How to Get a Free Car When You Can’t Afford One On Your Own
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Depending on where you live, having a car is a necessity.
It’s difficult to get to work, school, or raise children without a safe and dependable vehicle. And in many areas, public transportation isn’t available, affordable, or reliable, making a car the only plausible way to get around.
Many people, like single moms, low-income workers, and disabled individuals, find themselves needing a car but unable to afford one. Fortunately, there are organizations that recognize this and try to bridge the gap by giving away free cars.
Does the Government Have Free Vehicle Programs?
There are a number of government programs and grants available to help cover your basic needs if you can’t provide for yourself or your family. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to get a free car from the government. You’ll need to go through private charities, organizations, or individuals to find one.
Even though you can’t get a free car from the government, you can receive assistance with food, healthcare, housing, and, in some cases, financial support. Help covering these basics may free up room in your budget to save for your next vehicle, especially if you’re able to get a grant to help offset the cost or find special financing for low-income households.
If you are on government assistance, then you need to be careful. Receiving a free car could count as “additional income” and make you ineligible for government support. You don’t want to get disqualified from your food or housing assistance, so check the income and asset rules and regulations for those programs before accepting a free car.
Charities That Donate Vehicles to Disabled or Low-Income Individuals
While these organizations receive thousands of applications a year, and you do have to demonstrate financial need to qualify for one, if you do, it can make all the difference in your financial situation. Check the eligibility requirements of each organization and do some research to find the one that is the best fit for your needs.
Cars4Heroes is a 501(c)(3) that provides free used cars to first responders, military veterans, and their families who can’t obtain transportation for themselves. To apply, you need to fill out an application with information including your years of service, the branch of the military or first responder you served in, why you need the car, and some other personal information.
After you apply, your application is kept on file for three years, so if you don’t receive one on your first try, you might at a later date.
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Cars4Christmas is operated by the same people who operate Cars4Heroes, but it provides free and basic transportation to all individuals rather than exclusively military veterans and first responders. The organization helps people whose lives have been turned upside down by illness, death, tragedy, disability, and even natural disasters.
They receive over 20,000 applications per year, and give away around 20 vehicles, based on donations. Even though the odds are slim for you to receive a car through this organization, it’s still worth applying. You might get connected to a private donor who takes an interest in your story or find connections to another organization that can help you with a car.
3. 800-Charity Cars
1-800-Charity works with FreeCharityCars to provide free cars to people in need. The former focuses on accepting donated cars and raising the funds to provide free cars to people in need while the latter is where those looking for a car can apply.
FreeCharityCars is currently overwhelmed with applications and not accepting new ones, but check their website periodically to see when applications open again. However, for those looking to donate a car, you can still do that. 1-800-Charity offers free towing and make sure that 100% of the donations go towards helping people.
Cars that don’t work will be sold or repaired to working condition and given away.
Part of the WithCauses.org network, Online Car Donation is another charity providing free cars to those in need, including:
- Domestic violence victims
- People with disabilities
- Homeless families living in shelters
- Families trying to become self-supporting (getting off government assistance)
- Military families and veterans
- Other non-profit organizations
Their application process is simple. You only need to provide some basic biographical information and a description of your need. After you submit your application, it is reviewed by their staff who also look at the available inventory to determine if they can help.
If you are selected for a free car, you will be contacted within 30 days. If you do not hear from them, they encourage you to reapply.
Online Car Donation aims to provide free cars to as many people and families in need as possible. If you want a free used car that is reliable, this is a great option. They also try to give away trucks or vans, and are sometimes able to provide modified vehicles for those with special needs.
You can apply for a free car online, and they request that you fill out the application as completely as possible so they can make the best determination. They will notify you within 30 days of receiving your application if you were selected. If you do not hear from them, they ask that you do not call and instead apply again to be reconsidered.
6. Vehicles for Change
Vehicles for Change is a charity that partners with social service agencies to help those who are on the road to self-sufficiency but need a vehicle to gain access to job opportunities.
If you want to apply for a donated car, the organization has a lengthy list of requirements that includes:
- Having a verifiable job offer or working at least 30 hours a week
- Having a driver’s license in the state in which you reside
- No DWIs or DUIs on your driving record
- Ability to afford the ongoing cost of car ownership (insurance, fuel, repairs, etc.)
- Ability to cover the fees for taxes, tags, and title
Vehicles for Change also operates a car award program for those who are members of their partner social service and job readiness agencies. The program provides vehicles to qualifying low-income families and guarantees low-interest loans. Note that you cannot apply for this program; your caseworker or cooperating agency must apply on your behalf.
If you live in the states they partner with (Maryland, Virginia, and Michigan), take some time to explore the links on the Vehicles for Change website. They list a number of additional options for finding a free or cheap car in those areas.
7. Good News Garage
Good News Garage is another location-specific option for finding free cars, serving those in need in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. If you’re interested in their state-funded Wheels to Work programs, you’ll need to check with each state’s criteria to see if you qualify.
They also operate a JumpStart program to provide “refurbished, donated vehicles to qualified working individuals at an affordable, subsidized cost,” and it was created to help those who don’t qualify for Wheels to Work. Unfortunately, JumpStart is not accepting new applications at this time, but you can periodically check the website to see if they’ve opened up the application process.
Additionally, they provide an “Other Transportation Resources” page, which shares links to other organizations that can help you find free or affordable transportation options.
8. Working Cars for Working Families
Run by the National Consumer Law Center, Working Cars for Working families strives to ensure that working families “can get, keep, and use a reliable car at fair terms.” They collaborate with a number of different organizations to improve public policy, data collection, and promote nonprofits that help struggling families secure transportation.
They have a searchable database you can use to find programs in your area that might be able to provide you with a free or low-cost vehicle. You will need to review the requirements of each program to find out if you’re eligible and what the application process looks like.
Other Ways to Get a Free Car
If you don’t meet the criteria for the charities above, you might need to get creative in how you find yourself a car. These options will require you to get out of your comfort zone and ask people in your community or those closest to you for help.
9. Contact your local church
Many local churches have a line item in their budget for benevolence and could be one way to get a free car now. Churches have helped people whose homes have flooded, roofs have caved in, cars have stopped working, or for members who are down on their luck.
This option will work best if you’ve been involved with the church before coming to them in need. If you also need free clothes or help with food or utilities, your local church can likely help you.
10. Request a donation from a local dealer
Local dealerships usually don’t donate cars directly to individuals, but you may get lucky if they have an older model or a trade-in that they believe will sell. If you’re facing hard times, try writing a letter to the manager of your local dealership explaining your circumstances.
Try doing this at the end of the year during the holiday season when people are feeling more charitable. The dealership may be more open to helping you out, especially if you’re willing to share your story publicly.
11. Find a job that provides a car
Although you might have to do a little searching, there are jobs that will provide you with a vehicle, and some of those might let you use it for personal reasons. Jobs like service technician, in-the-field social worker, utility and cable worker, and truck or delivery driver are all options to consider.
If you do find a job with this perk, make sure you check with your employer about their rules for personal use. Find out if you can take the car out of state, who’s responsible for routine maintenance, gas and tolls, and if you’re allowed to have passengers.
12. Ask friends and family for assistance
If you’re having a hard time finding a free car from charities or social service agencies, consider asking your friends and family for help. It might be a big request to ask people you know for a free car, but they may be able to loan you a vehicle or sell you one for a low price.
If you’re handy, you might even offer to fix up someone’s old car in exchange for them selling it to you at a reduced cost.
13. Check Craigslist
People often try to get rid of old, broken-down vehicles on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Many times it’s more work or not worth the time for them to sell to a dealer, but a private sale can net them a few hundred dollars. If you’re good with cars or know someone who is that can assist you, this might be one way to get a free or cheap used car.
If the car is completely unsalvageable, you can always sell it for parts or scrap metal and put that money towards a car. Just make sure you’ll get more than you pay before considering this option.
14. Check Goodwill
When most people think of Goodwill, they think of clothes, books, or baby items. However, people are also able to donate their old cars. You can call your local Goodwill to see if they have any available or check out their car auction inventory.
Through the online auction, you can live anywhere in the country and purchase a car from Goodwill. You will need to arrange transportation to pick up the car you purchase; they do not ship or transport cars to you.
15. Start a GoFundMe
GoFundMe is another option for buying a car for cheap. If you feel comfortable, share your story about how you ended up on hard times. Emphasize how buying a car, or getting a free car, will help you start fresh. Be honest about the car’s impact on your life, but don’t stretch the truth. You don’t want to take advantage of people’s generosity.
You can also post a request for donations and grants on sites like ModestNeeds.org. Make sure you read their eligibility requirements thoroughly before submitting an application.
A Free Used Car Could Change Your Financial Situation
When you’ve fallen on hard times financially, it can often feel like you’re stuck in a cycle. You don’t have the money to buy a car, and without a car, you can’t get to work. You’re stuck in a loop.
Finding a cheap or free car may be the solution you need. With a bit of research and hard work, you might find a free car that helps break the cycle and change your financial situation. The jobs that were once out of reach become possible with access to a vehicle.
But remember that even a free car isn’t truly free. You need to make sure you have money to cover essentials like car insurance and properly registering the vehicle. And don’t forget about routine car maintenance as well as gas and tolls.
The last thing you want is to get a car but have no means to keep it running.