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The Slow Demise of Terminal to Terminal Car Shipping

Terminal to terminal car shipping

Terminal to terminal car shipping is a method of transporting vehicles that is slowly fading in the industry today. In fact, it’s been slowly dying for quite some time, at least over the last decade, if not more.

We’ve talked about why you shouldn’t use terminal to terminal auto transportation services unless you have to. We’ve also touched on why terminal shipping is disappearing. But we’ve never given a comprehensive overview on exactly what is happening to make the entire transportation industry shy away from the practice.

We’re going to look at what exactly terminal shipping is, who it was intended for, and why it’s been fading into obscurity for the past decade or so.

An overview of terminal to terminal car shipping

As the name suggests, terminal shipping is where you drop your vehicle off at a pre-designated location (called a terminal) for pickup by a car transport carrier. It is then delivered to a terminal at the delivery location.

It is the antithesis of door to door car shipping in that you won’t be there for pickup or delivery of the vehicle. Instead, you simply drop it off at the terminal and then pick it up at the other terminal.

It sounds pretty simple, and on the whole it is. It’s great for people with busy schedules or those that are moving and can’t bring their car with them at the time.

Typically terminals are only located in large cities, around airports or seaports. For instance, Matson’s port terminal in Long Beach. Airports tend to be better terminals for individuals. Port terminals are usually only used for overseas shipments. We don’t know of any port shipper that will just store a vehicle for a customer who is not shipping overseas.

Some of the benefits of terminal shipping

As mentioned above, terminal to terminal shipping can be good for people who can’t utilize door to door shipping. People relocating immediately, for instance. For someone who can’t be there at pickup, a terminal is a great alternative. Same goes for delivery, and people who are working and can’t take the time to meet the carrier.

Having access to a different method of transport isn’t a bad thing. And with terminal shipping it’s still moved by the same carriers that handle door to door transportation.

Another major benefit of terminal shipping is it tends to be a bit cheaper. It’s because carriers can usually fill an entire truck with cars in one fell swoop. This saves on fuel costs and also mileage driven, which saves on maintenance costs. If you’re searching for cheap auto transport services, it’s never a bad idea to ask about terminal transport.

Carriers being able to just go from one pickup location to one drop off location is pretty neat. But, it’s strange – carriers actually would rather do door to door shipments than terminal ones. The question is why.

Why carriers prefer door to door shipping

The most simple explanation for why carriers prefer door to door is it’s more reliable. With door to door shipping, carriers can meet with the customer and do the inspection and everything is on the up and up. You don’t get that with terminals.

Oftentimes, terminals are simply open lots. There’s rarely any gates and almost never attendants. And this can be problematic for a carrier, because if they pick up and do an inspection, there’s no one there to verify their claim. So if they pick up a vehicle that’s damaged before pickup, it’s easy for a customer to say it wasn’t there on pickup. This is especially true if the carrier was the only one who signed the pickup inspection report. Fraud tends to be more common with terminal shipping.

There’s also the issue of storage fees. Not all terminals have them, but the larger ones do (and they tend to have more security as well). If a carrier goes to pickup some cars at a terminal, and one of them hasn’t paid their storage fees, they can’t pick it up. The terminal typically won’t release the vehicle.

There’s just a lot of problems that can arise when you’re shipping terminal to terminal, both for customers and for carriers. These issues tend to not be issues when you ship door to door. You can meet with the carrier, do the inspections, and everything is out in the open. There’s no secrets, there’s no shade, just a clean-cut pickup and delivery.

The slow demise of terminal to terminal car shipping

All of these things have combined to make terminal shipping less important and less desirable. Customers are seeing the benefits of door to door shipping, notably the increase in dependability. Being able to inspect the vehicle with the carrier at pickup and delivery is a pretty big plus for door to door. Carriers being able to limit the amount of fraud or other issues is great as well. So there’s big incentives for customers and carriers both to choose door to door.

Another reason why is that terminal shipments tend to be prepaid. In other words, you pay for the shipment up front, and your shipping company handles paying the terminal and the carrier. This is a lot of extra work for shippers and it puts carriers in a bit of a bind. They have to ship on a promise to pay, and that’s not something that a lot of carriers like to do. They will if the price is right, but having to wait for payment is not something many carriers can really handle.

Terminal shipping is also more work for brokers, customers, and carriers alike. We have to find the nearest terminal to you and then have you take your vehicle there and drop it off. This requires you to have a ride both from the pickup terminal and to the delivery terminal, which can be a pain.

Door to door shipping is most always paid cash on delivery, and carriers really rely on that. It helps keep their trucks operating and fueled and it gives drivers cash in hand for use at truck stops and other places. Having access to money pretty much immediately is a big incentive for carriers to ship door to door.

Does this mean that terminals are no longer available? No. There are still quite a number of them, but most are now relegated to major cities, around airports or seaports. They can be more difficult to access for carriers and aren’t as reliable.

However, it does mean that the cost gap between door to door and terminal shipping has shrunk. In many cases, it’s actually cheaper to ship a car door to door than via a terminal nowadays.

Dave’s take on the future of terminal shipping services

Does this all mean that terminal shipping is going away? Somehow, I doubt it. There’s still a need, even if it’s small, and as such terminals won’t be going away. And besides, as terminal shipping slowly dwindles, terminal operators are finding other ways to make money. Mostly this comes from storage fees. Many terminals now are simply car storage facilities or lots, and that’s where most of their money comes from.

So it’s not like they’re going to disappear. Most shipping companies, including us, will put in the extra effort if we need to. If a customer absolutely cannot ship door to door for some reason, we can find a terminal for you. However, it’s going to take longer to find a carrier, sometimes weeks as they wait until they can fill their truck.

If it’s possible, use door to door services. If you need a quote to ship a car, give us a call and let us know.

Dave Armstrong
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