The Definitive Guide to Selling a Car, Truck, or SUV
You’re finally ready to part ways with your vehicle. Whether it’s a junk car, in decent shape, or a newer model, it’s taking up space and you’ve decided that you would rather have the cash for it. So where do you start?
If you’re looking to get the most value for your vehicle, this is the guide for you.
Here is everything you need to know if you are thinking of selling your junk car, truck, or SUV for cash. We will look at some of the general factors that junkyards take into consideration when preparing an offer on your vehicle.
Then we provide some free tools you can use to get a sense of your vehicle’s value before you start calling for quotes. We’ll outline some relatively easy things you can do ahead of time to maximize the amount of cash you receive, we’ll include a list of unethical tactics that less reputable junkyards use so that you can be aware and avoid them, and a list of frequently asked questions and top five takeaway points.
General Factors That Affect a Junkyard's Offer
Let’s start by looking at some of the factors that a junkyard must take into consideration when determining the value of any vehicle that appears on its lot.
The Current Market Price of Scrap Metal
Junkyards take steel, aluminum, copper and other metal from your junk car and sell it to scrap metal dealers for cash. In turn, the scrap metal dealers sell the metal to manufacturers who recycle it into car parts, building materials, and other items we use every day.
The amount that the manufacturer pays the scrap metal dealer depends on the current market rate of scrap metal which determines how much the scrap metal dealer will pay the junkyard. Ergo, the current market rate of scrap metal affects a junkyard’s cash offer for your junk car.
The current market price of scrap metal depends on a few things, but most importantly, it’s determined by supply and demand: the more scrap metal there is on the market, the lower the value.
The Cost of Labor
Once a junkyard acquires your vehicle, they strip, dismantle, and crush the vehicle. This takes time and labor, and time is money. Before they crush your vehicle, junkyards employ auto dismantlers who specifically disassemble a junk car to acquire the most valuable parts.
They test and examine each part and component in a vehicle to determine if it can be reused in a future vehicle. In addition, all the fluids and unusable parts must be removed and legally disposed of. These fluids may include gasoline, oil, transmission fluid, Freon from the air conditioner, coolant in the radiator, wiper fluid, and brake fluid.
Later we will discuss how you can take care of some of this before your vehicle goes to the junkyard in an effort to get the best possible cash offer.
Transporting the Vehicle, if Applicable
Since most junk cars are not in working condition, most junkyards have special equipment including flatbeds that can transport your vehicle, no matter the condition, to their facility. In most cases, the junkyard will charge for the removal and transport of your vehicle.
For this reason, it is helpful to search for junkyards that are close to where your vehicle is located. Better yet, if you can tow or drive in the vehicle yourself, this will increase your cash offer as it saves the junkyard both time and money.
The Interior & Exterior Condition of the Vehicle
You might think the condition of your vehicle doesn’t matter since they’ll strip your car and eventually crush it. However, considering that about 80% of a vehicle can be recycled, every part potentially has value.
Whether they are used for other vehicles of the same model or if they’re used for scrap metal, the condition of all the parts matter. Taking care of minor dings and dents can increase how many parts are easily re-usable.
Rust takes away from the value of any parts. The more “road worthy” your car is, the better your cash offer will be. The more work that needs to be done at the junkyard, the less your offer will be.
A junkyard cannot buy your vehicle if you are not able to produce the title for it. They are not legally allowed to purchase a vehicle from anyone but the owner. In other words, do not show up to a junkyard without the vehicle’s title (see “Frequently Asked Questions” for some exceptions).
In addition, familiarize yourself with laws in the state where you’re selling your junk car. Lemon laws protect buyers against mileage tampering which is punishable by law. If you have a vehicle you’re bringing to a junkyard and its odometer stopped working through no fault of your own, which has happened, you must indicate that on the title and let the junkyard know.
Assessing Your Vehicle's Value Ahead of Time
Once you decide it’s time to part ways with your junk car, SUV, or truck, research will always be your friend. The more you know ahead of time, the better prepared you will be when you get your first quote from a junkyard. Here are a few things you can do to get a sense of how much your vehicle is worth.
Find Out How Much Your Car Weighs
Since most of your vehicle’s weight is steel, you can estimate how much your car is worth once you know your car’s weight and the current market rate of scrap steel.
To figure out how much your car weighs, you can use a resource like Kelley Blue Book, search by vehicle by make and model, then select Specifications and it will be listed as Curb Weight. Other resources like Edmunds and Consumer Reports will list vehicle weights.
In addition, some vehicles have a label on the inside of the driver’s side door frame that is titled, “Tire and Loading Information,” which lists the weight of your vehicle. You can do a quick Google search to determine to the current market rate of scrap steel.
The second largest metal component in your vehicle is aluminum (the average amount per vehicle is 300 pounds). Other metals found in a vehicle include copper, lead, platinum, and palladium (a lot of this is found in the catalytic converter – which is a great part to sell).
If Your Vehicle is Damaged Due to an Accident, Call Insurance
Although each insurance company uses its own formula, you can call your insurance company to find out the vehicle’s market value. Again, this is to give you a sense of what a junkyard might offer when you start calling for quotes.
The insurance company will assess how much it would cost to get rid of your car (salvage parts, sell at auction, etc.) verse how much it would cost to repair it and return it to its original condition.
If they determine that the car is totaled or declared to be a “total loss” (a term used by insurance companies when a vehicle requires repairs in excess of 75% of the vehicle’s original value), they may offer you an amount based on whatever they determine its worth according to their calculations minus any applicable deductible. If you accept their offer, your insurance company then takes ownership of your vehicle.
Check Out the Blue Book Value
The Blue Book value assumes your car is in decent or better condition. If you’re taking the vehicle to a junkyard, we are going to assume that’s not the case. Although your car’s scrap value will be a lot less than what is listed in the Blue Book, the easy and free resource will at least give you an idea of what you might expect from an offer from a junkyard. Here’s how to use this resource for your purpose:
Take the Blue Book value and subtract the cost of all the repairs that are needed to make the car sellable. Use your best judgment. (Remember, this is just to help you assess how much an offer might be.) Once you subtract these repairs, you will have a rough estimate of what your car might be worth if it sold at auction or if it were repaired and flipped at a junkyard.
You can also check out the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) website to get a general determination of your car’s value.
Keep Track of Current Scrap Metal Prices
Although the price of scrap metal is based on multiple factors, the biggest factor that determines the going market rate is nothing more than supply and demand. The price of scrap metal has been down the past few years, but it fluctuates every day. Monthly changes are the most common and scrap metal price does impact the value of your vehicle.
They’re also the best indicators for both junkyards and those looking to sell their junk vehicles for cash. Keeping track of current scrap metal prices can really help you get the best cash offer for your junk car. There are applications you can download to help you keep track of the current rates (iScrap is one for example). If you normally follow the stock market, any of the applications you use for that are great as well.
Don’t get too discouraged if the price of scrap metal is low. Remember that there are other valuable parts of your vehicle that affect its value. The alternator, starter motor, new tires, and an onboard GPS system are all worth something.
Any other parts that work and are reusable are worth something too and will increase the price you receive for your vehicle. Naturally, you won’t be offered full value for these parts as the salvage yard must invest time and labor in order to resell them and make a profit. However, you can try to negotiate for about half of the value.
Figure Out How Much it Would Cost to Make Your Car Driveable
A vehicle you can drive into a junkyard is worth more than one that must be towed in. It might be worth the effort to get a quote to see how much it would cost to make your vehicle drivable. If it’s not too much, or even better, if it’s something you can fix on your own, it may be worth the expense to fix it.
The money you’ll save on transporting the vehicle to the junkyard and the increase in your cash offer for having a working car might outweigh the cost of the repair. Getting two quotes, one on the vehicle as is, and one on the vehicle in working condition without needing the tow, will help you make the best decision.
Understand the Importance of Timing
When you’re assessing the value of your vehicle, not only is timing important when it comes to the market rates of scrap metals, the season in which you try to sell your car affects the value.
Consider the value of a convertible in the winter months. It’s probably not going to be very high, as opposed to that of a 4×4 SUV. There are certain cars where the season has a greater effect than others. In addition, you’ll also be able to get more for your junk car when the cost of gas goes down.
With this said, if waiting for the right season will cause additional damage to your car by way of deterioration, don’t wait. The longer you wait, the longer your car goes unused, and the more those valuable parts deteriorate.
In fact, the most valuable parts deteriorate the quickest. If your car is left outside, it’s important to take into consideration weather damage. Precipitation can cause corrosion and lead to rust. Sun can cause colors to fade and seats to crack. Rubber parts become brittle. Fluids begin to settle out, and any gasoline that’s left in the tank will absorb water from the air.
How to Prepare Your Vehicle to Maximize Cash Offer
There are some relatively quick and inexpensive things you can do to increase the value of your junk car, SUV, or truck before you start calling for quotes and before it arrives at the junkyard.
If You Can Drive it In, Do it
Since most people’s junk vehicles aren’t in working condition, junkyards typically offer some type of towing service to come and remove your car and transport it to their facility. Like anything else, this costs money. The more it costs for the junkyard or salvage yard to get your vehicle to their facility, the less their cash offer for your vehicle will be.
If there is a way for you to get your car to the facility either by driving it in (determine how much it would cost to get it in running condition and if it’s worth it), or if you can provide your own tow, that will increase the cash value as it will not take away from the junkyard’s offer. Remember, the less time and money the junkyard has to spend on your vehicle, the more you’ll make.
Clean Out the Interior Space
Almost every part of your car has potential value. An employee at the junkyard will strip your car to see what is reusable and what still has some value to it. The more time anyone has to spend cleaning out the interior of your car before they’re able to strip it, the more it is going to cost you.
Take time before your car is brought to the junkyard to clean out the interior space. Remove all trash. If you can clean up the seats, do so as those can be reused and worth cash. Depending on the material of the seats, using a warm rag to wipe them down might do the trip.
Or you can try using inexpensive treatments like mixing a small amount of dish soap with a little hot water, or mixing vinegar with water, to get rid of most stains on the seats or carpet. Use auto wipes to clean the interior plastic of your vehicle so every surface is dust-free. There is something to be said and more money to be made with a clean looking space and more usable parts.
Empty Out the Fluids
Before a vehicle’s parts can be crushed and reused, environmental laws require that all of the fluids be drained. This includes the gasoline, the Freon in an air conditioner, transmission fluid, oil, brake fluid, wiper fluid, and antifreeze.
Like anything else, the more you’re able to do ahead of time, the less the salvage yard must do and the more money you’ll make on your car. However, draining all fluids requires knowledge of how to dispose of them legally and properly.
They cannot be thrown in the trash. When not disposed of properly, the fluids can seep into the groundwater and contaminate the soil and waterways. This is incredibly dangerous considering that used oil from just one oil change can contaminate 100 gallons of fresh water!
The US Environmental Protection Agency has strict guidelines that every auto shop, mechanic, junkyard, and civilian must follow when disposing of fluids. If you decide to do this on your own before taking your car to the junkyard, be sure to follow these guidelines.
You can ask your local mechanic for tips. If you’re unsure how to do this, it’s best to leave it to a professional.
Remove as Much Rust as Possible
Despite advancements in coatings, steel’s unstable chemical makeup means it will always be susceptible to rust in the natural environment. Considering that most unused vehicles hang out in the natural environment, your junk car probably has some rust on it.
The more rust you can remove (or better yet, prevent!), the more valuable your vehicle will be as there will be more parts that can be reused. A fully rusted door isn’t nearly as valuable as a non-rusty door! Several automotive stores offer relatively inexpensive fixes to get rid of minor rust spots on the vehicle.
Surface rust is the easiest to fix. This is rust that pops up in paint nicks, cracks, and scratches. Use an abrasive wheel or sandpaper to cut through the paint and corrosion until clean, bright metal is visible. Then apply primer, followed by paint, then a clear coat. Buff to blend the finishes.
Scale rust and penetrating rust, the next two levels of rust damage, take more work to finish. Scale rust occurs when rust penetrates the surface and causes a rough, pitted type of damage that looks like bubbles on the surface of your vehicle. To fix this type of rust, you would use a wire brush and then a grinding wheel to knock down the roughness, and then use sandpaper to create a smooth surface. Then you’d apply a coat of paint and primer to finish the job.
Penetrating rust is probably not worth the amount of time and expense to fix as this type of rust is when the steel has flaked away and there’s nothing left but giant holes.
A junkyard cannot legally buy your car from anyone but the legal owner. The first thing you will need to do when you are ready to sell your junk car, truck or SUV is to get your hands on its title if you don’t have it already.
You must establish ownership in your name prior to dealing with these businesses. If you make a trip with your vehicle to the junkyard without the title, it will be a waste of your time and effort. You must present the title at the same time you sell your car.
Get Multiple Quotes
It only makes sense to call multiple junkyards and receive quotes for your vehicle. Call the salvage yards in your area and call ones in nearby cities as well. You may find that they offer substantially different offers, and even though one junkyard might be farther away, its offer might be significantly more and worth the trip.
Some junkyards pay more for certain makes and models depending on their demand. Before calling, be familiar with your vehicle, the list of damages, and do your homework ahead of time so you’re prepared to answer questions honestly to get the most accurate offer.
Do not forget to inquire about towing costs if that’s something that you will need. Just as if you were in the market to buy a car, it’s best to call several facilities to get the best price for your car.
Do Your Homework Ahead of Time
Before you start calling to get estimates for how much your vehicle is worth, be prepared to answer questions about your vehicle. You not only need to know the car’s make, model, and year, but you should also be able to honestly and as accurately as possible describe a list of damages to the vehicle.
Write as much information down and keep that list available for when you’re on the phone. Also keep a list of the vehicle’s assets. Does it have a GPS system? Did you add anything to the vehicle after market? Don’t forget to be an advocate for your vehicle, too.
Remember though that the junkyard needs to make a profit as well, so you are not going to receive an offer for their full value of anything that’s in your car. There’s labor on their end that must go into preparing the parts to be reused and recycled.
Common Junkyard Scams to Avoid
Like any business, there are those that are more honest and ethical than others. Remember that you’re in power since you get to choose which junkyard gets your vehicle. Knowing some of the unethical tactics that a junkyard can employ during the process will make you a more informed seller, and you’ll have the power to negotiate more intelligently or choose to take your business elsewhere. Let’s take a look at some common junkyard scams so you can be sure you’re dealing with a legitimate and fair business.
Ask to See the Junkyard's License
Let’s start with the most obvious. A junkyard or salvage yard must have a business license in order to operate, and a good business will be happy to provide you with this information. If they don’t have a license or if the license is expired, walk away. This is an immediate red flag.
With this being said, remember that just because a business has a license doesn’t mean it’s a reputable facility, and many of them are outlined below. There are a lot of junkyard scams out there.
Understand the Definition of a Ton
Your vehicle’s scrap value will partially be determined by its weight so it’s important to understand what how units are defined. A net ton is defined as 2,000 pounds. However, a “long” or “metric” ton is defined as 2,240 pounds.
Be sure to ask the junkyard which definition of a ton they are using when they determine the value of your car. An honest junkyard will tell you. If they pay out in long/metric tons, you’re missing out on cash. It’s important for you to stay informed on what unit of tons their quote includes.
Don’t allow the facility to be vague in the quote.
Later we will discuss how you can take care of some of this before your vehicle goes to the junkyard in an effort to get the best possible cash offer.
Inquire About the Towing Cost
When you are inquiring about a quote for your junk car, SUV, or truck, be sure to ask if the cost of a tow is included in the quote. Some junkyards won’t include the cost of the tow in their quote.
Rather, once you receive your cash, there will be a fee for the two that has been removed from the cash offer that you didn’t know about ahead of time. In other words, the junkyard wasn’t forthcoming about the costs associated with everything from the beginning. Reputable junkyards will be upfront with total costs and fees and include this information in the initial cost.
Either way, however, it’s smart to ask when you’re calling for quotes and when you receive the payment how much the cost of towing affected the value.
Be Aware of False Incentives
Sometimes junkyards will offer non-cash incentives in an effort to sweeten the deal. If this is the case, be cautious.
Here’s an example: a junkyard may offer you a few hundred dollars less than your car is valued, and they’ll make up for that difference with coupons that appear that they’re the equivalent to or even better than the difference.
These coupons might be for holiday offers or discounts to certain parks. Typically, these coupons have restrictions and are only valid for a limited amount of time. They are hardly every worth the amount you’re losing in your vehicle’s cash value.
It’s best to accept the full cash value for what your car is worth and not accept anything less or anything in place of that.
Too Much Pressure is NOT a Good Sign
If a junkyard is pressuring you to sell your car to them, you might want to walk away. No one should feel pressured to do one thing or another. Remember, you’re in the proverbial driver’s seat having more than one junkyard to choose from.
An ethical and professional junkyard buyer will give you time to consider their offer, and they’ll answer any questions you may have. If you’re under pressure, you could make a poor decision or a non-informed decision, and that’s a way for the junkyard to get you to accept less than your vehicle’s value.
This type of decision happens most often when you’re already at the junkyard. Perhaps you called ahead and received a quote and when you arrive, they try to pressure you to accept much less. Remember that you have every right to walk away at any point, even if you already received an offer over the phone, and they’ve taken time with you.
The more pressure involved, the more likely you’re not getting the deal you deserve. Trust your gut.
Determine How You're Getting Paid
Nothing is better than cash in hand for a variety of reasons. A check – even if delivered same day – could always bounce, and other methods of payment that are promised in the mail might not ever arrive.
It’s best to clarify at the beginning how they will pay you. If you don’t see money when you hand your car over, it’s a safe assumption that you might never see money. Furthermore, if you sign over the title before you receive any cash for it and then you never do, you won’t be able to do anything about it because you no longer own your car. Don’t let this happen to you.
If a junkyard is offering you a payment installment plan, never accept it. Your car should be sold for a single lump sum, and they should be able to pay you in full. Since you have no way to make sure to enforce their plan if they don’t send you the payments, you’ll be out of money if they don’t pay you.
Another thing to be cautious of is if you’re told that your cash will be held in escrow. Escrow services are third-parties that exist to protect a transaction; however, there are fake escrows whose sole purpose is to fool and cheat people. When you go to claim your money, your money won’t be there.
The bottom line is this: if you’re deciding between multiple junkyards, find out which one pays cash on delivery, and go with that one. Cash is always the best so find out how you’re getting paid from the beginning.
Be Aware of Offers That Have Significantly Changed
Some junkyards will do whatever is necessary to get you “on their lot.” They’ll give you an offer that’s much higher than any other offer you received. Then when you arrive, the offer significantly changes.
They might say that the car is in much worse condition or it’s a less popular variation of the model. Be sure to ask for clarification for the discrepancy and continue to negotiate.
Junkyards that are farther out of the way might try this trick. This might be a particularly useful tactic for junkyards that are farther out of the way. If you’ve taken a lot of time and effort to get out there, the chances are pretty good that you don’t want to leave empty handed and you’re more likely to take what you can get.
Remember that you can walk away. Even if you’re desperate to get rid of your car, make sure you get what it is worth. You want to do business with a reputable dealer and let the disreputable ones go out of business.
Don't Fall for the "We're Doing You a Favor" Line
When you arrive at the junkyard, you’re told that your vehicle isn’t worth a dime, but they’ll do you a favor and take it from you. If you hear this, it’s a con, and it’s best for you to walk away.
Regardless of what shape your vehicle is in, it will have value because of its scrap metal, and most will have more value than that. If the vehicle had no value to them, they wouldn’t touch it.
Another “favor” that some junkyards might seem like they’re doing for you is to negotiate a higher price for your car to make it seem like you’re getting a good deal. They’ll start with the absolute lowest offer, and then little by little offer more.
This gives the appearance that you’re in the driver’s seat, and that you’re getting a great deal, but you’re at the very least just getting what the car has been worth the entire time.
Be Cautious if They Tell You That Your Car "Isn't in Demand"
In another attempt to convince you that your vehicle has no value, you may be told that there’s no demand for the make and model of your vehicle. This is not true. Always remember that at the very least, there is a scrap metal value for your car.
Do your homework ahead of time as well: is your car popular in that area? Is your car frequently used for spare parts? The more you know about this, the less likely you’ll be fooled if they feed you the “not in demand” line.
Cancel Your Registration and Get Your Plates
Before you sell your vehicle, be sure to remove the plates and cancel the registration on the vehicle. Do not ask the junkyard to do this for you, and do not depend on them to take care of this for you.
If they fail to cancel the registration, anything that happens to the car can still be traced back to you. Even worse, some junkyards have the nerve to charge you for storing your car on their lot.
Be Smart, Trust Your Gut
It may seem like there are too many potential scams, and it’s impossible to avoid them all. That’s not true. Many legitimate and reputable junkyards exist. Many will never try to scam you.
For those that do, however, the key to avoiding the scam is always knowledge and instinct. The fact that you’re reading this is a huge starting point. Use and trust your instincts. If something seems off, it very well may be.
If you take the time to do your homework ahead of time, assess the value of your vehicle, get multiple quotes, prepare your vehicle for delivery before you arrive at the junkyard, and exercise patience and the ability to walk away if feel like you’re being cheated when you’re there, you will put yourself in the best position to receive what your car is worth.
Frequently Asked Qustions
No matter what junkyard you take your vehicle to, there are some common questions that are applicable to the entire process.
What Paperwork Do I Need to Process the Sale
You will need the title to the vehicle to show that you are the owner. In addition, you’ll need your driver’s license and depending on the state, you may need the vehicle’s registration.
If you don’t have your registration, you can easily obtain it from your state’s motor vehicle department website. The junkyard can tell you whether you need your vehicle’s registration.
Are There Any Exceptions if I Cannot Get My Hands on the Title?
It depends on where the car is located. Some states absolutely require it before the vehicle can legally change hands. In areas where you don’t need a title, some junkyards will accept a copy of your driver’s license or other form of valid ID and a copy of the registration, current or expired that matches the form of identification.
It’s important for you to inform the junkyard immediately if you do not have the title and ask for its policy.
Do I Need the Keys to the Vehicle?
Having your keys makes removing the vehicle easier. That being said, if your vehicle is going to be recycled then there is no problem if keys are unavailable.
How Do I Get Paid?
Ask the junkyard ahead of time how you can expect to be paid. Cash is the best and safest way to get paid. Be sure to review the list of junkyard scams before accepting other methods of payment.
Do I Need to Pay for Towing?
It depends on the junkyard. If they charge for towing, be sure that’s included in the estimate. At Cash Auto Salvage, FREE towing is always included.
Is There a Fee for Requesting a Quote?
No, whether you submit an online form or call via telephone, there is no fee for requesting a price quote on your vehicle.
What if I still Owe Money on My Vehicle?
Unfortunately, your vehicle cannot be purchased if you still owe money on it. When it is paid off, you will receive a lien release from the financing company that will need to attach to the title before a junkyard can purchase it.
If there are old liens on your title you that have been paid off in the past, but you have lost the lien release, you will need to go to your finance company and have them reprint this documentation.
Do Newer Parts Increase the Value of My Car?
Typically, newer parts will not increase the value of your car simply because its looked at for its scrap value rather than the parts value. If the parts are valuable and the vehicle still runs, try to sell it as a used vehicle to maximize your return.
Can the Valuation of My Car Change?
If the vehicle is as described, the offer should not significantly change. If there is a case where the vehicle does not match the submitted description, then a junkyard has the right to change its offer, and you have the right to accept or reject the price change.
The Top 5 Takeaway Points
There’s a lot of information to digest, but don’t let it overwhelm you and prevent you from acting. Instead, use this information to motivate you to sell your junk car, SUV or truck and get the most value for it. Here are the top five things to remember moving forward:
1. Do Your Homework Ahead of Time
This includes getting multiple quotes, finding out what those quotes include, being able to answer questions about your vehicle as accurately as possible, and having a general sense of what your car is worth.
2. Keep an Eye on the Factors that Play a Role in Determining Car Value
Look at the value of scrap metal, how quickly the parts of your car are deteriorating, what parts you can cheaply fix to increase its value, and how much you might be charged for towing and other labor-related expenses.
3. Take it Upon Yourself to Maximize Your Vehicle's Value
Time is money, so the more time you take to prepare your vehicle before its stripped and crushed, the more money will end up in your hands.
4. Be Mindful of Junkyard Scams
Even though that are many reputable junkyards in business, there will always be some that operate with lower ethics. Don’t give them your business. You have the right to take your car to any junkyard, so be sure to do business with one that is not trying to scam you.
5. Meet Your Goal of Junking Your Car for CASH
If you walk away without the vehicle and without cash, something did not happen according to plan. Make sure it goes according to plan. Find a junkyard that pays cash and find one that pays you the amount you deserve. Remember, not one of them is “doing you a favor” by taking your vehicle.
Share this guide!