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How to Get Rid of a Car if You Can’t Sell It or Trade It In

Stephen Fogel
March 25, 2019

People are driving their cars for more years — and more miles — than ever. Developing that level of bond with your car can be great, but it can’t last forever, alas.

The older and more worn a car gets, the less it will be worth. Eventually, there will come a time when the vehicle will be too unreliable or unsafe to continue driving, and too expensive to fix to make it worth it.

By the time it gets to this point, the car might not be worth enough to sell or trade in. But you’ll still need to get rid of the vehicle, without making it someone else’s problem. There are two different ways to do this:

  • Donate your car to a charity
  • Sell your car for scrap or as parts

Let’s take a look at what’s involved in each of these approaches.

Donating your car to a charity

Several charities will gladly take your car, providing you with a good feeling — as well as a tax deduction. In most cases, the charitable organization will quickly sell the car, adding the proceeds to its operating funds.

There are many legitimate nonprofits that can take your vehicle, whatever condition it is in. Here are a few: 

  • Make-A-Wish Foundation
  • National Kidney Foundation
  • American Cancer Society
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Goodwill Industries

When searching for a charitable organization that will take your car donation, you need to do some due diligence to be certain of two things:

  • The organization is a legitimate 501(c)(3) charitable organization and is recognized as such by the IRS
  • The organization is set up to accept your car donation

You can search the IRS Tax-Exempt Organization Database. You can also call the IRS at 877-829-5500. Be sure to have the organization’s correct name and address before you call. Avoid politically oriented organizations that have a 501(c)(4), as donations to these provide no tax deductibility.

Next, call the charitable organization to verify that they can take your car. They may ask you to send some photos of the car, to show exactly them what they will be getting. If the charity is interested, it may offer to pick up your car, and will even send a tow truck if it’s not running.

Watch out for for-profit companies and organizations that accept car donations. Sometimes they act independently of any charities, which means that you give them your car and you get no tax deduction.

Also avoid organizations that require you to pay any type of fees when donating your car, or those that “guarantee” you a certain dollar amount of deductibility. Check the IRS database first, and if they do not have the proper credentials, keep looking.

More tips on donating your car

Once you have selected the charity and understand their car donation process, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You must have clear title to the vehicle as well as the title document 
  • Remove all personal items and documents from the vehicle
  • Fill out IRS Form 8283 Section A if the vehicle is worth more than $500
  • Fill out IRS Form 8283 Section B if the vehicle is worth more than $5,000, and get a written appraisal
  • Get a receipt from the charity to file with your taxes
  • Remove the license plates (check your state regulations for the proper procedures — some require them to be returned to the state)
  • Sign over the title to the charity, and take a photocopy with you
  • Take photos of the car and document the transaction

Scrapping or recycling your car

What used to be called “junkyards” have now rebranded themselves as “automotive recyclers.” Thanks to database software and the internet, they now market the reusable parts of their vehicles to car owners across the nation. This can be a godsend to an owner of an older car who doesn’t want to spend a ton on new parts.

Automotive recyclers make it easy to get rid of your old, about-to-expire or inoperable car. Simply contact a few in your area, ask them if they will take your car, and ask what they will give you for it. Provide them with as much information as possible, including everything that’s wrong with it. 

If your car is drivable, it will be worth more to a recycler. This could also save you any towing fees that a recycler may charge you.

Before you deliver your car to the recycler, be sure that you have clear title to the vehicle, as well as having the title document itself. This proves that you are the legal owner. If you have lost the title, you may be able to get a new one from your state’s DMV.

Selling your car as parts

If you are a decent mechanic and have the time, you may want to try selling parts that are in high demand in the used market, just like the recyclers do. If you do it right, you will make a lot more than what the auto recyclers will pay you for your entire car. Some of the more desirable parts include:

  • Engine
  • Transmission
  • Body panels like the hood, trunk, doors and fenders
  • Glass parts like the windshield and other windows
  • Wheels and tires
  • Radio
  • Power window motors
  • Power door lock mechanisms

The hard part is disassembling everything. Store all of your parts in a secure location, and then price everything. Then you can post these items for sale on eBay or Craigslist. When you have sold everything you can, the rest can go to the auto recycler for one last payday.

Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.