Cars are terrible investments. New cars depreciate by about 20-30 percent in their first year, and just keep on losing value after that. Eventually, your car hits a bottom in terms of resale potential, and coasts there for a bit before descending into its final form: The beater. Of course, a car’s value isn’t measured solely in financial terms. There’s also the use you get out of it, and many folks are perfectly happy to drive an old car as long as it performs its intended function.
Hang onto a car long enough, however, and it will eventually simply refuse to start—or begin running so poorly you really can’t drive it anywhere. When that happens it’s time to get a new vehicle, and figure out what to do with the old one. The easiest option s to junk it, because the junkyard will send a tow truck and pay you (a small amount of) cash for your car. But there are other options that might make more sense if you want to maximize the value of your non-functional beater.
Trade it in
Believe it or not, you can sometimes trade in a beater that doesn’t even run. If you’re buying a new car, your car dealership will be your best friend until the deal is closed, and thus willing to do you some favors. Even cars that don’t run have some value, so a dealership eager to close a sale may happily throw you more than a junkyard would pay in exchange for it. Dealers may not be willing to pay to have the vehicle towed in, however, so this might only be an option if your beater can manage one last ride, or if you have other ways of getting it there.
Part it out
If you’re mechanically capable, consider taking your beater apart yourself and selling the parts. Even an old car that no longer runs is worth more as a collection of parts than it is as a whole vehicle—this is why junkyards will pay you for a car that doesn’t run. This requires tools and time, which are non-monetary costs you have to consider, and there’s more involved that simply removing and cleaning the parts. You’ll also need to research how much to charge for each parts and then find buyers for them. Still, if the reason your beater lasted decades on the road is because you enjoy working on cars, this might be an excellent way to transform an old car into cash.
Try a private sale
You’d be surprised at how much interest an old car can generate. In today’s insane used car market, some folks with mechanical skills and experience may be looking for a cheap car they can fix up themselves. Others will be looking for parts they can use for a business or hobby. Whatever the reason, it might be worth throwing your heap of junk into the classifieds or an online forum to see if anyone out there is willing to outbid the junkyards and come haul your heap away.
Because even old ruins contain valuable parts, charities are very happy to accept car donations even if the car doesn’t run. They typically will come get the car, but won’t pay you directly. Instead, you get the tax benefits of a charitable donation based on the car’s paper value, which is typically not very much. That’s why it’s attractive to the charity—the actual value of the car is usually higher if you’re willing and able to put the time and effort into selling it another way. But that tax break isn’t nothing, and you also get the emotional profit of knowing you helped a good cause. Just make sure you know what the charity is actually doing—some of the charities looking for car donations obscure their true purpose, so a little research to ensure you’re supporting a cause you want to support is worth it.
In the end, even a car that has recently transformed into an immobile sculpture of a car retains some value, and you owe it to yourself to get the most out of it you can.
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