What do you do if you need a car moved a considerable distance without driving, towing — or pushing — it?

That may seem like a silly little question, but it’s big business — an estimated 15 million cars are sold annually over the Internet on such sites as eBay Motors, Cars.com, CarsDirect.com and AutoTrader.com.

Choosing a reliable transport service can be a daunting challenge. Matt Chasen, CEO of uShip, an online auction-style marketplace for shipping and transportation, says the for-hire freight market is a $400 billion business. Although there aren’t specific statistics for personal vehicle transporting, Chasen estimates it at about a $5 billion per year shared among thousands of carriers.

There are a number of reasons you might need to ship a vehicle from one location to another:

1. Purchasing an out-of-state used car on the Internet.
2. Buying that classic car you’ve always lusted for from a distant collector.
3. Flying to a vacation spot or winter home and having your car delivered there.
4. Getting your car home after a breakdown or accident far away.

A low-cost solution would be to find someone to drive the vehicle — perhaps a college student looking for a cheap way to get home or through a professional service. This often is inexpensive, but it puts wear and tear on your vehicle — unacceptable if your vehicle is a collectible or an expensive luxury car. There could also be insurance issues and, after all, a stranger is driving your car.

One alternative — which may be less expensive than you think — is using an auto transport service.

According to the Shipping Price Estimator at uShip, trucking a car or light truck 1,084 miles from Houston to Chicago, for example, will cost approximately $550. From New York City 2,916 miles to San Francisco, would cost about $1,000. Estimates are available through calculators at uShip and other similar sites. The rates are based on not only distance, fuel cost and weight, but also on trucking routes and availability. Estimates can vary from day to day.

Before researching auto transporters, here’s what you need to consider:

5. What is my budget?
6. How important to me is a closed carrier versus an open one?
7. How flexible is the delivery date?
8. What is the approximate mileage from pickup to drop off?
9. Is the vehicle in good running order?

Prices can vary widely depending, first, on the kind of carrier you select:

10. Open carriers: Typically less expensive, but expose your vehicle to the elements and provide more opportunity for damage.
11. Multicarriers: Less expensive than single-vehicle carriers, but often stop to pick up and drop off other vehicles en route, making it important to establish the flexibility of your delivery date. Multicarrier pricing may also vary with regard to where your vehicle is placed on the carrier: upper or lower level. Although your vehicle will be on a transporter, it still must be loaded on and off the carrier. If it isn’t in running condition, you need to alert the shipper before signing a contract to determine if there will be additional charges.

Here is the information you will need to know to get the most transporting value for your buck:

12. The U.S. Department of Transportation, or USDOT, requires all auto transporters to carry liability and cargo insurance. The industry standard is $50,000, but some shippers carry less. Request written proof of coverage with its limits. Make sure it’s enough to cover your vehicle. If it isn’t sufficient, have the transporter compute the cost of the additional coverage needed and get that in writing.
13. Obtain and check references. Check with the Better Business Bureau where the company is located for any unresolved complaints.
14. All shippers must have an active USDOT number, as well as an Operating Authority, or MC number, which can be verified at www.safersys.org.
15. Find out if your vehicle can be dropped off at your doorstep or at some nearby location.
16. Ask for a list of any supplemental charges not covered in the contract, such as extra insurance fees and fuel surcharges.

Investing a little time and effort before your vehicle is loaded on the transport can minimize problems during shipment and reduce hassles at delivery. Before shipping:

17. Remove any valuables from inside the car.
18. Wash the exterior to identify more easily any dings, scratches or dents.
19. Photograph the vehicle from every angle, and make a note of any existing damage.
20. Disconnect the car alarm. If this isn’t possible, provide the driver with detailed instructions on how to deactivate it.
21. Remove any aftermarket accessories: bike racks, fog lamps and antennas.
22. Note any fluid leaks and before loading, notify the driver if any exist.
23. Reduce the fuel in the gas tank to less than half.

Upon delivery you should:

24. Carefully inspect the vehicle with the transport driver. Use the photos taken before shipping to back up any damage claims.
25. Note all damage on the inspection report and insist on the driver’s signature.
26. Retain a copy of the inspection report and immediately notify the company.

“If the car is delivered at night,” Chasen says, “it might be easy to miss things; so definitely use big lights and flashlights to do the inspection.”