Open vs. Enclosed Car Shipping – Main Differences Explained

Shipping a Car to Dominican Republic: Everything You Need to Know

If you’re planning to ship a vehicle over a long distance, you have several decisions to make. Obviously, you have to choose a transportation company to handle the job. Doing that involves research and gathering recommendations to ensure you find a carrier that’s suitable for your needs. You also have decisions to make regarding your budget, any insurance you wish to take out, and whether you want a door-to-door or terminal-to-terminal service.

Perhaps the most important decision you’ll make involves the battle of open vs. enclosed car shipping.

Many carriers offer both transportation methods. But to choose the right one, you need to know how open car transport differs from enclosed transport. This article examines the key differences and helps you decide which is best for your needs.

Enclosed vs. Open Trailer – Key Differences

The differences between open and enclosed trailers are pronounced, and impact both how your car is shipped and the risks it’s exposed to during the transportation process.

Difference No. 1 – Trailer Type

The most obvious difference between enclosed and open carrier car shipping is the trailer the carrier uses.

With open auto shipping, the carrier typically uses a two-level trailer capable of carrying several vehicles simultaneously. These trailers have no walls, with the top trailer also not benefitting from a roof. As such, any vehicles stored on an open trailer are exposed to the elements and any debris that comes from the road. Dust can also be an issue, especially if the car is shipped through an arid location.

As the name implies, enclosed auto shipping offers far more protection than open shipping. Your vehicle is loaded into a special trailer that has four walls and a ceiling. The enclosure usually only fits one vehicle, meaning you don’t have to worry about your car making contact with another car during transit. Enclosed trailers prevent water, wind, muck, and debris from affecting your car.

Carriers can still transport several enclosed vehicles at once. However, the enclosures take up more space than the vehicle would on its own, meaning they either offer enclosed shipping for one vehicle at a time or can only load up two or three on a flatbed truck.

Difference No. 2 – Booking

It’s easier to book open carrier car shipping than it is to book enclosed shipping. That’s because almost all carriers prefer the open method. It allows them to transport several cars with a single vehicle, benefiting their bottom line. The ability to ship multiple cars on a single trailer tends to mean that carriers using this method have greater availability. The result is that you’re more likely to be able to schedule the time and date you want when using open vehicle transport.

Using an enclosed trailer requires more forethought. Carriers have a limited number of enclosed trailers, which can cause scheduling issues if all of their trailers are on the road. You might find the carrier can’t offer the time and date you want because they have no trailers available.

Difference No. 3 – Cost

How much you have to pay will usually be one of the main determining factors in your choice of enclosed vs. open trailer car transport. Generally speaking, expect an enclosed trailer to cost between 50% and 100% more than an open trailer. This extra cost comes from several factors.

  • Enclosed trailers prevent carriers from shipping as many vehicles simultaneously as they can with open transport.
  • The weight of the enclosed trailer has to be taken into account in addition to the weight of your vehicle.
  • Most carriers provide more personalized service with enclosed trailer shipping.
  • The carrier needs to purchase special equipment when using an enclosed trailer.
  • Enclosed car shipping is less fuel-efficient than open transportation.

On top of these practical reasons for the higher cost, some carriers may charge extra because enclosed shipping offers peace of mind. Customers are likely to pay a premium if they know there’s no chance of their vehicle being exposed to the elements when it’s in transit.

Enclosed vs. Open Trailer – Key Differences

Difference No. 4 – Popularity

Though it’s easy to argue that enclosed shipping is superior to open vehicle transport because of the enhanced protection it offers, it’s the least popular of the options. The previously mentioned costs play into this. Many people aren’t willing to pay up to double the amount for the enclosed option unless they’re shipping a vintage or valuable vehicle.

Many carriers limit their enclosed services because purchasing these types of trailers is more expensive than purchasing open trailers. Think of enclosed vehicle transport as a specialist service intended for vehicles that require more protection, with open carrier shipping being the standard option that almost all carriers provide.

Difference No. 5 – Fuel Economy

It takes more fuel to transport vehicles in enclosed trailers than it does for open carrier shipping for several reasons.

The first is that open auto transport carriers rarely offer door-to-door service. The size of their trucks makes it impossible for them to drive through some rural or tight residential areas. Instead, they’ll offer terminal-to-terminal transportation. This involves having the customer drive their vehicle to a designated terminal, where it’s then loaded onto the trailer. The truck towing the trailer then drives to the terminal nearest the customer’s destination. As such, the truck only has to make one journey, with no stops or diversions that require extra fuel to manage.

By contrast, enclosed shipping is often provided as part of a door-to-door service. The carrier has to go out of their way to pick a vehicle up at the customer’s preferred location, in addition to driving further to drop it off directly at their destination.

Even in cases where the carrier loads multiple enclosed trailers onto a large flatbed trailer, fuel costs tend to be higher with the enclosed option. The weight of the enclosures affects the truck, leading to it requiring more fuel to complete a journey than it would need for the same journey without the added weight of the enclosures.

Difference No. 6 – Speed of Delivery

Because more people use open auto transport, carriers have more open trailers available than they have enclosed ones. Beyond this, there are simply more carriers providing open services. Plus, an open carrier car transport company likely covers more routes than an enclosed service covers.

The combination of these factors means you’ll receive your vehicle faster if you choose an open trailer. Though enclosed trailer services sometimes offer door-to-door delivery, the lack of availability creates delays.

Difference No. 7 – View of the Vehicle

Ideally, your carrier will conduct regular visual inspections of your vehicle during transit. These inspections allow them to adapt to any problems, such as a support harness loosening. Some carriers relay the results of these visual inspections to clients so they have peace of mind.

Open carrier shipping uses no covers, which allows drivers to quickly check the state of the vehicles on their trucks. An inspection can be carried out whenever the driver stops simply by running a sweep of the trailer to check that everything is okay. With enclosed shipping, the driver needs to open the enclosure before they can check the vehicle. This isn’t too difficult with soft-sided enclosures, as the driver only needs to remove a canvas or sheet of vinyl to get a look at the car. But with hard-sided enclosed transport, running an inspection requires unlocking the enclosure.

Simply put, it’s easier for drivers to conduct at-a-glance inspections with an open trailer than it is with an enclosed trailer.

Speed of Delivery

Difference No. 8 – Risk

As mentioned earlier in the article, open trailers offer less protection to your vehicle than enclosed ones. During open transport, your vehicle is exposed to an array of potential issues.

  • Inclement weather
  • Bugs
  • Dust
  • Frost
  • Birds
  • Road debris
  • Muck and mud

Leaving your car exposed to just one of these issues can result in paint chipping, grime accumulation, and other issues that lead to damage. A combination of the above issues could cause more serious problems. As such, you’re taking on more risk when using open car transport than you would with enclosed transport. Be prepared to clean your vehicle thoroughly when it arrives, especially if it has been shipped through areas that leave it exposed to rapid weather changes, dust, or muck.

As a side note, remember that open car transport services usually use two-tiered trailers when shipping vehicles. The tier your car is placed on affects the amount of risk it’s exposed to.

If your vehicle is placed on the bottom tier, it’s closer to the road and may be exposed to more muck and debris. Vehicles placed on the top tier may leak fluids down onto the bottom tier, which could damage your car. On the plus side, being on the bottom tier means your vehicle is protected by a ceiling. Assuming there are no issues with the cars on the top tier, nothing should affect the top of your vehicle.

Having your car placed on the top tier means it’s less likely to be exposed to debris and muck from the road. However, it’s more exposed to the weather. If it starts raining, snowing, or hailing, the cars on the top tier take the brunt of the weather, with those on the bottom tier enjoying some protection.

Difference No. 9 – Personalized Service

Many transportation companies that offer enclosed vehicle shipping combine it with a “white glove” service. This is a personalized service where the carrier pays full attention to your vehicle during transit. You’ll likely come across this service if your vehicle is the only one being shipped.

With white glove service, you’ll usually receive more updates and can communicate with your driver whenever you want. The vehicle is in a single-car trailer, meaning you don’t have to worry about anybody else’s car. Some white-glove services come with greater insurance protection than you’ll receive with open car transport. These personalized touches aren’t possible with open shipping due to the driver being responsible for several vehicles at once.

Who Should Use an Open Car Transport Service?

Open carrier shipping is the most popular of the two options, which tells you that the majority of people select it. You should opt for an open trailer in the following circumstances.

  • You have a limited budget and want to transport your vehicle as cost-effectively as possible.
  • You’re willing to accept the risks that come along with open trailers, which could involve minor damage to your vehicle’s bodywork.
  • The vehicle you’re shipping isn’t particularly valuable in the sense that it isn’t a classic, luxury, or antique car.
  • You want more control over your booking. It’s easier to get your vehicle shipped on the date you want due to the higher availability of open trailers.

Who Should Use an Enclosed Car Transport Service?

The increased protection offered by enclosed trailers is their biggest selling point. This protection will likely be the deciding factor when you choose between open vs. enclosed car shipping. Opt for enclosed in the following situations.

  • You have a valuable car, such as a classic car, that you want to protect against the hazards of long-distance driving as much as possible.
  • You’re willing to spend between 50% and 100% more than you would for open shipping for the protection that enclosed transport provides.
  • Enclosed transport is the best choice if you’re shipping your vehicle for a show, as you likely won’t need to clean it upon delivery.
  • You’re more flexible with scheduling or can book the service several months in advance.

Open vs. Enclosed Car Shipping – Make Your Choice

Though everybody wants to ensure their vehicle has the maximum amount of protection during transit, you have several things to consider when choosing between open and enclosed trailers. Your budget is key, as you’ll pay up to twice as much for an enclosed service as you would for an open one. It’s easier to schedule an open service due to the increased availability. Even so, you should probably search for enclosed car transport if you have a valuable vehicle and wish to reduce the amount of exposure.

Once you’ve made your choice, you need to find a vehicle carrier that meets your needs. At Ship Vehicles, we offer both open and enclosed transport services. That means you get to customize your shipping experience based on your priorities. If you’d like to find out more or wish to receive a quote, check us out online or call us at (888) 231-0113.