Everything You Need to Know About a Bill of Lading


One of the most important documents that you will receive, besides your contract, when shipping a vehicle is the Bill of Lading. Historically, a Bill of Lading was invented in the 13th century. It was adapted to fit the specific needs of those using them. These changes occurred throughout history and have been adapted for many different areas of shipping. Although initially used for only oceanic transport, the Bill of Lading has become a document adopted by the auto transport industry.

What is the Bill of Lading?

Whenever you ship anything, you get a receipt. The Bill of Lading is your receipt, among other documentation, for your auto shipment. The Bill of Lading acts as a receipt, inspection report, terms and conditions, and a dispatch report- all-in-one.

Understanding the Bill of Lading is essential. You must know what the Bill of Lading means and what it does and does not do for it to be beneficial. This document will be what provides your protection during the transport process.

Bill of Lading documents come in many different forms. Just because there are different types, doesn’t mean that they aren’t all required to have the same information on them. There are distinct sections that must be included on the Bill of Lading no matter how they are laid out.

Not all companies require their drivers to fill the forms out completely. There may be sections on there that the company finds more beneficial than others. Since this form is your receipt and your legally binding document with the carrier, insist that it is filled out entirely.

The Header

The heading on the Bill of Lading should be easily identifiable. This section will include the transport company’s name and logo. Next, you will find all the information about the company, like their address and phone number. This makes them easily identifiable. If the shipping company you are using has a broker that does the transport, their information will be here. The Department of Transportation and licensing numbers will be available in this section as well.

The order number, name of the driver, and the date will have specified spots on the header. These need to be filled out or pre-printed on the Bill of Lading.

Pick-up and Delivery Information

The part of the Bill of Lading that acts as the dispatch sheet is the pick-up and delivery portion of the document. These sections will include the exact addresses for the pick-up and drop off locations. If you designate anyone to release or receive your vehicle to the transport company, their information will be listed in this section. If the transport company uses a broker for transport, the name of the transport company may also be included in this area.

Vehicle Information

The vehicle information section will include all the identifiable information about your vehicle. In this section, you or the driver of the transport truck will enter:

  • Year
  • Make
  • Model
  • Color
  • License plate number
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  • Current mileage
  • Whether your vehicle is oversized or not and by how much
  • Any additional information about your car will be listed in this section

The section with the information about your vehicle is different than that of the condition. There will be a separate section of the Bill of Lading that will list the information that details the condition of your particular vehicle. The additional information section should be used to inform the driver of any specific quirks your vehicle may have. The information will help them with the loading and unloading process.

Vehicle Condition

The “vehicle condition” section of the Bill of Lading is important. This section will also require a lot of detail to be used.  Federal law requires that a transport carrier’s driver or representative do an inspection of the vehicle with the owner or representative listed on the Bill of Lading. This inspection is to note any minor dents, dings, scratches, or significant damages on the vehicle.

Part of getting your vehicle ready for transport should have included documenting this on your own. It is recommended that photographs be taken of the existing damage so that it can be compared to the vehicle after it is dropped off. Doing this preparation will help you be ready for the inspection while the Bill of Lading is filled out.

Most Bill of Lading documents has pictorial descriptions of a vehicle. The purpose of these pictures is to help correctly label where the preexisting damage is located on the transported vehicle. A Bill of Lading document can be found in many different forms. These forms include vehicle specific versions. You may see Bill of Lading documents that have a pick-up truck, SUV, cars, sedans, minivans, hot rods, and other vehicle-specific styles. When a Bill of Lading is being filled out, the picture must resemble your type of vehicle as closely as possible. You would not be able to list damage on a minivan using a convertible diagram accurately. Remember, this document is legally binding, so you should want it to be as accurate as possible.

The information about your vehicle should be easy to read and understand the Bill of Lading. Since so many different types of documents exist, there should still be a universal understanding of them. If you can’t make out what the Bill of Lading is saying, especially about the preexisting damage, don’t sign it until the document is fixed.

Terms and Conditions

Transport companies will often broker out their transports, so reading the terms and conditions section needs to have your full attention. Your contract with your transport company is different than the terms and conditions of the listed brokerage company. Both sets of terms and conditions should be fully understood before signing anything.

The terms and conditions used by brokerage companies and transport companies can vary n verbiage, length, and content. Keep in mind that this is a legal document, so you want to understand all the legal aspects of the terms and conditions.

Your contract with the auto transport company should inform you if they use a broker when transporting vehicles. This is not an uncommon practice in the auto transport industry. Your contract should lay out the terms and conditions for both.


Before any vehicle can be loaded onto a transport trailer, the Bill of Lading has to be signed. Both the driver and the customer have to sign the document acknowledging that everything listed is correct and agreed upon. The vehicle condition section and the signature section will be filled out on the pick-up and delivery of the vehicle. By completing this twice, you agree that everything is listed correctly, and this is legally binding.

When should I decline to sign a Bill of Lading?

You should not sign the Bill of Lading if:

  • You do not agree with anything listed on the Bill of Lading. Non-agreement of even one small section means that terms need to be readdressed by both company and customer.
  • You have questions regarding anything on the Bill of Lading. You have to completely comprehend the Bill of Lading before signing since this is legally binding. Questions should be answered either by the driver, a broker, or the actual transport company you hired.
  • There was no inspection of your vehicle completed. The law dictates that this inspection has to be done between the driver of the truck and the customer. If you did not inspect your vehicle, you can’t agree that the information is accurate.

Your vehicle will not be loaded onto the transport trailer until the Bill of Lading is signed. Hopefully, you chose a professional auto transport company that provided you with all of the information you needed to understand the Bill of Lading and what it meant entirely. If for some reason you do not understand, the company should be willing to explain it to you.

Will more than one Bill of Lading be issued?

In most circumstances, there will be three copies of a Bill of Lading issued. These copies are reserved for the auto transport company, the broker (if there is one), and the customer. These copies should be protected since they are legally binding.

The number of copies that were distributed should be listed on the Bill of Lading documents. You can request more than one copy of the Bill of Lading, but most transport companies will advise you against this. The more Bill of Lading documents that are circulating, the higher the possibility of fraud occurring. The additional documents also increase the risk of theft, unauthorized release of the vehicle, or the wrong person accepting the delivery. A Bill of Lading contract should be protected like any other legal document.

Different Bill of Lading Types

There is a multitude of different Bill of Lading types. These types are used across the shipping industry. These include shipping, transport, cargo, land, and air. If it is a method of transporting a vehicle or goods, there is a Bill of Lading for it. The Bill of Lading offers protection for the customer and the carrier.

Straight Bill of Lading

The straight Bill of Lading is a non-negotiable type of contract. This Bill of Lading is used when the transport of goods is already paid. They are then shipped directly to the customer or consignee.

Air Waybill

An Air waybill is another type of non-negotiable Bill of Lading. This type is reserved for goods or cargo that is transported via air delivery methods.

Shipper’s Order Bill of Lading

These Bill of Lading types are used when cargo has been purchased with credit through a banking institution. The document is negotiable and functions as a title of goods. The buyer will have to have an original copy of the Bill of Lading to take possession of the cargo upon delivery.


Also known as a “set of originals”, this type of Bill of Lading is issued when a buyer or consignee has not fully paid for cargo being shipped. After a buyer presents the original set of documents and pays the remaining amount for the cargo, it is then released to them.

Through Bill of Lading

A through Bill of Lading is similar to the multimodal or combined transport Bill of Lading. It is a more complex document that accounts for different distribution centers as well as all the modes of transport used through these distributors. The through Bill of Lading requires the existence of an ocean and inland Bill of Lading to be in effect.

Inland Bill of Lading

When cargo that is being transported is done so only by land, (train or railway), an inland Bill of Lading is issued. These can be combined with the through Bill of Lading when multiple carriers will be transporting items.

Multimodal or Combined Transport Bill of Lading

This type of Bill of Lading is for use when more than one mode of transportation is used for transporting cargo or goods. Methods include air, land, sea, rail, etc. These are popular in shipping overseas, especially when using truck transport to the port and boat for the rest of the journey.

Communicating with your Transport Company

The first rule of the Bill of Lading should be communicating with your transport company. Professional transport companies should want to make sure that you completely understand all the ramifications of shipping your vehicle. Ship Vehicles offers full transparency when we transport your vehicle. All of your questions should be answered before you even think of them. Terms and conditions are listed in a way that you can understand them. We do not hide behind hard to understand lingo in our documents.

When you need to transport your vehicle, and you want a company that keeps your informed, give Ship Vehicles a call. We offer free quotes with no obligation. Utilize our convenient transport services that have been in operation for over 30 years. There is no question you can ask that we have not answered before.