My stepfather, Lance, bought a Jaguar, with me doing some of the tire kicking, and that meant his 1999 Buick Regal was surplus to requirements. Since none of his kids wanted it, he offered it to me. A free car! Not exactly the make or model I’d have chosen, but hey. At this point I could digress into my nightmare at the DMV getting the darned thing registered, but I’ll spare you.


Lance is an engineer, and he maintained his vehicle impeccably. The car is as spotless as any 13-year-old car has a right to be. I found out that to register my free car I needed a form establishing that it was a gift — otherwise it could be scam to avoid sales tax.


But getting a free car started me thinking about how cool it is, and about the options you might have if you want to give away one of your clunkers. But first, some great car giveaway stories.


Thanks, Oprah! In 2004, Oprah Winfrey gave away an amazing 276 cars, which left people crying hysterically, others jumping up and down celebrating their good fortune. Oprah said it was "the most fun I've ever had at a season premiere." Nobody likes to look a gift horse in the mouth, but according to a spokesman for Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, free cars aren’t free. The proud new owner of one of the $28,500 Oprah Pontiac G6 (not a car I would have wished on anyone) would be forced to cough up as much as $7,000 in taxes. Given that, owners were faced with paying the tax and keeping the car, selling the car (and paying off the tax with the profits), or forfeiting and, what, walking away? Remember all those insanely happy people who’d just won a car on "Let’s Make a Deal"? They hadn’t gotten the tax bill yet.


That’s Ludacris! The rapper Ludacris handed out 20 cars through his Stars for Cars: The LudaDay Giveaway event in 2009. Said the rapper, “People are getting laid off and are looking for jobs. To be efficient, you need some transportation of your own to get there. That’s why I wanted to give back to those who need it.” They had to write essays about their problems, and were told to "make it good." The cars, all used by the way, came with a 30-day supply of gas, but the new owners had to provide tags, insurance, registration and, gulp, taxes.


Elvis and Cadillacs! The first Cadillac Elvis gave away was a '54 convertible to Sun Records maven Sam Phillips, who deserved that and more for his assistance to the King's career. But giving away cars with the the Standard of Excellence crest was a lifelong habit for Elvis. His bodyguards got a Cadillac, and his karate instructor, too. In 1973, he spent $200,000 on 29 cars (not all Caddys) in a week and a half. On one day in 1975, he bought 11 Cadillacs. A bank teller who just happened to be present when Elvis was on one of his buying sprees got a car (see photo at right).


The Car Santa! Terry Frantz sold used cars from a lot in Kansas City, and started to give away about six of them a year as a way of attracting publicity. He sold his lot, and eventually formed a charity group called Cars 4 Christmas that hands out beat-up but serviceable vehicles — faded paint but a strongly beating heart. He’s motivated by our car-centric, transit-phobic society. “The growth in the U.S. economy has created many new jobs,” Frantz says. “Two of three are located in suburban areas and, in some cities, more than 50 percent of these jobs are outside the range of public transportation.” So you need a car to get a job, and tens of thousands of people apply annually for the Cars 4 Christmas vehicles. When are they given out? Christmas Eve, of course. Here's a video look at Christmas Car Santas:



Terrific Toyotas! Toyota gave away 100 cars in 2011 to worthy organizations, including animal welfare and human services groups. Big Cat Rescue in Tampa got one, as did the St. Louis Area Food Bank, the Blind Dog Rescue Alliance in Philadelphia and Senior Citizen Services of Greater Atlanta. Giving cars to tax-exempt groups is a good way of avoiding having to cut Uncle Sam in on the bounty. Winners had the choice of a Prius, Tacoma, Tundra, Highlander Hybrid, or a Sienna minivan.


Electric Avenue! In San Francisco, they’re not giving away cars, but they are giving away free electric-vehicle charging. That’s also true at the West Coast Electric Highway, which just opened last week along Interstate 5 in Oregon. Early-stage electricity in many places is likely to be free of charge, as companies and businesses figure out how they might bill their customers. It’s not that big a sacrifice, since a charge is $3 tops, and there aren’t that many electric vehicles out there yet.


Be generous! Now about giving away your own car: it’s easy. Newer cars will be eagerly accepted, and older, non-running ones may get sold for their scrap value. But groups ranging from the American Lung Association to Make-a-Wish Foundation and, hell, even my radio station, have programs. Many environmental groups, such as Habitat for Humanity, take cars, too (sometimes through third-party brokers). At Washington’s Earthshare, you’re sent to an online form that asks such questions as “does it run?” and “do you have the title?” They’ll send you a “notice of sale” with deduction amount and IRS form 1098-C, which you file with your return. It’s best to go through organizations you know and trust, because some of those independent brokers simply take most of the money (through “fees” and “fixed costs”) for themselves. The Internet is alive with this kind of stuff.


Free cars! What fun!


Also on MNN: Justin Bieber turns 18, scores an electric car


MNN tease photo via Shutterstock

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Free cars!
America is a generous country, and there's more than one way to end up with a gratis car in the driveway — or to give one of yours away. But beware of the str