Preparing your vehicle for shipping during the PCS season

Preparing your vehicle for shipping during the PCS season

Preparation is key when shipping your vehicle during a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move, especially during the busy PCS season when numerous service members may be coordinating similar moves. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to prepare your vehicle for shipping:

1. Clean Your Vehicle:

Both inside and out, give your car a thorough cleaning. This will make it easier to identify and document any existing scratches, dings, or other damage before the move.

2. Document the Vehicle’s Condition:

Before the car shipping company arrives, take high-quality photos of your vehicle from various angles, including the interior. Document and photograph any existing damage. Having this record can be invaluable if you need to file a claim for damage that occurs during transit.

3. Maintenance Check:

Ensure your vehicle is in good operating condition. Check your car’s tire pressure, battery charge, and fluid levels. Ensure there are no leaks that might present a hazard during transport. Make sure the brakes are functioning correctly as well.

4. Remove Personal Items:

Most shipping companies and the Department of Defense (DoD) require that your vehicle is empty of personal belongings. The only items that should remain are those directly related to the vehicle, such as the spare tire and jumper cables.

5. Keep Fuel Level Low:

You should aim to have your tank no more than one-quarter full. A full tank adds unnecessary weight to the vehicle, and it’s a safety requirement by many shipping companies and the DoD.

6. Disable Alarms:

If your car has an alarm system, make sure to disable it. Alarms can cause unnecessary hassle and delays if they’re triggered during transit.

7. Prepare Documentation:

Prepare all necessary documentation, such as your military orders, proof of ownership, vehicle registration, and insurance information. Your shipping company will provide you with a list of the necessary paperwork.

8. Remove or Secure Loose Parts:

Remove any non-permanent exterior fixtures that might be damaged during transit, such as bike racks or spoilers. Securely close and latch the windows, doors, sunroofs, and convertible tops.

9. Check for Prohibited Items:

Make sure there’s no contraband in your vehicle, such as drugs or firearms, and ensure you’re not inadvertently shipping hazardous materials like oils or fire extinguishers.

Following these steps will help to ensure your vehicle is ready for shipping and that the process will go as smoothly as possible. Remember to communicate with your chosen shipping company to clarify any specific requirements or restrictions they might have.

Understanding the Importance of Vehicle Preparation

Vehicle preparation is an integral part of the PCS move process, especially when it comes to shipping your privately owned vehicle (POV). It’s not just about getting the car ready for a journey—it’s a comprehensive process that can have a significant impact on the success of your move, the condition of your vehicle upon arrival, and even the cost and legality of shipping. Here are some reasons why vehicle preparation is so essential:

1. Protecting Your Vehicle:

Properly preparing your vehicle, including cleaning and performing a maintenance check, helps protect it from potential damage during transit. It enables you to identify any pre-existing damage and gives you a benchmark for inspecting the vehicle at your destination.

2. Ensuring Compliance with Regulations:

The Department of Defense (DoD) and shipping companies have specific regulations for vehicle shipping, such as removing personal items, maintaining a certain fuel level, and ensuring no prohibited items are in the car. Following these rules is necessary to avoid delays or additional costs.

3. Streamlining the Shipping Process:

A well-prepared vehicle can help avoid unnecessary delays in the shipping process. For instance, a car with a drained battery or mechanical issues can cause hold-ups during loading and unloading. Similarly, an alarm that hasn’t been disabled can create complications.

4. Safeguarding Personal Items:

By emptying your vehicle of personal belongings, you not only comply with regulations but also protect your possessions. Items left in a vehicle can shift during transit, potentially causing damage to the interior or even the items themselves. In addition, shipping companies usually do not cover damage to or loss of personal items left in the car.

5. Supporting Accurate Documentation:

When your vehicle is clean and empty, it’s easier to accurately document its condition before shipping. This documentation is crucial if you need to file a claim for damage incurred during shipping.

In sum, proper vehicle preparation is a critical step in ensuring a successful and smooth PCS move. It protects your vehicle, helps you comply with rules and regulations, and provides peace of mind during a process that can often feel overwhelming.

Choosing a Reliable Shipping Service for Your Vehicle

Choosing a reliable shipping service for your vehicle during a PCS move is crucial to ensuring that your car arrives safely and on time at your new location. Here are a few steps to help you make the right choice:

1. Research and Reviews:

Start by researching various shipping companies online. Look for companies with a proven track record of handling military moves. Read customer reviews to understand others’ experiences. Remember, a couple of negative reviews among many positive ones shouldn’t necessarily rule a company out, but numerous negative reviews could be a red flag.

2. Experience with Military Moves:

Choose a shipping company that has experience with military moves. They’ll be familiar with the specific rules, processes, and paperwork that military moves often require. They’ll also understand the urgency and timeliness that these moves often demand.

3. Licenses and Insurance:

Ensure that the company you choose is fully licensed and insured. You can check their U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) number on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) website. This will confirm that they’re legally allowed to transport vehicles.

4. Services Offered:

Check what services the company offers. Some companies provide door-to-door service, while others might require you to drop off and pick up your vehicle from a central location. Depending on your circumstances, one type of service might be more convenient than the other.

5. Quotes and Pricing:

Get quotes from multiple companies to ensure you’re getting a fair price. Be wary of prices that seem too good to be true—they often are. A very low price might indicate a lack of services, insurance, or quality assurance.

6. Customer Service:

Good customer service is an essential factor. The company should be responsive, professional, and willing to answer your questions. This can give you a sense of how they’ll handle any issues that might arise during the shipping process.

7. Terms and Conditions:

Read the company’s terms and conditions carefully. Pay special attention to their policies on delays, damage, and insurance claims.

By following these steps, you can choose a shipping service that will handle your vehicle with care and professionalism, ensuring a smoother PCS move. Always remember to confirm any information given and ensure you’re comfortable with your choice before handing over your keys.

Pre-Inspection: Documenting Your Vehicle’s Condition

Before your vehicle is shipped, it’s important to perform a pre-inspection and document its condition. This can protect you from being held responsible for damage that your vehicle didn’t have prior to shipping. Here are the steps you should take to document your vehicle’s condition before shipping:

1. Clean Your Vehicle:

A thorough cleaning, both inside and outside, will make it easier to spot any existing damage such as scratches, dents, or chips. It also gives you the opportunity to remove any personal items, as they are not typically covered by the shipping company’s insurance.

2. Conduct a Thorough Inspection:

Inspect your vehicle thoroughly. Look for any existing damage, including minor scratches, dings, or dents. Don’t forget to check the roof and under the front and rear bumpers. For the interior, check for tears or stains on the seats, cracks in the dashboard, or other damage.

3. Take Detailed Photos:

Once you’ve identified any existing damage, photograph it. Your photos should be high-quality and taken from multiple angles. Be sure to take general photos of your vehicle from all sides as well as close-up shots of any specific damage. Remember to also take photos of the interior.

4. Make Notes and Keep Records:

In addition to photographs, write down any details of the existing damage in a document. Be as detailed as possible—include the location, type of damage, and severity. Keep this document safe as it will be crucial in case of any disputes.

5. Use a Pre-Inspection Checklist:

Many shipping companies provide a pre-inspection checklist. Use this to guide your inspection process and ensure you don’t overlook anything.

6. Complete the Inspection with the Shipping Company:

When the shipping company arrives to pick up your vehicle, they will also perform an inspection and fill out a Bill of Lading, which will document the condition of the vehicle before shipping. Make sure their notes match yours, and don’t sign the Bill of Lading until you agree with their assessment.

Remember, a detailed pre-inspection can potentially save you from disputes and unnecessary costs down the line. It’s an important step to ensure peace of mind as your vehicle is transported to your new location.

Cleaning and Maintenance Before Shipping

Cleaning and maintenance of your vehicle are crucial steps to take before shipping during a PCS move. These not only help in protecting your car but also make the shipping process smoother and more efficient. Let’s delve into what this involves:

Cleaning Your Vehicle:

  1. Exterior Cleaning: Wash your vehicle thoroughly, ensuring all surfaces are clean. This will make it easier to spot any pre-existing damage, such as dents, scratches, or chips, which should be documented prior to shipping.
  2. Interior Cleaning: Clean the interior of your vehicle as well. Remove all personal items, as they’re not typically covered by the shipper’s insurance and could potentially damage the vehicle’s interior during transit. Vacuum the seats and floor, wipe down all surfaces, and clean the windows.

Maintenance Tasks:

  1. Check Fluid Levels: Make sure all fluid levels are correct. This includes engine oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, and windshield wiper fluid. An oil change might be a good idea if you’re due soon.
  2. Check Tires: Ensure that all tires, including the spare, are properly inflated and in good condition. Under- or over-inflated tires can cause issues during loading and unloading.
  3. Check Battery: Ensure the battery is fully charged and securely mounted. A loose battery can cause damage during transit.
  4. Check for Leaks: If your vehicle has any fluid leaks, have them repaired before shipping. Leaking fluids can cause damage to your vehicle and others during transit.
  5. Empty the Fuel Tank: Most shippers require that the fuel tank be no more than a quarter full. A full tank adds unnecessary weight and potential safety hazards.
  6. Disable the Alarm: If your vehicle has an alarm, make sure to disable it. Alarms can cause problems and delays during shipping.
  7. Maintenance Check: If your vehicle needs a routine maintenance check, it might be a good idea to do it before shipping. This can help avoid potential issues upon arrival at the new destination.

Cleaning and maintaining your vehicle prior to shipping not only helps protect your vehicle, but it also aids in an efficient and hassle-free shipping process. It’s a step that requires some time and effort but can pay off significantly in ensuring a smooth PCS move.

Removing Personal Items and Custom Accessories

Prior to shipping your vehicle for a PCS move, it’s important to remove all personal items and custom accessories from the car. There are a few key reasons for this:

  1. Shipping Regulations: Most shipping companies have strict policies against including personal items in a vehicle being shipped. These rules are often based on Department of Transportation regulations and insurance coverage limitations. The shipper could refuse to transport your vehicle if personal items are found during inspection.
  2. Risk of Theft or Damage: Vehicles being shipped are often left unlocked for easy access by the shipping company. Personal items left inside could be vulnerable to theft. Moreover, loose items can move around during shipping and cause damage to the interior of the car.
  3. Additional Weight: Extra weight in your vehicle can potentially lead to additional shipping costs or even cause issues with the transport carrier, especially if it’s close to its maximum weight limit.

As for custom accessories, these may not be covered under the shipping company’s insurance policy. It’s advisable to remove any detachable custom accessories, such as aftermarket stereos, GPS systems, custom rims or spoilers, to prevent damage or theft.

Here’s a list of items you should consider removing:

  • All personal items such as clothing, electronics, important documents, etc.
  • Any loose items in the car, such as air fresheners, seat covers, or floor mats.
  • Electronic devices and their adapters, such as GPS systems, stereo faceplates, and phone chargers.
  • Toll tags or parking passes to prevent unwanted charges.
  • Valuable components, such as custom wheels or upgraded audio equipment.

After removing these items, don’t forget to do a final check of all compartments, including the glove box, trunk, and under the seats, to ensure nothing has been overlooked. A clean, empty car is ready for shipping and will ensure a smooth and hassle-free PCS move.

Disabling Alarms and Antitheft Devices

Ensuring a smooth transportation process for your vehicle during a PCS move also involves disabling any alarms and anti-theft devices. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to prepare your vehicle in this aspect:

Disabling Car Alarms:

  1. Refer to Your Vehicle’s Manual: Each car model has a unique method to disable its alarm system. Hence, it’s vital to consult the owner’s manual for specific instructions.
  2. Standard Procedure: Generally, car alarms can be disabled using the key fob by pressing the “panic” or “off” button. Alternatively, some alarms can be turned off by starting the car or unlocking the car manually with the key.
  3. Professional Assistance: If you encounter difficulties in disabling the alarm, don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional mechanic.

Disabling Anti-Theft Devices:

  1. Built-In Anti-Theft System: If your vehicle has a built-in anti-theft system, it may automatically re-engage after a certain period of inactivity. Be sure to completely deactivate the system or provide clear instructions to the shipping company on how to disengage it if necessary.
  2. Removable Devices: Devices such as steering wheel locks or brake pedal locks should be entirely removed before shipping.

Spare Keys:

While it might seem counter-intuitive, providing a spare key to the shipping company can prevent potential problems. The shipping company might need to move your vehicle for loading, unloading, or in the case of emergencies. Ensure the key you provide can both start the vehicle and unlock the doors.

Remember to inform the shipping company about any peculiarities related to your vehicle’s alarm or anti-theft systems. These precautions will help prevent unnecessary delays or possible damage to your vehicle during transit, ensuring a more seamless PCS move.

Checking Fluids, Tires, and Battery

As part of the preparation for shipping your vehicle during a PCS move, checking the fluids, tires, and battery is crucial. These checks will ensure the vehicle is in good shape for transport and help prevent any potential issues during shipping.

Fluid Checks:

  1. Engine Oil: Make sure the engine oil level is within the recommended range. If your vehicle is due for an oil change, it may be best to take care of this before the move.
  2. Coolant: Check the coolant level to ensure your vehicle can maintain proper temperature regulation during transit.
  3. Brake Fluid: Confirm the brake fluid is at an appropriate level to ensure the car can be safely moved on and off the transport vehicle.
  4. Transmission Fluid: Similar to engine oil, this fluid should be checked and filled to the appropriate level.
  5. Power Steering Fluid: This fluid should also be checked to ensure ease of movement during loading and unloading.
  6. Fuel: The fuel tank should be about one-quarter full. This provides enough fuel for loading and unloading, but not so much as to add unnecessary weight to the transport vehicle.

Tire Check:

Ensure all tires, including the spare, are properly inflated and in good condition. Good tires contribute to safer and smoother loading and unloading procedures.

Battery Check:

The battery should be fully charged and securely fastened. A loose battery can cause damage during transit, and a charged battery ensures the vehicle can be moved as needed during transport.

Remember, these checks are not only about preparing the vehicle for the actual shipping process but also ensuring it’s ready to hit the road as soon as it arrives at your new destination. Your diligence in these preparations will contribute to a smoother PCS move.

Special Considerations for Motorcycles or Specialty Vehicles

Motorcycles and specialty vehicles, such as vintage cars or recreational vehicles (RVs), require a few additional considerations for shipping during a PCS move. These vehicles often have unique needs due to their design, value, or purpose.


  1. Securing Loose Parts: Make sure any loose parts are secured or removed. This includes mirrors, saddlebags, or any removable accessories that could become damaged during transport.
  2. Fluid Levels: Check fluid levels and ensure the fuel tank is only about a quarter full.
  3. Battery: Disconnect the battery to prevent any accidental drain or short circuit during transit.
  4. Shipping Method: Many companies offer specialized motorcycle shipping methods, such as using a pallet or crate. This provides extra protection for your motorcycle during transit.

Specialty Vehicles:

  1. Extra Protection: Specialty vehicles, such as vintage cars, might require extra protection. You could opt for enclosed shipping, which offers more protection from weather and road debris.
  2. Inspections: Given the value of these vehicles, it’s even more important to conduct a thorough inspection and take detailed photographs prior to shipping. Make sure to document any existing damage.
  3. Insurance: Double-check the shipping company’s insurance policy. It may be worth considering additional insurance coverage for high-value vehicles.
  4. Special Instructions: If your vehicle has any quirks or special requirements for driving, provide detailed instructions to your shipping company.

Recreational Vehicles (RVs):

  1. Size and Weight: RVs are typically larger and heavier than standard vehicles. Make sure the shipping company can accommodate your RV’s size and weight.
  2. Internal Items: Secure any items inside the RV to prevent damage during transit. This includes securing cabinet doors and removing or securing loose items.
  3. Utilities: Ensure all utilities are turned off, the propane tank is emptied, and water tanks are drained.

Remember, when shipping motorcycles or specialty vehicles, always ensure to communicate any specific needs or concerns with your shipping company. A specialized and experienced shipping company can make all the difference in ensuring a smooth PCS move.

Understanding Costs and Insurance for Vehicle Shipping

Understanding the costs and insurance associated with vehicle shipping is a crucial part of the PCS move process. This knowledge will help you budget for the move and ensure that your vehicle is fully protected throughout the journey.

Costs for Vehicle Shipping:

  1. Distance: As a rule of thumb, the further the shipping distance, the higher the cost.
  2. Vehicle Size and Weight: Larger and heavier vehicles usually cost more to ship than smaller, lighter ones.
  3. Transport Type: Open transport is typically the most cost-effective method. Enclosed transport, which offers more protection for the vehicle, usually costs more.
  4. Pick-up and Delivery Locations: Door-to-door service is more expensive than terminal-to-terminal service. Additionally, shipping to or from remote locations can incur additional costs due to the extra distance the carrier must travel.
  5. Seasonality: During peak PCS shipping season, the demand for vehicle shipping services increases, potentially driving up prices.

Insurance for Vehicle Shipping:

  1. Carrier Liability Insurance: All professional auto transport companies are required to have liability insurance. This covers damage caused by accidents during transit.
  2. Cargo Insurance: This covers damage to your vehicle while it’s being loaded onto, transported on, and unloaded from the carrier.
  3. Additional Insurance: If you have a highly valuable vehicle, you might consider purchasing additional insurance coverage for added protection.
  4. Insurance Documentation: Always ask for proof of insurance from your shipping company and read the policy to understand what is covered and what isn’t.
  5. Personal Auto Insurance: Check your personal auto insurance policy. Some policies may cover your vehicle during shipping, but others may not.

By comprehending these costs and insurance factors, you can make an informed decision when selecting your vehicle shipping service, helping to ensure a smooth and stress-free PCS move. Be sure to discuss all these aspects with potential shipping companies to make sure there are no hidden surprises and your vehicle will be adequately protected during the move.

What to Expect on Shipping Day

Shipping day can be both exciting and stressful as part of your PCS move. Knowing what to expect can help alleviate anxiety and ensure the process runs smoothly. Here’s a step-by-step guide for what you can anticipate on shipping day:

  1. Final Vehicle Preparation: Give your vehicle a final clean, remove any personal items, and conduct a final inspection of the vehicle’s condition. Take photos for your records as a precautionary measure.
  2. Carrier Inspection: The carrier will also perform an inspection and document the vehicle’s condition on the Bill of Lading, which serves as a receipt and an agreement between you and the shipping company. Be present for this inspection, ensure all details are accurately recorded, and keep a copy of this document.
  3. Vehicle Loading: The shipping company will load your vehicle onto the truck. They are skilled in this process, so you usually don’t need to be involved. However, you are welcome to watch to ensure everything is handled correctly.
  4. Paperwork and Key Handover: Once your vehicle is loaded, you’ll hand over a set of keys to the driver and finalize any remaining paperwork. Ensure you have a copy of all documents and keep them safe until your vehicle is delivered.
  5. Goodbye: After everything is in order, the transporter will leave with your vehicle. This can be an emotional moment, especially if you’re shipping a vehicle you’re attached to. Remember, you’ve done your due diligence to ensure it’s in good hands.
  6. Tracking: Some shipping companies offer tracking services that allow you to monitor the progress of your vehicle throughout the journey.

Remember, while it’s normal to feel anxious, knowing what to expect and being prepared can make shipping day a less stressful experience. Feel free to ask your shipping company any last-minute questions you may have, as they are there to help make this process as smooth as possible for your PCS move.

Resources and Tips for a Smooth Shipping Experience

Shipping your vehicle during a PCS move can be a daunting task, but having the right resources and following certain tips can make the process significantly smoother.


  1. Military Installation Transportation Offices: These offices provide information on military-specific shipping procedures and can answer any questions related to your PCS move.
  2. Military OneSource: This website provides comprehensive resources for military members and their families, including articles, guides, and advice on PCS moves.
  3. Shipping Company Websites: Most shipping companies have resources on their websites that guide you through the process, provide quotes, and answer frequently asked questions.
  4. Department of Transportation (DOT): DOT’s website provides information on shipping regulations and tips for selecting a reliable shipping company.

Tips for a Smooth Experience During PCS Shipping Season:

  1. Plan Early: Start researching and booking your vehicle shipping services well in advance of your move date to avoid last-minute stress.
  2. Understand Costs and Insurance: Get a clear understanding of all costs involved and ensure the shipping company has adequate insurance coverage.
  3. Thorough Vehicle Inspection: Inspect your vehicle before and after shipping to identify any potential damage.
  4. Remove Personal Items: Personal items are not covered by the shipping company’s insurance, so it’s best to remove them before shipping.
  5. Communication: Keep open lines of communication with your shipping company. Make sure you understand their policies and procedures and have their contact information on hand.
  6. Spare Key: Always give the shipping company a spare key. They will need to be able to move your vehicle for loading and unloading purposes.
  7. Documentation: Keep copies of all documents related to the shipping process. This includes the Bill of Lading, insurance policies, and any agreements with the shipping company.

By utilizing available resources and following these tips, you can be more prepared and less stressed during the vehicle shipping process, making your PCS move that much smoother.

Conclusion: Ensuring a Stress-Free Vehicle Shipping Process

Ensuring a stress-free vehicle shipping process during your PCS move is attainable with proper preparation, knowledge, and the right resources. By following essential steps and being aware of key considerations, you can safeguard your vehicle and have peace of mind throughout the journey. Here’s a summary of the crucial points to ensure a smooth and stress-free vehicle shipping experience:

  1. Plan Early: Start planning and researching vehicle shipping services well in advance of your move date to avoid last-minute complications.
  2. Understand Costs and Insurance: Get a clear understanding of the costs involved and ensure that the shipping company provides adequate insurance coverage for your vehicle.
  3. Thorough Inspection: Inspect your vehicle before and after shipping to document its condition and identify any pre-existing damage.
  4. Remove Personal Items: Take out all personal items from the vehicle to prevent damage and ensure compliance with shipping regulations.
  5. Communication: Keep lines of communication open with the shipping company, and ensure you have their contact information readily available.
  6. Documentation: Keep copies of all relevant documents, including the Bill of Lading and insurance policies.
  7. Special Considerations: If shipping motorcycles or specialty vehicles, pay attention to their unique needs and requirements.

By being proactive and attentive, you can navigate the vehicle shipping process with confidence. Utilize available resources, such as military installation transportation offices and online guides, to enhance your understanding and preparedness. Remember that thorough preparation and choosing a reliable shipping company will go a long way in ensuring a stress-free vehicle shipping experience during your PCS move.

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