Last Updated: 7/27/2022

Moving to any new location comes with a list of to-dos, like getting your utilities set up, changing your address with the Postal Service, securing a new driver’s license, finding your new go-to grocery store and, of course, making new friends to enjoy your new locale with.

Hawaii is no different, and there’s one thing that will make most of these to-dos easier: Having a car to get you around.

If you already own a car, you’ve probably already thought about some of these questions. We’ve got the answers you need.

But before we get too deep into the nitty-gritty, let’s start with the very first thing you need to ask yourself before you dive in:

Question #1: Should I Move My Car to Hawaii?

As we discussed in our article about downsizing to save on your move, there are some things that you may want to sell, rather than move to Hawaii. Your car may be one of them.

To help you make this important decision, we suggest that you ask yourself a couple of questions, such as:

How old is my car?

Is this a car you’ll be driving for years to come? If you plan to replace it in a couple of years, you may want to consider selling it before you move to save yourself the cost of the move.

What kind of car will I want on the island?

The car that may have served you well in Texas may not be the right car for your new island life. What kind of driving will you be doing? Commuting to work? Driving paved roads to the beach? Off-roading on the weekends?

While most islands do offer some 4-wheel driving adventures—especially if you plan to visit the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island or if you’d like to hike the Poli Poli Spring trails in Maui—the state’s road system is well maintained, so you probably won’t need 4WD capability for everyday drives.

Additionally, gas is generally more expensive on the island, sometimes nearly $1 more per gallon than on the Mainland (or more!). So while you may drive an SUV in your current location, a more fuel efficient vehicle may be better for your budget. With sun plentiful in most locations, many people in Hawaii choose to drive electric vehicles charged by solar power.

What’s available on the island I’m moving to?

To help you make your final decision, you’ll probably want to do some research on how much cars cost on your chosen island. Most of the islands have major dealerships that sell both new and used cars, with access to their prices online or via phone call.

If you’re looking to buy a used car, you can check out for-sale sites like Craigslist. However, you’ll want to be cautious when buying a car in a private sale. Unlike dealers who offer warranties, these “as is” sales can either offer you a major deal or a major headache.

In the best case scenario, the seller will let you have an independent mechanic check out the car before purchasing. You should also ask for any maintenance logs the seller has, and you can further check the background information on the car on sites like CarFax.

Assuming you’ve decided that you do want to ship your car, let’s walk through the next steps—and the questions that come with them.

Question #2: What’s the Cheapest Way to Ship my Car?

As with so many other aspects when you’re deciding how to move to Hawaii, you have a couple of options for shipping your car.

Option #1: Drive It to the Port and Pick It Up Yourself in Hawaii

The absolute cheapest way to ship your car is to drive it to a port where a shipping company like Matson or Pasha will put it on a ship for you, likely one they call a RORO (“roll-on, roll-off”) ship. It’s just what it sounds like: You drop your car off at the port, they roll it onto the ship, strap it down and secure it, then the ship goes to its destination port, where they roll it right off the ship and park it so you can pick it up.

If you live near a West Coast port on the Mainland, like Long Beach or San Diego, this is a pretty simple task.

However, if you don’t live near one of these ports, you have a choice to make. You could either drive the car to the port yourself or . . .

Option #2: Hire Someone to Transport Your Car to a Port

Often, the do-it-yourself option seems like it would be cheaper, but when you factor in the cost of your time, gas, hotels and a return flight, it can sometimes be cheaper to hire someone to get your car to the port for you, especially if you live on the East Coast.

Some companies will simply include this service in their quote to move your car to Hawaii. Others may offer a more à la carte approach that requires you to take care of this service on your end. Make sure you clarify with any vendors you speak with.

Under this option, the end result is the same: Your car is driven to a port city on the West Coast and loaded onto a ship. You can either arrange for it to be delivered to your house on the other end or arrange to pick it up at the port.

At this point, you may be asking yourself . . .

Question #3: Should I Put My Car in My Container?

If you’ve decided to ship a container, it may seem like the right decision to include your car.

Although that’s the right decision for many people, there are a couple of factors you’ll want to consider before you decide to go that route.

  • It can change the price of your overall move. Your car needs special care when getting packed into your container. It has to get loaded into the container, which sits 4 feet off the ground. It has to be blocked and braced to ensure it doesn’t move during transit. This can result in extra charges that may make your overall price a little higher.
  • It can also change the price of your container shipment. If you include a car in your container, most shipping companies will charge you for that car. Why? A car contains all sorts of hazardous materials—oil, gas and a battery, for starters. Because of this, a container with a car needs special treatment on a container ship. It has to be placed in a special part of the ship, and it is also subject to different shipping tariffs. So, at the end of the day, including your car can increase the price of your container shipment.
  • It reduces the amount of space you have for your household items. On average, a car is about 17 feet long, bumper to bumper. If you put your car in a 40-foot container, you only have another ~20 feet of container space left for everything else you want to bring. You’ll need to evaluate whether that’s enough space for you.

It’s a lot to think about, and in our experience, it all comes down to this rule of thumb from Dennis Schultz, Vice President of Household Goods at Royal Hawaiian:

If you’re east of the Rockies, it most often makes financial sense to put your car in your container.

If you’re west of the Rockies, consider driving your car to the port or hiring someone to do so.

Question #4: What Kind of Documentation Do I Need?

No matter how you decide to ship your car to Hawaii, there are a few pieces of documentation you’ll need:

  • Vehicle title or lien holder authorization letter
    • A couple of notes here on things that might hold up your move.
    • If the title lists multiple owners, all parties must be present to authorize the movement of the car. You can also provide a notarized letter from the other party, giving permission for the move.
    • If you are still paying off the car, you must have a letter of authorization from the lender/lien holder to move the car to Hawaii.
  • Current vehicle registration
  • Picture ID that matches the name on the title and registration

Once you have all your documentation ready, you’ll also need to do one more thing:

Question #5: How Do I Prep My Car?

Shipping companies have a couple of requirements to ensure the safe transport of your vehicle:

  • Your gas tank needs to be no more than 1/4 full at the time of shipment.
  • If you have an alarm system on your car, you’ll need to disconnect it—or disconnect the battery—before shipment. If the alarm goes off while the ship is underway, it may drain the battery completely.

If you’re having your car loaded directly onto a ship:

  • It needs to be completely clear of personal items.
  • You also need to remove accessories that aren’t bolted to the car, such as ski or bike racks, portable radios and stereos, tailgate nets and steering wheel locks.

If you’re including your car in your container:

  • You can still leave some personal items in your car. However, your movers do need enough room to sit in the passenger seat and see out the windows so they can drive your car in and out of your container.
  • Additionally, remember that things can shift in transit, so clearing as much as possible will ensure safe transit of your vehicle and your property.

We also suggest making sure you have two sets of keys: One to go with the car and one to stay with you. (Just in case!)

For those of you car aficionados out there, we have one more question and answer just for you . . .

Question #6: What If I Have a Sports Car, a Vintage Car or a Specialty Car?

Special items require special handling. If you’ve got a unique, high-value car—measured either in dollars or in sentimental value—you probably want to make sure it goes in a container for maximum protection.

Although many RORO ships are specifically designed for cars and won’t, for example, subject your car to Pacific sea spray, a container will offer maximum protection.

Additionally, if you’ve got a restoration job that doesn’t drive—or has a finicky starter motor—a container will also be your best bet.

Question #7: What If I Have a Question You Didn’t Answer Here?

After doing thousands of moves every year, we know that everyone’s situation is unique. So if you have more questions, it’s only natural.

Feel free to reach out to one of our Certified Moving Consultants. We’d be happy to talk to you about your specific situation and connect you with the automobile solution that’s right for you. (We can also tell you where to find the cheapest gas on island!)

Tell us about your move!
  • MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.