Shipping vehicles into the United States is full of surprises - Imagine how I felt when I saw that my customer's cars didn't have wheels or engines when they arrived!

Your guide to shipping vehicles internationally. 

We had a client recently, who was shipping 4 vehicles from Bolivia to Long Beach, California. The twist was that they weren’t exactly what you would call “operational.”

The owner’s intention was to restore them upon arrival, but for now they had no wheels, and were missing major pieces to their engines.

This significantly limited their options, because shipping vehicles is a lot easier when you can roll them into their containers. Limitations or not, however, they were still considered autos, which meant jumping through the usual hoops along with this curve-ball.

Here’s how we handled it, and all of the important information you need to know about your auto import(s).

Let us take the guess-work out of shipping vehicles into the United StatesThe different methods for shipping vehicles:

1. Consolidation Service:

From the United States, when shipping one auto, you can choose an ocean consolidation service, which consists of one car added to another load of vehicles sharing an ocean container destined to the same destination port.

Once at destination, the container is devanned (emptied) & customs clearance takes place.

Fees are pro-rated among all of the other shippers & consignees involved in a consolidation.

This service is offered by non-vessel operating common carriers (NVOCC) inside a freight network worthy of auto shipping.

It’s competitive, and slightly limits shipper’s rights – such as being able to add other cargo inside the car, it’s not insurable, and it’s completely at the shipper’s own risk. But it is by far and away the cheapest option.

Similar: Shipping a Vehicle Overseas

2. RO-RO

Another way to ship if you have one vehicle is to use a roll on roll off (RO-RO) service. RO-RO vessels are great for operational vehicles, because there is very little packing involved. You simply drive it onto the ship.

This service is competitive, and there are some limitations here as well, such as not being allowed to add cargo inside the car, it not being insured, and completely at your own risk.

The big upside here is convenience.

Import your vehicles into the US with ETC International Freight System - check out this great story

3. Exclusive containers

If you have one or more vehicle, you can opt for an exclusive 20’ or 40’ ocean shipping container. Depending on each of the vehicle’s dimensions, 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 cars can fit into a single 40’ HQ container.

You can give your forwarders the overall length, width & height per vehicle to figure out how many vehicles will fit into your ocean shipping container. When you ship a few vehicles that way, it is very economical.

The documentations consist of original auto titles & bill of sales. Additional fees will be charged for non-operative vehicles.

In this instance, you CAN add cargo inside the car, insurance IS available, so risk factors are lower as well. 

This is what we chose for the 4 non-operational cars being imported from Bolivia – a single 40′ HQ. 

By the way, the images throughout this post are from this shipment.

Did you know that container shipping rates may be cheaper if you buy the container?


All types of vehicles are imported, although restrictions apply based on different characteristics of the vehicle, and importers of automobiles must be diligent in knowing those restrictions.

I suggest checking out this link:

auto importing by ETC International Freight System


Once the vehicles were cleared through customs, we trucked the container to our local warehouse where we discovered that the vehicles had no wheels & could not be driven out of the container.

Curve ball!

We would have liked to have known that ahead of time, so we could be prepared, but my team responded, and used a forklift with elongated forks to pull them out, and set them on 4x4s stacked on pallets.

Also, the cars were picked up using a flat-bed truck, we had to use the forklift to load & lash with bracing to secure the load.

NOTE: When forklifts are used to unload a vehicle, forwarders have to receive a waiver from the shippers as it is not the safest way to unload. In this scenario, there were no risk to the cars, and no other options, so it was an easy decision.


So, there you have it – the basics for getting your auto import moving in the right direction. Let us help you! Click HERE, and get a free auto transport quote today!

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