What to do with old car that only sort of runs?

I have an old Saturn Ion that finally had a big enough problem that it no longer makes sense for me to fix it. Essentially the entire transmission has to be replaced (quoted approximately ~$1700 for labor and parts), and since the car itself is worth less than that on a good day, I’ve decided that I’m going to buy a new car. I’m just trying to figure out my best course of action with regards to the old car. If I sell it, I assume I’ll get at most a few hundred dollars given that it requires a new transmission. It is technically still driveable, although I don’t know for how much longer, and I definitely would not recommend somebody drive it anywhere far as the transmission is dying fairly quickly. My options seem to be: 1) donate it, which has the benefit of somebody coming to take the car and I can claim it as a charitable donation; 2) selling it on Craigslist or some other private sale and making next to nothing; 3) parting it out which could potentially get me more money but would also require a lot of work and time that I don’t have.
Any suggestions on which is best? I assume that 1 is probably the easiest, followed by 2, but I’ve never sold a car privately and I don’t know what is involved in the way of taxes or other things. Any advice is great!

In CA, there is a program that buys back old smoggy cars. $1000-$1500. It needs to still run and have failed a smog test. I had 95 thunderbird that burned oil more than gas. Got $1000. I’m not sure about other states tho.


I am in the same boat w/ two vehicles.

My daily driver is a 2000 Saturn with 225K miles. It burns oil and the struts are shot; the front end shakes so bad that I can’t even drive it on the highway anymore. I’m going to try selling it in a couple weeks. I’ll be happy if I can get $300 out of it.

I also have a 1995 GMC truck that is much worse shape. I plan on driving it to the local scrap yard at the end of the week. Based on its weight - and the fact it still has the catalytic converter - I can expect to get $180 for it. :frowning:

Both of those seem like good candidates for the above linked program…IF you were in CA.

You could donate to your car to a charity and get a tax write off.

Some dealers advertise a “push, pull, drag” sales gimmick. Bring in your old clunker and they’ll give you a thousand or so dollars for it.
The only catch here is to negotiate your price before you tell them what your trade-in is.

Look into donating your car to a local school with an auto mechanics program. They often need clunkers for their studnets to work on.

If you donate your car be very careful that the paperwork for the transfer is handled correctly. I’ve heard stories from here in the DC area where the charities abandoned the donated cars, but never completed the transfer paperwork. The cars’ original owners were on the hook for fines from tickets, towing, etc.

NPR is always asking for old cars to help pay for their programming.

I wouldn’t put too much faith in this scheme. I guarantee you that one of the first questions out of the salesman’s mouth will be, “What’s your trade-in?”

Another option is if you can drive it to a junkyard, they’ll usually give you something for it. At the very minimum they’ll pay you the scrap metal value, which is usually around $150 these days, but if you get the car there under its own steam they might pay a bit more.

The problem with donating it is that the heady days of donating your jalopy and then writing off a wildly optimistic blue book value are over. Now you can only claim what the charity actually sells the car for, which for a car like this is probably going to be the scrap metal value (see above.)

Selling it on craigslist would probably be your best bet in terms of maximizing money with a minimum of fuss. If you post an ad that’s very descriptive and honest (take good pictures!) and price the thing pretty low, you should be able to dispose of it pretty quickly. With a not-quite-functional car priced to move you should be able to just say “show up with $X and take it away” and not have to bother going through the usual salesman-y stuff.

You could part-out the car online.

$20 for the headlights, $140 for a seat, etc.

Tow away the frame for scrap when you’re done.

Actually, around these parts the junkyard much prefers that the tires be removed and the fluids drained (and the gas tank punched). YMMV.

I would put an ad in Craigslist and just give it away. Be honest and say it’s not working and should only be taken by someone who knows how to fix cars, as it’s old and will keep on breaking.

I had a very old beater that I got tired of fixing. I gave it to a janitor I worked with. He kept it running for another two years, but I certainly couldn’t fix it myself and was very happy he got use out of it.

Don’t forget your trash can be other’s gain.

Where’s the fun in this thread? Part it out? Donate it? Pah! Have a little fun with it:

Enter it into the 24 Hours of LeMons!

If you’re not familiar, it’s a series of 24-hour endurance races for cars worth less than $500. It’s pretty common for the cars to break down long, long before the finish of the race, but teams put some hilarious liveries on their cars.

Think of all the great times your car has given you! Well, it’s a Saturn Ion, so… think of all the mediocre times you’ve had in it! You’ve gone from Point A to Point B; you’ve even gone from Point B back to Point A! Why, I bet you’ve even gone to Point C at some point in the ol’ gal!

Give you [strike]iron[/strike] plastic steed one last hurrah and let it go out with a bang! (And a cough, sputter, wheeze, clang, whomp-whomp-whomp, gasp, thud). Enter it into the 24 Hours of LeMons!

Hmm… so it sounds like my best options are Craigslist it for cheap to free or donate it to a charity. If I donate it my best case scenario is probably a few hundred in deductible on my taxes; if I sell it, probably the same thing, but in cash.
If I sell it on Craigslist with a completely honest assessment of the car function, am I on the hook for liability if they drive it away and the transmission fails completely while they are driving? The car does drive, but it’s not what I would consider safe to drive for anything other than in and out of a garage as the transmission could probably completely go at any moment.

I am in California, actually, but my car passes smog tests just fine. Shame, as that would be a great deal for me.

Which raises the question, how does the program know you didn’t deliberately mangle a couple O2 sensors in your beater to make it fail a smog check?

Bet they wouldn’t let it pass with a check engine light on… :smiley:

In California, releasing your legal liability in the car for parking tickets and such is super easy. There’ll be a separate seller’s report form on the title, or else you can do it instantly online. Beyond that, private party sales are by default as-is so there shouldn’t be any liability issues on your part once they haul the car away. Writing up a bill of sale explicitly mentioning that it’s an as-is sale (and probably specifically mentioning the transmission issue) might be a good idea, but isn’t legally necessary.

If it really is literally undrivable, you probably ought to emphasize that in the ad. Maybe switch to “first one to bring $X and a trailer gets it.”

Another thing is if you go the junkyard route, you might try shopping around. This car is right at the age of being in top demand for used parts, so you might actually get a decent chunk of change from a yard that’s more interested in selling used parts than just scrapping it.

Whaaa? I thought free tires and gas were just two of the perks of working at the junkyard!