Car Shipping 101: Why Does Ground Clearance Matter?

Apr 8, 2019

When it comes to shipping your car, arguably the most important measurement on your vehicle that we will need to know is the ground clearance. Let’s look at why.

What Is Ground Clearance?

Ground clearance, also referred to as “ride height” or simply as “clearance”, is the amount of space between the ground and the lowest part of the vehicle, with the exception of the tires as they are meant to be in contact with the road. The lowest point can vary on the make and model of the vehicle and could be the front valance, front spoiler, air dam/deflector, radiator, or any low hanging parts on the chassis.

What Does Ground Clearance Do?

There is more to ground clearance than just how easily you can drive over speed bumps at your local shopping mall; ground clearance affects the way your vehicle handles and drives. 

A high ground clearance will protect the bottom of your automobile from scratches or getting caught on low obstacles, but it also means that your vehicle has a higher center of mass which affects handling and can make your vehicle more prone to rolling during sharp turns at speed. SUVs and trucks tend to have a high ground clearance as they are designed for carrying heavy loads and offload driving.

A low ground clearance means that your vehicle has a lower center of mass which will make it will handle better, but will also increase the risk of damage to the undercarriage and the probability of getting caught on low obstacles. Some vehicles that you would see with low ground clearance would be sports cars or luxury cars as they are designed for speed, responsive handling, and generally level driving surfaces.

The use of the vehicle will determine the amount of ground clearance that it has

What Affects Ground Clearance?

When a vehicle is designed by the manufacturer, it will take into consideration the vehicle’s use—will it be used for offroading purposes, is it meant for speed and handling, etc.—and will design the car around these details. The use of the vehicle will determine the amount of ground clearance that it has. 

If the vehicle is designed to be a fast sports car it may have low profile tires to make room for bigger brakes, lowered suspension to help it hug the road and decrease rolling, or body kits that help with aerodynamics to make it go faster. All of these things, even if added after the manufacturing process, will decrease the ground clearance of any vehicle. 

On the other hand, to increase ground clearance a vehicle could have larger tires to help traverse uneven terrain or increased suspension to help absorb shocks while driving offroad. Both of these options will help lift your vehicle further from the ground.

Why Does Ground Clearance Matter When Shipping Your Vehicle?

When shipping your car between cities it will be loaded and offloaded from various modes of transportation such as open carrier transport trucks, flat deck tow trucks, enclosed rail cars, and/or enclosed transport trucks. Each of these modes of transportation have different requirements that need to be met in order to load and unload your vehicle safely and without incident.

For open carrier transport trucks and trains, long ramps are used with varying degrees of incline which limits the types of vehicles that can be loaded safely due to ground clearance. This is because when a vehicle with low ground clearance approaches a steep incline the front bumper or any part of the car in front of the front tires can rub or get caught on the ramp, causing damage or the inability to ascend the ramp. This also can happen after the vehicle is already on the ramp and transitions from an incline to a level surface, causing the bottom of the vehicle between the tires to scrape or get caught up. Due to the angles of the ramps, a minimum ground clearance of 5 inches (125mm) is recommended for safe loading and offloading on open carrier transport trucks or enclosed trains.

To get around this issue, the enclosed transport trucks are equipped with hydraulic lift gates and low-angle ramps, making this the ideal mode of transportation for high end vehicles, antiques, or vehicles with low ground clearance.

What To Do If You Have Low Ground Clearance

If you’re looking to ship your lowered vehicle, there are a few steps that you can take. 

One option is to raise your vehicle so that it doesn’t have as low of ground clearance. This can be achieved by fitting larger tires or raising your suspension. If your vehicle has been modified with air ride, magnetic ride control, or coilover springs then raising your suspension could be a very real and relatively easy option. Some vehicles are also equipped with a mode specifically for transporting the vehicle; these modes will set the suspension higher than normal operating height and/or stop the vehicle from lowering upon shutting down.

Another option is to remove any body kits that may have been installed on your vehicle. Body kits change the exterior shape of your vehicle which could make areas of your vehicle lower than they once were. If a front splitter is installed, then that will increase the distance between the front tire and the frontmost point of the vehicle, causing your bumper to hit the ramp before your tires are able to begin ascending the ramp. If you are able to remove the sections of the body kit then you may be able to increase your ground clearance and allow the vehicle to be loaded onto an open carrier transport truck or an enclosed train car.

The third option is to ship via enclosed transport truck. These trucks are designed specifically for high end vehicles with low ground clearance. Equipped with a hydraulic lift gate and low-angle ramps, these trucks are made specifically to these types of vehicles. Fully enclosed trailers giving protection from the elements and road debris, door to door service, and highly skilled professional drivers mean you won’t have to worry about damaging your vehicle at all.

Common Measurements

Nissan Sentra = 160mm / 6.4”
BMW 3-Series = 157mm / 6.3”
Subaru Legacy = 150mm / 6.0”
Toyota Corolla = 140mm / 5.6”
Volkswagen Jetta = 137mm / 5.5”
Hyundai Elantra = 132mm / 5.3”
Honda Civic = 125mm / 5.0”
Ford Focus = 119mm / 4.8”
Porsche 911 = 109mm / 4.4″

Learn More

To learn more about the length of ramps needed for loading a vehicle with low ground clearance, check out this automotive ramp calculator or this incline calculator.

Want to take a fun quiz to test your knowledge of vehicle ground clearance? Test your knowledge on The Bridgjit Ground Clearance Quiz!

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