. Not all shipping services bring the car directly to you. Online buyers may have to pick it up at a designated drop-off point.

    Mercury Auto Transport is a nationwide, full-service auto shipping company that connects buyers with vehicle carriers anywhere in the country. Our process is transparent and trustworthy, and we’re always working to get you the best deal. Call us today for a quote!


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    First, we post your vehicle through our network, including all National Dispatch Boards for Auto Transport. This is where all licensed auto transport carriers can see your vehicle is available for shipping.


    We present offers from FMCSA Licensed and Insured Carriers. When you accept an offer, we send your service agreement that guarantees the price, door-to-door service and 100% bumper to bumper insurance. There are never any hidden fees or charges, guaranteed.


    Not until you approve your carrier and final logistics is your deposit due. Your deposit is included in your quote and goes toward the total price. The remaining balance is due at time of delivery. Nothing gets done without your approval.


    Your driver will contact you prior to your pickup and delivery dates to schedule a time for loading and unloading. Once your vehicle reaches its destination, you do a final inspection of your vehicle and pay the driver the remaining balance. You and the driver both sign the Bill of Lading and each keep a copy.