Tow Dolly vs. Auto Transport: What Are the Differences?

August 15, 2023

Team ACV




Tow Dolly vs. Auto Transport: What Are the Differences?

ACV facts & figures

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A trailer transporting used cars

Moving vehicles is an essential part of every car dealership’s job. Although it’s not the first thing you may consider when discussing the role of selling cars, it’s a crucial step that ensures you are actually able to get vehicles for your customers. But transporting cars is not a straightforward or one-size-fits-all process, and there are several options to choose between. Two popular methods are tow dollies and auto transport (including trailers or trucks that can be open or closed carriers). 

This may leave you wondering, what is the difference between a tow dolly and auto transport, and which one should I choose? Let’s discuss the details and the pros and cons of each. 

What Is a Tow Dolly? 

A towing dolly is what most people picture when they imagine their car getting towed. It’s a two-wheeled tool you can prop your vehicle onto and hitch it to a truck. Towing dollies leave the back two wheels of the vehicle on the ground so they move. The device is simple and lightweight, allowing you to attach the car to any type of qualifying vehicle—it’s the same way many RV owners tow their cars on the road. 

While the towing process is made relatively simple, it is a technical procedure that requires detailed attention and a consultation with your car manual. Furthermore, this option is not necessarily suitable for every vehicle type, and you’ll need to consider the car’s weight, clearance, length, and value when deciding whether this is a worthwhile option. 

The Benefits of a Tow Dolly

Here are some more pros of using a tow dolly: 

  • They are compatible with most front-wheel cars as well as select rear-wheel or all-wheel drive cars. Make sure you check your vehicle’s specifications to avoid severe damage or technical issues.1 
  • Typically, it’s the cheaper option since the device itself doesn’t require much investment (although you’ll need to consider other logistics, like what vehicle will actually pull the tow). 

The Drawbacks of Using a Tow Dolly

These are some of the cons of using a tow dolly: 

  • They come with weight restrictions which limit their use with heavier or larger vehicles. 
  • Depending on the car model, the setup can be complex and require experience and know-how.
  • When using a tow dolly, there is the potential for wear and tear on the rear wheels, which experience extra pressure and weight as the car is pulled. 
  • Some cars risk damage depending on their shape and size. Those that are too low or have long front sections may get dragged, scuffed, or harmed while being pulled. 
  • The budget-friendly nature of this option comes with fine print; you’ll also need to cover fuel costs and rent the truck with the tow. 
  • The tow will use more gas than expected since the weight of the car being pulled reduces efficiency massively. 
  • It can be hard to maintain a straight driving line in bad weather and can cause an increased risk of accidents
  • As a result, you’ll need to maintain a slow driving speed to avoid sway issues while driving. 

What Is Auto Transport?

Auto transport is any service that relocates your car via a full truck or trailer. These can be open-carrier shipping services or closed-carrier options. Among those variations, there is a range of benefits and pricing. But, compared to tow dollies, auto transport offers a generalized set of benefits and drawbacks that you can consider as you arrange to move your vehicle.2 

The Benefits of Auto Transport

Here are some key reasons to consider auto transport:

  • This service can work for vehicles of all shapes, weights, and sizes since the transport trailers have variations. You can even move motorcycles or classic cars. 
  • There is virtually no setup since the car is loaded onto the vehicle with all four wheels off the ground. 
  • The transport company does the work for you to make the process seamless, so you don’t have to worry about figuring out truck rentals, gas, or other expenses.  
  • Overall, auto transport is reliably safe for your car, with a low likelihood of damage. On the spectrum of services, there are more budget-friendly options with a bit more exposure, all the way to high-touch services with full coverage. 
  • The car in transit won’t add additional mileage or get wear and tear from the process since its wheels won’t be moving. 
  • Auto transport is excellent for long distances since you don’t have to take the weather into account. 

The Drawbacks of Auto Transport

Auto transport is a more costly service than towing (although, when you consider some costs associated with tow dollies, you may be surprised).  The price for transport will depend on numerous factors including3:

  • Distance of travel, usually calculated at a rate per mile ranging from $0.60 to $1.70 per mile. 
  • Vehicle size, the larger the vehicle the higher the cost. For example, a Sedan could expect a range of $600-$1,700, whereas a truck may cost between $1,050-$2,450. 
  • The type of auto transport you choose whether it’s open carrier or closed carrier. A closed option will be far more expensive than the open option because of its increased safety and security. 
  • Time of year can also play a role, and you can benefit by avoiding the peak season in the summer. 
  • Fuel price may be an extra fee, or included in a particular per-mile quote, depending on the company. 

What You Should Consider When Choosing Your Method

Overall, both options are suitable for different circumstances. The main difference is the safety and protection your car will get. You won’t have to worry about damage or wear and tear with auto transport. Plus, it's adaptable for all vehicle types, so you won’t have to do any special investigating or research. Although it can be a pricier option, you’ll know your vehicle will arrive safe and in mint condition.3 

Work With ACV to Transport Your Vehicle

At ACV Auctions, we’re here to help you as a car dealer. Add our Transport service to your auction purchase to help get the vehicle to your dealership as quickly as possible, with competitive pricing. Our network of over 5,000 carriers across the USA guarantees high quality, expedited national, regional, and local service and easy app tracking. If you aren’t a member of ACV, it’s easy to sign up—all you need is your dealer’s license. Get started today.


  1. SGT Auto Transport. (2022). “What is the Difference Between a Tow Dolly and Auto Transport.” Retrieved August 5, 2023. 
  2. ShipVehicles. “Auto Transport vs. Tow Dolly: Which is the best option for your vehicle?” Retrieved August 5, 2023. 
  3. Nexus. (2020). “Tow Dolly vs. Auto Transport: 8 Key Differences.” Retrieved August 5, 2023.