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What is an Inoperable Car?

An inoperable car is a vehicle that cannot be operated on public roads or highways. Inoperable cars are cars that have a hindrance to being operated on the roads. Inoperable cars include vehicles with at least one major mechanical failure that prevents them from running. Inoperable cars also includes cars that could run but are not safe to operate on the roads. However, not all cars labeled as inoperable have mechanical difficulties.

The definition of inoperable car varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The term inoperable car is used in laws regarding the storage of junk cars in public view. These laws are widely embraced by municipalities, counties, and states across the US. Almost every jurisdiction labels cars that have missing or expired registrations as inoperable cars, even when they are in perfect running condition. However, each jurisdiction has their own definition of inoperable car. These definitions are laid out in detail within the city or state codified laws, which are easy to search online.

An inoperable car can be in any condition when referring to laws regulating the storage of inoperable cars on private property. However, when most people talk about inoperable cars they are referring to a vehicle that has several minor or at least one major mechanical issue that prevents them from running, or that makes them unsafe to drive. Most cars that are inoperable in this way need to be salvaged and recycled rather than fixed due to the cost of repairs in comparison to the value of the vehicle.

It is unknown how many inoperable cars are removed and recycled by cities in the United States. Such records are only kept on a city, county, or state level. However, many jurisdictions include a provision in their laws that allow them to immediately recycle vehicles that meet certain criteria without notification or a waiting period. These inoperable cars contribute significantly to the $67 billion auto recycling industry.

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    Inoperable car definition

    The definition of inoperable car is difficult to pinpoint because it varies depending on circumstance. The term inoperable car is often used by vehicle owners that own a car that doesn’t run, or that isn’t safe to drive on the roads. Otherwise the definition of inoperable car varies based on the laws in which it is included. Luckily, each city and state legal code includes definitions of arbitrary terms like inoperable cars.

    Each jurisdiction defines inoperable cars in different ways. Here are 4 car conditions that cities and states define as inoperable cars.

    1. Dismantled in whole or in part.
    2. Junked, salvaged, non-repairable, and other junk title brands varying by state.
    3. Wrecked or damaged, including flat tires or broken windows.
    4. Missing major mechanical components. (engine, transmission, body panels, etc.)

    Many jurisdictions also include something to the effect that an inoperable vehicle is unable to perform the purpose for which it was made, or that the vehicle cannot be driven under its own power, both of which often includes unregistered vehicles. The definition of inoperable cars also frequently includes vehicles that are only apparently inoperable, meaning that any damaged vehicle could be cited as inoperable when seen by a code enforcement officer unless the owner is available to prove otherwise. The vehicle owner is then required to prove to the court that the vehicle was legally operable at the time of the citation.

    How does a car become an inoperable car?

    There are 7 main ways a car becomes an inoperable car and therefore illegal to drive in most cities.

    1. Engine failure: Engine failure is one of the ways a car becomes and stays an inoperable car. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), the average cost to replace a blown engine is $2500 to $4000 when a used or rebuilt engine can be used. Replacement with a new engine can run as high as $10,000 depending on the vehicle and engine specs. This means that it usually costs more to replace the engine than the car is worth.
    2. Transmission failure: Transmission failure is another expensive way a car becomes an inoperable car. According to Consumer Affairs, replacing a transmission can cost between $4000 and $7000 on average, with brand new transmission replacements running as high as $10,000. Transmission repair is uncommon and most of these inoperable cars end up salvaged and recycled. Consumer Reports published that some makes and models are famous for transmission failure, particularly old mini vans like Ford Aerostar, Chevy Town & Country, and Dodge Grand Caravans. Late model cars with famously bad transmissions include Nissans, the Ford Focus, and the Kia Forte.
    3. Computer brain failure: Other than vintage, antique, and some classic vehicles, every car on the roads today relies on a main computer, as well as smaller focused computer systems. When the brain of the vehicle quits it will break down suddenly and without warning. Replacing the computer in a car costs as much as $900 to $1300 per Get Jerry. Although not as expensive as a transmission or engine, many people cannot afford to fix the main computer on an inoperable car. According to AAA, a third of car owners cannot afford an unexpected repair of as little as $500.
    4. Lack of routine maintenance and timely minor repairs. Even the best of vehicles can become inoperable when they are not maintained properly. The same AAA study mentioned above also showed that about 30% of Americans postpone or skip routine maintenance, including minor repairs as they arise. All of these minor problems can add up, and eventually cause a car to become an inoperable car. Sometimes these inoperable cars could be fixed, but the costs add up to more than the vehicle is worth to the owner.
    5. Damaged in a car accident. There are 22 million uninsured drivers in the United States, and according to Insurify about 8.8% of them have had an at fault accident in the last 3 years. In addition the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that there are as many as 10 million unreported car crashes every year in the US. Most people assume a minor fender bender will not affect the mechanical integrity of the car, but the NHTSA also warns that 2% of all crashes are the result of mechanical failure. Unknown or unaddressed damage from car crashes lead to the vehicle being inoperable.
    6. Damaged in a natural disaster. Natural disasters can affect cars in many ways, and vehicles in a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, or other event may not be immediately inoperable. However, when these vehicles are not inspected by a mechanic for their integrity and are driven regardless they will eventually break down and become an inoperable car.
    7. Delayed registration or plate renewal. Unregistered vehicles and cars that have expired tags are considered inoperable cars in most municipalities and are usually the result of an inability to register the vehicle. The most common reason for unregistered cars that still run perfectly is a lack of funds for unexpected costs of vehicle ownership. Most states require payment of property taxes before a vehicle can be registered, which can be a significant added expense. Being able to pay sales tax on a brand new vehicle is also difficult for many people. Unregistered inoperable vehicles skyrocketed during the pandemic, but most cities and states are now cracking down on expired and unregistered vehicles. This leads these cities to define unregistered cars as inoperable cars regardless of their condition.

    As you can see, not all inoperable cars are undrivable. In general, a car becomes an inoperable car when the city or state deems the vehicle to be such.

    What are some characteristics of inoperable cars?

    While some inoperable cars are only labeled as such because they are unregistered, most inoperable cars share these 5 characteristics.

    1. Visible damage. Unless the vehicle is very new, almost every inoperable car will show some type of damage on the exterior of the vehicle. This is because people that cannot afford to fix their car or cannot afford to register their car are also unable or unwilling to fix minor cosmetic damage. Interior damage could also be visible because many inoperable cars are not cleaned properly or regularly, if at all.
    2. Old and worn-out components. There are many components of a vehicle that need to be changed regularly, including brakes, spark plugs, air filters, and fuel filters. These items will be very worn out and barely functional on inoperable vehicles due to a lack of routine maintenance. Tires may be visibly worn out as well as exterior evidence of the lack of care.
    3. Broken or worn out muffler, exhaust, or emissions systems. Every vehicle has an emissions system that includes many different parts. However, mufflers and exhaust pipes tend to take the most damage, particularly in areas where salt is used to treat roads in winter. Mufflers and exhaust pipes that are missing or disintegrating with rust are not efficient and make a lot of noise that is typically prohibited by city noise ordinances.
    4. Unable to pass required safety inspections. Every state has safety requirements that a vehicle must meet to be registered. Some inoperable cars are able to run fine but they are not able to pass these safety inspections. Often the problems causing the inoperable car to fail the inspection seem minor but are rather expensive to repair.
    5. Have been tagged by the city for removal. Most cities restrict how, when, where, and for how long inoperable cars can be stored on residential property. Most cars that are labeled as inoperable vehicles are defined as such by city code enforcement, and thus have been issued a citation for their presence. Each city has different laws as to how the inoperable vehicle can be brought into compliance, but most inoperable cars need to be disposed of and recycled to avoid further citations.

    The people who own inoperable cars also tend to share some characteristics. For example, most of the people who have inoperable cars on residential property are of a lower income bracket or live paycheck to paycheck with little to no savings. Inoperable cars often need to be disposed of, but it cannot easily be done due to there being a lien on the vehicle. A lien on the title of the inoperable car means that it cannot be disposed of without permission of the bank that provided the auto loan to purchase the vehicle.

    Are inoperable cars junk cars?

    Most inoperable cars are junk cars, but not all. Many cars labeled as inoperable cars have no mechanical issues and are only inoperable because they are not registered. As mentioned in our previous post, “What Is A Junk Car? Scrap (Decrepit) Car Definition” a junk car is one that has no value other than as parts and scrap. Junk cars cannot be safely driven, if they operate at all. Inoperable cars can also be unsafe to drive, but not always.

    What are other names for inoperable cars?

    Inoperable cars are called many other things depending on their condition and the reason they are inoperable. Inoperable cars that cannot be driven because they are not legally registered are also called unregistered cars, and when they have been left behind they are called abandoned cars.

    Inoperable cars can also be called nonrepairable vehicles, scrap cars, clunkers, junk cars, derelict cars, decrepit cars, or end-of-life vehicles depending on their condition. Inoperable cars are also described as being broken down, decrepit, and money pits by their owners.

    What is an Inoperable Car Worth?

    How much an inoperable car is worth depends on the year, make, model, and condition of the vehicle. An in-demand inoperable car that is unsafe to drive due to structural damage but has all of its working parts intact is worth more than an inoperable vehicle with value only as scrap. Whether or not there is a clear title also affects the prices paid for inoperable cars.

    What are the price ranges of inoperable cars?

    The price ranges of inoperable cars depends on their value in parts, their value in scrap metal, and the location and accessibility of the vehicle. Towing costs are usually included in the calculations of price ranges for inoperable cars. The age of inoperable cars and whether or not they are in demand is also a factor but depends on whether the make and model are popular or their parts are in-demand.

    What are the most valuable car parts on inoperable cars?

    The most valuable car parts on inoperable cars are the engine, transmission, drive train, frame, and body panels. According to World Steel Organization, about 65% of the average inoperable car is recyclable steel and other iron alloys, and about 25% of that is found in the drive train. Transmissions are a source of recyclable aluminum and also makes up a fair percentage of the value of inoperable cars. These parts are valuable even when they are not in working order because of the value of the metals they contain.

    What are the most valuable scrap metals on inoperable cars?

    The most valuable scrap metals on inoperable cars are steel, various iron alloys, aluminum, and a variety of other metals and elements including mercury, magnesium, platinum, rhodium, and palladium. Steel has the lowest per pound value but is the most valuable metal in cars due to the amount of steel and other iron alloys in the vehicle. Platinum, rhodium, and palladium are the most valuable by weight, but inoperable cars contain only small amounts of these within the catalytic converter. Scrap metal prices also depend on national and local demand, global and national economics, and localized factors by state and community.

    What to do with an inoperable car

    There are 5 things you can do with an inoperable car depending on its condition and title status.

    1. Register the inoperable car. The car that is labeled an inoperable car based solely on the fact that it is unregistered or has expired tags should be registered as soon as possible to avoid fines and penalties. Late model cars will not be automatically recycled but you could face hefty charges for storage in an impound lot.
    2. Remove the inoperable car from public view. Some cities prohibit the storage of inoperable cars anywhere on residential property, but most allow vehicle owners to store inoperable cars out of public view. Storing the inoperable car in a shed, garage, or behind a privacy fence until you have made a decision about what to do with it could be an option, but you should check with your local code enforcement first.
    3. Repair the inoperable car. Some inoperable cars are worth repairing. When the car is worth more than the cost of repairs, and such repairs would be reasonable and allow the car to be registered and legally operable, repairing the vehicle is the logical option. Not all municipalities allow owners or occupants to repair vehicles on residential property, and this should be kept in mind when deciding whether and how to repair the inoperable car.
    4. Donate the inoperable car to a charity. Many charities accept inoperable cars as donations, then sell them at auction to use the proceeds in furthering their mission. Not all charities accept car donations, and in most cases selling the inoperable car and donating the cash benefits the charity more than the donation of the car itself.
    5. Sell the inoperable car. If you have a clear title or can prove ownership of the inoperable car you can sell it to a junkyard, scrap yard, salvage yard, or other junk car buyer. Selling an inoperable car is easier than most people realize. Junk Car Medics in particular has a quick, easy, painless, and rewarding process for selling inoperable cars in all 50 states.

    There are fewer options when the owner still has an open car loan for the inoperable vehicle. The bank that loaned the money for the car has ownership interest in the car which is shown by a lien on the title. Inoperable cars with a lien cannot be donated or sold. When you cannot make an inoperable car operable and still owe money on the vehicle you should contact your financial institution to determine how to proceed.

    Can I sell an inoperable car with no title?

    You may be able to sell an inoperable car with no title depending on the circumstances of the missing title and the state in which the vehicle was last titled or registered. Most states allow inoperable cars to be sold without a title when the vehicle was previously titled or registered in the owner’s name. The owner is still responsible for proving ownership. The paperwork to sell inoperable cars with no title vary by state, but Junk Car Medics provides forms, instructions, and assistance with this paperwork for all 50 states.

    It is important to note that a clear title in the owner’s name is typically required to sell an inoperable car even if those documents are not available. A clear title means that the title cannot show a lien. If you still owe money on the vehicle you cannot get a clear title to sell the inoperable car, nor can you sell the inoperable car with no title. However, if you no longer owe money on the car a lien release can be provided to show that the vehicle is eligible for sale.

    Can I sell an inoperable car with no registration?

    Yes, you can sell an inoperable car with no registration because registration is not a requirement for all vehicles in every state. Each state has exceptions to what vehicle must be registered, usually based on title status. Most inoperable cars are not registered because they do not qualify for registration based on their unsafe driving condition. However, past registration can be used to prove ownership with the title is missing.

    Who buys inoperable cars?

    There are X places who buy inoperable cars based on where you live.

    1. Junk car facilities near you. Junkyards, auto salvage yards, auto dismantlers, vehicle recyclers, and used auto parts stores buy inoperable cars for their reusable parts and scrap metal. Some junkyards and salvage yards will pick up inoperable vehicles while others require you to arrange towing to their junkyard. Not all junk car facilities buy inoperable cars from the general public, creating a demand for junk car dealers.
    2. Locally operating junk car buyers. Junk car buyers are middle-men that buy inoperable cars from the public and take their piece of the pie before selling them to the junkyards, salvage yards, and scrap yards mentioned above or placing them in car auctions. Junk car buyers do not always give the best prices for inoperable cars for this reason.
    3. Junk Car Medics locations near you. Junk Car Medics is different from other junk car buyers because we make junk car facilities mentioned above compete for the vehicle, allowing us to give the best prices. Junk Car Medics works with all of the people and companies that buy inoperable vehicles to get the best deal with the right buyer, including private buyers for in-demand vehicles.

    There may also be a private market for your inoperable car depending on the year, make, and model. There are many private buyers that are interested in vintage cars, antique cars, classic cars, and other collectible cars. Junk Car Medics puts these inoperable cars in auctions where private buyers can find them, allowing us to pay more for old inoperable cars.

    How to choose a junk car buyer to remove your inoperable car

    Choosing a junk car buyer to remove your inoperable car is an important decision that affects both the price of your inoperable car and how quickly and easily it will be removed. Here are 5 things to look for when researching reviews and reputation of junk car buyers in your area or online.

    1. Licensed and legally operating junk car buyers. Every state, county, and city have laws regarding the regulation and licensure of junk car facilities including junk car buyers. A legally operating junk car buyer will ensure that the sale of your inoperable vehicle is legal and instruct you on what to do if you need to obtain a clear title to sell your inoperable car. Junk Car Medics operates licensed junk car facilities in all 50 states.
    2. Experienced and customer oriented junk car buyers. The junk car industry grew by $42 billion between 2019 and 2021, and there are many new players on the scene that don’t have the experience necessary to handle all inoperable cars. The best junk car buyers have been in the business longer than the boom. Junk Car Medics has been buying inoperable cars since 2016 and has thousands of positive reviews attesting to our stellar customer service.
    3. Free junk car quotes and fair prices for inoperable cars. Reputable junk car buyers will offer free quotes for inoperable cars based on year, make, model, condition, location, and title status. Not all junk car buyers provide instant online quotes. Disreputable junk car buyers will be evident by reviews claiming a bait and switch offer or lowball offers for inoperable cars. Any junk car buyer that claims to be able to buy your inoperable car with a lien is disreputable and should be avoided, as this is illegal in every state. Junk Car Medics makes the people who want your inoperable car compete for the vehicle to give the best prices for inoperable cars in the United States and guarantees our instant free online junk car quotes for 7 days.
    4. Knowledgeable about selling inoperable cars in your state. The laws about vehicle titles and registration vary from state to state. Many inoperable cars do not have a title available for transfer. It is important the junk car buyer you choose knows the title laws in your state for a smooth sale of inoperable cars. Junk Car Medics has experts in locations across the US to answer questions and make the process as painless as possible. Junk Car Medics also provides forms and instructions for their completion when necessary to sell inoperable cars with no title.
    5. Free and fast removal of inoperable cars. Most people look for a way to sell inoperable cars fast and have them removed because they have already received a citation or warning about the inoperable vehicle. This makes fast and free removal of inoperable cars very important. Junk Car Medics works with local towing companies with the best reputations to schedule easy removal of inoperable cars.

    Junk Car Medics stands out from other junk car buyers with out quick, easy, painless, and rewarding process to sell inoperable cars.

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