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Welcome to Junk Car Kings

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It’s time to move on, eh?

You have three options to get rid of your clunker: take it to a dealer, sell it yourself, or sell it to a junkyard. Whether your junk car was good to your or was one blown gasket after another, there are a few things you can do to get the last dollar of value out of your old machine.

Taking It to a Dealer

Everything I know about buying cars comes from cruising lots and talking to sales people with my dad. One day we were in a dealership looking for a slightly more reliable option to replace my old Ford Explorer. I test drove a Hyundai Sonata, and though I was less than impressed with the power under the hood, I was pretty sure it would last longer than the trusty old Ford that had become more “old” than “trusty.”

We pulled back into the lot and walked into the dealership. The dealer manager walked up, his gait heavy and wide as if he’d just stepped off a horse. He squared up to my dad, placed his hands on his hips and said in a voice that was unnecessarily loud, “So what have you got?”

“We’re looking to trade in a Ford Explorer against the price of the Hyundai and see where we come out in the difference,” my dad responded slowly, evenly. He was not a man to be handled. I tried to pull my eyebrows down out of my hairline as I watched the two men spar.

Now the dealer crossed his arms and rocked back and forth. He threw his head back like a horse about to scream and rear. Finally he said, “A Ford Explorer? So what, it’s got, what, 150-thou’ on it, worth maybe a few hundred bucks?”

“No,” my dad said. Then he turned and left. I was stunned at the sudden reversal and had to chase after him before we got in our Ford with 128,000 miles on it and drove away.

“What…umm…what just happened?” I asked.

“He was right that this car was not worth the one I was interested in buying. But he has no interest in the real value of what I had to trade. We would have gone back and forth for hours, and we would still be back on the road right now. You’ve got to understand the value you have on your hands and stick to it.”

And he’s right. When you go to a dealer, do your homework on what your car is really worth, and don’t let them take that value away from you.

Sell It Yourself

It’s not cost effective to put many repairs into your car when you bring it to the dealerships—they’ll tune it up one way or the other as soon as they pull it into their garage. But selling it through a listing service is another matter. You want to make easy, inexpensive repairs that will bring your vehicle back up to a reasonable performance and get few hundred dollars more out of your next deal. Consider these repairs to start:

Eliminate Knocks and Pings

  1. 1. Make sure that you are changing your oil regularly. If you are taking a long trip, consider getting an oil treatment to increase the viscosity of your oil so that your engine doesn’t burn through too much of it on long stretches of road.
  2. 2. Step into the gas station and pick up a bottle of fuel injector cleaner each time you fill up for about two to three tanks.
  3. 3. After you treat your fuel injector cleaner, go for some of the octane booster or fuel treatment that sits right next to the fuel injector cleaner.

Fix the Rapid Ticking When You Turn the Key

If you can’t get your car to start, you may just need a simple battery replacement. When my wife first heard the rapid ticking, she thought it was the starter that had gone out—that’s a big expense.

If your car is stuck in the driveway with this problem, your next repair might not be as expensive as you thought.

Stop the Squealing in the Engine – AC Belt

OK, so you’ll need to call your cousin or stepfather or someone for this one, but you can do it. If you’ve got a squealing in the engine and your AC hasn’t been working, then you may need to replace the AC belt (also known as the serpentine belt). Depending on what tools you have available, the repair could only cost you $150 but add another $300 to your sale.

Sell It to a Junkyard

This is your easiest option, but it’s also your least lucrative. Even so, there are still some tactics to get a few hundred dollars more out of your sale to the junkyard.

As an exercise for this article, I called a junkyard. My nephew drives a 2000 Toyota Tercel with its fair share of problems. It was the prime candidate for an experiment: I called a local junkyard and gave them the specs.

“I’ll come get it for you, and I’ll still give you $100,” the mechanic said. How generous, I thought. He’ll come get it and still give me $100.

“How much if I bring it to you?” I asked.

He considered a moment. “$300.”

I verified the price with an online service—but the online service would tow the car and pay me $280.

If you want to get your car off your hands, make sure you drive it until there’s only a quarter tank of gas left (that’s some expensive stuff these days!), and drive it up to the junkyard yourself. It’s worth $200 minus maybe a cab fare back home.