Do I keep/sell/junk/donate my crappy, but running, 18y.o. car? Please help me decide.

I own a 1991 Ford Tempo beater with about 110,000 miles on it. I give the poor thing very little care and attention, but it just keeps running and running. Right now it could stand to use a new muffler and new front struts, but neither of those things keep it from rolling.

So here’s my quandry. As much as I love to drive and as much as the car’s age and many aesthetic flaws don’t bother me (car = transportation, not ego trip, in my book), I seldom actually get out on the road, and I can easily manage without a car at all (I live in NYC). The insurance is about $800 to 900/year and gas is expensive and money is tight, so I’m thinking about letting my old loyal buddy go.

But I need more information – and maybe a couple of opinions – before I decide what to do. Can you guys help me out? I’ve got a few questions.

  1. Is what I’m paying for insurance reasonable? I tried the 15-minute Geico online rate test, and they came in at around the same price as my current insurer. Is there some other outfit I should try that, say, specializes in extra-reasonable rates for old, rarely driven beaters owned by drivers with excellent driving records?

  2. Say I decide to try to sell the car, where’s a good place to post the ad, and where should I avoid? What sort of price do I ask for? I was browsing Craigslist, and it seemed like people were asking for a lot of money ($500 to a couple of thousands) for cars as old as mine. I thought I’d be lucky to get $100 or $200, but maybe I’m lowballing myself. What do you guys think?

  3. I may just decide to throw in the towel and junk the car. Any advice for this route? There are plenty of places that advertise “top dollar for any car – any condition.” In ballpark figures, what would an outfit like that pay for my heap? I mean, are we talking $10 or $500?

  4. I’m also considering the donation route. I don’t really need the tax deduction, so I’d be doing it purely for the good cause and to spare myself the aggravation of the above options. Are there pitfalls and scams attached to this route that I should be aware of?

Thanks all, in advance.

1: Impossible to say without knowing about seventeen things about you, not the least of which is your individual driving record and claims history. The old car might actually be against you - statistically, it’s possible that drivers of beaters are collectively more likely to be in accidents due to bad brakes, burned-out lights, bald tires, etc. At least that “second opinion” you got from Geico shows that your current insurance is not wildly higher than anyone else. It’s the price of living in the big city.

2: How much effort do you want to put into this? An ad on craigslist will produce a lot of tire-kickers. Of course, you may be lucky and sell it for your asking price on the same day you post the ad, but I wouldn’t hold my breath… Looking at Tempos on the market over on this side of the world, $500 is probably the most you’d get for that age and being over 100,000 miles. (Not to mention the exhaust and suspension work your car needs.)

3: Closer to $10. If it’s running, perhaps $100. A few years ago, I limped an absolutely rotten Plymouth Horizon into a “Pick Your Part” junkyard and got $50 for it.

4: You’d get an itty-bitty deduction anyway. I’d go with option #3 before trying to donate it. The usual scheme is someone picks up your car and sells it at auction. You get a donation receipt for that sale amount minus the towing, transportation, storage, auction charges, etc. So, your car sells at auction for $180, but there’s $50 for towing, $10 for the auctioneer, $50 for storage and another $50 in miscellaneous charges. Woohoo! The charity gets $20, and you get a net deduction worth about 45 cents on next year’s taxes.

Sell to junkyard unless your state has a cash for gross polluters deal like CA does.

What is the total cost of the car, including parking, insurance and taxes? Because as a New York resident, one option is a car-sharing service like Zipcar. It might be cheaper than keeping the car.

I have no idea if your insurance is equitable or not, because I live in a completely different area than you.

We looked on Craiglist for a car for my daughter and people had unreasonbable prices for most of the rigs they listed. However, if you are honest about the condition and have a low ball price, it will probably go faster. And post pictures, be ready to email pics to interested parties, etc.

I’ve sold several cars to wrecking yards, much to my chagrin. The price a junkyard will give you will depend on how likely it is that people are trying to find parts for their Tempo. Since the market for people wanting to own and maintain those cars is small, you probably won’t get a great price. However, it costs nothing to call them and ask them what they will give you…again be honest about the car so they can give you a good answer. Also, if the motor and other parts are common to more than one Ford/Mercury/sister car product, you will have better luck. And if the glass is good, make sure you tell them that. Finding windows for older cars is one of our favorite uses for junkyards.

If you donate, make sure you donate to a reputable organization and follow your laws for notifying the state that the car is no longer yours. Otherwise you may get hit with a lawsuit when the new owner does not transfer title and is in a huge accident.