How to Donate a Car in California

When you have a vehicle that you want to get rid of, either because you want a newer model or it has outlived its purpose, a great idea would be to donate it instead of selling. Selling your car can be a lengthy, time-consuming process. The usual avenues for off-loading a used car are:

• Ads in local papers, TV and radio stations
• Flyers in local eateries, pubs, bars, clubs
• Word of mouth
• Used car dealerships
• Friends and relatives
• On-line markets

All these will certainly help you to sell your car, but they all need constant follow-ups or you may have to pay a hefty brokerage. When the sale is delayed, you could lose interest and settle for whatever you can get.

Instead, do some research on how to donate a car in California. There are big tax deductions for car donation to a registered charity. Irrespective of the vehicle’s age and condition, there are many agencies that offer assistance in donating it to a charity or non-profit organization.


Choose the Right Organization

One of the issues that many people encounter after they make the decision to donate is about selecting the most appropriate organization for their generosity. There are plenty of outfits that masquerade as charities, but who may take your donation and re-sell it to make a tidy packet for themselves! Giving to an individual is never a good idea as tax deductions are not applicable. It also puts you at risk for possible litigation.

There are some good options when it comes to making the right choice:

• Your church or religious group
• Community charities in your area
• Local government charities
• Reliable and well-established non-profit organizations
• A car donation agency
• IRS website


Obviously, the choice is yours, but before you figure out how to donate a car in California, do some thorough research and don’t make impulsive decisions which you may regret later. With so many issues concerning national and individual security that are rampant these days, make sure you don’t donate to the wrong cause.

  • Do a detailed background check on the organization that you plan to donate to.
  • They should be registered under the California code of regulations regarding Non-Profit Organizations and Charities.
  • Get an update on their recent activities.
  • Check their efficiency rating. The lower the rating, it indicates that most of the funding goes towards administrative costs rather than actual charitable work or the programs you’re interested in supporting.
  • Identify the people who promote this charity and where the funds/facilities/donations are actually used.
  • Make independent inquiries about the organization’s regular source of funds.
  • Check up on what tax benefits are available to you. Section 501 (3) (c) organizations can receive donations that make you eligible for tax deductions.
  • It should also be recognized by the IRS otherwise your tax deduction claim will be rejected.
  • Get an estimate on your car although you can claim the deduction only up to the amount that the charity can get for your car if they sell it.
  • Ensure that your liability as a donor ends when you hand over the car to the organization or agency.


Some of the relevant questions you can ask include:

• Where, how and when your car will be used.
• If the organization plans to sell the car, will the funds be used locally and how.
• The specific programs that will benefit from the use of your car or its sale.

The question of how to donate a car in California may be on your mind, but the process is relatively simple. It is similar to what you would have to undertake when you sell your car. In compliance with your state’s motor vehicle department, you will have to complete the title transfer, cancel your registration and finally submit a notice of transfer and release from liability form. Your DMV will also require you to cancel your car insurance policy.

Many people prefer to go to a reliable agency and leave the job to them after identifying the right charity that they want to support.

The agency usually offers these services:

• Free towing or transportation
• Accept any vehicle irrespective of its age and condition, even if it has been totaled in a crash
• Accept cars that could fail the smog tests
• If the original title is lost/missing, the agency can help you sign the right DMV forms for release

Ensure that you select the right kind of agency. They should be bonded and registered with the California Attorney General’s Office as a Commercial Fund-raiser. You can also make independent inquiries at websites like the Registry of Charitable Trusts etc to get more information on how to donate a car in California. Some agencies may not be licensed to handle vehicles located in other states.


What the agency does

• After doing your homework and identifying the right charity and the right car donation agency, you can call them at the toll-free number listed on their website.
• Provide the details like make, model, year, approximate mileage, condition.
• Give the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) which is a 17-digit number available on your registration, title or insurance documents.
• The agency will send a licensed and insured pick-up vehicle. If you’re not available during that time, you can leave the keys and papers with a trusted neighbor or friend or email them to the agency.
• Once the vehicle is sold, the agency will send you an official receipt. This is what you need for the tax deduction.


It is quite a simple process, once you know how to donate a car in California, and gives you the satisfaction that you have done your bit for a cause that you believe in.


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