How best to sell a junker car?
May 16, 2012 2:37 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to (legally) get rid of a car that's currently running, but beyond economic repair?

It's time for the mandatory annual roadworthiness certificate, and our 10yo (125,000 Km) basic Hyundai needs about $2000 in repairs, for a transmission that makes a god-awful clunking noise whenever we take a corner.

The residual value of the car after the repairs wouldn't be above $2000.

(My inclination would be to just spend the $2K & drive it for a few more years, but Ms Ubu feels that this is the beginning of the end. A year or two ago there were other unrelated repairs worth about $1500, and the fear is that at this point these kinds of repair bills will just keep coming in.)

Anyway, the question is: what's the best option for selling the car? I can think of:
- private sale
- trade in (although we're planning to try going carless for a while so this option isn't preferred)
- get some quotes & take it to a wrecking yard?
- other?

(is there some clever alternative I haven't thought of? Auction houses? Strip valuable spares out & sell them on eBay then junk the rest? Paint it pink & sell it on etsy as an object-d'art? Some kind of tricky tax write-off?)

We're in Sydney, Australia if that affects anything.
posted by UbuRoivas to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't necessarily speak for Australia, but I've disposed of running but needing serious repairs vehicles these ways:

1. Put an ad on Craigslist, clearly stating what needed to be repaired. A guy who runs a vocational school bought it for his highschoolers to fix. I made $200.

2. Drove it to a scrapyard. They paid me its weight in scrap, which was $120.

Sure, the current problem may cost $2,000 -- but when will the next $2,000 repair occur? Two years? A year? Six months? You might put the $2,000 into your transmission, and then throw a rod only a few months from now. It's a gamble, and I have no solution, but it's an important thing to consider.

(A god-awful clunking noise when turning corners may just be a broken engine mount, which is much less than $2,000 to repair)

It may be a good idea to trade it in, if somebody will take it AND give you a reasonable trade-in value for it. This might be the most valuable way to leverage the car, as long as you're willing to play the car-game with the dealership.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:42 PM on May 16, 2012

Not what you asked, but turning a corner isn't the sort of thing I'd expect to trigger transmission noises, so you might want to get a second opinion.
posted by jon1270 at 2:44 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the US some organizations are able to accept car donations, for cars in any condition, and provide a receipt for a tax deduction. God knows what they do with them. Something similar may exist in your part of the world.
posted by silby at 2:45 PM on May 16, 2012

The clunking noise only happens when turning right. It's clearly related to the drive train in some way, because it doesn't happen at all if you coast around the corner, but only if you have your foot on the gas. The more gas, the worse the noise. It's a clunkity-clunkity-clunkity thing, like cogs popping their teeth. Not that I was really after a diagnosis, but a second opinion is a good idea, yes.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:51 PM on May 16, 2012

I second the second opinion opinion. Otherwise Craigslist is good. Where I live there are folks who will buy dead cars for a couple of hundred bucks, take everything useful off of them and drop the rest at a junk yard. Another option here in the US is to donate it to a charity, who will sell it at auction (usually for a couple hundred bucks in the case of an old but intact car). The ones I deal with even have tow truck operators who donate their time to come pick up the cars.

On preview: Oh, if it's clunkity clunkity it's a CV joint. Shouldn't cost more than a couple hundred bucks to fix. Less if you have your existing joint repacked.
posted by wierdo at 2:53 PM on May 16, 2012

I was coming in here to suggest the same as silby. :)
posted by jillithd at 2:54 PM on May 16, 2012

Yup, CV joint would be my guess. This is not a $2K repair.
posted by jon1270 at 2:56 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

A private sale will get you the most money, but also the most hassle. CarMax will get you less money, but also less hassle.
posted by spilon at 3:00 PM on May 16, 2012

The clunking noise only happens when turning right. It's clearly related to the drive train in some way, because it doesn't happen at all if you coast around the corner, but only if you have your foot on the gas. The more gas, the worse the noise. It's a clunkity-clunkity-clunkity thing, like cogs popping their teeth. Not that I was really after a diagnosis, but a second opinion is a good idea, yes.

Get a second opinion, because I am pretty certain that is a bad CV joint - which, while not cheap is totally repairable. There are guides on the internet you can use to diagnose it yourself. CV joints aren't rocket science, and they are prone to failure.

It is hard to answer the question as it stands, because you don't have a good sense of the value of it; You don't know exactly what is wrong and what it would take to fix it.

That said, trade in or private sale would net the most cash to you. A trade in will be far less hassle, but you will lose some for the convenience.

Otherwise (At least in America, I can't imagine Australia being much different) just look in the phone book for auto salvage and they'll take it off your hand. Some will pay, some will charge - it really depends on a few factors.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:03 PM on May 16, 2012

Mods: in case answers about what the problem might be are "not answering the question", I'm officially extending the question to include "what might the problem be?"
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:04 PM on May 16, 2012

Nthing CV joint. Very repairable, less money than a transmission.

I would fix it, if the rest of the car seems pretty OK. For its age, that's a low km car. That would help a sale, or support a decision to keep.
posted by GeeEmm at 3:08 PM on May 16, 2012

My 10-year-old Ford's been making a godawful clunking noise when I take corners hard for the last year or so, and more recently when I brake. Mechanic just diagnosed it as a sway bar problem which is gonna cost me ~$100 to replace.
posted by jabes at 3:14 PM on May 16, 2012

Yeah, that's a CV joint, without question. I'm not sure who told you $2000 for a transmission repair, but they were full of it. Did they then offer to "take the car off your hands" for some small amount of money? If so, then that's a huge vote of confidence you can take that your car, after a relatively inexpensive CV joint repair, is a solid runner and should be kept.

If it truly is useless for you to repair it, offer it to the local repair shop for $500. If they bite, great! If they don't, junkyard. These aren't the best ways to maximize your income from the car, but you said easiest, so these are the easiest. You can also donate it for a tax deduction.
posted by davejay at 3:41 PM on May 16, 2012

I don't think anyone explained but the CV in CV joint stands for constant velocity and it is a fancy universal joint. On front wheel drive cars, or rear wheel drive cars with independent suspension the power is transferred from the differential to the wheels via this shaft. The joint lets the wheel move up, down and rotate for turning corners without any bizarre noises or movements when accelerating or decelerating when working right. As you can imagine this takes a fairly sophisticated mechanism. This mechanism is protecting from the nasty reality of dirt/water/salt/small animals that are common under a vehicle, and pretty rough on stuff when you are going 60 mph or whatever you do by a little rubber cone that wraps around the joint. BTW each side of the car has two joints-so 4 total for a front wheel drive car. As you can imagine after a while the little rubber boot gets worn or torn and/or eaten by the small animals that your car finds on the road. Then all the nasty stuff gets in and wears out the fine metal parts in the joint and it starts making noise when you turn a corner, especially under power. If you watch real close you will probably also see the wheel rock slightly when accelerating hard. To make sure you can look under your car, right behind the wheel, and you will likely see the remains of the boot and a whole lot of grease that got slung out of the rapidly rotating joint once the boot gave up the mortal coil. This is a really normal, really easy, really common repair to make on any front wheel drive car, and a 100% common repair on any car used on dirt roads and/or bad winters (at least in my experience). The repair runs about 250 on average and another 50 for an alignment (which is necessary after tearing apart a front suspension to this extent) at least in US dollars. So you probably don't need to replace the car for this repair. Something else to check while you are in their for replacing the shaft (noone replaces the boot anymore-you just replace the whole shaft) is the front struts and the power steering boots for the steering linkage. Both are pretty cheap since you have to get into them to replace the CV shaft anyway.

Hope this helps and my attempts at humor are not taken wrong
posted by bartonlong at 4:04 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Donate a Car - I have no experience with them - but did something similar here in US. Depending on tax codes and charitable donations, this may be a non-zero net for you.
posted by nightwood at 4:12 PM on May 16, 2012

Thanks for your responses, everybody - a totally unexpected (probable) resolution.

I was about to go & arm myself with knowledge about CV joints & how to diagnose their problems, but bartonlong kindly supplied that info for me.

And yes, as davejay suggested, the mechanic (a year ago) said that we could continue driving with the clunking, but eventually it'd be a $2000 repair, at which point if we wanted he could "help us find a buyer for maybe around $500" - at which point he'd presumably fix the CV himself for a few hundred, and profit from selling the car afterwards.

In terms of resale options, we'll probably defer that if it turns out to be a CV joint, but what I'm hearing is:

- Scrap yard: expect to make no money, or even pay some to have a car taken off your hands.

- Donation: I really like this idea, especially if it's done at some kind of nominal / accounting value (?). We'd make about 42c in the dollar for whatever value they put on the receipt.

- Private sale: potentially the best.

- Dealer trade-in: possibly equal to a private sale, although I find it hard to believe they'd buy for the same as a private buyer, because they've got overheads to cover & profits to make. That is, you may get more on paper for the trade-in & think you've done well for yourself, but I bet you'd pay in other ways, eg by not getting as good a deal on the replacement car.

PS: jabes, I had a similar suspension creak in my 60's Beetle, which was caused by a torsion bar cracked all the way around, fixed with a hundred bucks worth of welding. In this case, it's certainly a drive train issue, not a suspension one, though.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:49 PM on May 16, 2012

PPS - thanks for the local suggestions, too, nightwood & spilon!
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:55 PM on May 16, 2012

My mechanic gave me $500 for my non functioning 94 Celica just for access to all the functional parts. So maybe instead of a wrecking yard you can ask a (reputable) mechanic.
posted by magnetsphere at 5:10 PM on May 16, 2012

UbuRoivas: "- Dealer trade-in: possibly equal to a private sale, although I find it hard to believe they'd buy for the same as a private buyer, because they've got overheads to cover & profits to make. That is, you may get more on paper for the trade-in & think you've done well for yourself, but I bet you'd pay in other ways, eg by not getting as good a deal on the replacement car."

This doesn't really apply to a car as old as yours, but you can often sell a less than 5 year old car to a dealer for more than you can easily get at private sale. Not a trade in, but a straight sale. And if you're careful, you can actually get top dollar for your trade-in and a decent price on a new car. Not that I'd ever recommend buying a new car, but some people like to do that.

IDK if this is true for your Hyundai, but a competent mechanic can replace a half shaft on a Honda (usually the whole half shaft with both CVs is replaced at once) without knocking the alignment out. A really good mechanic can do it in half an hour or less. I think the book time is around 2 hours on most cars.

You can get a remanufactured half shaft in the US at an auto parts store for $80-100, plus a $20-30 core charge (which you get back when you return the old part). For a car as old as yours, it may well last the remainder of the car's life so long as you inspect the CV boots regularly and catch any cracks early.
posted by wierdo at 5:59 PM on May 16, 2012

I think the book time is around 2 hours on most cars.

Cool, so I guess max cost should be parts + 2 hours, plus a possible fixed cost wheel alignment as a liikely (but not always necessary) overhead.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:28 PM on May 16, 2012 - $20 to list for as long as you need to sell it.
eBay - you know the drill there.
Either way, unscrew the number plates, remove the rego label and hand them back to the RTA to make sure you don't end up going to jail for unpaid speed camera fines and sell it unregistered (AKA 'as-is, where-is').

But really, as others have said, this is almost certainly a CV joint issue and is, at most, a few hundred rather than thousands of dollars.

A car that has only done 125,000 km still has an enormous amount of life left in it if you look after it reasonably well.

There have been interesting developments in the relative sale/purchase price of cars in Australia with regard to private vs dealer. Sites like have made the true 'market value' (as opposed to book value) of a car much more accessible to the public and the effect has been quite the opposite of what you would think. Rather than dealer vehicles coming down in price in response to increased competition from private sellers, cars for sale privately have increased in price due to sellers realising that, with the equalisation of the market the on-line sales have created, they can get the same amount of money as the dealers and, because nobody trusts car dealers (so often exclude them from search results), they can sometimes actually get more for the car than a dealer would. Therefore, there is no longer any real reason to avoid buying a second-hand car from a dealer, particularly with the statutory warranty, guaranteed title etc that it brings.

On the other hand, a 10 year-old Hyundai? Worth bugger all these days, I'm afraid. The best price would probably be as a trade-in, because the dealer will up the trade-in price a bit to get a sale. Even if you had to spend $2k on it, it might be worth it if the car is in good shape - don't confuse market value (ie what it is worth to someone else) with what it's worth to you. You would spend a lot more than $2k to get a replacement that may or may not be any better.
posted by dg at 9:41 PM on May 16, 2012

It could be a bad differential or bad bearings in the transmission. But probably CV joints.

I just got $400 for a 19 year old Dodge from a wrecking yard, and they came and picked it up. What I did was choose the closest place, rather than the bigger places that advertise "cash for your car!!"

There is a point where you are better to chuck it and start over, but I'm not sure if a 10 year old car is at that point or not. How much is a car payment per month? Can you maintain the car for cheaper than that? Then it financially makes sense to keep it.
posted by gjc at 6:54 AM on May 17, 2012

dg - that's very interesting, what you say about private vs dealer prices in the internet era.

In case this is useful for anybody stumbling across this question in future, I'll mention this as well, which might provide a tiny amount of extra context:

When I as in high school, I used to work at a car market, where private sellers would bring their vehicles for sale, and pay us a small amount for the privilege. The Bible was the "Red Book". I'm not sure exactly who put it together or how (some kind of dealer industry association?) but it contained the values of just about every make of car, by year model, mileage & condition. My understanding at the time was that the Red Book was NOT for public consumption; it was a dealer-only publication, and we were never to allow it out of our sight. It was said to be protected information, a trade secret of sorts that helped dealers make their living.

Nowadays, having just googled it, the Red Book is online & available to all - I guess another example of how this kind of data has become democratised. **

gjc - I've been brought up with the belief that loans aren't for anything other than real estate, higher education or perhaps medical emergencies. If we did get another car, it would be cash down or nothing*, so that's a bit of a side consideration.

Anyway, off for a second opinion, probably tomorrow. I'll post a follow-up when I know what the situation is.

*(although novated leases look interesting)
** It gives a private price of roughly $3000-$4400, or a trade-in price of $1000-$2400

posted by UbuRoivas at 8:23 PM on May 17, 2012

Update: the car is now gone.

It turned out that I didn't have the full story on the repairs needed, as this had been filtered through Ms Ubu. In addition to the CV joints, two tyres needed replacing ($70-$100 each), all brake pads (about $400 total), front shocks & strut towers ($600), and a couple of smaller things (another $50-$100). The mechanic quoted the correct ballpark price for the CV work ($300 or so per shaft) so I'd assume the other costs weren't hugely inflated.

In any case, it's not like he was talking us into doing the work. He was in fact advising that it's not worth sinking the money into the car. And I was wrong about him offering to take it off our hands. He had in fact suggested eBay or a wrecker's yard, where he estimated we might get about $200. Donating to charity would've meant waiting up to 10 days before towing with the car parked (illegally) on the street, for which you can get fined if unlucky, so it went to a wrecker for $300.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:34 PM on May 18, 2012

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