Best option to get rid of 2003 Toyota Corolla
August 4, 2018 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Should I donate, sell or trade in my 2003 Toyota Corolla?

I recently found out my 2003 Toyota Corolla will need a new catalytic converter. My mechanic could replace it for $600 which is very reasonable from what I’ve read, but the car has 190,000 miles on it and it has reached a point where I have been putting a lot of money into it. I regret the money I put into it the past few months- new shocks as well as other things wearing out and decided I want to get rid of it. What would be the best option for getting rid of it to give me the most financial advantage? I was offered $450 by a junk car company. I heard that donating is questionable in terms of how much could be written off for taxes. If I could knock some money off the cost of a new car by trading it in I would do that but I wouldn’t tell the dealership I had a trade in til I got their best offer. The car drives, the body is good except for a little rust by the left rear tire. It is noisy and I was told to crack the windows when I drove. I’d appreciate any advice.
posted by CottonCandyCapers to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
It is hard to determine the answer until you know what the car is worth as a trade-in or to sell on the open market. You can always donate it. You can always sell it to the junker. Why not put an ad up on a car selling site and also negotiate with the dealer as you described above. When you have done a full price discovery, then make you decision that best fits your financial picture.
posted by AugustWest at 8:59 AM on August 4, 2018

A dealer would simply junk a car of that age - they can't make any money off of auctioning it and would probably offer you $500 just to get a sale on a new car. $450 from a junk yard is actually a pretty good deal. Try checking your local private market, I expect you could sell the car for $1000-$1500.

Donating a car has never made much sense from a financial standpoint unless you are willing to commit tax fraud. You take a deduction, not a credit for the value of the car. Hence, even if you are in the maximum 37% tax bracket you are only getting a fraction of the value of the car.
posted by saeculorum at 9:31 AM on August 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a data point of 1, I donated my 1998 Nissan Sentra about 4 years ago and it got $800 at auction, which I deducted from my taxes.

Donating a car has never made much sense from a financial standpoint unless you are willing to commit tax fraud.

It's basically impossible to claim anything other than what the car was found to be worth at auction or whatever these days. The charity gives you a receipt, which you must include with your taxes, that specifies the value of the car; you don't get to use the Kelly Blue Book value or whatever.
posted by Aleyn at 10:15 AM on August 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

I recently unloaded a similar car (one year older, same mileage, but different make) and got a decent price at Carmax.

A mechanic might be interested in it to fix it up and resell. My mechanic wanted to buy mine for a similar offer to Carmax but I chose to deal with Carmax for ease of paperwork.
posted by socrateaser at 10:36 AM on August 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Even with 190k on it, you'll probably have no problem selling it yourself, even with the things that need done. It's a Toyota. Put it up on Craigslist (I know, I know. But, I've sold two extremely high mileage...300K and on CL) and sell it.

FWIW, all cars, if you keep them long enough, hit a point where you have to replace a few parts. Shocks are common things in that sense. The two high-mileage cars I've sold had just such needed maintenance items, but I was simply up-front about what needed done (as well as what I had recently done) and it was no problem

We keep our cars running as long as we can, and do the needed maintenance when it comes time. Then, we sell them. Ther's always someone who needs a cheap car, no matter the mileage. Being a Toyota is a plus in your favor. If it was a Chevy, I'd say sell it to a junkyard.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:18 AM on August 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

What Thorzdad says, Corollas sell quickly even with 200k miles and are generally worth putting money in to.
posted by bz at 12:12 PM on August 4, 2018

This is a long shot, but you may want a second opinion on the need for the converter replacement. A subset of 2003 Corollas (including one of my previous acquaintance) had / have ongoing check-engine-light / PO420 code issues which are NOT resolved by replacing the converter. Sometimes they're just due to a bad O2 sensor, and in other cases they're due instead to a problem with the CPU. I believe there was a technical bulletin from Toyota regarding this issue some years back. Checking into this could be worth your while, especially if you can find a mechanic who specialises in Toyotas; flashing the CPU might just be a fix.

(The aforementioned Corolla went through literally three catalytic converter replacements over a span of six months with no resolution of the CEL code, and as you've mentioned, catalytic converters are not cheap. $600 is way cheaper than replacements are usually, which is another reason you may want to confirm the issue with another mechanic.)
posted by halation at 2:19 PM on August 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Per the OP- "It is noisy and I have to keep the windows open when I drive"= catalytic converter is physically damaged (probably rusted out or has a broken flange) and is leaking. An ECU reflash isn't going to fix that.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 8:03 PM on August 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Has your mechanic considered an aftermarket catalytic converter? You can get a universal one that fits a Corolla for about $100 but not compliant in California. If in California, you can get a CARB compliant aftermarket converter for $215.

There is some labor involved but $600 seems kind of steep. Get an estimate from an independent (not Midas) muffler shop and ask them if they will do an aftermarket catalytic converter.

If the converter replacement also requires an oxygen sensor, then I might expect another $60 for an aftermarket sensor.
posted by JackFlash at 5:45 PM on August 5, 2018

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