What Types of Trailers and Trucks Are Used for Shipping Cars?

July 20, 2023

Team ACV




What Types of Trailers and Trucks Are Used for Shipping Cars?

ACV facts & figures

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A multi-level, multi-vehicle trailer carrying used cars

Running a car dealership  is more complex than just closing sales. As a dealer, it’s also your responsibility to consider logistics and the process of getting the vehicle from its current location to the end destination. If you just sourced inventory at auction, you need to transport it quickly to your dealership so you can either perform recon work or sell it to a consumer if it’s front-line ready.

Transporting the car safely is paramount to ensuring it retains its condition and value. If you haven’t had to ship a car, or it’s been a while since you last shipped one, you might have questions about how it’s done and how to make the best logistics decision. There are many ways to ship your vehicle, and the best option for you depends on distance, vehicle type, and other important factors. This article will explore everything you need to know about the shipping process so you can make informed decisions with your vehicles. 

The two types of trucks and trailers

When shipping your car on a truck, there are two types you can choose from: open and closed carriers1. Within each category, there are multiple vehicle options, each of which offers unique pros and cons. 

Open carrier car shipping

This type of car shipping vehicle is likely what comes to mind, as you’ve probably seen these vehicles on the highway. Open carriers are the most common type of vehicle to use when shipping your car, as they carry up to 10 cars at a time. Here are the types of open carriers2

  • Single-vehicle hotshot trailers: These carry only one car or truck through a gooseneck trailer. They are commonly used for short distances or express shipping. This is not the same as a tow truck—many people make this assumption, but tow trucks use a hydraulic bed. 
  • Single-level multi-car trailers: These hold up to six cars or trucks on a single trailer using a multi-car gooseneck or bumper pull trailer. They can go on narrower streets, which makes them good for cities or older areas.
  • Multi-level, multi-vehicle trailers: This is the most common option with two layers of cars on trailers. You likely have this in mind when you picture shipping your car. 

Because they can transport many cars simultaneously, open carriers are affordable and offer a good value for your budget. Even though they can look intimidating with cars stacked on each other, they are safe and efficient. By ‘carpooling’ with so many other vehicles, you’ll be choosing the eco-friendly, fuel-efficient option. You’ll also benefit from frequent shipping times since there are so many of these vehicles on the road. 

There is only one real downside to open carriers: exposure to the elements. Because the cars are not covered by trailer sides, they will be in contact with any weather elements or debris from the journey. This can add an element of risk to the transit process but is only usually a major concern for high-value vehicles.

Closed carrier car shipping

Unlike open carriers, you may not imagine this vehicle type when someone talks about shipping a car. But you have also seen this on the highway—they just look like your average shipping container truck with full sides and protection. They have a smaller capacity, typically holding between five and eight cars. The closed carrier option is most often used for luxury vehicles, like antiques, custom-made cars, race cars, and high-priced items. Here are the types2:

  • Single-level, single-vehicle enclosed trailer: These carry only one car and are reserved for high-value items traveling a short distance. 
  • Single-level, multi-vehicle enclosed trailer: These hold up to three vehicles pulled by a semi in a single file lineup away from the road. 
  • Multi-level, multi-vehicle enclosed trailer: Holding a maximum of eight cars, these are double stacked and need a powerful semi. They use adjustable ramps to unload and load. These can have soft sides or hard sides. The former makes it easier to load and unload. 

The main upside of closed carriers is the protection from all other cars, debris, and the weather during the transit process3. Closed carriers ensure the safety of luxury cars through private service and often a white-glove treatment. This can include quality customer service, prompt communication, and vehicle tracking. 

Since this option is more customized, it comes at a higher cost with more limited availability than open carriers. This makes closed carriers a more exclusive option that doesn’t suit everyone’s needs. 

Are there other car transport options beyond trucks and trailers?

Boats and trains are other shipping methods that are more likely to be used in special cases. Manufacturers typically use trains to move vehicles from one destination to another. It can be a high-volume option but also a slow method of transit. Boats are typically reserved for international shipping. There’s also the rare option to ship via a plane, but this is the most expensive and likely something you will never need to do. 

Which car shipping option is best for you? 

When choosing a shipping method, ask yourself:

  • Do you have a luxury vehicle? 
  • How far is your car traveling? 
  • How soon do you need it? 

In most cases, open carrier shipping will be suitable. But those with higher value vehicles will need to look into closed carriers. Remember to consider all factors when making your choice, including the distance your vehicle will travel, the end location and street type, and your vehicle type and value. 

Work with ACV to transport your vehicle

At ACV Auctions, we’re here to make your life easier as a car dealer. Simply 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. (2023). “The Types of Car Transport Trailers and Trucks Used in the Car Shipping Industry.” Retrieved July 14, 2023. https://sgtautotransport.com/autoblog/types-of-car-transport-trailers-and-trucks 
  2. Montway Auto Transport. (2019). “The Types of Trailers and Trucks Used for Shipping a Car.” Retrieved July 14, 2023. https://www.montway.com/blog/types-of-trailers-shipping-a-car/ 
  3. Retirement Living. (2023). Open vs. Enclosed Car Shipping. Retrieved July 14, 2023. https://www.retirementliving.com/open-vs-enclosed-car-shipping#:~:text=Pros%3A%20Shipping%20by%20open%20transport,resulting%20in%20cheaper%20fuel%20costs