The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

Five Tips to Consider Before Donating Your Car to Charity This Holiday Season

money (select to view enlarged photo)

SANTA MONICA, CA--Dec. 10, 2013: Donating a car to charity can be a significant and selfless act, especially during the holiday season. But if you're looking to maximize the tax deduction for your charitable effort, there are a few specific points that you should consider, says

"Until 2005, donors could simply deduct the 'fair market value' of the vehicle, but today's rules are much more stringent, and it's nearly impossible to deduct the full market value," says Consumer Advice Editor Carroll Lachnit. "Understanding the proper procedures can help donors get the most out of their deductions and -- more importantly – avoid penalties if audited."

Of course, some car donors won't bother with the tax implications, and for them, the process is as simple as calling up a charity and arranging delivery. But to help other donors navigate the sea of tax regulations – or to help them determine if it makes financial sense – shares five helpful tips:

Know How Much to Claim – Many people think they can deduct the "fair market value" of their car when they donate it to a qualified charity. However, under current rules you can only deduct the amount that the charity confirms in writing. Unless your car is in good or excellent condition and used by the charity in its business (and by one estimate, non-profit organizations choose to keep no more than five percent of donated vehicles), the charity will most likely sell it at auction or to an auto salvage yard. In that case, your deduction is based on the car's selling price, which in some cases may be close to zero. Choose a Qualifying Charity – A qualified charity is one that has been approved by the IRS as an "exempt-status" or 501(c)(3) organization. Many religious organizations also qualify, even though they aren't required to file for 501(c)(3) status. A comprehensive list can be found on the IRS's exempt organizations site. Itemize Your Tax Return – If you want to claim your vehicle as a tax deduction, you must itemize your return, even if the car is the only deduction. But if the sum of your itemized deductions (including the car) does not exceed your standard deduction, then you might not want to claim itemized deductions after all. Save Your Paperwork – The tax benefits for a donated car require a lot of documentation, whether the car is junked, sold at auction or given to a charity's client. Keep all these papers or electronic files because you'll need them at tax time. IRS Publication 4303 has all the details. Consider an Alternate Approach – Instead of donating the car outright, consider selling the vehicle yourself and donating part or all of the proceeds. While this process certainly takes more effort on your part, it generally leads to the highest return on your car's value, which benefits both you and your charity of choice.

While these tips can serve as a helpful guide, strongly encourages anyone who deducts a charitable gift (including a car) to consult with a tax professional before they file their returns.

More details on's tips on donating a car to charity can be found at Car Donation Rules.