Flatbed vs. Car Carrier: Understanding the Key Differences

In the realm of vehicle shipping, understanding the intricacies and options available can be a complex task. Flatbed auto transport and car carrier services are two prominent choices among the various alternatives at your disposal. Each comes with its unique set of advantages, making the selection process pivotal based on the specific requirements of your vehicle transport. In this article, we will dissect the key differences between flatbed auto transport and car carrier services to equip you with the knowledge to make an informed decision. 

Flatbed Auto Transport: 

Flatbed auto transport is a popular choice when it comes to shipping unusual, oversized, or non-running vehicles. This type of transport is characterized by using a flat, open trailer, providing versatility in accommodating a wide range of vehicle sizes and shapes. 

Key Features of Flatbed Car Transport: 

  • Versatility: Flatbed transport is known for its adaptability, being able to ship cars of irregular sizes and shapes, including damaged or non-operational vehicles. 

  • Ease of Loading: Vehicles can be easily loaded onto flatbed trailers from the ground level, making it a preferred choice for cars that have mobility issues. 
  • Safety: While flatbed transportation services are open, they offer enhanced safety for oversized vehicles that may not fit well on enclosed carriers. 

Car Carrier Services: 

Car carriers are specialized trailers designed exclusively for transporting vehicles. They come in two variants – open and enclosed. Open carriers are common and economical, while enclosed carriers offer protection from environmental elements, ideal for luxury or classic cars. 

Key Benefits: 

  • Cost-Effective: Car carriers, especially open carriers, are generally more affordable than flatbed transport due to their vehicle-specific design and increased capacity. 
  • Protection: Enclosed carriers offer heightened protection, shielding vehicles from weather conditions, debris, and other on-the-road hazards. 
  • Efficiency: Car carriers can transport multiple vehicles simultaneously, making them a more efficient option for dealerships or customers looking to transport more than one car. 

Key Differences:

Vehicle Type and Condition: 

  • Flatbed auto transport is versatile and can ship various vehicles, including those that are oversized or inoperable. Car carriers are ideal for operational, standard-sized vehicles. 

Cost and Efficiency: 

  • Car carriers tend to be more cost-effective, especially for shipping multiple vehicles. However, flatbed car transport is the go-to option for specialized transport needs. 


  • Enclosed car carriers provide enhanced protection against environmental elements, making them suitable for transporting luxury or classic cars. 

What is the difference between a flatbed and a trailer? 

The terms “flatbed” and “trailer” are often used when transporting goods, equipment, or vehicles. While they are related, they refer to different things. Here are their key distinctions: 


A flatbed refers to a specific type of trailer characterized by a flat, level ‘bed’ with no sides or roof. It is used for transporting oversized loads or goods that are difficult to load into enclosed trailers. Flatbeds are highly versatile and can carry various items, including vehicles, machinery, equipment, and more. 

Key Characteristics of Flatbed: 

  • Open Design: Flatbeds are open and do not have sides or a roof. This makes them suitable for transporting large or oddly shaped items. 
  • Versatility: They can carry a wide range of goods, including oversized or heavy goods. 
  • Ease of Loading: Goods can be loaded from the top, sides, or back, making the process more straightforward. 


The term “trailer” refers to an unpowered vehicle typically pulled by a powered vehicle. Trailers are used for transporting goods and come in various types, including flatbed, enclosed, reefer, tank, and more. 

Key Characteristics of Trailers: 

  • Variety: Trailers come in various types, each designed for specific kinds of cargo. For instance, enclosed trailers are used for goods that need protection from the elements, while tank trailers are used for liquids. 
  • Unpowered: Trailers do not have their own engine and need to be pulled by a powered vehicle. 
  • Cargo Specific: Different types of trailers are suited to different types of cargo, depending on the size, shape, and other characteristics of the goods being transported. 

Key Differences: 

  • Type and Specificity: A flatbed is a specific type of trailer, while “trailer” is a general term that encompasses a variety of styles, including flatbeds, enclosed trailers, and others. 
  • Design: Flatbeds are characterized by an open design with no sides or roof, whereas other types of trailers (like enclosed trailers) can have walls and a roof to protect the cargo. 
  • Application: Flatbeds are often used for oversized, heavy, or irregularly shaped cargo, while other trailer types are used based on the specific needs of the cargo, such as protection from weather, temperature control, etc. 

What’s the difference between a car hauler and an equipment trailer? 

Car Haulers and Equipment Trailers serve distinct purposes and are designed to handle different types of cargo. Below are the primary distinctions between these two types of trailers: 

Car Hauler: 

A car hauler is a specific type of trailer designed to transport vehicles. It can be open or enclosed and is equipped with features that ensure the safe and secure transport of cars, trucks, and other vehicles. 

Key Characteristics of Car Haulers: 

  • Design: Designed specifically for transporting vehicles. They include features like wheel stops, ramps for loading and unloading, and tie-downs to secure vehicles in place. 


  • Open Car Haulers: These are typically open trailers with minimal sides, used for hauling cars, offering less protection, but are more affordable. 
  • Enclosed Car Haulers: These provide shelter for vehicles, protecting them from weather elements, road debris, and theft. Ideal for transporting classic, luxury, or expensive cars. 
  • Capacity: Car haulers can usually transport multiple vehicles simultaneously, depending on their size and design. 

Equipment Trailer: 

Equipment trailers are designed to transport heavy equipment and machinery, such as construction equipment, farm machinery, and other large, heavy items. 

Key Characteristics of Equipment Trailers: 

  • Strength: Built to be robust and sturdy, capable of handling heavy loads and oversized equipment. 
  • Design: Often equipped with ramps or other features to facilitate the loading and unloading of heavy machinery and equipment. They might have reinforced floors and other features to handle the weight and dimensions of specific equipment. 
  • Variety: Comes in various types, including flatbed, lowboy, and drop deck trailers, each designed for specific types of equipment and loads.

Primary Differences: 


  • Car Hauler: Specifically designed for transporting vehicles. 
  • Equipment Trailer: This trailer is designed for transporting heavy machinery and equipment. 


  • Car Hauler: Features like wheel stops and tie-downs to secure vehicles. 
  • Equipment Trailer: Reinforced to handle the weight of heavy equipment and may include features like ramps or hydraulic lifts for loading/unloading. 


  • Car Hauler: Enclosed options available to protect vehicles from the elements. 
  • Equipment Trailer: Usually open, focusing on strength and load capacity rather than protection from weather. 

Load Capacity: 

  • Car Hauler: Generally, they have a lighter load capacity suitable for cars and light trucks. 
  • Equipment Trailer: Built to handle heavier loads.

What is the difference between a flatbed and a hotshot? 

The terms “flatbed” and “hotshot” refer to distinct categories within the freight and transportation industry, each with its unique attributes and applications. Here, we’ll explore the differences between flatbed and hotshot trucking. 

Flatbed Trucking: 

Flatbed trucking involves using a flatbed trailer, a type of trailer with a flat, open deck and no sides or roof. It’s used for transporting various goods, including oversized loads or those that are difficult to load into enclosed trailers. 

Key Features of Flatbed Trucking: 

  • Versatility: Flatbeds can transport various cargo, including construction materials, heavy machinery, and other large items. 
  • Accessibility: The open design allows for easy loading and unloading from the sides, top, or back. 
  • Capacity: Flatbeds can handle heavy loads and are often used for industrial and construction purposes. 

Hotshot Trucking: 

Hotshot trucking refers to expedited freight delivery services using medium-duty trucks (smaller than typical semi-trucks). Hotshot services are often used for urgent, time-sensitive deliveries and can involve various trailer types, including flatbeds. 

Key Features of Hotshot Trucking: 

  • Speed: Hotshot Trucking is known for rapid, direct deliveries, often transporting urgent or time-sensitive cargo. 
  • Flexibility: Hotshot trucks are smaller and more maneuverable, allowing for quicker, more direct routes, even to remote or difficult-to-reach destinations. 
  • Cost-Efficiency: Ideal for smaller loads, hotshot trucking can be more cost-effective for cargo that doesn’t require a full-size trailer. 

Primary Differences: 


  • Flatbed: Refers to a specific type of trailer with a flat, open deck, which various truck types, including semi-trucks, can pull. 
  • Hotshot: Refers to a style of expedited trucking using smaller, more agile trucks and can involve different types of trailers, including flatbeds. 


  • Flatbed: Suitable for a wide range of large, heavy, or oversized cargo, particularly for industrial or construction materials. 
  • Hotshot: Often used for smaller, urgent, or time-sensitive loads that require rapid delivery. 

Service Speed: 

  • Flatbed: Standard delivery times are subject to the freight schedule. 
  • Hotshot: Expedited, direct delivery for urgent shipments. 

Truck Size: 

  • Flatbed: Often involves larger trucks, including semi-trucks. 
  • Hotshot: Utilizes smaller, medium-duty trucks for increased speed and flexibility. 


Your choice between flatbed auto transport and car carrier services should hinge on the specific needs of your vehicle transport. Consider factors such as the size, shape, and condition of your vehicle, your budget, and the level of protection your vehicle needs during transit. 

Flatbed transport services offer unmatched versatility, making them an excellent option for oversized, uniquely shaped, or non-running vehicles. Car carriers, on the other hand, are cost-effective and efficient, particularly for standard-sized, operational vehicles. 

By understanding these key differences and assessing your specific transport needs, you are well-equipped to make an informed decision, ensuring that your vehicle is transported safely, efficiently, and economically to its destination.