Perhaps it's time for a newer, more fuel-efficient car. Maybe you've had your eye on one of those fancy hybrids. Or maybe you're in a position to take the big green plunge and embrace mass-transit or bicycle commuting.
Out with the old
In any case, something has to be done with Old Reliable. The conventional answer is to trade it in. But no matter how the paperwork gets structured, most car dealers aren't really giving you what your trade-in is worth: after all, they're in business to turn a profit.
You could literally recycle your vehicle, selling it for scrap. Most of its components and materials will eventually find their way back into the consumer stream. Or you can recycle your old car in a very productive way — by donating it to a worthy charity or nonprofit group.
Nonprofits have made a big investment in vehicle donation. It provides a very real, non-traditional revenue stream for organizations who are used to operating on slim budgets. Donation saves the owner the cost of towing or sale, while often providing a degree of tax benefits. Many local public radio stations have vehicle donation programs, as does a broad array of well-known, well-run national organizations. There are also umbrella programs which represent groups of like-thinking nonprofits.
One such organization is Earth Share, a network of America's leading environmental and conservation groups. Earth Share's members include Friends of the Earth, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club and a host of other front-line champions of the environmental movement.
Earth Share's vehicle donation program is well-organized: you fill out a form describing your vehicle; it's reviewed by Earth Share; and if they agree to take your car, it will be picked up in about three business days. They can handle all fifty states, and there's no cost to you.
Programs like this give you a chance to clear your driveway and support some of the groups you love. There are plenty of others — do a web search for "car donation" and you'll find a big selection of groups happy to take a salable vehicle off your hands.
In the United States, tax laws concerning vehicle donation were tightened in 2005. Before attempting to claim a donated car as a tax deduction, check the current rules or consult a tax professional. In most cases, you're allowed to deduct the "fair market value" of the car. That's not the same as the Blue Book value. Your vehicle may list at $1,500, but if the charity only gets $200 at auction, that's all you get to deduct.
You've still converted a liability to an asset, and helped a worthy cause at the same time. So put that old clunker back into the system, and smile knowing you have done some good.