Getting one’s vehicle from "A to B" without driving requires research

After deciding which sunscreen to pack, the next decision many Canadian snowbirds face is how to get their vehicle to a winter resting place. While the vast majority of migrating Canadians will drive, some are just not up to the task.

“I wouldn’t think [of driving]. It’s too tiring,” says Toronto snowbird Bea Estrin-Freeman. “It’s so much quicker to hop on a plane and send the car ahead.  When you get there, the car is there.”

So Mrs. Estrin-Freeman and her husband, along with thousands of others who would rather have root canal than drive, select one of two main options. One is to retain a company that provides a qualified person to drive vehicles to a winter hot spot while the other alternative is having the vehicle shipped on a car carrier.

Selecting a car carrier or a designated driver requires consideration of a number of different factors. 

The conspicuous difference between the two options is usually the cost.  Hiring a driver costs about 25-30 per cent less (including the gas) than placing a vehicle on a car carrier.  Toronto Drive-Away, which provides both driver and trucking options, charges around $675 fothe driver and  $900-$950 for the trucking service.   While Winnipeg-based Auto Driveaway charges snowbirds $600 to drive their car to Florida,  Scarborough, Ontario-based Hansen Global Forwarding’s terminal-to-terminal car carrier service to Florida costs $779 or $895 for a truck, van or sport utility vehicle.

“Cost advantage is usually a major part in decision making,” says Gordon Reimer, franchise owner of Winnipeg-based Auto Driveaway.

The designated driver option is also considered more flexible than a trucking service.  Drivers arrive at a customer’s door for the pickup, and deliver the vehicle to a residence or even meet the owners at an airport.
“I know exactly when they are going to come and I don’t have to take my car to some [truck loading] area.,” says Mrs. Estrin-Freeman, who has used the designated driver option from Toronto Drive-Away for 16 years.

Some trucking firms will pickup and drop off a vehicle at a residence, but there is usually an extra charge.

Another issue is the auto absence inconvenience factor. While the hired driver only requires about  three days to get to most Florida destinations, the trucking firms require 5 to 7 days. Trucking firms are responsible for multiple client schedules and are more likely to be delayed at customs.

Also, snowbirds wanting to pack their life’s possessions, could run afoul of trucking firm weight restrictions.  Palmetto, FL and Newmarket, Ont.-based Southern Auto Transport Services, Inc., for example, which moves about 1,000 vehicles from Canada each year, restricts the luggage stored in cars to 250 lbs. (113  kg.)

But the hired driver option is not for everyone.  For example, vehicle owners will incur about 5,200 km (round trip) of wear and tear between Toronto and Miami.

And although background checks are done on hired drivers, some firms screen their drivers better than others.

“Make sure you select a reputable driver service,” advises Marion Moodie, office manager at Toronto’s Fast Vehicle Rail Transportation, which ships cars by truck (and train in Canada). “Make sure the driver service uses their regulars.  You don’t want a strange person driving your car.”

And should such a driver get into an accident, it is the client’s insurance carrier that could be on the hook, potentially resulting in an insurance premium increase.

This is not necessarily the case when a vehicle is on a truck.

“Our service is fully guaranteed 7-day delivery. Vehicles are fully insured with no deductible when they are in our care,” says Ben Craig of Hansen Global Forwarding.

And like the trucking option,  there can be luggage restrictions with a driver service.  Some firms ask that the back seat be kept clear for the use of the hired driver.   There could be an additional charge if snowbirds insist on using the back seat.

Perhaps the most difficult area of comparison is gauging safety.  While some don’t like the idea of strangers driving their pride and joy, a truck is not a panacea. 

“Trucks aren’t perfect.  They have problems too…They bounce up and down on those things.  Sometimes the ones above leak oil on the ones below,” says Ron Coady whose firm Toronto Drive-Away has been driving snowbird vehicles since 1959 and added the trucking option this year.

In the end, the age of the vehicle and age of the snowbirds often influence the final choice.  Mr. Craig suggests that if an automobile is old, has lots of kilometres and needs regular repair,  then the driving option could be risky.  And Mr. Coady suggests that older snowbirds who have difficulty handling luggage and are wary of schlepping to car carrier loading facilities, the continental car jockey is best.