How do I get rid of a dead car?
October 9, 2007 2:01 PM   Subscribe

How do I get rid of a dead car?

On one hand, it's a 92 Corolla with less than 100,000 miles. On the other hand I loaned it to a friend and it blew up on the Golden Gate Bridge Saturday night (not his fault). Now it's sitting at the bottom of my street, forlorn and nearly forsaken. I think I'm going to use up some AAA and have it towed to a shop for an estimate (overheat repairs, probably like a blown gasket or valve), but I don't think I'd spend more than $1000 or so to fix.

What can I do after that? Taking it to a junkyard and collecting my $200 is a little too convenient and underpriced (I think). I'm not sure whether the "Donate Your Car!" advertisements are more scams than charity for those who run them, and I suppose Craigslist might be useful here for a "Best Offer" option, but (...).

I think a lot of this might have to do with how quickly I'd like to take care of this (Monday is streetcleaning day) and how much money I'd like to get out of it. At that level maybe a question is "how much is this car worth?" In which case it'll be hard for you to help, but tips on maximizing my benefit and easing removal are most welcome.
posted by rhizome to Work & Money (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's difficult to find a buyer for a broken 1992 car. If the junkyard will pay you anything for it, grab it. I had a working, but uninspected, low-mileage 93 Nissan and ended up giivng it away.
posted by theora55 at 2:08 PM on October 9, 2007

It's a common car, and lots are still on the road -- I'd wager you could get $250 to $500 for it on Craigslist as a parts car.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:13 PM on October 9, 2007

See if you can donate it to Habitat for Humanity. That avenue might have possible tax benefits for you, but I am not an accountant.
posted by jerseygirl at 2:13 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's probably near-worthless, so it won't justify a significant tax write-off and it won't bring much from any buyer. A blown head gasket would cost more to fix than the car would be worth afterwards. There's not enough potential here to justify your spending a lot of time on it, so let it go whichever way is most convenient.
posted by jon1270 at 2:19 PM on October 9, 2007

You can donate it to NPR, the Kidney Foundation (I've done this), or any of a number of other causes.
posted by amtho at 2:22 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding donation. But MAKE SURE you sign the pink slip over and get all of the paperwork finalized and legal like or else if it's in an accident afterwards you might still be considered liable. You can deduct it off of your taxes if you donate it to charity, though.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:33 PM on October 9, 2007

Just make sure it won't cost more to tow to the junkyard than they'd give you for it.

Me, I'd donate it... let them handle it.
posted by SpecialK at 2:34 PM on October 9, 2007

Just donated an old car to our local public television station ('91 Nissan Stanza). I don't know if the rules are different in your part of the country, but we were guaranteed a $500 contribution; more if it brought in $500+ at auction.

If you're interested, call the organization you want to donate to and ask them how it works. I was surprised at how easy and efficient this was.
posted by Work to Live at 2:35 PM on October 9, 2007

Similar situation, worse (older, higher mileage car) in the East Bay. My trusted mechanic recommended the "pick-a-part" shops as paying the most, and also recommended a few local salvage shops.

The pick-a-part shops paid OK but weren't convenient - they couldn't do a same-day pickup (where they paid for the tow) and I didn't want the hassle of towing the car to the middle of nowhere and then having to figure out how to get home.

So I called my mechanic's local recommendations, and one of them took the car and paid for the tow.

So - ask your mechanic which salvage garages they recommend, and then get on the phone. You might have to call four or five garages, but you'll probably find a taker.
posted by zippy at 2:45 PM on October 9, 2007

In theory:

  • If you donate it, you get a tax deduction. Cash value to you: the value of the car multiplied by your marginal tax rate (somewhere between 20% and 50%, probably, including federal and state). And that's if you itemize deductions. If you take the standard deduction, you get nothing.
  • If you sell it, you get cash. Cash value to you: the value of your car multiplied by 100%.

    Of course, there are other factors to consider, like how much work each option is for you, and whether there's a charity to which you have been meaning to donate, but in terms of cash value, selling is always better. In theory.

  • posted by Dec One at 2:46 PM on October 9, 2007

    The reason selling isn't better in practice is that you can write off a car using it's blue book value (ignoring any current damage), which is invariably going to be higher than whatever you can actually get for a currently-not-working junker. Also, the value you write off includes the amount of money the middleman takes to tow and resell your car, not the amount the charity ACTUALLY gets, which can be significantly less.

    So, if you're willing to do some legal tax-fraud, you can probably get more from donating.
    posted by JZig at 3:08 PM on October 9, 2007

    In the UK the Fire Service will sometimes take dead cars so they can use them to practise cutting vehicles open which they need to do in accident situations. I don't know if that's the case in the US, but it might be worth asking your local Fire Department.
    posted by essexjan at 3:30 PM on October 9, 2007

    You actually can't (in the US) write off cars using the blue book value anymore--the law was changed in 2005, and donations of cars to charities have apparently dropped quite a bit as a result.
    posted by phoenixy at 3:54 PM on October 9, 2007

    California might give you $1000 to retire it.
    posted by Fins at 5:36 PM on October 9, 2007

    Dec One and phoenixy are right. I got a car in just ahead of the new law's commencement. These days the donation payoff is both less lucrative less predictable since you can only deduct what the charity gets for it.
    posted by NortonDC at 5:53 PM on October 9, 2007

    I recently got rid of a 15 year old car who was on its last legs. It would have been too costly to fix, I was slightly concerned about selling a car with brake problems to someone who might not fix them, didn't want to get it smogged, etc., etc..

    I ended up donating it via on the the "donate your car" companies to a local charity. Basically there is only a handful of "donate your car" companies which the local charities basically use.

    A guy with a tow truck showed up 2 days later, picked up my car from the street, signed the paperwork, and away it went.

    No muss, no fuss. Well worth the tradeoff of the maybe $200 I would have netted for selling the car.
    posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:09 PM on October 9, 2007

    >>A blown head gasket would cost more to fix than the car would be worth afterwards.<>
    A common fallacy. The car is worth what it is worth to YOU - or its replacement cost. You will always come out ahead fixing your older car than buying a newer one. Click and Clack think so too.
    posted by toastchee at 6:31 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

    I've donated two dead/near-dead cars to the volunteer fire department. They get vehicles to train with (jaws of life, extrication)*, and I get the car out of my hair with a nice letter of thanks from the FD, and come tax time I get a deduction. Call your local FD, ask to speak to the training officer, and see if they're interested.

    *they were as giddy as schoolgirls when I called and asked "you wanna open up a volvo like a tin can?"
    posted by spinturtle at 7:31 PM on October 9, 2007

    I first investigated the charity connected with the 'Car Talk' show on NPR, but its procedures were ridiculously Byzantine and I kept looking. Then I found that Volunteers of America accepts donated cars. Their procedures were simple and efficient and they made the whole process a pleasure.
    posted by JimN2TAW at 7:43 PM on October 9, 2007

    >>A blown head gasket would cost more to fix than the car would be worth afterwards.<>
    A common fallacy. The car is worth what it is worth to YOU - or its replacement cost. You will always come out ahead fixing your older car than buying a newer one. Click and Clack think so too.

    Not to fly in the face of C&C, but you need to put the word "almost" between "will" and "always".

    That's because you have to consider not only the money you'll spend against buying a new car (always cheaper to fix the old car, then) but also your current options for a different car (perhaps a relative is selling an old reliable that's newer than yours for a good price) and your overall value long-term (if you're fixing a car that's rusting through, for instance, there's a finite shelf life on it; you might be better off buying a newer car now rather than dropping a bunch of money and only getting another few months out of it.)
    posted by davejay at 10:07 PM on October 9, 2007

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