How to move a classic car halfway across the country?
January 1, 2014 8:15 PM   Subscribe

My friend was recently gifted a 1946 Chevy Stylemaster by his grandfather. His grandfather lives in Pueblo, CO and he lives in Maryland. Anyone done this before?

The car runs, though I don't know how well. He looked into auto moving companies, but we'd like to turn it into an adventure and make a roadtrip out of it. Any advice on the best way to go about it? Right now, we're looking at finding a truck or SUV we can rent and an auto transport trailer from U-Haul. We also considered trying to drive it all the way (with a support vehicle of course), but ruled that out. We're considering renting the SUV from Thrifty, though we're not sure yet if their cars or policies are compatible with towing.
posted by heathkit to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
you should use an auto moving company and select an adventure that doesn't involve towing a car. i don't know of a major car rental company that will allow you to tow a car (although you can break your contract and tow something, but there are a million ways that can go wrong). the only way i know of renting a vehicle where they would let you tow something would be to rent a uhaul and one of their towing trailers, but that's even less fun than towing an old car behind an suv.
posted by nadawi at 8:20 PM on January 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

In general, no car rental agencies will actually allow you to tow with their rental vehicles. Even U-Haul, who rents trailers along with their trucks, only allows you to your their own trailers.

You can do it anyway, but I'm sure it invalidated your insurance and if anything happened you'd be liable for violating the agreement.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:22 PM on January 1, 2014

Seconding car moving company. Mr. Darling bought a 1958 DeSoto, sight unseen and had it delivered from a field in Pittsburg, Kansas to our house in suburban New Orleans. It can be done. Remember to get information on whether the car drives, and if not, if the tires are inflated and can be moved. Mr. Darling had to go get the volunteer fire fighters from down the street to help move the car because the tires were flat.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 8:33 PM on January 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know for a fact that Uhaul will let you tow a car (on a flat trailer) with thier truck. It will be costly though.

If you don't rent a uhaul truck, you'll need a full size truck - 10,000 lb limit or higher. A Tacoma/4Runner has a 6k limit. A car trailer weighs in at 1500 or so lbs. and the car at 3000-4000 is a little closer to the mid-size towing limit than I would be comfortsble with on that long tow.

Pretty much any Tundra/F150/etc should do OK.

Some rental companies have full size tow vehicles for rent - I imagine it varies by franchise. I don't imagine it will be cheap though.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:40 PM on January 1, 2014

Rent a van with a hitch-ball, rent a tow bar kit attach the tow bar kit to the chevy drive away.
not hard to do at all.
posted by hortense at 10:04 PM on January 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've had some cars shipped. What I've found is that it's about $1000 to have a professional classic car hauler move a car on open transport across the country (which is OK, if car is not in great shape) and about $2000 if it's inside a closed semi-trailer. Closed is worth it if the car is in really nice condition now.

Depending on where you live, it may be a somewhat of a wait for a truck to be coming in the right direction with room on it. Cars generally, as mentioned, have to roll, and you may pay a premium if it cannot drive itself onto the truck.

Driving it can be an adventure, but there are so many things that can go wrong that if you're not of the right personality type ("the journey is the destination") it can be an endless, expensive slog. Lots of things, from tires to belts to brakes to you name it may not be up to the task, and hunting for new odd-ball tires in East Nowhere isn't a hugely great time.

The flip side is it could be a wonderful the spring. Mid-winter, not so sure. If you plan on driving it, consider getting a red-eye flight out there a couple of weeks before to assess how likely that is going to be.

Incidentally, my old ford truck, hauling a car trailer with a full-size car on it, got about 8 MPG. Add in some hotels and lost work time, and $1000 seems like a pretty OK deal.

My experience, incidentally, is that most "regular" car shippers don't want much to do with a classic car, and rightly's a specialty business, the hassle for the regular guys isn't worth it.
posted by maxwelton at 10:06 PM on January 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

While you can technically tow with uhaul, this is a terrible idea.

That's at minimum, a 1600 mile drive. You will log more miles than that jockying around at both ends, driving around to find a good secure place to park for the night at a motel or whatever who will be chomping at the bit to charge you extra fees(and many of which i could see not being thrilled with a truck and trailer, it's often hard to get leeway with any nonstandard vehicle even at the rv friendly places), pulling off the highway for food and gas and getting looped around, pulling off to take breaks or rotate drivers, and more.

There is no way that driving there in a one way rental shitty uhaul truck that will plausibly break down or fuck up along the way will actually be cheaper, nor will it be a "fun adventure". Look, i'm the kind of guy who thought buying a city bus on ebay and driving it up the coast without much more of a mechanical inspection than "yep, that's an engine in there, and it runs. there's tires on the wheels with air in them too, and the brakes make the right whooshy noise" was a fun idea because #YOLO and whatnot.

Go check uhauls rates. The smallest truck they'd let you tow like this with that would be up to it, iirc, is the 14ft. And just on uhaul fees alone WITHOUT GAS they quoted me $1027 to go from pueblo CO to the annapolis shop and drop the truck off(random main one in maryland it chose). I don't think i could get it to spit out another drop off location in MD. Note that uhaul does NOT rent out their regular pickup trucks for one way moves like this. Ditto on their regular sized econoline type vans.

So you're buying an asston of gas to run the truck that will be getting stupendously awful mileage because it's towing and it's a uhaul truck, and uhaul trucks get irrationally bad mileage for what they are probably from all the abuse and sketchy maintenance(think 5mpg, just do the math based on that). Assuming you get 5mpg, you're paying $1122 for gas assuming you just drive straight as an arrow down the highway and never pull off. So assume you're REALLY going to pay like, $1500 for gas. Realistically for some headroom, just pretend that's it. It's also worth noting that uhaul quotes this as a 2000+ mile journey. Also note that assuming you get 1-2 MPG more isn't saving you a ton of money here either.

So you're already at $2527 minimum, and you haven't even factored in full meals, RV space parking fees at motels, any other supplies you'll end up needing or random snacks/coffee(on a trip like this, i once had my pants spontaneously rip like stripper pants when i leaned over. i had to drive to a walmart and buy new cheap jeans. things like this happen on EVERY big road trip).

This is a $3000 trip. And you'll leave thinking it's going to cost that much and end up spending hundreds of dollars more. It happens every. single. time.

Buying enclosed transport would be at least a grand cheaper even if the 2k price doesn't include taxes or some fees. Spend the difference on a new set of tires and hoses for the car, and some jugs of oil and coolant and a quality socket set, and a shop manual on ebay.

I love stupid adventures like this, but this one just sounds like a slog. The bus one i did was also a massive amount of miles, but it was in the summer and the weather was awesome and we were just sleeping in the bus every night, and didn't have to cross any ??? terrain. It's winter right now, and even if you weren't going to do this for a few weeks it would still be prime snow and shit weather season in a lot of areas. I dunno, it just sets off my nope-o-meter since shipping is an option and cheaper no matter how you slice it.

Sorry to be a huge stick in the mud, but i'm just telling it like it is.

by the way, i'm happy you ruled out driving it. I wouldn't even drive that car 50 miles right now. You're going to spend months driving it around town, just between neighborhoods or on some short 50mph intercity highway trecks to learn it's quirks/foibles/weird glitches. That is not something you want to do on a trip like this. I bought a car quite a lot like this, but a bit newer(66) and it took me MONTHS to figure that crap out, and i encountered more than a couple problems that would have been freaking disastrous even if i was just driving a couple cities down on i5 on a 45 minute drive.
posted by emptythought at 12:54 AM on January 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

What is his plan for the Chevy? Let it sit and tinker on it when he gets the time? Or have it restored by a professional shop? If the latter, see if they won't do the move for a reasonable price (since they will be doing the work on it.)
posted by Thorzdad at 6:53 AM on January 2, 2014

Try As seen on TV.
posted by Gungho at 8:18 AM on January 2, 2014

Came in to say my husband has actually done this once. In 2010 he bought a 1971 Datsun 240Z from craigslist in Los Angeles, and drove it home to Boulder, Colorado with a stop along the way in Silver City, NM to pick me up from a bike race.

The difference being, he went out about a week early to meet his uncle, who lives in LA, is a car genius and restores old cars as a 2nd job / side hobby. His uncle had already done most of the background work on reviewing the car's past history and test driving it before the sale. When my husband arrived on a cheap flight from Denver, they both took the car, which the former owner had already been using as a daily driver (so they knew it ran well) and did a bunch of additional prep work and restoration on it prior to my husband driving it back home across the Southwest in midsummer (Death Valley is not named that just for funsies, yo).

I'm... not entirely certain I'd do this with a 70 year old car regardless of its condition. My husband said his trip was really, really long and boring, and among things to consider: he deliberately drove through the worst part of the desert at night and very early morning because the Datsun didn't have functional A/C at the time. I just asked him for his opinion on your plan in fact, and he says it was stressful and boring enough doing the same thing with a 40 year old car, that is a very common and popular restoration project car, was already in reliable working condition, and had (mostly) modern enough parts that finding replacements in East Jesus wouldn't be a giant stretch.

From personal experience - the PA Turnpike is absolutely nowhere I want to be driving with even a fully functional modern car in the winter, much less something with questionable tires/traction that may break down.

So... I guess if it were me and/or my husband, having done basically the same thing before, it's one of those things that SOUNDS fun but really requires a lot of preparation and planning for, and the reality of it is it's much like any other long drive across country except you're not in a comfortable, reliable modern vehicle and there's lots of stuff on old cars to break.

I definitely would not recommend this if the car has been sitting for a long period of time unused.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:39 AM on January 2, 2014

In 1998 I used "Horseless Carriage" (enclosed) to ship a car from NJ to WA, and I sold a car a couple of years back and the new owner used "Passport," I think. Both drivers I met were friendly folk who definitely knew what they were doing. The big companies in the business know what they're about. The most frustrating thing is going to be going with the flow of their scheduling, where you're at an advantage. Try placating a seller who wonders why it's taken 5 weeks to get a truck out to pick up your car...

I sold a different car a couple of years ago to Maryland, and that new owner opted to use open transport--the car was unusual but not in amazing condition. The driver of that truck was also very good, and tended to put the nicest cars on his truck in the most sheltered location (which was slightly counter-intuitive, as I recall...something to do with road spray vs. overhead weather). So if the car isn't in great shape, open would probably be OK. Be prepared to give a thorough bath once it's home, this time of year salt isn't going to be your friend, of course.

Again, do NOT consider a rental company truck and trailer to get the car home. Even if you do that, you'll need a full trailer, not a two-wheels-on-the-ground dolly, and that's easily twice as much money just for that part of it. (You don't know what bearings are going to fail in the rear axle of the old car, or if there's enough of the right fluid in it, or if the transmission is up for spinning for that distance, or...)

Old cars are awesome, and simple (in many ways) and a great hobby. But be smart and pay to have it shipped and, as emptythought notes above, put the money saved into a "recommission the car for the road" fund.

Incidentally, that fund is probably going to be tires + brakes + some seals + tune up parts + more... Realistically, that's a grand or two, depending, but doesn't have to happen all at once. And it's fun if you're mechanically-minded! Also, right now prepare yourself for the jaw-dropping quote for getting a car painted, which is rivaling the cost of a ivy-league education these days. Except that when Harvard says it's going to be $x, it generally is, whereas when Karl's Kustom Killer Paint says $x, you're going to pay about 3x. It's the nature of the beast.
posted by maxwelton at 1:42 AM on January 3, 2014

Never, ever try to reconcile what you've spent on the car with what it might sell for. That way madness lies...there are very, very few cars that will ever make you a profit, even if you count your time as worth $0 and got a "great deal" on it. Think of garaging an old car as keeping a horse...constant minor expense, the occasional disaster, messes to clean up and a certain musty smell which isn't bad at all but it also an acquired taste...and definitely not something you do if (a) you'll genuinely miss the money spent or (b) the thought of the cost kept you from enjoying the beast itself.
posted by maxwelton at 1:53 AM on January 3, 2014

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