Donating your old clunker is not as enticing a prospect this year as in years past because of changes in the tax law. But despite the less-generous tax deduction and the more cumbersome paperwork, there are people who will still opt to donate rather than resell or junk entirely.
And those donors still have to exercise caution.
Generally, vehicles donated to charity are picked up, transported and auctioned off by middlemen. The charities say they are satisfied with their small cut because of the enormous investment in infrastructure and equipment that would be required to conduct the entire vehicle-donation process themselves.
Less satisfying are the things that can happen to donors who rely too heavily on the charities or middlemen to take care of everything that vehicle donations entail. Donors have reported getting hit with traffic tickets resulting from sloppy follow-through or intentional lawbreaking after they have turned over the cars. There are also scammers, often unscrupulous tow-truck operators and garage owners, who have been known to buy donated cars, not register them and then bill the former owners months or even years later for "storage."
The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration has the following tips posted on its Web site (www.marylandmva.com). These or similar rules and cautions apply in most jurisdictions.
* Fill in the name and address of the charity under the "Assignment of Ownership" section of the vehicle title, just as if you were selling it. This properly completes the transfer of ownership. Some charities may request that the new-owner information be left blank (taking ownership of the vehicle compels the charity to take an extra legal step in order to sell it). But leaving it blank leaves the donor at risk for future problems because such a title is considered "open" and unassigned. If the person who buys a donated car at auction does not register it, the former owner can be held liable for any fines or tickets the new owner may incur.
* If you financed the vehicle, the charity will need the vehicle's "Maryland Notice of Security Interest Filing" showing the vehicle has been paid off. If that document is not available, please request a letter on the financial institution's letterhead stating that it holds no security interest and have it signed by the financial institution's authorized agent. The letter should also include the date of the loan's creation, the amount, the date of its release, the name and address of the debtor and a full vehicle description (year, make and vehicle identification number).
* Keep photocopies of all paperwork.
* Record the odometer mileage on the certificate of title.
* Do not leave the license plates on the car. Remove them and return the tags to the motor vehicle authority unless you are transferring them to another vehicle.
* Get, and keep, a receipt for the returned plates.
* Cancel insurance on the vehicle -- but only after the plates have been returned to the motor vehicle department or transferred to another vehicle.
-- Nancy McKeon