There are few tasks more moving or necessary than transporting a loved one to their final place of rest. Arranging funeral transport is an important part of the funeral preparations, but it can seem a daunting task, especially to the unprepared.
Ultimately, the choice of funeral cars is an entirely personal one. The funeral procession can range from a vast line of black chauffeured cars to a fleet of bicycles to a quiet informal prearranged meeting at the place of burial. Limousines aren’t essential – you can use your own means of travel – but for traditional burials most funeral directors will insist on a hearse for transporting the deceased. If this does not suit you, however, it is by no means a legal requirement and you can arrange your own means of conveying your loved one to their funeral.
This article explains some of the costs involved in hiring a funeral car and the different types of car available.
Funeral hearse: how to choose
There are many different varieties of hearse. Depending on the wishes of the deceased, their interests or hobbies, you could honour them by arranging something more personal for their funeral procession. The hearse is the most traditional type of funeral car, particularly the Ford MK10. These long, glass-sided estate vehicles are specifically designed for carrying coffins and are the most popular option due to their cost-effectiveness and the availability. If for any reason you would prefer a concealed coffin, it is possible to hire hearses in which your loved one will not be on display.
You may decide to opt for something a little more unique and go for a horse-drawn hearse. A classic and profoundly elegant funeral choice, horse-drawn hearse carriages are modelled on the traditional Victorian and Edwardian hearses, with internal and external rails for flowers. Despite the vintage design, they can accommodate a variety of modern and traditional caskets and coffins exactly like a contemporary funeral car. These are available in teams of two or four horses, which can be adorned with drapes and ostrich-feather plumes. The carriage will be driven to the funeral by an experienced groom in traditional livery.
Motorcycle hearses are also becoming a more popular option for modern-day funerals. These uniquely designed motorcycles feature a large side-car for transporting the casket and are popular among motorcycle enthusiasts, often followed by a large motorcade of the deceased’s biking friends. Classic motorbikes such as Harley-Davidsons, Triumphs and Suzukis are available to transport your loved one to their funeral in style. More eco-conscious families may opt for a bicycle hearse, followed by a cortege of cyclists.
Full-sized funeral hearses can be used to transport infants and children. Specially-designed horse-drawn carriages for infants are an alternate option, and most of these are simply smaller versions of an adult carriage. More decorative open carriages, allowing parents and siblings to ride with their child on a final journey, are also available and are a beautiful choice of funeral hearse.
Some funeral directors will also provide novelty cars, as well as traditional vehicles. Anything from fire engines to famous vehicles from television shows can be booked either for transporting the coffin or family and friends. There are also a wide variety of classic cars and vintage motorcars (converted into funeral cars) available. The novelty hearse is a lot less common, but it is gaining popularity as funerals are becoming less solemn and more of a celebration of the deceased’s life.
Should you wish for a more personal and less traditional means of funeral transport for your loved one, a variety of hearse designs can be used. White hearses, pink hearses and even multi-coloured vehicles are available as an alternative to the classic black.
It is also common at traditional funerals to employ a lead car, which precedes the hearse with hazard lights on, bearing flags to alert passersby of the funeral procession (also known as a funeral cortege). In some cases this role is undertaken by the funeral director, who walks in front of the hearse both as a means of directing the cortege and as a mark of respect. At High Anglican ceremonies, the priest may meet the conductor mid-procession and the two will walk together for the rest of the way. The process of leading a funeral procession on foot is known as paging away. It is more common in modern funerals for the pagers to walk a short distance to show respect and then get into the hearse than to walk the whole way.
If the funeral will be a very large affair and there will be many guests, all bearing flowers, it may be necessary to hire a car to transport flowers and wreaths to the funeral or place of burial. This can be incorporated into the funeral procession as a beautiful and moving part of the cortege. Traditionally the car hired to transport flowers would be a specially designed flower car, and classic open-topped models are available. Nowadays however, it is more common for the flower car to be a second glass-sided hearse, as the large windows make an elegant display of the wreaths within. This is also a less risky option in case the weather is bad – safe behind the windows of the hearse, the flowers will look majestic and uplifting even on the stormiest of days.
Funeral cars: how many seats?
Once you have made arrangements for transporting the body of your loved one, you have the additional consideration of providing funeral transport for family and friends. How many seats they have is dependent on the style – a funeral limousine can usually accommodate 7-9 people. It is also possible to hire a full-size stretch limousine, the largest of which can carry 20 passengers.
Guests that are not riding in the limousines can either follow behind in their own individual vehicles or a coach can be specially hired in order to transport them. It is possible to hire other vehicles, such as buses, in order to accommodate as many as 80 guests at once. The latter is a sensible decision if there are a large amount of guests, as it avoids blocking the roads with a cortege that extends back for miles and prevents an influx of cars to the funeral site. Coach hire is also useful if many of the guests are travelling from a long way away.
When considering the size of funeral cars, bear in mind factors other than simple space. It may be more comforting for everyone to ride together in a large car, or to stick to smaller family unit groups – it all depends on the people concerned. It is often necessary for practicality to take a back seat to emotional wellbeing at such a difficult and painful time.
Funeral cars: who goes in what car?
The order of cars in the funeral procession can be determined by tradition or by your personal preference. Traditional funeral etiquette dictates that at least two limousines are required, as only the closest family members – parents, spouses and children – are entitled to ride in the first limousine, with in-laws, other family members and close friends following in the second. As funeral car precedence can become a highly politicised affair, some families dispense with the tradition altogether. If grandchildren are involved, it may also be best that they stay with their parents, as separation from guardians at such a time can heighten their distress.
Usually mourners are driven to their funeral by a chauffeur, but it is also possible to drive the hearse and your loved one to the funeral yourself. This is a tender and personal gesture and can be another means in which to show respect for the person who has passed. Should you wish to do this you will need to be ensured to drive a hearse besides holding a valid driving license.
Cost of funeral cars: how much?
While overall funeral costs are increasing year on year, hearse and limousine fees are usually included in funeral director package fees and have remained relatively stable. Funeral directors will charge a single rate for an entire funeral service, which usually includes administration, burial costs and the transfer of the body and family members to the cemetery. The cost of a hearse depends on what package you select and from what company. Funeral packages usually include a hearse and a limousine as standard, with additional cars costing extra.
Traditional and Cadillac style hearses cost around £300 or more depending on the age of the vehicles and reputation of the hire company. Horse-drawn hearses are more expensive and cost at least double that of a tradition funeral car. Generally the cost of a carriage hearse and a matched pair of horses is around £1,000, rising to as much as £1,800 for a team of four. Motorcycle hearses usually cost around £800. While the price of novelty cars fluctuates significantly depending on the provider, expect to pay at least the same as you would for a luxury limousine.
The costs of the additional funeral cars depends on the type of car. Standard, Lincoln-style limousines will be a similar price to the hearse, whereas people carriers can cost significantly less at around £100. There is always the option of arranging your own transportation, but all funeral car hire firms will provide a chauffeur in the price of the limousine so family members do not need to drive. In an effort to reduce costs, many families reserve the main limousine for close family and friends and a people carrier for everyone else. This article discusses the cost of funeral cars and limousines in more detail