Open Air vs. Enclosed Car Shipping – The Pros and Cons

Open air auto carrier

One of the major advantages of open-air car shipping enjoys over its enclosed counterpart is that it tends to be far more economical.

One of the first decisions any customer has to make when shipping their car is whether to opt for open-air or enclosed car shipping. Both have their own benefits and drawbacks, and choosing the best option may differ depending on the situation and your needs of the time. In this article, we list down the pros and cons of open-air vs. enclosed car shipping to make it easier for you to make a choice between the two when shipping your vehicle.

Open Air Car Shipping

Open-air car shipping is the more common and recognizable of the two. It is exactly as the name applies; cars are loaded on to the carriers without any cover, and are thus exposed to the elements.


  • More Economical
    One of the major advantages open-air car shipping enjoys over its enclosed counterpart is that it tends to be far more economical. Open-air carriers can load more cars on themselves – around 8 to 10 vehicles compared to 6 for enclosed carriers. And since they tend to be lighter due to not carrying the weight any heavy containers, they also burn less fuel per mile.

    This means that carriers can still make a profit at a far lesser threshold in open-air vs. enclosed car shipping. While fares may differ significantly depending on whole host of factors such as weather, geography, and road conditions, on average, open-air car shipping costs 33% less compared to enclosed options.

  •  Better Visibility
    Being open-air affords the driver better visibility on the conditions of the cars being transported. Inspections are easy to perform while the cars are in transit. Any issue that may arise (e.g., straps securing a vehicle on the carrier getting loose) can be quickly noticed and remedied.
  • Easier to Avail
    According to some estimates, up to 97% of all car carrier services in the United States are open air. This also means that they are far easier to avail than enclosed carrier services. Be it any route or any destination across the country, chances are that there is an open-air car shipping service willing to transport your car.


  • Exposure to the Elements
    Since there are no sides or roof on the trailer, your car will be constantly exposed to the elements throughout its transit. This means hail, rain, harsh sunlight, dirt, and road debris all coming in contact with your car and risking the possibility of ruining its exterior finish. By the end of the journey, your car could arrive in an extremely dirty condition and badly in need of a good wash.

    However, actual cases of this happening tend to be extremely rare, and when they do occur, it is usually minor. This is why so many car manufacturers and dealerships are willing to ship their inventory in open air car carriers.

Pro Tip: in case you are worried about any road debris possibly causing damage to your vehicle while it is being transported open-air, request the carrier service for a ‘top load.’ This means that your car will be loaded on the upper deck of the carrier, the height affording more protection from flying debris, as well as eliminating the risk of any leakage from other cars that normally would have been above.

Enclosed Car Shipping

Enclosed car shipping carriers tend to go unnoticed on roads as the vehicles being transported are hidden from plain view. The vehicles being carried are afforded better security and protection from the elements as they are entirely enclosed in a trailer.


  • Better Security and Protection
    Enclosed car shipping services come in two forms – hardshell and softshell. Hardshell enclosed carriers feature trailers made of durable and tough materials such as tin, aluminum, and fiberglass. This ensures complete protection for the car being shipped on the career.

    The other, soft shell type typically features a hard shell at the top, front, and the back, but on the sides, a soft but durable canvas is employed. Since soft shell carriers weigh less, they are slightly cheaper than their hard shell counterparts but do not afford the same degree of protection on the road from the elements.


  • Expensive
    Since they carry fewer cars and burn up more fuel for each mile they go, enclosed auto transport services need to charge a higher fee on the service to make a profit. The price difference in open-air vs. enclosed car shipping can be a hefty sum. For example, for coast to coast shipping, an open-air carrier would cost you around one grand while an enclosed car shipping service could cost 300-400 dollars extra more.
  • Less Visibility
    Since the vehicles being transported are fully enclosed, there is less ability for the driver to make routine inspections of the vehicles. However, since the likelihood of any issues occurring tends to be extremely rare, this is too big of a drawback.

Which One to Choose?

Having discussed the pros and cons of both open-air and enclosed car shipping, it is time to consider which the better choice is for you depending on the factors involved.

Type of Vehicle

The type of vehicle you want shipped is probably the most essential criteria when choosing what kind of car shipping you should avail. If your car is expensive, it would be more worthwhile to spend a little extra and opt for an enclosed car carrier service rather than take your chances of exposing it to harsh elements.

Furthermore, open-air carriers themselves tend to shy away from carrying expensive vehicles, given the potential risk of incurring any costly liabilities.

The same goes for antique or collector vehicles, which may be virtually irreplaceable, and thus, every precaution will need to be taken to ensure its safe transport. Another reason may be that the likelihood of any loose part falling off or getting damaged on such old cars is far less in an enclosed carrier compared to an open-air counterpart.

Open-air car shipping is better for the transport of ordinary everyday cars on which you can afford the risk involved in this type of shipping.

Weather Conditions

Consider the weather conditions that your car may be exposed to while it is in transit. If your car would be going through regions where the forecast predicts harsh conditions, it would be better to opt for an enclosed auto transport service to avoid the possible risk of damage being done to your car.


Budgeting may also be an important factor to consider. Open-air auto transport will be a more viable option if you are on a strict budget.

If you want to avail the best rates for both open-air and enclosed car shipping, visit our homepage and get free instant quotes on car shipping from trusted carriers. You can also call on our toll-free number (866) 213-4966 to speak with one of our customer service representatives or email us at for any queries.