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Car Donations – What You Need To Know

A car is a necessity in many places, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford a reliable vehicle. Buying, financing, insuring, and maintaining a car is a substantial cost and is often too much for someone on a low or fixed income. Leasing may bring the price down a bit, but can also be too costly for low-income individuals. Single parents especially may have little money to put toward buying a vehicle.

A decent ride may be necessary to make it to a promising new job opportunity or to get to school to help earn a degree and find a better job. While anyone feeling trapped in this situation may feel discouraged, there are a large number of programs designed to help very low-income individuals obtain vehicles at little or no cost. While there are typically some requirements on who will qualify to receive these gifts, many people have had their lives fundamentally changed thanks to a generous donor.

Who qualifies for donated cars?
Qualifications to receive a donated vehicle will depend on requirements specified by the donor organization. In general, to be eligible for a charity donation, you will need to meet the definition of "low income" based on the federal government's official criteria. As of January 31, 2017, here is how the government defines "low income" per family unit size:

Size of Family Unit 42 Contagious States, D.C., and Outlying Jurisdictions
1 $18,090
2 $24,360
3 $30,630
4 $36,900
5 $43,170
6 $49,440
7 $55,710
8 $61,980
Alaska and Hawaii typically use different and slightly higher figures.

Your state, county or city may use a slightly different definition of low income, which is usually based on what percentage you earn in comparison to the average household income in your area. Quite often, you must earn 150% less than the average income in your area to be considered "low income."

What can I expect from the application process?
The application process will vary, depending on the organizations. However, expect the process to take several weeks, if not months. There are likely many people also applying for donations alongside you. Most nonprofit organizations operate with a small staff who need to verify information.

Once you do receive confirmation on your application, expect that the nonprofit organization will do a few home visits to check your identity, as well as confirm that you do qualify for a donated car. If you do get a donation, there will likely be follow-ups after you receive it, as well as transitional services to ensure that you understand the responsibilities of ownership.

On most applications, you can expect to provide the following information:

Educational background
Work history
Current employment
Criminal background/history
Driving record
Valid driver's license
Income level
Household size
Drug use history and a drug test
Insurability (no past DUIs)

Are there restrictions?
In most cases, the only restrictions that apply are that you make below a certain income level and that you have a job to support maintenance and your legally required insurance payments. However, in the case of Free Charity Cars, you must maintain an active profile on the organization's website to qualify to receive a grant (in effect, you must "earn" your donation through activity on the website).

You will likely only qualify if you have a clean driving record and if you have a valid license. Expect the donor organization to check your criminal history. If you have a history of alcoholism or drug abuse that may result in the potential for impaired driving, you may not qualify to receive the vehicle.

What happens if I receive a donated car?
In almost every case, once you receive the donation, the title is signed over to you. You will officially own the vehicle. Your responsibility after having received the car varies. Some organizations will help you pay for the cost of upkeep, up to a certain point. Others, such as Vehicles for Change, require that you have a steady job and that you can pay for the regular maintenance costs (gas, oil changes, repairs, insurance, etc.).

If you cannot pay for upkeep, you may want to apply for grants or assistance for organizations that may help you pay your bills. Organizations such as Modest Needs can help you get a car and pay for recurring expenses.

Which organizations provide donated cars?
You will likely find at least one non-profit organization that donates cars somewhere in your area. The following list of nonprofits operate solely as donation services or have a vehicle donation service as part of the services they offer:

Vehicles for Change (serving Maryland, Virginia and Michigan)
1-800-Charity Cars
With Causes Charitable Network
Modest Needs
Free Charity Cars (operated by 1-800-Charity Cars)
Good News Garage (serving New England states)

You may also find a significant number of local charities that serve just your state or city. We suggest checking out the website Aunt Bertha, which allows you to search for local charities based on the specific services they provide (such as transportation assistance).