Tow Truck With Car On Warranty On Road

How To Sell A Broken Car

David Collins7-minute read
UPDATED: December 13, 2022


So that’s it. Old Bessie has outlived her usefulness. The suspension is mostly shot, and now the head gasket is blown. After 200,000 miles of faithful service, your car has broken down and you have few options left.

What now? The mechanic’s estimate for fixing your car is more than what the car was worth before it broke. Even if you are mechanically inclined and think you can fix it yourself, parts are expensive and scarce, and you have better things to do with your time. It’s even expensive to just have it towed away and scrapped.

But your neighbors don’t like the way it looks sitting on your driveway for months on end, and it seems like it could be worth something to someone. So, how do you go about squeezing a little bit of cash out of your car before you let it go for good?

Selling A Broken Car In 7 Steps

1. Assess Your Broken-Down Car

There are several online resources that can give you a good approximation of your car’s worth by factoring in its make, model and model year as well as the car’s mileage and accident history. Kelley Blue Book, Carvana, and CarGurus are among them. Try to get three or four estimates to establish a range. Typically a car’s value is different if it’s to be a private sale (often the highest value), sold to a party that will then re-sell the car, such as a dealership, or to a party offering instant cash (usually the lowest offer).

Of course, these values are based on the assumption that the car runs properly. Since your car is broken and won’t run, you now need to determine how much it will cost to get it going again. Try to get at least two mechanics to assess the car, and make sure that at least one is a garage that is not affiliated with a car dealership. Sometimes dealers might inflate the repair costs because it helps them set a lower trade-in value for the car should that become a possibility. Once you’ve established the car’s value and repair costs, you can determine whether it’s worth getting it fixed at all. For example, if the car is valued at $2,500 fully repaired, and the repairs will cost $600, it might be worthwhile getting it fixed. But if the repairs will run $3,500, your options become much more limited.

2. Gather The Proper Documents

Before attempting to sell your broken-down car, make sure you have all of the legal documents you’ll need at the time of sale. These include the vehicle title, which is official documentation that you are the owner. The title is issued by the state where the vehicle was purchased, includes the unique Vehicle identification number (VIN), and stays with the vehicle from one owner to the next through its life. You’ll also need your valid, up-to-date driver’s license, proof that the car is currently registered in your state, and proof of insurance on the vehicle. If you don’t have a legal title for the car, don’t fret – it’s possible to sell a car without a title.

For more information on these documents and why they are important, see What Paperwork Do I Need to Sell My Car Privately.

3. Get Quotes From Potential Buyers

There are many types of potential buyers for your car, but for our purposes we’ll break them down into three categories: instant cash offer (through an online company), dealer sale and private sale.

Instant cash offer: You can solicit an instant cash offer for your car from any number of online car inventory companies. They make it very easy. Simply enter some basic information about your car on their website, and they will make an instant calculation of the car’s value and make a cash offer. If you agree, they will have a local appraiser come and look the car over. Based on their assessment, the appraiser might adjust the sale price up or down, but assuming all goes well you will be paid on the spot, with the added bonus of having them haul the car out of your driveway for good.

Dealer sale: You can attract interest from local car dealerships and used car lots by calling them and explaining that you have a broken car for sale. They will send someone to assess the car and make an offer. They can pay cash, but their offer might be a dollar amount you can apply as credit to a new car you will purchase from them. Sometimes the credit offer might be higher than their cash offer because it entices further business. Assuming you are going to need a new car, a trade-in might be the most efficient way to unload your old car and buy a new one. Again, an added convenience is that these companies usually have the ability to tow your broken car right off your driveway.

Private sale: Besides used car dealers, you can also solicit other businesses and private individuals to buy the car. These can be scrap companies, junkyard owners (who make money by selling individual parts of the car), car restorers or hobby mechanics who wish to fix the car themselves and resell it. To attract local individuals and companies, you might need to place an ad for the car in a local publication. If you agree to a sale, follow the guidelines for a private sale as outlined in the article cited above. In the case of a private sale, you can stipulate that the buyer arrange for towing, but they might ask for that cost to be factored into the final price.

4. Agree To How You’ll Hand In Your Car

The party responsible for towing the car after sale must be part of the negotiation before you agree to a sale. Local dealerships will have the capability to tow the car from your home, but they will factor that cost into their price. Most individuals do not have the ability to tow, and they may insist that you pay to have the car towed to them. You should have an idea how much towing will cost. Towing companies usually charge a flat rate plus mileage, so how many miles the car will need to be towed should be known in advance in order to estimate what your towing costs will be.

5. Understand Salvage Vehicle Regulations

Depending on the extent of damage or disrepair your car is in, and also dependent on the laws in your state, your car may be considered a “salvage” or “distressed” vehicle. You can learn about salvage vehicle regulations on your state’s DMV website. This is also information that must be discussed with your insurance company, as it can affect whether they wish to continue to cover the car.

7. Don’t Forget Your Personal Belongings

For some, letting go of a car that has literally been down tens of thousands of miles of road with them can be a little emotional. The car seems like a piece of themselves. And literally, there are pieces of themselves all over that car – in the glovebox, the trunk, the console, etc. Be sure to go through the vehicle thoroughly before the tow truck arrives. Get all the obvious personal belongings, but don’t forget things like window scrapers, phone chargers and USB plug-ins. If the car has a CD player, make sure it’s empty. Check the sunglasses holder and the seatback pockets. Go through the trunk and the spare tire well. Once the car is gone, it’s tough to get these items back.

Alternatives To Selling An Old Broken Car

Sell The Parts For Cash

As long as you own the vehicle outright (there is no lienholder) and you have a place where you can keep the car relatively dry and out of sight of annoyed neighbors, you can hold on to it and sell off its parts one by one. In fact, the cumulative worth of your car’s parts might be higher than the whole car. This is more likely if your car is still relatively new (less than 10 – 15 years old) and is a popular model, because that means there are plenty of vehicles out there that will need a part here or there to keep running.

If you decide to go this route, you will need to make an inventory of all the vehicle’s salvageable parts. It helps if you can do this yourself, but if your automotive knowledge is insufficient for this task, you will have to hire a professional mechanic to make this assessment. Once you have a list of saleable parts, you’ll have to do some research on eBay, Craigslist, and other online “garage sale” websites to determine how to price each part. Then you can start advertising. Sound like a lot of work? It likely will be, but if you have patience your car might be a nice little cash machine over an extended period of time.

Donate The Car To Charity

Depending on where you live, there is likely a nonprofit organization nearby that will accept your broken car, as is, for donation. They will come and take your car away and leave you a certificate that states the car’s valuation based on professional assessment from Kelley Blue Book or another respected organization. This can apply as a 100% tax deduction. For people who dislike negotiating on price, this is sometimes an attractive option.

The Bottom Line: One’s Trash Is Another’s Treasure

If your car has fallen into such a state of disrepair that you can no longer justify spending any more to fix it, it is not necessarily either useless or worthless. Someone else may have the expertise to fix it at a cost that is reasonable to them and drive the car for another 20,000 miles. Your broken down car could also be worth enough to a car dealership that it might be used as collateral for a down payment on a new car. The owner of a local junkyard might see value in its individual parts. Even a scrap dealer might see enough profit in the car’s raw materials that they’ll offer to buy it. Knowing which of these scenarios is the most likely for your vehicle will help you maximize how much cash someone will hand you when the tow truck comes for your car.

David Collins

David Collins is a staff writer for Rocket Auto, Rocket Solar, and Rocket Homes. He has experience in communications for the automotive industry, reference publishing, and food and wine. He has a degree in English from the University of Michigan.