What Really Happens When You Donate A Car?

We hear it on the radio constantly: That annoyingly catchy jingle telling you to donate your car to charity. You see advertisements on bulletin boards urging you to give a vehicle to those in need. You may even catch the occasional ad on television plugging this idea.

But… how does it work? How does donating a car support a charity?

The process is actually fairly straightforward, believe it or not.

The first step is, of course, getting the car picked up. Generally, once a person cleans the car out and removes his or her personal belongings, a tow truck company volunteers its time and picks the vehicle up, delivering it to a pre-selected site. This could be that charity’s headquarters, but more often than not is a volunteer mechanic.

The mechanic goes through the car and fixes what he can, usually any outstandingly bad problems or obvious fixes that need to be made, even if the car can’t be restored to running condition. At this point, the vehicle can go to one of three places.

1. Straight To The Used Car Lot

If the newly-repaired car is sold at auction, you may actually see your donated vehicle turn up at your local used car salesman’s office.

Used car lots love buying cars at charity auctions for a number of reasons: The purchase price can be tax deductible depending on the situation, buying vehicles from a charity is great public relations, and the cars donated tend to be in better condition in the first place, even before a mechanic goes over them. For them, it’s pretty much a win-win across the board.

2. Recycled for Parts

If a car doesn’t run, or is a popular model for parts, it may instead be purchased by a vehicle recycler. Vehicle recyclers do pretty much what their name says: They buy cars, remove the working parts, see if they can fix the broken ones, and then sell them on the used car parts market.

Again, for them it’s an ideal situation, primarily because they know the car isn’t stolen (an ongoing problem for vehicle recycling companies). Their worst nightmare is a private sale that turns out to be someone else’s car: They’re liable for replacing the car… and hunting down all the stolen parts. As a result, charity auctions have a lot of appeal: The cars are more expensive in the short run, but a lot less aggravating in the long.

3. Used By the Charity Itself

If the car is nice or useful enough — say a minivan or a pickup truck — the charity may simply take delivery and start using it for its day-to-day work. The charity may use donated vehicles to carry and deliver supplies, such as a taxi service for elderly people or sick children, or a variety of other purposes.

If you’re wondering what use your car will go to, precisely, call the charity you’re considering donating to and simply ask. Any charity worth its salt will have details of where, precisely, your beloved old junker will be heading. It lets you know not just that it’s going to a good cause… but what good cause it’s going to.

Ready to donate your old car and buy a brand new one? Don’t forget to call your auto insurance company and get a price quote today!

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