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Driving You Crazy: How do cars with Hawaii plates get to Colorado and why not just leave it there?

It's unique and rare to see a car with a license plate from Hawaii in Colorado
Hawaii Plate
Posted at 4:25 PM, May 16, 2023

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — Leslie from Highlands Ranch writes, “What’s driving you crazy? It is so unique and rare to see a car with a license plate from Hawaii in Colorado. How do they get the cars here and why not just buy one and leave it there?”

Unless the car you saw Leslie was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the vehicle with the Hawaii plates you saw in Colorado arrived in the mainland by cargo ship. A quick Google search will bring up the many shipping companies that will transport a vehicle either direction, to or from Hawaii. However, I’m told it is much more expensive to ship a vehicle to Hawaii than from the islands.

I talked to a couple who shipped their car from Hawaii to California before moving to Colorado. They tell me they were in the military, stationed in Hawaii and when their service was over, decided to move to Colorado to be with family. They told me the main reason they chose to ship their car is because the price of cars, used and new, was much more than the cost of shipping.

They told me the shipping cost them a bit over $800 to get their car from Honolulu to Los Angeles. It would have cost another $1700 to ship it from LA to Denver so they drove it here instead. They told me it was worth paying the shipping cost because buying a comparable car here would have been much more money and would have been a hassle. Besides, they told me they really like their car and they received a military discount from the shipping company.

On average, the cost to ship a vehicle off the island is less than half than it is to send a car to Hawaii. The couple told me it could be that Hawaii like to reduce the number of cars on the island and doesn’t want people shipping vehicles that way. However, Keoni Wagner, Director of Corporate Communications for the ocean shipping company Matson tells me it’s a function of supply and demand. “Westbound voyages to Hawaii are generally full, while eastbound returns to the West Coast are considerably lighter.”

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From California ports, the average shipping cost to Hawaii ranges between $1,500 to over $2,000. The overall price is much higher if the vehicle is shipped from farther away ports like Seattle or Anchorage than southern California or is trucked to a California port.

“In a typical year, we transport close to 50,000 cars to Hawaii and 10,000 to 12,000 from Hawaii. We’re just one of two major carriers serving Hawaii, so these numbers may not accurately reflect the overall flow in and out of Hawaii,” Wagner said.

The average time it takes to ship a vehicle either way across the pacific is about two weeks. That includes time for sailing and loading/unloading. “It’s four days on the water and our cut-off for receiving is generally two days prior to sailing date and pick-up at destination is normally a day or two after arrival,” Wagner said.

Shipping companies told me they can transport just about any vehicle including RV’=s and motorcycles. The larger the vehicle, the higher the price.

Denver7 Traffic Expert Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Spotify or Podbean.