“The cars ride on their own suspension,” says Abrams. “These automobiles have extremely sophisticated systems under the car and in their electronics. For example, they could have advanced self-leveling systems. To chain them down so they couldn’t move would interfere with that and maybe affect their calibration. But secured with a special nylon webbing or strapping, they use their own systems to handle bumps and stops and starts. All the trailers are air ride today, and if they are hard tied, they will feel all the jolts in their own suspension.”
If tied down too tight, it is possible the car might try to correct a situation. If the car is built to react in a certain way to, say, hitting a deep pothole, it is possible a jolt from the trailer might activate the car’s response. There is then the chance that the car might try to “recover” from the shock of the pothole, and if the car is chained down and immovable, the systems might be straining against the chains, and damage can occur.
Some systems in the exotics are turned off to avoid just such a spontaneous reaction. For example, it might be possible for an air bag to deploy if the car “senses” it has struck an object in front of it when all that has happened is that the trailer has come to a sudden stop and the vehicle has been snapped to a halt by its soft-tie harness. Or, for example, says MacDonald, the air has to be let out of the suspension systems of Lincolns and Land Rovers.
Manufacturers, owners or model makers tell the haulers just what the vehicle needs and how it will react to different highway conditions, allowing the driver to work out the best way to tie it down.
Older cars, for example the muscles cars of yesteryear, are usually still hard-tied. But each car has its quirks; for example, tying a vintage Mustang down too tight might buckle a quarter panel if you don’t do it right.
Another major concern for truckers loading super-expensive cars is leaks. Corrosive or staining fluids, brake fluid or coolant for example, can seriously damage the paint of classic cars. While they anticipate more problems from antiques, drivers check all cars they load. Drop cloths and curtains are used anyway, just in case, to catch whatever might drip. Potential leaks are also the reason convertibles always go on top. In the absence of convertibles, the most expensive cars go on the top shelf.
“We don’t cover the vehicles; they are completely enclosed in the trailer. Covers could chafe the paint,” says Abrams. But other companies do, using special covers and sometimes plastic wrap atop that layer.
When a vehicle is rolled up to the rear of the trailer, a handover ritual takes place. The driver will check the vehicle over along with the car’s owner or agent. He’s looking for any scratches or blemishes, and these will be noted. The trucker will then cover the driver’s seat and either wear gloves or cover the steering wheel and drive the vehicle onto the trailer’s rear lift gate. With these gates, exotic and classic cars do not need to be driven up or down steep ramps. Once on the gate, the vehicle has “changed hands” and is the responsibility of the trucking company until the driver rolls it off.
As you can imagine, insurance for these loads can be massive. Reliable, for example, carries at least $10 million and will carry more than that for really special loads. MacDonald has driven with a single super-expensive Ferrari as his load because the insurance company wouldn’t let the company carry any more at one time.
Security is also a constant concern, and advanced electronics provide the key security today. Companies are naturally tight-lipped about just what measures they use, but they say that they generally employ the very latest range of security, both electronic and human. In any case, en route the vehicles are disabled and cannot be driven.
Loads are checked at every stop, of course, if possible at a secure location. MacDonald says when he has to open his doors to check at a truckstop, he can quickly draw a crowd, “and that can make you nervous.”
But the crowds of “regular” people who come to see his load sometimes surprise MacDonald. “They look right over a Ferrari or Rolls Royce and go crazy for a ’67 Cobra Mustang or a nice ’55 Chevy.”