Environmentalists are going all out to get cars off gasoline — or better yet off the road. But their actions - including Obama’s “Cash for Clunkers” program - are actually making things worse for low income folks. They are the ones suffering as it becomes harder and harder to find affordable cars.
Mother Teresa once said that the worst pollution is poverty. Indeed betting on the unproven possibility that eliminating cars will truly impact the climate is very costly to those who can least afford it. The benefits car ownership provides are proven to have a major impact on families’ ability to get out of poverty.
In 2014 an extensive study done by the Urban Institute examined the impact of different kinds of aid. It concluded that affordable cars are critical to helping people to survive and thrive without public aid. In fact 82% if families who received loans for cars were able to get off welfare and other types of aid - and save taxpayers over $18 million a year!
The lack of a car is the most common reason that low income workers lose their job. Close to 10% of U.S. households own no vehicle. For some that is a choice; for others, a serious problem.
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Update October 2017 The tragedies that have struck several parts of the country — hurricanes, floods, fires and more — could mean more used cars available to help people in need of a car to get or keep a job and take care of their families’ needs. A recent news article reported that thousands of vehicles — even as many as 200,00 — were left in the lots at the dealer’s, often under water. Many will be recycled as scrap but others could be refurbished and put up for resale. A flood (as it were) of vehicles for sale typically means low prices …. or there could be so many of them that charities may receive more than usual to help others afford a car .. or receive one for free. So be alert for some bargains but also beware. To be sure you are not getting a car that was not properly reconditioned and that may have hidden problems, have a mechanic you trust inspect it and also do a title search through CarFax so you know what you’re getting.
Update August 2017 Programs which can help you get a car can be particular to specific states — like many other programs! It’s always a good idea to check you state’s website and do a search for grants for for help getting a car. You should also talk to local social service organizations, as some excellent programs require a referral from an agency in order to work with you to get that car. For example, Colorado has a program called “GoodNeighborhood Garage.” To qualify you must be low income, working and referred by an agency. Several states have a “Good News Garage” program. Each state has its own eligibility requirements. Florida has an interesting program called “Wheels of Success.” Eligible applicants have to be at least 21 and be at risk of losing their job or getting turned down for a job because they don’t have transportation.
Update May 2017 There's some good news and some bad news out there about getting a car. The good news? Used car prices are falling (actually “plummeting” according to the Wall Street Journal), and that usually means that supply is up. So if you can manage to put some money together or get a loan, you might be able to find a bargain. The bad news: banks are getting more reluctant to make auto loans, especially to “risky profile” borrowers. So loan money is tighter, and borrowers will have to have higher credit scores to be considered. On the positive side, the increase in the supply of used cars could mean that charitable organizations may have more resources to help people.
Update March 2017 If you can’t find a free car you might consider looking for a reasonable loan — and one that is available to those without great credit scores. Much like our advice in the loans section of Small Business Loans, there are some steps you should take to increase your chances of getting a loan. First, identify companies that will take credit scores of 300 to 660: Carvana at the loan end, CarFinance in the middle and LightStream at the top. Compare their interest rates and the length of time for the loan and what your resulting payments would be. Remember when you decide how much money to borrow to include both the price of the car and taxes and fees. If you can get this done ahead of time and even get pre-approved for a car, you’ll have a much easier time negotiating a deal.
Update November 2016: There may be some confusion about the names of organizations that provide cars to struggling individuals and families. In sorting some of this out we have found that the group originally known as 1-800-Charity Cars has now become freecharitycars.org. They refer to themselves as a free car distribution and social networking website. Users sign up and can share their story, explaining their situation and what a car would do for them. Other members of the site then can choose to vote for specific cases and also promote a person’s request among their own friends. If you have a compelling reason for needing a car and are pretty good at telling your story, this would be worth checking out. Also see more information below about other charities which provide cars to individuals!
News July 2016 If you’re a Veteran discharged within the last year, or Active or Reserve Military, Nissan has a deal for you. They’re offering their very best prices in combination with any ongoing incentives to help you get a great car at a great price. You ‘ll need to show proof of your service and get a Certificate for the Nissan Military Program. You can apply for the Certificate online at nissanusa.com. Go get that car, you’ve earned it!
News December 2015
You never know what might happen. Early this month, a couple saw a man walking home late at night, carrying a lunch pail and hanging his head. They offered him a ride and after learning about what he goes through taking (and often missing) the bus, they put together a campaign on gofundme and raised enough money to buy him a car and pay for the insurance. Needless to say he was overwhelmed and grateful. You can put together a campaign on one of many crowdfunding sites as well … see more later in this article under “More resources…
News November 2015
According to the Wall Street Journal, last month set records for new car sales. Due to the lower cost of gas, more people are buying trucks and SUV’s. But the larger vehicles are not the only ones doing well. Sales of lighter cars were up about 12% over the same month last year — and an11 year record. How could that help you? More new car sales mean more older, previously used cars on the market — and we haven’t seen an increase there for a while. More people will also be donating cars to charity, so car availability should increase at places that help those who who need a car but cannot swing it on their own. So now is the time to go after some of these opportunities with renewed energy!
News October 2015: The Wall Street Journal reports that a top financial regulator has shared concerns about what he sees happening in the car lending area. Primarily with regard to bank auto loans, the fear is that lenders may be making loans that are more risky than they should be. So-called sub-prime loans, that are written with less strict requirements regarding credit and risk levels, are up 13% during the first half of 2015 compared to the same period the previous year. And an increasing number of purchases are being made with loan repayment terms from 73 to 84 months. That’s up 20% over the previous year and could mean that consumers might be paying more than the car is worth.
The good news there is if you need a car is that this could be a very good time to look for a loan from a bank. The terms you can get right now are probably a lot better than the last time you may looked. The not so good news is that these reports could mean that the situation may not last - so now is the time to act!
If the lack of a car is just a part of your problems you might want to take a look at the tips and tools discussed in our article called I Need Help. You will find some ideas about help in a lot of areas!
Owning a car means new expenses like gas, repairs, insurance and more. But the longer term positive impact on one’s ability to keep and move ahead in a job is usually well worth it. Saving up enough to buy a car — or saving anything at all — may seem impossible to you right now. If you can't get a loan from bank, fortunately there are a lot of organizations targeting this need and helping people to get wheels at little or no expense.
You’ve probably heard ads for some of them, mostly encouraging folks to donate cars. And people do donate cars rather than trading them in or trying to sell them. They do it to help others, to get a tax deduction, and to avoid the hassles of negotiating with potential buyers. If you follow our suggestions and apply to a reputable outfit you could actually be the lucky recipient of a decent, safe vehicle.
It will take some effort on your part! There is a lot of demand so that means there’s lots of competition. But how great would it be to have a car?! To increase your chances of getting a car it makes sense to apply to a lot of places. You’ll need to do some digging to find some that are unique to your local area. We’ve done much of the digging for you on several nationwide groups and a few programs that are specific to states. So you can put your energy into filling out applications:
You may have heard of Working Cars for Working Families. They solicit donations of cars and also work to influence public policy regarding car availability and ownership. They operate through a network of organizations across the country that help people in a variety of ways. On their website you can simply go to “Find a Program” and scroll down to “Application.” That will take you to a page where you can enter your zip code, state and city. You can also specify within how many miles you’d like to search. Though it might be hard for you to travel far we recommend checking the maximum distance in order to get more results. Once you locate an agency that looks promising you will have all the contact information you need to email, call or visit them. We have seen some blog complaints about this group but it appears that much of it is from people who don’t want a car for employment reasons and are miffed at being turned away. You are most likely to receive a car from any of these organizations if you need it to get or keep a job.
OpportunityCars.com is a similar type of program that coordinates with groups across the country. Their assistance may come in the form of a car, a matching program for special savings accounts, or low interest or heavily subsidized loan arrangements.
OnlineCarDonation.org is a curious site to us. They don’t provide a lot of information and simply ask that you provide your name, email address and state. They also ask you to give a brief description of your situation and why you need a vehicle. They don’t provide a phone number because they say they need to devote their resources to talking to people who want to donate a car. They just tell you to submit your information and it will be reviewed. Then they will contact you are chosen to get a car. They clearly focus their promotion and other efforts on getting people to donate cars. We have not found any reviews of the results, positive or negative.
Goodwill is a very well known and respected organization. In some locations they provide cars directly to those in need. In others where they don’t, they keep up on local organizations that do and can refer you to them. That’s probably a very good place to start in any location as they will already be experts on the area.
Charity Cars Inc. is quite different from other groups we’ve seen that help people get cars. They invite car seekers and others to sign up on their web site, create a profile and become part of a helpful community of sorts. Those looking for cars “tell their story” and try to get votes from others who are signed up on the site. The more votes you submit and receive the higher you apparently are in the pecking order. And they say they reward those who are most actively involved and vote and invite other members and such — hopefully they do so with a car! We did not find any negative business reports on the organization and they have many positive reviews. It’s hard to know when those are real but we have found nothing to make us doubt that they do help people get cars.
Ways to Work: If you are a working family with a less than stellar credit history you can still find a car loan in some places. One of them is called Ways to Work. It is a program that offers small loans on a short term basis - up to $8000 - to help people buy a car. They also provide some finance- related education to help folks get on solid groundk and be less apt to get taken in by bad deals. So far they have helped more than 34,000 families get loans for a total of nearly $78 million. They are also a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) certified by the Federal Government — so these guys are legit as you can get. They have loan offices across the country to check them out at waystowork.org.
Other Charitable Organizations: In your quest for a car you should also contact groups that are not just focused on vehicles but are devoted to helping people, period. Churches fall into that category and some have their own local programs. The receive donated cars from their members and provide them to local charities, give them to someone in need or sell them to support a cause. CityTeam Ministries has operations in several large cities and solicits donations of cars so they might also be a place to check into. The Salvation Army and Catholic Charities are also two very generous helping organizations. If they cannot help you directly they would certainly be aware of potential resources in the local area.
In addition to going after a car through the organizations described above there are also ways that you can try to get more money. Even if you can't put together enough to buy a car you might be better able to pay off some debt and qualify for a low interest loan. You can find some useful suggestions and maybe inspiration in our review of Free Money 2015. It reviews lots of different ways you can help yourself financially. There's also a discussion of some of the top crowdfunding sites for individuals that need help and how you can use them. Definitely check it out if you're new to the crowdfunding concept.