Most auto transport companies are very experienced and very much in the business of sales and marketing. They are on a mission (like the vast majority of any businesses from any industry) to do as much business as possible and constantly increase company revenue.
Because of this, it’s extremely hard to get a truly un-biased picture about an auto transport company that you’re considering shipping with. It’s either that particular company talking themselves up or a competitor trying to put them down.
An objective look at a company and its history would do wonders for many people as far as expediting the process of researching that company. Well, thankfully, we have government agencies like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration which are around to police companies like this and to protect the end consumer (you).
Get the US DOT number
With the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA from here on out) website you can get a really great report that will give you a very helpful and objective bird’s eye view of how one of these car shipping companies really operates.
In order to look a company up, you’ll just need their US Department of Transportation number (US DOT number). Sometimes you can find this information on Google with a simple search like “(company name) us dot number”.
However, that doesn’t always work. Odds are you will need to call the company in question and request this information from them. If they do anything other than give this information to you right away, don’t use that company. Now, we don’t mean if they put you on hold to look it up. We mean if they say they “don’t give out that information” or something of that sort, they have something terrible they’re hiding and shouldn’t be used by you to ship your car.
Use the FMCSA website to your advantage
The FMCSA website can give you a bunch of useful information that you can use to make an informed decision regarding your car shipment. On the site you can find details such as unsafe driving details, vehicle maintenance details, hours of service compliance, driver fitness and more.
You don’t even need to have a login. You can just go straight to the site and search a company. However, not all of the information is public, but most of it is. This information will let you know about crashes and what tickets drivers have gotten amongst other things. Use this info as an aid to make the most informed decision about your car shipment.
It’s easier to use than it seems
The site can seem intimidating at first but once you get the hang of it it’s actually quite easy to find what you’re looking for.
When you get the FMCSA homepage, you’ll see a search box on the lower right-hand side that says “SEARCH USDOT # OR COMPANY NAME”. Here, you will want to enter the US DOT number of the company that you’re looking for information on.
Once you hit enter, you’ll be prompted to do this again. Just re-enter the US DOT number on the search box (on the left-hand side this time) and hit enter.
Now you’ll be on the FMCSA page for the company that you’re looking for. If you aren’t, it means you possibly entered the US DOT number wrong or the auto transport company gave you the wrong number. If you go back and try again and still can’t find anything then it’s the fault of the auto transport company. Call them back and ask them to go over the US DOT number with you. If the number they’re giving you the second time still doesn’t register anything, they are very likely a scam company who isn’t registered and you will want to avoid using them.
If the US DOT number did bring up the company’s page, this is where you will find all that useful information we mentioned before.
On the top of the page, you’ll find a bunch of very general information such as the number of vehicles, number of drivers and number of inspections those drivers received in the past two years (it’s based on a twenty-four-month record).
Under that, you’ll see a row of blue boxes with titles and symbols pertaining to trucking. This section is the Behavior Analysis & Safety Improvement Categories. This is the “bread and butter” of the information you will find on this site.
Here is a breakdown of the categories you’ll be able to investigate on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website:
This category will essentially show you all the tickets the carriers that the company used have received. For example, might see “Improper lane change” or “Failure to wear a seatbelt” as well as the number of times that particular violation occurred and each violation’s severity weight according to the FMCSA.
Unfortunately, full data in this category isn’t public. However, you can still see the number of crashes an auto transport company had, the perceived severity weight of any crashes and if any of the crashes resulted in tow-aways, injuries or fatalities.
The Hours-of-Service Compliance category shouldn’t really hold much importance to you as far as your car shipping decision is concerned. This category basically just reports violations about drivers’ hours and logging drivers’ hours.
For example, it’s now required drivers only drive eight hours per day and that gets logged by an electronic device on-board the truck automatically. So, if a driver drove nine hours in one day, the device would log that as a violation and that’s what you would see here.
This category reports violations of the condition of the auto carrier. In this section you might see violations like “Horn inoperative” or “Flat tire”. These sorts of violations do directly impact the safety of the vehicles on-board, so these are important to take note of during your research process. Like the other categories, you will also be able to see the number of violations and the severity weight as perceived by FMCSA.
Controlled Substances and Alcohol
Here you’ll be able to find out if any drivers on the auto carriers were under the influence of or in possession of drugs or alcohol. This is obviously a terrible infraction. Unlike the other categories where a few violations is quite normal, any infractions here is a red flag.
If there are multiple violations in this category, then that’s a red flag. The company clearly isn’t doing its due diligence in choosing which drivers to facilitate their shipments. Would you even chance the safety of your car with a driver who’s potentially drunk or on drugs? Of course not.
Hazardous Materials Compliance
This is least important category for our purposes. First of all, the data isn’t completely public. Secondly, there’s really no possible circumstance in which an auto carrier would be handling any “hazardous materials” so forget spending any time with this section of the site.
Driver fitness addresses violations of a driver’s overall ability to drive their carrier. Violations could be suspended licenses, driving with medical conditions that deem them unfit for driving or driving with an unfit level of experience.
This is another important category to consider because violations here could directly impact the safety of the cars being transported. More than a couple of these violations should serve as an indication that there is something wrong and that you should look elsewhere for your car shipping needs.
This is another detailed and thorough part of the overall research process. Paying close attention to details like this can end up helping you save money, time and frustration of dealing with an incompetent auto transport company.