Despite having motive power of their own, vehicles need to be shipped using various methods other than on their own wheels. Here is a quick rundown of the car shipping methods used today.
The cheapest way to convey a vehicle across the sea is on a RORO vessel. RORO – standing for Roll On Roll Off – ships allow vehicles to be driven straight from the road into the hold and back out again when they reach their destination port. Roll On Roll Off ships were first used to transport rain vehicles as opposed to cars. Early steam train pioneers faced the problem of crossing rivers that were too wide to build affordable bridges over. Special ships were adapted to include rails on deck. Trains would simply roll onto the deck rails, travel aboard the ship to the other side of the river and disembark onto more rails. An early example of this kind of ship was the Forth of Firth ferry, which was launched in 1851. RORO vessels are a very cost effective way of transporting vehicles long distances, but they do have some disadvantages. Vehicles are often exposed to the elements on large ship decks, which means that they can be slightly damaged on long journeys.
Compared to Roll On Roll Off shipping, container shipping is much safer. Companies like Shiply can organize single car transport via container, although it is somewhat expensive compared to RORO shipping services listed by the same company. Containers have several advantages for the car owner. They protect the vehicle from elemental damage. Containers are also size standardized – meaning that they can be shipped on one of the many thousands of dedicated container vessels crossing the world and do not need to wait for a chartered RORO vessel. There are currently around 5534 container ships registered, with many more being produced each year in shipbuilding hubs like the People’s Republic of China.
Rail is one of the most cost efficient and environmentally friendly ways of shipping cars across landmasses. Unlike road transport methods, railways benefit from economies of scale to a large degree. Car manufacturers tend to try and send their vehicles by rail as far as possible in order to save money before transferring them to road carriers for the final portion of the journey.
Specialized HGV trailers typically distribute cars to their final destinations across the country. An ingenious double decker design allows modern car carrier trucks to carry almost a dozen vehicles at a time. For high value vehicles such as rare sports cars, single car trailers are often employed. This is a rather high cost method of transportation that allows a vehicle owner to have complete control over the safety of their precious cargo.
In certain circumstances, expensive air freight may be used to carry vehicles over large distances. Specialist heavy freight aircraft like the Antonov AN 225 Myra are used to transport vehicles with unusual dimensions and high values. Unfortunately, the only flying AN 225 was destroyed early on during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.