Common Words You’ll Hear When Shipping Your Car
This may not occur to most new customers at first, but you’re going to encounter a lot of new words when shipping your car.
That’s right, there is a whole world of car shippers out there on the road speaking their own language. In fact, carriers use a lot of the same terms that have been used in the logistics industry for almost a century. On top of that, we have some of our own special terms and acronyms in vehicle transport that are all our own.
I know what you’re thinking, “I’m talking to a bunch of truckers, right? Aren’t they known for keeping to themselves and enjoying lots of time alone? Why would I have to deal with a bunch of lingo?” But then you decide to have your car shipped to Utah and you call up a dozen shipping companies trying to compare quotes (we’ll talk about that another time). Suddenly, your mind is weighed down with a whole glossary of new terms you don’t know what to do with. We know, because we hear it from our own new employees.
Who Speaks the Language, and Why
Some of the people you call are trying to use those words against you — they figure if they talk over your head, you’ll be in awe of their obvious “expertise” and give them your trust and your money. I have a certain passion for putting a stop to that, which is part of what led up to this post; for a lot of transporters, though, they just don’t know any different.
Our company was founded by drivers, and most of the drivers we have on staff have worked with us for years. Just about all of them have been hauling something for even longer than they’ve been with us. We all speak the language. But when someone new comes into our office, like Dan, our newest customer service representative, they have usually never driven a truck in their lives, and they look at us like we’re crazy when these words start flying across the room on their first day. So, we asked everyone to name a few things they were confused about when they started, and now we’re going to pass the knowledge on to you.
The Auto Transport Vocabulary
This first one is pretty basic, but still can be confusing. Logistics can mean the coordination of any complex operation. The logistics industry usually refers to freight haulers of all kinds, and the automotive logistics industry refers to our little branch of it. There’s even a big European industry journal called Automotive Logistics. Industry journals don’t usually have very creative names…
A carrier is a shipper or shipping company. What you might call a trucking company. They carry the load. A car carrier ships cars. An individual driver can also be called a carrier if they own their own truck, usually as a sole proprietor of their business.
In our industry, a broker is someone who serves as a go-between for customers and carriers. We’ve written a lot about brokers, because there are so many of them on the internet. Anybody can buy a website and a license and declare themselves a broker. It’s not that they’re all bad — there are some very reputable ones, but they usually work very closely with a certain set of carriers. They have a long history of doing business, and the best ones have their own trucks or experience driving their own.
When you get a quote from a broker, most of the time they post your car on a load board, and carriers bid on the job. We write about quality all the time because some brokers will give jobs to anybody. Again, the better brokers have a preferred list of carriers they work with and will offer the car to them instead of posting it for the sharks.
This is a fun one, because it seems self-explanatory. A truck comes to your house, picks up your car, and then drops your car off at its destination several states away, right? Not really. A small local truck might come to your house and pick up your car, but they would only drop it off at a terminal. A carrier would then take it to its final destination (or another terminal). They’ll drop it off at a house if they can, but door-to-door is usually synonymous with wishful thinking, because it’s unlikely to happen. People might really want it, and we understand how convenient it sounds, but it’s just not a reality most of the time. Trucks hauling 10 cars at a time are big, city roads are small. How often do you see car haulers in the suburbs? There’s a reason.
Dan suggested we put this one on the list. It might seem pretty obvious, but it may not be as obvious as you think. Truckers have specific routes that they take, and that they take often. It’s at least worth noting that the network of truck drivers is large, and they are able to communicate with each other over Facebook and through personal connections, or at places like truck stops, to find out which roads are operating at their peak on a given day. Drivers plan out their routes in advance, still having to rely on their own knowledge and experience as much as any GPS or modern technology could provide them.
This one really got me when I started out. Carriers have certain lanes they run. That sounds like a reference to their favorite part of the interstate, and in some ways you could call it that, but not in the way you think. A lane is the regular to/from a carrier prefers. Some will run the New York to California lane, maybe a few more west coast or east coast lanes like Philadelphia to New York or California to Arizona. This is just the to and from that a company usually runs along.
If you have shipped a car with us in the past, you might be familiar with terminals. They are the areas where your car is picked up from or dropped off from. We make partner agreements with towing companies to use their facilities as pickup and dropoff points, and these serve as terminals. Terminal means “at the end of something,” by some definitions, and you can think of terminals as the things at both ends of your car’s journey.
Ah, it’s time for the acronyms. BOL stands for Bill of Lading. This is technical enough that I’m just going to quote Wikipedia. A bill of lading is “a document issued by a carrier (or their agent) to acknowledge receipt of cargo for shipment.” It is a legal document with its roots in maritime trade, but it works a little bit differently in auto logistics. When a broker accepts a load from a carrier, they are sent a BOL with information such as the vehicle’s VIN number, make, model, etc., and a space to sign for pickup and for delivery. It serves as a receipt of pickup, and of the condition the car was in when it was picked up and delivered. If there are scratches or dents before or after the transporter ever touches it, that is noted. For more information, check out our post all about how carriers handle damage to your car.
There is a good chance you’re already familiar with the DOT — the Department of Transportation. They are the regulatory body of the U.S. government which oversees our roads, and maintains our infrastructure. But in addition to that, they oversee other sub-agencies like the FMCSA. It’s worth noting that the NTSB is independent of the DOT.
The FMCSA is a division of the DOT, and if your head isn’t beginning to spin, congratulations. You’re one of the lucky ones. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration handles the regulations of all types of carriers. They recommend laws, and they are in charge of two sets of regulations which are very
frustrating important to car carriers: hours of service regulations, and ELDs. The two are tied together, as we’ll see.
The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent government organization that oversees the investigations of major accidents. Most civilian incidents would not merit their presence, but accidents where safety measures could possibly have prevented an incident, like the collapse of a pedestrian bridge in Miami, would put them on the scene.
Weigh stations ensure a truck is not over the 80,000 pound weight limit put in place by the U.S. government. The weight cap is supposed to help to prevent accidents as well as minimize wear and tear on roadways caused by heavy vehicles. Car carriers work very hard to distribute the weight of each load evenly, in order to not put extra stress on certain parts of the truck. The government may also schedule vehicle inspections to take place at weight stations, and/or other types of inspections while they have you there.
A transporter is just another name for a car carrier.
A dispatcher connects the main office to all of the other carriers on the road. Some dispatchers will work only with carriers within the company, giving them instructions, and getting updates which they can personally communicate to customers, or pass along to a customer service representative. The smallest shipping companies usually consist of a driver and a dispatcher, often a husband-and-wife team, so that there is always a point of contact for both the driver and customers.
Drivers will talk about 8 car loads, 9 car loads, 10 car loads; you might be able to discern from the phrasing that a load is how drivers refer to the cars they are carrying. The best case scenario is that you are fully loaded on both ways, coming and going. Drivers want to take 9 or 10 cars to the city they are delivering to, and take 9 or 10 cars back, in order to prevent empty spots. Just like an Uber or Lyft driver who makes a 200 mile one-way trip for a single passenger, the trip back with an empty vehicle feels like time and money wasted.
Load boards are a little bit controversial in the car shipping industry. The largest and most utilized board is called Central Dispatch. Carriers and brokers need to have an account to post there, and the account itself costs upwards of $99 per month (the price has risen since being bought out by Cox Automotive, and yes, they are the same Cox as the cable company). When brokers give out a quote to a customer, some of them will post the load on Central Dispatch. By the time a car gets here, a broker expects that the customer is shipping with them, so they offer a set amount of money depending on what they quoted you.
Bad brokers will offer far less than what the load is worth, and desperate or inexperienced drivers might take that load. If you get a really low quote for your trip, it is almost always because a broker is putting the car out there for anyone to take, rather than a carrier that they know or trust. Companies like UShip will do this, as well. That is dangerous for customers, in my opinion. Individual customers using UShip don’t know the trends of the industry, or what kind of carrier their suggested price is going to attract.
Electronic logging devices, or ELDs, are something everyone in the trucking industry has to contend with now. These devices are integrated into a truck’s engine, and they can and do monitor the time that a driver spends on the road, with the truck on, whether they’re moving or not. These devices are government mandated, with full compliance expected by the beginning of 2020. Some smaller companies are holding out until the very last moment, because the devices cost money smaller companies might not have, or might not want to put out. While monitoring our driving, the ELD also sends end-user data like location, speed, and other metrics that can be gathered from inside a truck, back to a central location, where it is reported to the government. The market for these devices has skyrocketed, so if that’s your angle, maybe they sound like a positive. Most logistics providers, especially smaller ones, aren’t very hot on them.
This is not an exhaustive list, and I will try to keep it updated as time progresses. I hope it clears some things up as you’re searching for a carrier. And hey, while you’re here, why not get a quote from us? Now that you’ve been initiated into the industry, you’ll understand why we’re never the cheapest, and never the most expensive, but always offer the best service. You can also give us a call at (631) 204-8312.