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Your Donated Car Might End up in a Junkyard

I recently found myself in a junkyard scrounging up parts for a new project car. I was surprised at just how many relatively nice cars were perched on homemade stands with their hoods and trunks open. I peeked inside to see their dashboards ripped apart by a parts vulture on a quest for something. Many of these cars were less than 15 years old and appeared to have been well-kept prior to entering the not-so-pearly gates of the local U-Pull, U-Pay for the last time before being wadded up into a ball and recycled into shelf brackets or some other unrelated hardware item.

The junkyard is the last stop for a car, and it is not a glamorous way to go out. The inventory turns over quickly at most self-service yards. A Toyota Corolla that arrived last week will be picked apart to give life to other cars for maybe a month or two before it’s crushed into a pancake and trucked off to a metal-recycling facility.

Upon closer inspection of some of the nicer models, I noticed a trend. I saw a 2000 Volkswagen Passat wagon with a sticker showing its last oil change was only a few weeks ago; a rare Mazda6 hatchback with a manual transmission and chalk markings showing it only had 115,000 miles; and a Jeep Grand Cherokee Orvis with green leather seats still soft to the touch. These cars, and others like them, had stickers indicating they had been donated to various local charities.

You’ve probably heard radio ads or received flyers in the mail asking you to donate your old car to a charity as a tax write-off. You can tell your accountant you’ve donated a car worth fair market value — say $3,500 in the case of the Passat — and the charity will collect it.

This sounds great, but often it’s a death sentence for a car that may have needed minor repairs, if any, before hitting the road again.

True, the charity does get a check on the spot when they drop off your old car at a junkyard. Scrap prices are high right now, so in some cases, they may get as much as $1,000 — especially for a larger or heavier vehicle with lots of steel.

And, true, a car in a junkyard does serve as a donor vehicle to keep other cars running. I know this, because I left with $30 worth of trim pieces for my new Jeep project.

However, you may want to reconsider donating your car. If you take the time to sell it yourself, you’ll almost certainly get more for it than the charity might offer. And with used-car values still ultra-high at the moment, dealers are clamoring for cars they can resell. With minimal effort, you can enter your car’s vitals into services such as Kelley Blue Book’s Instant Cash Offer and receive — you guessed it — an instant cash offer for your car. Odds are you’ll get more for the car than the charity got for it at the scrapyard, and it is likely to give someone with a comparatively limited budget a new-to-them set of wheels.

Then, of course, you can write a tax-deductible donation to the charity, perhaps for thousands more. See used cars for sale

Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz is an author specializing in helping in-market consumers get the most bang for their buck -- and the best car, while they're at it. When not virtually shopping for new and used cars, Andrew can probably be found under the hood of a vintage classic that's rapidly losing fluids.

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