Donate, Sell or Scrap | What should you do with a worthless car?

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Donate, Sell or Scrap | What should you do with a worthless car?

We don't know about you, but having a rotting, worthless car sitting on your property is annoying, if not a plain pain. Not only is it an eyesore, plenty of your neighbors don't appreciate it, and plenty of jurisdictions tend to agree. That's why junk car by-laws have become so common. In some cases, if you don't do something with the car, the city or municipality you live in will.

Collector Value?

But the touchy question that comes up is this: Does the car actually have some value in the collector community? In some cases, the answer is absolutely, positively Yes! For example, a 1969 Camaro, 1964-1/2 Mustang, 1957 Chevy, or a 1940 Ford (and the list goes on) are generally worth saving, no matter what their conditions. On the other hand, don't expect too many people lining up to buy the hulk of a 1976 Toyota Cressida or a rusted out 1967 Volvo 144 sedan, a barrel-rolled 1982 Ford Fiesta, or a worn, overworked 1989 work truck.

So if you're not a big time auto enthusiast—and even if you are—how in the world do you figure out what's hot in terms of collectability (and value) and what's not? Certainly, collectability can be subjective. Some folks like to believe their cars are valuable when they're not. A good way to determine if a specific car has a "following" is to grab an issue of Hemmings Motor News off the newsstand and peruse it. Now, Hemmings is a massive for-sale monthly publication. Each issue typically has 500+ pages of cars, parts and services offered for sale.

It deals exclusively with the collector car hobby. If a car has a following, there will be someone out there buying or selling cars, parts and services. If it isn't in Hemmings then there's a good chance the car you have isn't worth much to anyone. The catch here is an obscure make. For example, pre-World War II Willys passenger cars have a tiny section within publications such as Hemmings, yet something like a 1941 Willys coupe can be worth tens of thousands of dollars in restorable condition. The reason is, there weren't that many built in the first place and, when good examples surface within the collector community, they trade quickly.

Rule Out Obscurity

To be sure your car isn't simply obscure, use the Internet. Type in the make and model of the car. If the search reveals a club or two then it's a good idea to do some more digging. If the search reveals nothing, it's best to proceed to plan "B" (more later).

If your car does have a big following, how do you figure out what its worth? That's simple. You can get a general rule of thumb by way of the ads in Hemmings. And after that, you can get a second opinion by hiring a qualified appraiser. In addition, there are also several automobile price guides out there for collectable cars (Old Cars Magazine offers a good one). Just be reasonable with the condition of your junker. A heavily rusted or otherwise heavily damaged car (even if it is collectable) will only be good for parts, so keep that in mind. And if your car has some value, you can advertise it for sale on places like eBay, in Hemmings, and so on.

The Undesirables

So far so good, but what if your car is one of the many that falls into the "undesirable" category? You have to be brutally honest: Few, if any people want a rusted out, worn out, totally thrashed 1982 Hyundai Pony. You can sell your rust bucket for parts or simply for scrap, but how much will you get? Don't expect to see offers anywhere close to $500.

Speaking of scrap, what about the option of selling the car for salvage? Depending upon the vehicle, that can be a good alternative. Today, almost every part of a motor vehicle can be stripped down to its barest essential and either reused or recycled. But there's a really big caveat here: If there is little or nothing on the vehicle that can be salvaged, you won't get much from the wrecking yard. Sometimes they'll just pick the car up for free and that's it. In other cases, you might see as little as $100. Or as much as $3,000-4,000.

Scrap Money

That's a big dollar spread, and it all depends upon the vehicle. If it's a low mileage wreck that was in good shape before an accident, and simultaneously popular, that translates into desirable. It'll have a large number of salvageable pieces and as a result the wrecking yard can make money by parting it out. When the car is sold to the wrecking yard, it will be completely stripped. Everything salvageable will be removed and inventoried. The remnants are then crushed and sold for scrap metal. Ultimately the majority of the car is recycled.

Charity Donation

Not what you expected to hear? There's another option. You've no doubt heard about cars that are donated to specific charities. The dilemma you'll encounter here is the fact that few, if any, charities deal directly with donated cars. Typically, they work with organizations such as CarsHelpingAmerica or CharityCar or Donate-A-Car (there are plenty of similar organizations; check locally). These specialty organizations take the vehicles, repair them so that they're fit for the road, sell them then pass the net proceeds on to whatever charity you choose. In return, you receive a tax deduction worth as much as $500 and, of course, the charity you've selected gets some much needed funds. Some of the donation organizations will even give you a larger deduction receipt if the car sells for more than $500.

There's more here too: If you donate the car to charity, it's removed for free, and the donation organization will look after the paperwork (title transfer, etc). If you don't have a specific charity in mind, most of the donation companies will help you determine where your donation proceeds can go. In the end, it's basically a painless way to be rid of a useless hulk. You might also consider donating an older vehicle to a school with an autoshop program.

The bottom line here is, spend some time to weigh exactly what you have. There's no point crushing a desirable (and potentially valuable) car. The truth is, it will definitely pay to do your homework to see if your car has some inherent value. On the flipside, hanging onto a worn out undesirable junker makes little sense. In either case, allowing your cast-off driver to rust into oblivion isn't the answer, especially if you're still paying for insurance coverage. Put it to good use.

  • More in this category: Preparing Your Car for Sale. »

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