How to Junk a Car in California: What You Need to Know

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

What's in this Article

Your old car is way past its prime. In fact, it probably qualifies as a junk car. So… what now?

Wondering how to junk a car in California legally and efficiently?

Today we’re getting into the details of how to junk a car in California. We’re covering things like preparing your documentation to choosing the right junk car removal option, and more. That way, you can handle this process with confidence and ease.

What’s a Junk Vehicle?

When you decide to junk a car in California, it’s important to know exactly what counts as a “junk vehicle.” A junk vehicle is typically one that’s inoperable and beyond repair.

This doesn’t just mean it’s old or ugly. The car must have severe mechanical issues that make it unsafe or impossible to drive. In some cases, a car that has been in a major accident and isn’t worth the cost of repairs might also be considered junk.

In California, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has specific guidelines that determine when a car is deemed a junk vehicle. These guidelines help ensure that cars that are too damaged to be safely repaired don’t end up back on the road. Understanding these rules can help you make sure that you’re following the law when you decide to dispose of your vehicle.

Preparing to Junk Your Vehicle

Before you can junk your car in California, you’ll need to gather some important documents. The most critical document is the title of the car. This proves that you own the vehicle and have the right to junk it.

If you’ve lost the title, you’ll need to apply for a duplicate from the California DMV before proceeding. Besides the title, it’s helpful to have your vehicle registration and any service records. These documents can sometimes increase the value of your car, even if it’s being sold for parts.

Vehicle Assessment

Assessing your vehicle’s condition is the next step. You need to determine if the car is truly beyond repair. Sometimes, what might seem like a major issue could be fixable, and the car might be worth more if repaired.

But if the cost of repairs exceeds the value of the car, or if it’s unsafe to drive, then it’s likely time to junk it. Checking the car’s overall body condition, engine status, and operability will help you decide its fate.

If you’re not sure how to assess these factors, consider getting a professional mechanic to take a look. They can give you a clear picture of the car’s condition and help you decide if it’s better to sell it for parts or junk it entirely.

Selling a car for parts can be more profitable but requires more effort. You’ll need to know which parts are still in good working condition and could be of value to someone else.

Common valuable parts include the alternator, transmission, and sometimes even body panels if they’re in good shape. If you choose to go this route, you can either remove and sell these parts yourself or sell the car as is to someone who specializes in dismantling and selling car parts.

Choosing the Right Junk Car Removal Option

One straightforward option to junk your car is to sell it to a junkyard. Junkyards often buy old vehicles regardless of their condition because they can recycle the parts and materials. To get started, look for a local junkyard that offers junk car removal services.

It’s best to call a few places to compare offers and check their policies. Some junkyards will tow your car for free. When selling to a junkyard, make sure you have all your documents ready, as they will likely ask to see proof of ownership before making a deal.

Then there are great online options, like Cash Auto Salvage, where you can sell your junk car easily via our website.

Donating Your Car

Donating your car is another option that can benefit you and others. Many charities accept old vehicles, even if they’re not running.

The charity typically arranges to pick up the vehicle at no cost to you. Plus, you might qualify for a tax deduction based on the value of the car. 

Selling for Parts

If your car has some parts that are still in good condition, you could consider selling it for parts. This option can be more lucrative than selling the entire car to a junkyard but requires more effort.

You’ll need to identify which parts are valuable and can be easily removed and sold. Popular parts include engines, transmissions, catalytic converters, and electronics.

You can sell these parts online, to auto repair shops, or to people who need replacements. This method involves more work, but if you have the time and skill to dismantle your car, it can be financially rewarding.

How to Junk a Car in California

When you decide to junk your car in California, you’ll need to inform the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This process is called the Notification of Transfer and Release of Liability.

You have to complete this step within five days of transferring the car to the junkyard or new owner. This notification is crucial because it releases you from any future liability that could arise from the vehicle, such as traffic violations or accidents. You can fill out this form online on the DMV’s website or submit it in person at a DMV office.

Obtaining a Junk Certificate

Another important legal requirement is obtaining a Junk Certificate from the DMV. This certificate is proof that your car has been officially designated as junked and is no longer recognized as a vehicle that can be driven.

To get this certificate, you need to surrender the car’s license plates and provide the vehicle’s title along with the completed application form to the DMV. There might be a small fee involved in processing this certificate.

Once you receive it, it signifies that your car is officially out of circulation and can be dismantled or sold for parts without any legal complications.

Handling these legal steps properly ensures that the process of junking your car goes smoothly and legally. It protects you from possible fines or issues with the law and helps keep the roads safe by officially removing an unsafe vehicle from traffic. Always double-check that you’ve completed all required forms and submissions to the DMV to avoid any future problems.

Environmental Benefits

Junking an old vehicle isn’t just about clearing out space or making some money-it also has significant environmental benefits. When you junk a car, especially in a state like California, you’re contributing to recycling efforts that can greatly reduce waste.

Cars are full of materials that can be recycled and reused, such as metals, plastics, and rubber. By sending your car to a reputable junkyard, you ensure that these materials are processed correctly.

Recycling car parts helps reduce the need to produce new materials, which in turn lowers the pollution associated with manufacturing processes. For example, reusing steel from junked cars saves energy and raw materials. That’s because recycling steel uses 60% less energy than producing it from ore.

Also, properly disposing of vehicle fluids and hazardous materials like oil, coolant, and batteries is crucial. These substances can be extremely harmful to the environment if they are not handled correctly.

Removing old, inefficient vehicles from the road can also improve air quality. Older cars often lack the advanced emissions-control technology found in newer models, meaning they can emit more pollutants. 

Avoiding Scams

When you’re looking to junk your car, it’s important to stay alert to potential scams. One common trick is offering a price over the phone and then lowering it significantly once the car is picked up, claiming the car is in worse condition than expected.

Always insist on a firm price before agreeing to any deal. It’s also wise to check online reviews and ratings of the junkyard or service you’re considering. If a deal feels too good to be true, it probably is. Always use trusted services and avoid any arrangement that requires upfront payment before the service is rendered.

Compliance with State Laws

Complying with California’s laws when junking your car is not just a good practice. It’s a requirement. Make sure you complete all the necessary paperwork and steps required by the California DMV.

This includes transferring the title and notifying the DMV of the vehicle’s change in status through the Notification of Transfer and Release of Liability form. Skipping these steps can lead to legal complications, such as being held liable for violations or accidents involving the vehicle after it’s been sold or transferred.

Your Junk Car

Now you know how to junk a car in California! We’ve covered everything from the benefits of each method, to the legal requirements.

Cash Auto Salvage’s mission is simple: to help you sell your car for top dollar, and fast. Stop scheduling inconvenient viewings, paying for ads, or shelling out money for repairs. We’ll buy your car and either sell it at auction or do Mother Nature a favor by recycling it (if it’s junk, of course).

Get in touch today to find out how we can help with your junk car!

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About the Author


Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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