To deal effectively with moving companies, it helps to know how the industry works. A key is to know about the differences between local and long-distance moves. The distance of your move greatly affects how your job will be priced, which consumer protection laws apply, who will do the work, and other important matters.

Long-distance interstate moves—from the Bay Area to Chicago, for example—are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The FMCSA has rules regarding documents movers must provide to customers; the mover’s liability for loss of, or damage to, belongings; types of estimates that can be provided; and other matters.

Intrastate moves—both local and long-distance—are regulated by the state Bureau of Household Goods and Services.

There are other big differences between local and long-distance moves.

For local moves, one moving company does the entire job. For long-distance moves, interstate carriers (e.g., Allied, North American, and United Van Lines) work with independent moving companies to coordinate packing, loading, trucking, and unloading. Some interstate carriers maintain employee-staffed branch offices, but most rely on local independently owned moving companies as their agents. The local agent assigns a representative to prepare an estimate and “order for service.” If you agree to use the agent’s affiliated interstate carrier, they notify the carrier, which dispatches a driver and truck to pick up and deliver your goods.

Most local agents have their own trucks for local moves and long-distance moves performed under contract with the interstate carrier. If your move is only a few hundred miles (say, from the Bay Area to Oregon), the local agent will probably ask the long-distance carrier to give it the contract to do the haul, and the interstate carrier is likely to honor that request. But for longer moves, the interstate carrier’s dispatcher will use any trucks that happen to be in the area and are available to travel in the direction of your move. These will probably not be the local agent’s trucks.

Even if the interstate carrier dispatches a contract trucker from some other part of the country for your move, the agent that prepares your estimate and books your move can offer advice and provide packing assistance, and may arrange for local hourly labor to load your stuff.

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