It seems that everyone has a different opinion on the definition of a “junk car”.  To the little old lady who only drove her Buick to church on Sundays, even though that car may be pushing classic car status (i.e. a car that is 25 years old), it is her “wheels” – her only mode of transportation – and, if she has faithfully maintained her vehicle at a trustworthy repair shop, she may have that car for many more years to come.  Someone else may scoff at the idea of keeping a vehicle for more than a few years and will insist on buying a new one that has all the bells and whistles on it.

While these are two factions of vehicle owners, obviously at opposite ends of the spectrum, actually, the truth is, that older vehicles were easier to maintain and less likely than their modern counterparts to develop electrical issues causing serious malfunctions.  With older vehicles, there certainly were no worries about lights flashing off and on that need your attention and have you worrying, then scurrying, to the dealership to determine if the vehicle is safe to drive.  But… newfangled satellite radio and wireless connections will make you feel like you are a pilot in the cockpit of a jet airliner.

How to define a junk vehicle

Since everyone defines “old” or “junk” differently, you’d need to look at how authorities define a “junk vehicle”… you cannot simply slap such a moniker on a vehicle by virtue of the fact that it is old.  Back in the day, men often watched their fathers tinker with their cars and so confidently were able to tackle various car chores as well.  Back in the day, there was no 10-minute lube and oil change station, nor a trip to the local tire store to change out the regular tires for the snow tires – most vehicle owners were hands-on.  A well-maintained vehicle served the whole family well, and, when it was time for a new vehicle, the old one might just get passed down to the eldest child if they were of driving age.

A classic car is one that is at least 25 years old and in good condition, but, just because it is a quarter of a century old, that doesn’t mean that it is ready for the “car boneyard”.

Likewise, you might see a fabulous deal for a like-new, sweet-looking coupe, but, unless you are a savvy shopper and glean the facts about any potential used vehicle through an agency like Carfax (, or, you check out the services of Kelly Blue Book ( for price guidelines, you really should not purchase a car online, or privately, without having a trusted mechanic give it a “look-see” first.  Checking into the vehicle’s history by using the resources of Carfax, for example, will help you to ensure that the vehicle is safe, that any prior recalls have indeed been rectified, and most importantly, that it is not a rehabbed vehicle which was involved in an accident or incurred significant flood damage at some time and has serious underlying issues that will cause it to be problematic for the rest of the years you own it.

Legal definition of a junk Car

To qualify for “junk vehicle” status, a vehicle must meet three of four of the following criteria:

  • It must be three or more years old;
  • It must have visible extensive damage;
  • It must be 100% inoperable; and
  • It must have a fair market value equal to the approximate value of the scrap metal.

Wow!  A vehicle that is only three or four years old seems a bit harsh.  Remember our little old lady who only drove on Sundays?  What about the proud owner of a classic car like the two-seat convertible Thunderbird, circa 1955?  The criteria for determining a car’s junk status is more likely to fall within the latter three criteria.

Nowadays, with the price of a new vehicle, when the time comes to replace your vehicle, those car-sharing services like Zipcar, or, the lure of enjoying perks like pick-up and delivery transportation services like Uber offers, are causing more and more people, especially millennials, to realize that they can hold the expenses of vehicle payments and insurance for same at bay until they start a family or move out to the suburbs.  Additionally, potential new car buyers, still stung by the economic downfall a few years ago, are trying to get their financial house in order and may be keeping their vehicles longer than they did in the past.

If YOU deem your car unsafe to drive, thus rendering you unable to donate it to a car donation program for the needy, you really should resign yourself that the time has come to consider the purchase or lease of a new vehicle.  As sad as you might feel about offloading your “baby”, at least try to reclaim the price of the salvaged scrap metal by looking into a program for cash for junk cars in New Jersey.

Remember the Cash for Clunkers program back in 2009?  President Obama signed into law a program wherein drivable cars made after the year 1984, which had a fuel economy rating of not more than 18 miles per gallon, could be traded in for a cash rebate of between $3,500.00 to $4,500.00.  You might recall that there was an allotment of one million purchasers during a four-month window to get the trade-in allowance accomplished.  All cars were salvaged for scrap metal.   The program worked because some 700,000 gas-guzzling cars were sold and that effort was a win-win situation for the Big Three and made for a cleaner, greener Mother Earth.