Long Distance Moving Guide

Special Services
Shipments Requiring Two or More Vehicles for Transport
Order for Service
Bill of Lading
Your Inventory
Minimum Weight or Volume Charges
How Your Shipment’s Weight is Determined
Shipment Re-weighing
Pickup and Delivery on Specified Dates
Notification of Your Charges
Delivery Receipt
Loss and Damage: The Mover’s Liability
Moving Service Inquiries and Complaints

Facts About Moving Contracts: What They Are and What They Contain

Consumers are protected during interstate moves by regulations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the organization that defines the rights and responsibilities of both the consumers and the moving companies.

Any long distance moving company should provides you with this pamphlet so that you will understand your rights and the responsibilities as the shipper of household property. Please feel free to discuss anything that isn’t clear to you with your mover and to ask him questions about anything that you feel isn’t covered.

The mover will also give you a pamphlet that details the procedures you should follow to handle any questions or complaints. This document includes a telephone number which you can use to find out more information about your move.


A binding estimate of total cost must clearly describe your shipment and all the services that the moving company will provide. There may be a small extra charge for preparing this document. Under this type of estimate, you won’t have to pay any more than the estimated total amount unless you request the mover to deliver more services than originally contracted for. These might typically include charges incurred at the destination end of the move such as long carries, extra stair carries, elevator charges and shuttle charges not known at the starting location. The mover may demand payment in full for these extra charges when your household goods are delivered. To be in effect, a binding estimate has to be in writing and signed by both parties. In addition, you must be given a copy before your move begins.

Once you agree to accept a binding estimate, you also agree to make payment of the charges that are due by cash, traveler’s check, certified check or bank check when your property is delivered. The only exception might be the mover’s agreement prior to the move to extend credit or accept payment by way of a credit card. Be advised that if you cannot or will not pay the charges due at the time of delivery, the mover may place all your property in storage at your expense until the amount due and the storage charges are paid in full.


There is never a charge for providing you with a non-binding estimate. This estimate is not a bid or a contract, but is provided just to give you an approximate idea of what your moving costs will be. It also does not hold the mover to the amount estimated. Moreover, a non-binding estimate is certainly not a guarantee that your final charges will not exceed the estimated amount. Instead, that actual amount will be based upon the moving company’s published tariffs. Long Distance Movers are legally obligated to collect no less or no more than those charges detailed in their published tariffs notwithstanding any estimates provided in any non-binding estimates you received. The fact that you may obtain different non-binding estimates from separate movers has no bearing on any amounts not covered by the tariffs

A proper non-binding estimate will contain details of your shipment and all the services to be provided by the mover. It must be in writing and the moving company cannot charge you anything in excess of ten percent over the estimated total when your property is delivered at the destination. Any remaining charges can be paid within thirty days of the delivery.


Special Services: Space Reservations, Expedited Service, Exclusive Vehicle Use and Guaranteed Pickup & Delivery

Moving companies generally offer customers price and service options and your final costs may go up if you elect to utilize these services. Never agree to have your property shipped under a bill of lading which includes these special services unless you have been fully informed of what the extra costs will add to your estimated total. It also may pay to shop around if special services are needed as some moving companies may not charge additionally for them.

  • Space Reservation- This special service occurs when you reserve a specific minimum amount of space expressed in cubic feet in the moving van notwithstanding how much space is actually taken up by your property.
  • Expedited Service- This special service option is available to shippers who must have their property picked up, transported and delivered at the destination between certain specified dates which the mover would not normally do within his normal day-to-day operations.
  • Exclusive Vehicle Use- This special service requires that your property be moved by itself on the mover’s truck or trailer. Most movers will gladly provide this service upon request.
  • Guaranteed Service On or Between Agreed Upon Dates-This is yet another special service option where you and the mover enter into an agreement that calls for your property to be picked up, transported to it’s destination and delivered on clearly specified dates. In the event that the mover fails to do so, you will be compensated at a pre-set amount or daily rate regardless of the expense you actually incur, because the mover didn’t perform per your agreement.

It is recommended strongly that you be given the final costs you will be required to pay before agreeing to any of the above special service options.

Shipments Requiring Two or More Vehicles for Transport

While the majority of shipments can be handled on a single truck, and movers endeavor to make that happen, there are exceptions that demand two vehicles be involved in the transportation. This might occur, albeit rarely, if the moving company underestimates the amount of cubic feet of space your shipment requires and it will not fit on the first truck. The rest, or remaining property will then be picked up later by a second truck and might possibly arrive later than the first truck. When this happens, your transport charges will be determined exactly as if a single truck had moved all your property.

To avoid the inconvenience of a later delivery, be sure that the estimate of space required in cubic feet for your entire shipment is accurate. Do this by asking the estimator to check over his figures a second time and also to refer to a “Table of Measurements” form when he makes the calculation. Most estimators have this form with them or utilize a calculator that does it automatically. You can also consider asking for a ‘binding estimate’ which will probably be more conservative and therefore more accurate than a non-binding estimate. In the event that the estimator offers this service, it may be worthwhile to make a ‘space reservation’ for the necessary amount of space along with a margin of error. To play it safe, it’s a good idea to set up your move so that the things you will need most urgently definitely go on the first truck and therefore cannot be left behind for later transport.

Order for Service

Moving companies must prepare an order for service for each shipment they transport. You are entitled to a copy of this order and should ask for one if it is not provided. This order isn’t a contract and can be readily canceled if your move is delayed or canceled entirely. In the event there is a change in the dates you arranged with the mover, or any change in a non-binding estimate that was prepared, the mover will most likely provide a written change to the order for service or a completely new order. A copy of a change should be attached to the original order for service if that is what’s provided to you by the mover. Both you and your mover should sign the order for service.

Bill of Lading

Moving companies must provide you with a bill of lading which acts as the contract between you and your mover. Legally, the mover must prepare this bill of lading for every shipment he transports. This document must contain exactly the same information on your order for service and the van driver must give you a copy prior to loading your furniture on his truck. Be absolutely certain to carefully read the bill of lading before you accept it. The bill of lading mandates that the mover must provide the services you have requested and also that you must pay the total cost for them. This is a binding legal document. Don’t misplace or lose your copy. Keep the bill of lading safe and secure until all your property has been delivered and paid for and if necessary, until any and all claims have been fully settled.

Your Inventory

Although not legally a necessity, the van driver generally makes an inventory of everything that is loaded on the van and notes any unusual conditions or damage on the inventory itself. This serves as a record of the condition of each item he transports. In the event that the driver fails to do this, it’s a good idea that you prepare one yourself.

Once the inventory has been completed, the van driver will ordinarily sign it on each page and ask you to do the same. Be absolutely certain that the inventory lists each and every item in your shipment and that any entries about condition or damage are true and correct. It is also your right to write down anything you disagree with. Then, when your property is delivered, if an item is missing or damaged somehow, you have a viable claim based upon the notations made.

The van driver should provide you with a copy of each and every page of the inventory and you should check off each listed item as it comes into your home. If you spot any new damage, make a note of it on the appropriate page and listing for that item and make sure the driver knows about the damage. Ask him to note it on his copy of the inventory too. When the van driver gives you a copy of the complete inventory, attach it to your bill of lading. These two documents are the most important pieces of paper you have regarding your move.

Once the shipment has been completely unloaded, the van driver will ask you to sign his copy of the inventory to show that you actually received everything. Don’t sign his copy until you are completely certain that it is accurate, that any notations about missing or damaged goods have been noted and that everything else on the list is now in your possession. Signing the driver’s copy indicates that you have given him a receipt for all your property that he transported.

Minimum Weight or Volume Charges

Most moving companies have a minimum weight or volume charge in effect. It is usually a charge that applies to shipments with a minimum weight of at least 1,000 pounds or 454 kgs. In the event you have property to ship that weighs less than the mover’s stated minimum weight, the company has to advise you by stating this minimum cost on your order for service prior to agreeing to take the shipment for transport. If the mover neglects to do this and your shipment falls below the stated minimum weight, the final charges are determined by actual weight instead.

How Your Shipment’s Weight is Determined

The moving company is required to weight the shipment if the charges are based upon weight. Unless the shipment is small enough to be weighed on the platform before loading, the mover has to determine the actual weight by one of these methods:

Point of Origin Weighing- In the event that your property is weighed in the locale where your shipment originates from, the van driver must weight the van with your property on it before he arrives at your destination. The weight he gets is called the “tare weight”. Since the van may contain more than one shipment when initially weighed plus pads, hand cart, dollies and other equipment, the van is then weighed again to give the driver the loaded or gross weight. He can then determine the weight of your shipment by subtracting the tare weight from the loaded weight.

Destination Point Weighing- The van driver is allowed to determine how much your shipment weighs at the destination prior to unloading. Whether the shipment is weighed at the start or the finish of the transport will not affect the accuracy of the weight of your property. Note that the mover will not be able to accurately determine the weight of your property before he unloads the van. What he does is unload, weigh the empty van and moving materials inside without your shipment and then determine exactly what your load weighed by subtracting the weight of the unloaded van from the weight he got earlier with your load still aboard.

Every time a van driver weighs the truck, he must get an official weight ticket that indicates when and where it was obtained. This ticket must also have your name and the number of the shipment on it plus the identification numbers of the moving van. It must be signed by the employee at the weigh station and if both gross and tare weights are performed on the same scale, the record of each is on the same ticket. You are supposed to receive a copy of every weight ticket where your property was included with your copy of the mover’s freight bill.

Although it seldom actually happens you are entitled to be there each time the truck is weighed and the mover must tell you where and when to provide you with an opportunity to do so. Tell your van driver if you wish to attend the weighings so that he can inform you where the scale he will use is located.

Shipment Re-weighing

If you agreed to pay the charges upon delivery and your shipment was weighed at the start of the transport, the van driver is required to present you with a written statement telling you the weight and charges before he unloads at your destination. If you question the accuracy of this weight, you are entitled to ask the driver to re-weigh your property before unloading it and you can’t be charged for this.. If, the weight of the re-weigh is different from that at the start of the transport, the driver has to recalculate your charges based upon the reweigh amount.

If you wish, you can estimate the weight of your property by utilizing the following process: Count each item in your shipment. Ordinarily, there will be 30-35 items on every inventory page. As an example, if your inventory has 35 items per page and there are 4 full pages and a fifth with just 10 items on it, you have a total of 35 X 4=140 + 10 = 150 items total. Don’t include a car if it happens to be listed on the inventory but not physically on the truck. Now, divide the weight by the number of items in your shipment (150). If the weight shown is 6,500 pounds you would get 6,500 divided by 150 =43.33. If the average weight you get is between 35 and 45 pounds per article it is not likely that you will be better off with a re-weigh and you could end up paying more. Statistics demonstrate that the average weight per item in a typical shipment of household goods is around 40 pounds. It could be more if your property contains many heavy items such as large cartons of books, tools, very heavy furniture, etc. In this case, the average weight per item may be 45 or more pounds.

Pickup and Delivery on Specified Dates

When your shipment is picked up for transport and delivered at the destination is entirely up to you. You and the mover must agree on these dates. He must tell you if service can be provided on the dates you have selected. Whatever the final decision, you must both be in agreement and it should be in writing with a signed copy in your possession. Never accept “as soon as possible” from the mover; the agreement must be date specific. Once it is, the mover will enter the agreed upon dates on your order for service and bill of lading.

As soon as your shipment is completely loaded, the moving company is bound by the contractual arrangements to provide the services detailed in the bill of lading. The only excuse for failing to do so is unforeseen circumstances that are beyond his control such as a major accident or serious truck failure. If one of these occurs, the moving company is not responsible for the delay that results and not liable for non-performance damages.

Once a service order is prepared, and circumstances make it impossible for the mover to make either the pickup or the delivery on the scheduled dates, he must notify you in person, by telegram or telephone and inform you when the missed pickup or delivery can be made. If you can’t accept the new date for any reason, try to find a mutually-acceptable date and time.

Despite the fact that you and the mover have agreed upon a new date for pickup or delivery, he is still liable for damages because he failed to perform as contractually agreed. If however, you or your representative fails to be present to accept delivery on the date newly agreed upon, then the mover is permitted to offload your goods into storage and you are liable for the additional charges.

If the moving company cannot pick up or deliver your property on the dates specified in the bill of lading and you incur extra expenses as a result of the delay, you might possibly recover those expenses from the mover, so save every receipt to justify them. If the mover refuses to honor this inconvenience or delay claim, you may file a lawsuit to recover the extra expenses. However, the FMCSA cannot order the mover to honor this claim since this is not within their authority.

Be certain to ask prospective moving companies what payment or accommodation you can expect in the event that they are unable to comply with the agreed upon pickup or delivery dates as stated on the bill of lading.

Notification of Your Charges

When you arrange for a move, it’s your responsibility to notify the moving company’s agent that you are to be notified about the weight of and charges for your shipment. Provide him with the phone number and address so that he can make this notification to you easily. Regulations state that the mover must give you notification of the charges at least twenty-four hours before your shipment is delivered unless the delivery is scheduled to be delivered just one day after the property was picked up. This twenty-four hour notification doesn’t apply if you receive a cost estimate before your move or after the shipment is weighed at the destination end.

Delivery Receipt

Moving companies expect that you will sign a receipt for the delivery of your property. This is done by asking you to sign or initial each page of the mover’s copy of your property inventory. It is not permitted for moving companies to have you sign a receipt if that receipt contains information that releases the company from all liability for loss or damage to your shipment. Don’t, under any conditions, sign a receipt unless it clearly states that you are signing for the delivery of your shipment in good condition except as noted on the shipping documentation.

Loss and Damage: The Mover’s Liability

It’s a legal fact that all moving companies are responsible for loss or damage to the goods that they transport. Nevertheless, there are different degrees of liability and you should be aware of the protection provided and also of the charges for every option you select. Ordinarily, movers offer four levels of liability within the terms of their tariffs based upon the Surface Transportation Board’s Released Rates Orders that govern how the moving industry does business.

Moving Service Inquiries and Complaints

Moving companies are supposed to respond promptly to any inquiries or complaints they receive. If you have any, you should try first to get an acceptable response from the company’s local agent who dealt with the details of your move and made the initial arrangements for you. The van driver should be consulted if you cannot reach the agent. If one of these individuals cannot provide you with an acceptable response, then get in touch with the company’s local office. Make sure that you have all your documentation of the move before you when you make the contact, especially the shipment number assigned to your property.

Movers who perform interstate transportation are required by law to offer unbiased (neutral) arbitration for disputes about loss or damage on COD shipments. The mover should provide you with details about this requirement.

All interstate moving companies must have an inquiry and complaint procedure in place.. Ask your company’s representative to describe this procedure along with any telephone contact numbers and whether collect calls are acceptable, when arranging for your move.


Payment details should be very clear before you sign on the bottom line of any moving contract. This is one area that can cause you major difficulties if the terms and conditions are not clearly understood before your move.

Transportation Charges

It is mandatory for the mover to provide you with a freight bill that clearly identifies the services provided and charges for them. Usually, this is done by giving you a copy of the bill of lading as a freight bill. Some movers, however, will give you a separate document.

Unless your shipment was transported under a binding estimate, each service performed, the rates per unit for them and total charges must be specifically identified on your freight bill. Don’t accept any freight bill that doesn’t detail this information as described. If you arranged for COD payment, you will have to pay the total charges on the freight bill at the time your property is delivered. An exception would be if the moving company provided you with a non-binding estimate and the total charges exceed 110-percent of the estimated amount.

As a rule, movers tariffs provide that freight charges have to be paid in cash, certified check, traveler’s check or bank check unless prior agreement has been made stating that a credit card shall be acceptable. Be certain that you understand what kind of payment will be accepted at the destination.

If you fail to make payment in an acceptable form at your destination, the mover can refuse to unload and deliver your property and can place them in storage at your expense until the bill is paid in full.

Should you discover any mistakes in your charges, first try to correct the problem with the van driver, the local company’s agent or by getting in touch with the company’s main office. If you fail to discover errors until after your property is delivered and paid for, write a letter to the mover at the address on your freight bill, explain what’s wrong and request a refund. In the event of an undercharge, you can expect a bill for the extra amount owed.

Transportation Charges When Shipment is on Two or More Vehicles

If it becomes necessary for your mover to split your shipment and transport part on a second van, your total charges will be exactly the same as if one truck was used. This happens now and then when a car is shipped as part of your property. In this event, be aware that the mover can require separate payments for the portion of the shipment on each vehicle used.

You should also understand that moving companies are allowed, but not required, to defer collecting the charges until the entire shipment is received at the destination. Ask the mover up front about his company’s policy if this should occur.

Payment For Lost Or Destroyed Shipments

Although moving companies make every possible effort to avoid damaging or destroying a customer’s property en route, accidents do happen. If this misfortune should befall your shipment, you can not only recover the value of good protected under the shipping agreement, but you will also be able to recover the transportation charges for any property lost, damaged or destroyed.

Movers work this way in such an instance. Where there is a partial loss the full transportation charges must be paid. However, the mover will then give you back a pro-rated portion of the freight charges when the time lost and damage claims are processed. If your entire shipment is lost or destroyed while being transported, you cannot be required to make payments except for any amount you agreed to for added liability coverage. If you pay these, you still retain your right to recover monies for the lost or destroyed property under the insurance valuation you selected.

Claims for Damage or Loss and Delay or Dispute Resolution

When you suffer loss or damage to your household goods during transit, you should file a claim with the moving company to recover money. You have nine months beginning on the day of delivery to file this claim, but should do so as quickly as possible. In the event that you don’t file your claim within 120 days, you may still recover money for your loss, but may not be able to recover any attorney’s fees.

The Federal government regulates the processing of claims for loss or damage but cannot help in resolving them. If attempts to reach an applicable settlement with your mover fail, your next step is to file a lawsuit in civil court. If you cannot easily obtain the name and address of the mover’s agent (although it should be on your paperwork), you can contact the FMCSA for this information.

Remember that if you were moving between states when the loss or damage occurred, your mover must participate in a Dispute Resolution Program with you and a neutral; arbitrator. This is generally less costly than a civil lawsuit and more convenient as well. It is worth repeating again here that you should ask the mover you select ‘up front’ for information on how his company handles this program.

In Conclusion

By now, you undoubtedly realize that moving, especially between states or countries, can be complex and confusing especially if it’s your first such experience. That’s why we’ve put so much detail in this pamphlet. Hopefully, you won’t have to use a lot of this information, but knowledge is power and being fully informed might save you a great deal of money and frustration later. So if you have any questions about your move, don’t hesitate to ask your company’s agent, the van driver or the company’s main office to give you the answers that you need.

You can also contact the FMCSA at:

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Office of Public & Consumer Affairs (MC-PA)
400 7th Street S.W.
Washington, DC 20590