The transporter demanded payment, but when Ric produced his receipt from the broker marked "Paid in Full," he drove off in a huff

Sometimes it seems like our old cars spend more time being transported by others than transporting themselves. At first glance, it might seem that having your car buttoned up on a hauler or in a container would be simple and safe. But as you will read below, for both local and international shipping, that's not always the case.

Let's start locally. SCMer Ric Tiplady always wanted a Citroën Deux Chevaux, so on a recent trip to France, he engaged a Citroën broker to find one and ended up buying a very nice mint green 1976 sedan in Marseille. He asked the broker to ship the car to a friend in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and planned to drive the 2CV from there to home in Palm Springs, since the route looked pretty much downhill on the map.

So far, so good. The 2CV made it to the U.S. and someone dropped the keys off at his friend's Albuquerque office and gave the car's approximate location. His friend drove it home and parked it for Ric to pick up.

Ric soon decided that 31 horsepower was going to make the final 800 miles seem like much more, and asked Google to help him find a shipper. After narrowing down the hundreds of hits to a dozen, he asked for quotes and accepted the most comforting one even though it was not the low bid. The transport company, which turned out to be a shipping broker, explained that they handled all the details, including payment of the transporter. The broker said the transporter would personally call Ric at least 24 hours ahead of pickup and that he was Ric's "personal representative," who would always be available to help with problems.

This all sounded good, so Ric closed the deal and paid. Right after his credit card was charged, Ric received an email telling him the car was scheduled to be picked up the next day, but with no contact information for the transporter.

After four days with no transporter showing up, Ric learned that his "personal representative" was off on his honeymoon.

After seven days, Ric was told that another carrier had been hired. That worked. The 2CV was picked up in Albuquerque and soon arrived at Ric's home in Palm Springs, but with the 2CV loaded on a very old open trailer towed behind a vintage pickup truck. The driver was hot to go once the car was unloaded, and demanded cash payment. The debate got a little tense, but ended after Ric produced his receipt from the broker marked "Paid in Full." The transporter drove off in a huff.

A week later, the first transporter called, irate that the 2CV wasn't there for him to pick up. Unhappy about not being told that he had been replaced, he billed Ric for his time and fuel. That was followed by a written demand for damages, so Ric hired an attorney and pushed the problem back to the broker.

What went wrong, you ask?

"Legal Files" asked Martin Button, from Cosdel International, to tell us where Ric went wrong. Martin explained that getting the car into the country is usually the hard part, but the problems here came in the local transportation, which is usually pretty simple. Button explained that many auto transport companies are really just brokers. "All it takes is an office in your back bedroom with computer connections, and you're in business," Button says.

Not all brokers are bad, but things can sometimes go wrong, because shipping is a risky business by definition. "How much service can you expect to get from a broker who is making a $100 margin on the deal?" says Button. He maintains it is always best to deal with a company that handles its own transport. If Ric's case ended up in litigation, that would mean that no one was going to win.

How about shipping your car overseas?

And now we'll go overseas. SCMer Simon McBride wrote "Legal Files" and wanted to know what to consider if he sent his vintage car to Europe to run in a rally. Everything Button said about the 2CV scenario is equally applicable, but he added several other concerns:

. Getting your car into the foreign country isn't always easy. You don't just show up in customs, flash the proper documents, and drive right through. It's more difficult than that. The transporter needs to know how to do it, and it can take days.

. Always allow a couple of extra weeks for the trip. The shipping business frequently runs into delays, whether it is in customs, a vessel breaking down, weather, or dock strikes. Never use the last available vessel for the shipment. Ship early, so if your transport company has to make a switch, you can still get your car there on time.

. Many brokers will save money by trans-shipping, where the vehicle is transferred to another vessel along the route. This adds significant risk of delay, so it's always best to use a transport company that ships direct.

Don't miss the boat altogether

Delay is critical to any of us who want to run a foreign rally. Think about it. You spend thousands registering for a three-to-five-day rally, more thousands on airfare, more thousands on auto transport, more thousands on hotels and the side trips you have to take to keep your spouse happy, and more thousands on new clothes for the trip. You look forward to this for months. What are you going to feel like when your car arrives two days after the rally is over? The watchwords here are to allow plenty of time and to deal with people who know what they are doing.

How could this get worse?

Now for another angle. What if you crash the car while in a foreign country? Matthew Orendac, of Condon & Skelly, explains how insurance issues can be unsettling. Orendac says the most obvious concern is that most insurance policies exclude coverage for foreign countries (Canada is not usually considered foreign, although Mexico almost always is). "If you are going to be driving in a foreign country," he says, "you really should check with your agent ahead of time to know if you have coverage or need either an endorsement or a specialized policy."

Orendac also points out that most policies will cover damage that occurs while the car is being transported, but cautions that damage from, say, the car breaking loose will be treated as a collision claim, not a comprehensive claim. And which country the car is in when that happens will determine whether or not it is covered. Finally, cars are frequently driven while being transported, such as being driven off the ship at the dock, driven through customs, etc., and a claim is generally treated differently when the car is actually being driven than when it is being transported.

Consult your insurance agent ahead of time and make sure the car is fully insured every step of the way. Insurance policies are not the same, and it is hard to generalize. If you do end up buying a specialized policy to cover a foreign country, describe the trip broadly, as such policies frequently limit coverage to the specific dates and countries identified in the policy. If you decide on the spur of the moment to visit an unplanned country, or stay over longer than anticipated, you might be on your own.

Insure before you buy

To wrap up with Ric's 2CV scenario, contact your broker and clarify your coverage when you add another car to your collection, whether purchased locally or overseas. Most conventional policies provide that newly purchased cars are automatically covered, but the scope of the coverage depends on your policy. For instance, check with your agent and make sure you don't just have bare bones liability, for example. If you get into a fender bender while driving your newly acquired 2CV from the Marseille dealer to the dock, you want to be sure you're not sitting in jail until the other guy's car gets fixed.

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