They are a bit harder to find than the big car donation companies, but there are plenty of organizations that give cars and other vehicles directly to needy people. Giving a car to these organizations will help you get a larger tax deduction than if you give your car to an organization that will just turn around and sell it at auction.
The first thing to determine is if the charity or organization is 501(c)(3) certified. If they are not 501(c)(3) certified, and not a religious organization, then any donation to them, whether it is a car or cash, is not tax deductible. The next thing to be sure about is whether or not you are going to itemize deductions on your tax return. If you take only the standard, line-item deduction, then there’s nowhere to get credit for your donation. But if both these criteria are met, you stand a good chance to get your deduction. Just be sure to talk to your tax preparer to get the details of your specific situation, as tax deductions are complex and everyone’s situation is different.
There are organizations across the country that give cars directly to people. But you have to be sure that the charity or organization is not just going to turn around and sell the car at auction. Perhaps one in four of the charities and organizations that accept donated cars and other vehicles actually give them to real people. Some of the charities in this small category are national, and some are local. The two best-known national organizations that come to mind are Habitat for Humanity’s “Cars for Homes” program, and the large car donation processor, 1-800 Charity Cars.
1-800 Charity Cars is especially interesting because they have a unique program operated from the website http://www.freecharitycars.org where people can actually compete to “win” one of the cars that have been donated to 1-800 Charity Cars. People create an online account, write an essay on why they deserve the donated car, and then try to get as many votes and karma points as possible. They do this either by getting inbound links to the site, or by getting donations and votes from other visitors to the site. They are allowed to solicit friends and members of their community to vote for them. Quite a few cars are given out this way, and while the donated cars may not necessarily going to the people most in need of them, they are going to the people who want them the most and are willing to work the system the hardest to get them.
While national organizations are excellent, if you are community-minded you may want to try to find a few local charities or churches (or other religious organizations) that will take your donated car and give it to someone in your area. Most major metropolitan areas have at least three or four charities that not only accept cars, but that will also actually give them to needy people. You will have to make a few phone calls and do some online research to find them, though — they do not advertise like the big car donation processors do at all, and that’s part of what makes them good charities to give to.