Photo by Kars4Kids  on Flickr.

As more people go car-free and families cut back on how many cars they own, a reader asked us the best way to put an unwanted car to use. Our contributors suggest nonprofits that accept vehicle donations.

Reader Rob asks:

Do you have any preference among the various charities that accept car donations? Are there any reputable ones around here that have better offers on the table than others?

Contributors recommended only a handful of locally-focused organizations. Greg Billing put in a plug for his employer, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association:

WABA receives 70% of a donated car’s value. In addition to the donation being tax-deductible, WABA provides the donor with a free one-year membership and our sincere gratitude.

Jonathan Krall added that the annual Tour de Fat group ride, sponsored by New Belgium Brewing Company, offers a prize to a person willing to give up his or her car.

Canaan Merchant suggests our local NPR station:

WAMU will take your car, and I like that station enough that’d I’d probably go with them right off the bat if I were ever donating my car.

Also, WAMU’s pitch specifically mentions people looking to cut down on the number of cars they own, which I see as a sign that more and more people are seeing car-free/lite living as normal.

Tina Jones opted to support another local nonprofit radio station:

Several years ago, I donated a car to WETA. They made it really easy. I just called and someone came to tow it and left some documents. Later, they sent confirmation of what it sold for at auction. I will say, though, that had I known, I would have donated it to WABA!

Yours truly adds:

One good organization that accepts car donations is the National Association of Railroad Passengers, for which I used to work and still serve on its national advisory body, the Council of Representatives. NARP advocates on the national, state and local levels for the investment necessary to modernize our passenger train network and make passenger trains an integral part of the national transportation network and a viable travel choice.

On a broader note, there are several companies out there that manage vehicle donations on behalf of many nonprofit clients. I believe it’s free for a nonprofits to set up a car donation program with most of them, but the company takes a cut of the value of every car donated.

Another local charity suggestion from Chris Slatt:

If you want to be sure your donated car actually goes toward a good, local use, you can donate to the Automotive Technology program at the Arlington County Career Center.  Vehicles donated by the community are used in instruction and/or are repaired by students and auctioned online. Proceeds from these vehicle sales are used to buy the latest tools and equipment for the automotive program as well as fund field trips and events.

Jim Titus provides some background on how car donation tax credits work:

If you are thinking about donating a car, my advice is to ask whoever you’re considering donating it to what they’re going to do with it.

The federal income tax deduction is limited to $500 or whatever the organization gets for selling the car, whichever is greatest. The larger programs that take cars still seem to be catering to people with junkers who want a $500 deduction regardless of what the car is worth. (I am not commenting on the worthiness of these charities, just the vehicle donation programs).

A few organizations partner with trade schools, or otherwise fix old cars, and sell them. If you give to that type of organization, you can still get the generous tax deduction, and to me, it doesn’t raise the same questions about scamming when someone actually gets the old car in working order. Or if your car is worth (say) $2000 and just needs a few minor repairs, at least you get the $2000 fair market value deduction because they will fix it up just a bit and sell for its true value.

Do you have a question? Each week, we’ll post a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing ask@ggwash.org. Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!

Malcolm Kenton lives in the DC’s NoMa neighborhood. Hailing from Greensboro, NC and a graduate of Guilford College (BA) and George Mason University (MA, Transportation Policy), he is a consultant and writer on transportation, travel, and sustainability topics and a passionate advocate for world-class passenger rail and other forms of sustainable mobility and for incorporating nature and low-impact design into the urban fabric. The views he expresses on GGWash are his own.