The Ins and Outs of Junk Cars: 19 Types, Conditions, and Synonyms Explained

A junk car is a vehicle that should be taken off the roads and recycled. Many people assume that junk car buyers only purchases vehicles that are completely junk, either because they have been irreparably damaged or requires mechanical repairs that cost more than the vehicle is worth.

While this is true, those same car buyers purchase vehicles in many different conditions. Junk cars can be described in many ways and encompass many types of vehicles. According to Roget’s Thesaurus online there are at least 101 different words to describe a junk car. Knowing all of the definitions and synonyms for junk cars is important for understanding what services junk car buyers provide.

In addition, most cities, counties, and state governments have laws about the storage, sale, salvaging, titling, registration, and recycling of junk vehicles. All of these laws will offer definitions, but there are few if any instances of junk vehicle or junk car within these laws. Most of these laws use other terms, such as wrecked, damaged, or inoperable vehicles.

Understanding the different ways that junk cars can be described in these laws is important for being able to find them, understand them, and follow them. Here are the 17 most common definitions, conditions, and synonyms for junk cars.

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    Scrap Cars

    Scrap cars are junk cars that have no value other than as scrap metal recycling. Junk cars are called scrap cars in the UK. There is no particular reason for this, and it isn’t a hard and fast rule. Rather, whether someone says they will scrap their car or junk their car largely depends on location and dialect.

    A scrap car has no value other than as scrap metal. Most scrap cars have missing or nonfunctional major mechanical parts and are not worth fixing. Other scrap cars have reusable working parts but still only have value through recycling because there is a surplus of the vehicle.

    Junkyards, auto salvage yards, and vehicle dismantlers will not accept scrap cars that will only clutter their auto graveyard for years. In particular, engines and other major parts of Chevy models of most years are overwhelming junkyards and vehicle recyclers.

    Pontiac and Nissan models are also among those that are going straight to the scrap yard regardless of condition and operation. Other models that are oversaturated in junkyards across the nation are the Ford Taurus, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and the Dodge Durango.

    Damaged Cars

    Damaged cars are junk cars that have been wrecked, flooded, burned, or otherwise damaged to the point that it is not worth it to repair them. Nerd Wallet financial experts recommend that damaged cars be discarded in favor of a new vehicle when the cost of repair is close to the value of the vehicle once repaired, or when repair costs are equal to more than one year’s payments on a new vehicle. The cost of repair for most vehicles has become so astronomical that many vehicles are discarded once damaged rather than repaired and returned to the roads. The three most common ways cars are damaged are car accidents, floods, and vehicle fires.

    Cars damaged in vehicle accidents

    Damaged cars from car accidents are the most common. According to Insurify, 8.8% of drivers reported a prior at fault accident on insurance quotes in 2022. According to Statista there were 228.2 million licensed drivers in the US in 2020. Therefore at least 20,081,600 vehicles are damaged by vehicle accidents each year. The 5 states with the most vehicle accidents are South Carolina, Massachusetts, Ohio, Nebraska, and Georgia.

    Many damaged cars have a higher value that other types of junk cars. This is because many damaged cars are late model vehicles with working parts that are in high demand. Being able to purchase used car parts helps keep vehicles on the road longer so that the most use can be gained before the vehicle is recycled.

    Damaged cars are usually bought by salvage yards selling used car parts. Damaged cars that could be repaired and returned to the road are often rebuilt by the junkyard using parts on their lot to provide cheap used cars for those in need.

    Disposition of damaged vehicles from car accidents is typically handled by the insurance company. However, when the vehicle and driver were uninsured it is up to the vehicle owner to dispose of the damaged car.

    According to Money Geek, 1 in 8 drivers, or 28 million uninsured drivers, are operating a vehicle without insurance. This means that there are about 2,464,000 damaged vehicles per year that need to be disposed of by the general public. This requires finding a junk car buyer that will accept damaged vehicles in any condition.

    Cars damaged by flood

    Damaged cars result from flooding, which can happen anywhere in the United States. Flooding can happen as a result of weather phenomenon, but even localized flooding can lead to damaged cars. There is not a good tracking or reporting system for flooded vehicles, and as such it is difficult to know how many vehicles are flooded per year. Flooding can cause a variety of damage beyond rust. Electronics can be damaged by flooding, and the engine and other parts can deteriorate over time. Even if the vehicle is thoroughly cleaned, flood damaged cars are not suitable to be returned to the roads and should be recycled immediately.

    Unfortunately, this is not always the case. According to Car Fax, there were as many as 212,000 flood damaged cars returned to the roads in 2020, on top of the 378,000 flood damaged vehicles estimated to already be on the roads. In reality damaged cars that have been flooded should be recycled as scrap and nothing more.

    Cars damaged in vehicle fires

    Damaged cars sometimes result from vehicle fires, and these fires are most often caused by gross mechanical failure. Vehicle fires are not common, and the only tracking of vehicle fires are those that occur on interstate highways. According to Statista, there were 174,000 vehicle fires on highways in the US in 2021. This is a significant number of vehicles that are only suitable for recycling as scrap. Damaged cars that have been burned are irreparable and most states outlaw these damaged cars from ever being restored, salvaged, rebuilt, or otherwise returned to the roads.

    Salvage Cars

    Salvage cars are junk cars that have been declared a total loss by insurance due to damage from car wreck, flood, burning, or other calamity and therefore received a salvage title or a salvage certificate. Salvage cars are distinguished by having a salvage title or salvage certificate. The salvage title is issued by the appropriate state DMV to denote that the vehicle was deemed a total loss by insurance.

    Most states do not require or even allow individuals to get a salvage title. This designation is typically reserved for vehicles declared a totaled by the insurance company. Individuals can sometimes get a nonrepairable certificate or nonrepairable title, also called a junk title, in place of the salvage status. However, vehicle titles with these designations cannot be rebuilt and returned to the road like salvage cars can be.

    Vehicles with a salvage title or salvage certificate are limited. These vehicles cannot be registered, insured, or driven on public roads. These restrictions reduce the value of salvage cars significantly. Salvage titles or salvage certificates are usually transferrable to another party, such as a salvage yard, junkyard, or vehicle recycler. Most salvage vehicles end up in junkyards to be salvaged for parts or to be rebuilt for sale as a cheap used vehicle.

    Even when the salvage vehicles is rebuilt, the value is dramatically lower than similar used vehicles that have never had a salvage title. Some insurance companies do not like to insure salvage cars, and those that do charge quite a bit for the privilege of driving a salvage vehicle.

    The US Department of Consumer Affairs recommends that most consumers stay away from salvage vehicles, even when they have been rebuilt. Like other types of vehicle inspections, there are always unscrupulous mechanics selling rebuilt salvage vehicles that are not actually safe to drive on the roads. Florida is well known as the most friendly state toward allowing rebuilt salvage vehicles to be registered and driven on public roadways.


    Clunkers are junk cars that have no value as anything other than scrap. However, this is not the origination of the term clunker. People did not start calling junk cars clunkers until the Cash for Clunkers program in 2009. Surprisingly, the clunkers referred to in this program could have been fully functioning vehicles with no damage and still operable.

    The Cash for Clunkers program was released in 2009 as a part of the economic stimulus package that was released by Congress and the Obama Administration. The program was never aimed at getting junk cars off the roads. Instead the program was designed to boost new car sales by giving people a rebate of up to $4500 to switch to a vehicle that was 2006 or newer. Cash for Clunkers was developed as part of the response to the failing auto industry.

    In spite of the fact that the program only ran from July to October 2009, the moniker stuck. Clunkers has become a common name for junk cars that need to be hauled away and recycled. Most people think of clunkers as having no parts of value, but that doesn’t mean clunkers are always completely inoperable. Many clunkers still have working parts, but those parts are in such little demand that they are simply recycled regardless of their usability.

    Beater Cars

    A beater car is a junk car that is beyond repair or would cost more to repair than the vehicle is worth. The most common word used to describe a junk car in the UK is beater, but there are other words used in the UK to describe junk cars as well. Citizens in the UK also call beaters old rust bucket or just bucket, old banger or just banger, as well as shed, heap, and jalopy. The UK processes around 1.2 million scrap cars per year according to Eurostat.

    Beater cars only refer to junk cars that have been driven to the point that they should be retired. There are not very many damaged vehicles in the UK. Flooding is not common in many regions, and there are very few car accidents compared to the US. For comparison, in 2021 the UK government reported 1560 road deaths, versus the 42,915 reported by the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) Crash Stats site.

    Clearly, damaged cars are not as much of a problem in the UK as vehicles that have simply been worn out. Hence the name, beaters.

    Rusted Cars

    Rusted cars are junk cars that have been neglected, exposed to climate, and stored in damaging environments. Obviously leaving a vehicle to the elements through many seasons of precipitation will result in a rusted car. However, the most rusted cars are found in climates with both salt and moisture.

    What causes rusted cars?

    Rusted cars are junk cars most often seen in regions that get a lot of snow and therefore use a lot of salt on their roads. Slush blackened with everyday vehicle pollution mixes with salt and sand in the process of plowing, sanding and salting the road. Rusted cars in these regions have significant rust damage on the underside of the vehicle as the slush and salt is thrown up underneath as you drive. The 5 states with the most rusted cars are Maine, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, and West Virginia.

    Because the underbody of rusted cars in these regions are the first to take damage, internal car parts could be rusted and unsafe long before you see any external indication of rust damage. If care is not taken to thoroughly clean the underbody of a vehicle after every weather incident, the salt and continued moisture will quickly deteriorate the vehicle. The undercarriage of a vehicle must be cleaned and inspected regularly to spot rust when it first shows.

    Many rusted cars are also found in coastal communities due to the saltwater that can permeate everything, including vehicles. Rusted cars in these regions will have more rust damage on the exterior than the interior, unless they are also in a region that gets snow. The key to keeping these cars free of rust is to have frequent car washes.

    Types of rust found on rusted cars

    Rusted cars come in varying stages of rust. There are three types of rust found on rusted cars, which can also be seen as 3 stages of rusted cars. The first type or stage of rust is called surface rust. Surface rust happens in the top layer of the vehicle, and usually starts when humidity or precipitation permeate the paint layer through scratches, nicks, and other paint damages. Surface rust can be cleared up if it is caught early. However sometimes the rust damage is significant where you can’t see, and in these cases surface rust on the exterior can be a sign the car is about to fall apart. However, rusted cars with surface rust will still bring less cash than vehicles with no rust damage.

    The second type or stage of rust is called scale rust. It is called scale rust because it looks like scales and can flake off in layers. Scale rust corrodes body panels and strips the paint on other parts, leaving bare metal exposed that can itself rust over time. Scale rust is difficult and costly to get under control. Most of the time you are better off selling rusted cars rather than trying to save them.

    The final stage of rusted cars is penetrating rust. There is no way to save rusted cars with penetrating rust. Penetrating rust can eat through car parts, panels, and even the frame. Rusted cars with penetrating rust are difficult to get rid of because they cannot be recycled for their steel.

    Old Cars

    Old cars are junk cars that are beyond 20 years old. No one wants old cars, with few exceptions. Some old cars are in demand from car enthusiasts. According to Statista the car restoration industry is worth about 16.59 billion as of the end of 2021. Car restoration and restoration-modification hobbies may be alive and well, but the demand for these vehicles is declining. In addition, most of the old cars in demand by car enthusiasts are over 30 years old. Old cars that are 15 to 35 years old are not likely to be wanted by anyone, even junkyards.

    According to Body Shop Business, an organization supporting body shops, 80% of classic car owners are comfortable doing at least part of the work to restore old cars themselves. This means that for old cars that are in demand a vehicle with working parts can be very valuable for sale as a parts car.

    Classic cars are the only type of old cars that are worth more than just scrap recycling. Most people think that all old cars more than 20 years old are classic cars and therefore in demand. This is not the case. Each state defines the age of classic vehicles for the purpose of registering, storing, and repairing old cars on residential property. Only Pennsylvania defines a classic car as 20 years old. Every other state are set at 25 to 30 model years.

    However, keep in mind that the 1990s were 30 years ago, and these are often not considered to be classic cars as of yet. There is little to no demand for old cars from the 90s and 2000s and they are basically worthless. However, according to Body Shop Business there is an emerging market for 70s and 80s vehicles. It is just starting to grow, so if you have old cars from those decades and are able to hold onto them for a few more years you might be able to get more out of them later down the road.

    Most of the time when old cars break down they are usually not worth fixing. Old cars cost too much to repair, if you can even find the parts to do so. Even if you have an old car that still runs and you want to get rid of it for another reason, old cars do not bring much beyond their value in scrap metal due to the fact that no one wants their parts.

    Unregistered Cars

    Unregistered cars are sometimes considered junk cars depending on city, county, and state law. Every state requires vehicles to be registered, but different states have different rules about what vehicles are subject to the requirement. In any case law enforcement is cracking down on unregistered cars because the number of unregistered vehicles being driven on the roads has dramatically increased since the start of the pandemic. The most common reason for unregistered cars is a lack of funds to bring the vehicle into compliance.

    Unregistered cars may not have any problems whatsoever, with the only thing keeping them from being driven being a lack of registration. Unfortunately, even brand new unregistered cars are considered junk cars by some municipalities and counties across the country, and therefore subject to being removed by code enforcement. This makes it necessary to hide or get rid of unregistered cars regardless of their condition.

    For example, many states do not require classic cars and old cars with a junk status like nonrepairable or salvage to be registered, but this is not always the case. If you’re not sure if your unregistered cars are subject to registration, check with your local DMV.

    There are 3 main reasons for unregistered cars on residential property. The first reason is that the vehicle is too expensive to repair to the point that it will pass the necessary inspections required for registration. These unregistered cars should be removed and recycled in favor of a more reliable vehicle rather than allowing them to sit and rack up citations for having unregistered cars in the city.

    The second reason for unregistered cars by the general public is that the individual has moved from out of state and can’t afford the new insurance and registration so quickly after moving costs. These unregistered vehicles are often in very good condition. Most cities will not tow unregistered cars of this type but they will write citations for the unregistered cars.

    The third reason for unregistered cars is that the individual bought a brand new vehicle without understanding and preparing for the costs associated with registering a vehicle. These include property taxes, inspections, sales taxes, licensing fees, license plates, title fees, administrative or service fees, and full coverage insurance meeting minimum guidelines for both the state and the auto loan agreement.

    Derelict Cars

    Derelict cars are junk cars, old cars or scrap cars that simply need to be recycled. Most derelict cars did not receive proper reliable maintenance, were neglected, were abandoned, or were simply forgotten. Derelict cars can be discovered when clearing recently purchased property, but are more often seen on the sides of roads and highways as broken down derelict cars are abandoned when all hope of repair is lost.

    Derelict cars as a result of improper maintenance

    Derelict cars are junk cars or old cars that have been driven hard without proper maintenance to the point they are totally inoperable. A study by AAA found that 30% of licensed motorists could not afford emergency repairs of $500 to $600, and those same motorists said they skip or delay routine car maintenance due to a lack of funds or tight budgets. Skipping and delaying maintenance leads to cars breaking down in more ways than one, making it too costly to consider repairing the vehicle. Ignoring minor repairs ultimately leads to more expensive mechanical failures. These derelict cars are often filled with trash as well.

    Forgotten derelict cars

    Derelict cars are junk cars that have been forgotten by time. Many derelict cars are found in fields and barns across the country. It is a common enough phenomenon that there are several television shows on the History channel dedicated, at least in part, to these “barn finds” and their restoration.

    Derelict cars are often infested with rodents and vermin, and may also be filled with trash, debris, rubble, or other items of interest. Unless the vehicle is a classic car in high demand for its body or parts, derelict cars of this type should be recycled as scrap.

    Decrepit Cars

    Decrepit cars are junk cars and damaged cars that are barely functional. Decrepit cars might get you from Point A to Point B within your neighborhood, but they are probably not reliable. Decrepit cars are often unsuited to driving on the highway and starting them might be hit or miss. When decrepit cars are so far gone that they are too expensive to fix, these vehicles should be discarded and recycled in favor of a more reliable vehicle.

    Decrepit cars pose a big problem for local governments. Decrepit cars are often abandoned on the side of the road or on the should of the highway. Individuals that can’t afford the upkeep and maintenance for a vehicle and allow it to become a decrepit car also can’t afford to tow and dispose of the vehicle. As such when there is no hope that the vehicle will ever be repaired the decrepit cars are left abandoned for the city, county, or state officials to deal with.

    However, most states and municipalities have laws criminalizing the abandonment of vehicles specifically because of the high costs and large amount of bureaucratic red tape required to dispose of them. What many people don’t realize is that abandoning their decrepit car is unnecessary. Junk car removal services and junk car buyers will pick up a vehicle from wherever it lies, as long as you are there to meet the tow operator.

    The biggest problem with decrepit cars for individuals is that it is impossible to keep them legally registered. Decrepit cars will not pass safety or emissions inspections that are required by most states for legal vehicle registration and to drive on public roads. Vehicles must be registered to get car insurance, which is another requirement to legally operate a car on the roads in almost every state.

    Decrepit cars are often sought out to use in creating racing vehicles or for transport on large private properties. A jalopy originally referred to a specific type of stock racing vehicle made from decrepit cars. When they finally give up and are no longer operable getting rid of the decrepit car right away saves hassle and costs down the road.

    Inoperable Cars

    Inoperable cars are junk cars that cannot be driven safely on the roads. In most cities across the US, inoperable cars are defined in city, county, or state codified laws and are banned or restricted on private property. According to SEMA Action Network, most cities have a definition of inoperable vehicle that includes “those on which the engine, wheels or other parts have been removed, altered, damaged or allowed to deteriorate so that the vehicle cannot be driven.” The consumer watchdog organization points out that for the purposes of these laws, inoperable cars often includes unregistered cars that are fully functional but still cannot be legally driven due to having no license plates.

    Inoperable cars are vehicles that could be repaired but it would be economically unwise to do so. When the cost of repairs for an inoperable car outweighs 70 to 80 percent of its worth, it is time to give up on that decrepit car and recycle it. You can use the money from selling the inoperable car to purchase a new or new-to-you vehicle.

    There are 3 major car repairs that are too expensive to contemplate completing on an old car with little value. The 3 major car parts that usually lead to recycled inoperable cars are engine, transmission, and main computer.

    Engine-less inoperable cars

    Engine-less cars are missing the engine entirely, or they have an engine that is nonfunctioning. Engines can be rebuilt or replaced, but it is often economically unreasonable to do so. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), the average cost to replace an engine is $2500 to $4000. When engine-less cars will not be repaired and they have no other reusable parts these inoperable cars must be recycled.

    Transmission-less inoperable cars

    Similar to engine-less cars, these inoperable cars are missing the transmission or the transmission needs major repair. Many people are surprised to learn that a transmission replacement or service costs much more than replacing or rebuilding an engine. According to Consumer Affairs, the average cost to replace a transmission is $4000 to $7000. When they have no other purpose these inoperable cars should also be recycled.

    Other inoperable cars

    There are many other repairs that can become costly and lead to inoperable cars being discarded in favor of a newer vehicle. Inoperable cars often have more than one mechanical problem as a result of many years of ignoring or skipping maintenance such as oil changes. These seemingly minor things can lead to major expenses as the mechanical issues add up during mechanical diagnostics.

    In particular, the main computer of a vehicle can range between $900 to $1300 depending on the model year according to Get Jerry. Later models will have more complex, and therefore more expensive, computers. There are also smaller computer modules for specific processes, and if more than one of these breaks down at the same time it could become even more costly.

    Incomplete Cars

    Incomplete cars are junk cars that are missing major mechanical or body parts. Incomplete cars are often the result of car restoration hobbies. Incomplete cars that have been stripped of their reusable parts in the restoration or repair of a similar vehicle must be disposed of when they no longer have use as parts cars.

    In addition to parts cars, there are many incomplete cars that started out as a hobby restoration but was abandoned for whatever reason. Sometimes incomplete cars are the result of a restoration project halted by the death of the restorer. Other times incomplete cars are the result of losing interest or not having time to pursue the hobby, abandoning it and later needing to get rid of the incomplete car.

    Another source of incomplete cars are when individuals try to repair a vehicle themselves only to discover they are in way over their heads. After tearing apart the vehicle and replacing a few parts, the incomplete car would cost even more to repair and just wouldn’t be worth the investment. These incomplete cars usually have no value other than as scrap.

    Totaled Cars

    Totaled cars are junk cars that have been declared a total loss by insurance companies. Totaled cars can include wrecked cars, flooded cars, and recovered stolen stripped cars. Damaged cars that are not covered by car insurance are not counted as totaled cars, even if it costs too much to repair them.

    Many people think that totaled cars are damaged cars that cost more to repair than they are worth, and therefore are totaled by the insurance company. Other than a couple of states, this is not the case. Most totaled cars can be fixed for less than their fair market value.

    How do insurance companies decide a vehicle is a totaled car?

    If most totaled cars can be fixed for less than they are worth, why are they recycled instead of being repaired? Insurance companies use one of two ways to calculate whether or not vehicles are totaled cars. The way a damaged car is determined to be totaled by insurance is set by the state.

    The first way to determine if damaged cars are totaled cars is to use the percentage method. A percentage set by the state is multiplied by the fair market value of the vehicle once repaired. The only two states with a mandatory 100% repair cost versus fair market value for totaled cars are Colorado and Texas.

    There are an additional 26 states using a percentage of the fair market value as a total loss threshold.

    • There are 5 states that use a 70% total loss threshold. These are Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

    The second way to calculate if vehicles are totaled cars is by using the Total Loss Formula (TLF). The TLF is calculated by subtracting the salvage value of the vehicle from the fair market value. If the repairs of the vehicle cost more than the TLF calculation it is deemed a totaled car. There are 22 states using the total loss formula method to calculate totaled cars. These are:

    • Alaska
    • Arizona
    • California
    • Connecticut
    • Delaware
    • Georgia
    • Hawaii
    • Idaho
    • Illinois
    • Maine
    • Massachusetts
    • Ohio
    • Mississippi
    • Montana
    • New Jersey
    • New Mexico
    • Pennsylvania
    • Rhode Island
    • South Dakota
    • Utah
    • Vermont
    • Washington

    The number of totaled cars has spiked since 2020, stressing the resources and recycling abilities of junkyards and vehicle recyclers. This is due in large part to the sharply rising and increasingly outrageous auto repair costs. According to Property Casualty 360, there was an average 2.3% increase in auto repair costs annually from 2016 through 2019. However, there was a 5% increase in auto repair costs just in the month of March 2022. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed a 15% increase in the cost of car repairs in a 12 month period that ended in June 2022.

    The problem with the increase in totaled cars

    Totaled cars are junk cars that could have been repaired if someone were willing to spend the money. The problem with totaling cars when they could be repaired is that there are totaled vehicles piling up all across America faster than they can be processed, recycled, and disposed of. Repairing these vehicles and keeping them on the roads would decrease the number of vehicles that needed to be recycled each year. This would solve several issues.

    Vehicle recyclers would then be able to keep up with the demand for salvaging totaled cars, and a good deal of the auto industry could make better use of the recycled materials. Meanwhile the stockpile of automobile graveyards and junkyards will finally begin to dwindle and the recycled materials put to use. It is easy to see that repairing cars instead of totaling them could benefit the environment and consumer pocketbooks.

    However, the automotive manufacturing industry and the car insurance industry would both falter if this were to happen. Automotive manufacturers want there to be a demand on their product. With such an expensive product to sell, the only way to keep sales up is to have a consumer base that is almost constantly upgrading or replacing their vehicle. Meanwhile, the total loss formula is obviously geared toward protecting the insurance company’s bottom line, and little more.

    Totaled cars often become rebuilt salvage cars

    Totaled cars are junk cars that are often rebuilt and sold as used cars. Rebuilt salvage cars are just about the cheapest type of used car you can buy. Rebuilt salvage cars are totaled cars that were retained by the owner or sold to a junkyard, where the totaled cars are repaired for resale. All 50 states have laws about inspections that rebuilt salvage vehicles must pass, and minimum car insurance coverage will be a bit more for a rebuilt salvage vehicle than other used cars that have not been totaled cars. The problem with this is that many rebuilt salvage vehicles are returned to the roads each year without the required safety and emissions inspections.

    Wrecked Cars

    Wrecked cars are junk cars that have been in an accident, have not been repaired, and have not been totaled by insurance. Wrecked cars are not totaled cars because to declare a vehicle a total loss is something done by the car insurance company. Wrecked cars that are not covered by insurance but cost too much to repair also need to be recycled. The insurance companies will often sell salvage cars in bulk at an online auction, but when there is not an insurance company involved the wrecked cars must be disposed of by the owner.

    It is unknown how many wrecked cars are recycled per year in the US because car accidents involving uninsured vehicles often go unreported. In addition, the number of accidents involving only property damage are not consistently reported across all 50 states. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) focuses on traffic injuries and fatalities.

    According to the NHTSA, there are over 5 million passenger vehicle crashes per year in the US as of 2020, which is a 22% decrease from 2019. In addition, the NHTSA found that 1 in 63 Americans will be in a car accident. According to Value Penguin, about 12% of them will be uninsured. That means that in about 12% of auto accidents, at least 12% of the wrecked cars will need to be disposed of by the owners.

    Wrecked cars could be repaired, and possible for less than the vehicle is worth. However, it may not be economically feasible to repair wrecked cars. One can often take the costs of repairs and put that money down on a newer vehicle that will be more reliable, last longer, and stretch your budget.

    Lemon Cars

    Lemon cars are junk cars that do not operate as advertised. The most common usage of lemon cars is to refer to vehicles that were bought from a car dealership, new or used, that broke down almost immediately after purchase. However, legally the only lemon cars that are protected by consumer law in most states are brand new cars with significant defects.

    These lemon cars are actually fairly rare, and today when there is a problem with a new vehicle model recalls and free repairs to consumers are standard. In fact, according to about 150,000 new cars per year are lemon cars. This may seem like a lot, but it is only 1.1% of all new cars sold.

    However, lemon cars can refer to any vehicle that broke down soon after buying it. This definition of lemon cars can apply to used cars as well as new cars. However, it is important to know that federal and most state lemon laws do not apply to used cars as long as the required Buyer’s Guide is posted in the window or provided on sale.

    Federal lemon laws are set in the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975, in which express and implied warranties and their remedies are defined. According to the law, used car dealers must provide a Buyer’s Guide that includes details of any expressed warranties, or marked “As Is” to indicate that there is no warranty. These lemon cars might break down right away, but you won’t have any recourse through federal lemon laws.

    The only states that have lemon laws for used lemon cars are Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York. In these states how long one has to make a claim for a lemon car as well as the remedies available are detailed for both new and used lemon cars.

    Unwanted cars

    Unwanted cars are junk cars that owners have been stuck with, rather than having purchased for a purpose. Many unwanted cars are passed down from a relative when they are deceased. When a vehicle goes through probate it can be specified that it be sold and the proceeds be divided among surviving kin, eliminating the need to get rid of the vehicle themselves. However, when an unwanted car is inherited by a transfer on death title, the owner has no choice but to take possession and deal with the unwanted vehicle.

    Per All Law encyclopedia, transfer on death beneficiaries receive vehicles without probate, but still must be retitled to change ownership. This increases the difficult of getting rid of inherited unwanted cars, because one must get the title in their name before they can sell the unwanted car.

    Some cars are unwanted because they have low average gas mileage and have higher emissions than newer vehicles. Especially in today’s political, social, and economic climate, having a vehicle with low gas mileage is a necessary part of life. In addition, many people are switching to electric vehicles and their gas vehicles are now unwanted cars. Case in point, We Forum reported that about 4.3 million new electric vehicles were sold globally in 2022.

    If you have an unwanted car because it is about to give out or you have decided to get into a new vehicle, it can be tempting to use it as a down payment for the new car. However, unwanted cars that are still in good condition can often be sold for cash netting you much more than if you use the vehicle for a trade in. According to consumer reports you get less cash for your car on trade in because trade in value and wholesale value are very similar – meaning trade in value of unwanted cars are low.

    Even when unwanted cars are in working condition, getting rid of them quickly is important. The same car buyers that purchase other junk cars will purchase all unwanted cars regardless of condition. These buyers will be able to make sure the vehicle gets where it will best be utilized, whether that be as a used vehicle on the road, a junk car to be salvaged at a junkyard, or a recycled car.

    End-of-Life Vehicles

    End-of-Life vehicles or ELVs are junk cars that have no further use in any shape or form other than to be recycled for their metals. End of life vehicles include junk cars that have been stripped of most or all of its valuable parts, that is completely inoperable, and that cannot or should not in any way be restored. ELVs are easiest to process because most of them have already been stripped. According to Green Vehicle Disposal there are close to 12 million ELVs taken out of service per year.

    End of life vehicles have value only as scrap, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have more value to the environment. According to Federal Steel Supply, recycled steel from ELVs are used in automobiles, home furniture, home appliances, packaging, and building materials. End-of-life vehicles use less energy to recycle than the energy it takes to process new steel. Per the EPA, one ton of recycled steel saves the energy equivalent of 36 barrels of oil and 1.49 tons of iron ore over the production of new steel.

    There is another new market for end-of-life vehicles. Artistic endeavors have long used metal and other materials from ELVs, but today it is even more common for individuals to purchase end-of-life vehicles for dismantling and processing. The biggest driver of ELVs being used for recycled steel in hobbies is the extremely popular Forged in Fire television show from the History Channel, which has stirred up a new and growing trend of forging steel as a hobby or as a career.

    Abandoned Cars

    Abandoned cars are junk cars that have been left on the side of the road, on the shoulder of the highway, under bridges, and in other locations around urban and rural areas. Most abandoned cars are damaged or have broken down and the vehicle owner did not have either the means or the willingness to have the abandoned car removed and disposed of. Sometimes when unwanted cars cannot easily be sold or removed due to encumbrances on the title, property owners become desperate to stop citations and abandon cars intentionally to rid themselves of the burden.

    It is impossible to know how many abandoned cars there are in the US per year. There is no national tally, and not all states keep track of these statistics. However, it is possible to get an idea of how many abandoned cars there are in the United States by looking at localized data. For example, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that there were over 34,000 active reports of abandoned vehicles as of mid-2022 in Philadelphia alone.

    Stolen cars can also become abandoned cars. Cars are stolen and driven until they are out of gas or until the car has been driven so hard that it simply breaks down and is left where it stopped. Per the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), there were 932,329 cars reported stolen to law enforcement in 2021. According to Car Fax only 20% of these are marked as recovered even though they are likely picked up later as abandoned cars.

    Abandoned cars usually have to be removed and processed by the city, even when they are on private property. You can’t sell abandoned cars left on your property when you don’t have ownership. If you have abandoned cars on your property you should contact local code enforcement and determine how to get the vehicle removed.

    Parts Car

    Coming soon

    Do Different Types of Junk Cars Show Different Signs? It's Time To Sell

    Yes, different types of junk cars show different signs when it's time to sell. Below are a few examples of types of junk cars that show different signs when it's time to sell.

    • Old Car - If your car is really old and has all the accompanying problems that come with age, it's time to junk it.
    • Damaged Car - If duct tape holds pieces together and are relaying on duct tape to keep your car operational, it might be time to junk it.
    • Totaled Car - If repair expenses exceed the price of the vehicle, it's time to junk it.

    Learn more about the 10 signs you should sell a car.


    Key Takeaways:

    Now that you know all of the ways to define junk cars and what each synonym for junk car means, it should be easy to understand when, where, and how to get rid of the unwanted cars on your property. Having this understanding will help many vehicle and residential property owners keep from paying citations and abatement fees. The laws for each city, county, and state are different, and different conditions or types of junk cars are handled differently. With this overview and glossary of junk car terms you should be able to navigate the laws to learn your rights and responsibilities fairly easily.


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