Junk Car: Definition, Traits, Types & Conditions

A junk car is a vehicle that is old and inoperable, damaged beyond repair, or barely functional. There are many terms used to describe junk cars including decrepit car, scrap car, clunker, hooptie, jalopy, and beater.  They all describe a junk car.

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    What is a Junk Car?

    What are the Average Traits of a Junk Car?

    Years Old
    Average Miles
    %
    of Vehicles Start
    %
    of Vehicles Drive
    %
    Have No Title
    %
    Have Rebuilt Title
    %
    Are Missing The Engine
    %
    Are Missing At Least 1 Tire
    %
    Have Body Damage
    %
    Have Interior Damage
    %
    Have Water Damage

    1. Old Cars With Lots of Miles

    The average junk car is 17 years old and has 160,681 miles. They could be older or younger, and proper maintenance and safe driving can help a car stay on the road for over 20 years. There are also plenty of cars that have over 200,000 miles. Accident damage, mechanical problems, and interior condition all attribute to the car’s junk car status.

    2. Bad Condition

    When you originally think of a junk car, you might think of some old run-down car with weeds growing through the wheel wells and cracked windshields. However, 66.6% of junk vehicles actually start, with 50.6% of them being able to drive. This doesn’t mean they are safe to drive on highways, but they might be able to drive to your closest junkyard.

    3. Possible Missing Paperwork

    Scrap cars can get a different title than the original in regards to their status. Each state can issue a rebuilt title if the junk car has passed an inspection to ensure its safety on the roads.  In fact, 6.2% have a rebuilt title, meaning they are junk cars that have been made repaired. 15.5% of junk cars have no title at all, which makes for a bit of a headache when trying to sell it to a junkyard or independent buyer.

    4. Missing Parts

    Another common trait of a junk car is missing parts. Many junk cars are stripped of their useful parts and sold individually. The rest of the junk car is then sold for their value in scrap metal. Other times the parts are missing unintentionally and affect the value of the junk car. 4.9% are missing the engine and 4.8% are missing at least one wheel. Taking a car to the junkyard without one of its wheels can be a difficult task, requiring special towing equipment to haul it safely. The engine is one of the heaviest parts of the car and without one the car’s value would be much lower.

    5. Body Damage

    One of the last things that most junk cars have in common is damage. 58.8% have body damage. This could mean it was rolled and has damage on every inch, or has a few dents and scratches. Interior damage is also common in junk cars, and  77.6% of all junk cars have some interior damage. Water damage is another trait that 1.6% of junk cars share. Most damage would not affect the scrap metal value of the car, but it could greatly decrease an offer from a place that plans to do more than just crush the vehicle.

    Despite the title, there are really just two types of junk cars: salvage and scrap. A scrap car is primarily worth its weight in metal. A salvage car has more to offer beyond that.

    Technically, both of these terms are judgment calls, though there’s enough commonality that it’s not a huge mystery. We’ll walk you through how to determine all of this, the models of common junk cars, category conditions, and types of junk cars.

    What are the Types of Junk Cars?

    You can probably fit your junk car into at least one of these categories.

    1. Salvage Cars

    A salvage car is usually defined as a car that’s lost at least 60% of its overall value, though it’s officially the insurance company’s decision to make. Salvaged cars can be repaired and sold with an official Salvage title.

    2. Totaled Cars

    Totaled cars are declared a ‘total loss’, which means that they’re declared unworthy of being repaired. If the effort to fix the car is worth more than the car is worth, then it’s technically totaled.

    3. Damaged

    Floods, wrecks, fires, vandalism, accidents: damaged cars come in a variety of shapes and forms. They could technically fall into the totaled or salvage category.

    4. Breakdowns

    Blown engines, busted transmissions, or any major mechanical issue can render a junk car car undrivable. If the car’s valued at $2,000 and a new engine + labor is $3,000, then it would likely be considered a scrap car.

    5. Old Cars

    Eventually you’ll get to the point where it’s just one problem after another.

    6. No Title

    Title laws vary depending on your state. However, in some areas, you can junk your car without one — as long as you’re selling it for scrap metal only.

    What Types of Junk Cars are Most Valuable?

    The types of junk cars that are often most valuable are ones that are heavier, Trucks and SUV's.  A junk car's value lies mostly in the vehicle's weight in metal. Therefore heavier vehicles are worth more.  Visit this post about scrap car prices and values to learn more.

    What Conditions Are Junk Cars Typically In?

    If you were scouting for types of junk cars, you’re going to run into the following.

    1. Drivable

    These vehicles still drive and they look great. They are both rare and expensive at salvage yards.

    2. Repairable

    As long as the labor and parts are less than the pre-accident value, then it’s likely worth the cost to repair it. These cars often come with a Salvage title.

    3. Repairable but not Recommended

    A damaged but drivable car has sustained some pretty severe damage, but can still technically get you around. These cars can be repaired but are worth more than the value of the car. The good news is that it may contain some valuable parts that can raise the price you get for a junk car.

    4. Part Car

    If the car is damaged and undrivable, then its core components are likely shot. Don’t despair though because parts like the catalytic converter could still get you a few bucks.

    5. Scrap

    A scrap car technically only has value for its metal. It needs to be cleaned out, crushed, and then sent to the recycling facility before anyone sees a return.

    CarScrappers owner Todd Bialaszewski remarked, “We see plenty of people turn in their cars to us because they know they just can’t put up with the uncertainty anymore. They realize that selling it will take more time and hassle than it’s worth, and they’re not ready to wait anymore before they get something better.”

    What are the Most Common Junk Cars?

    At CarScrappers, 80% of the vehicles we buy are between 14 – 22 years old. Here’s what people are turning in to us:

    • Honda Accord
    • Nissan Altima
    • Toyota Camry
    • Honda Civic
    • Chevy Impala
    • Ford Explorer
    • Toyota Corolla
    • Ford Focus
    • Chevy Malibu
    • Hyundai Sonata

    FAQs

    Is my car a junker?

    If you can’t imagine spending more money on an already unreliable car, then it’s probably a junker.

    How do I know if my car is a junker?

    When you know you’re not going to spend the money or time to make it road worthy.

    What’s the difference between a scrap car and salvage car?

    A scrap car is pure junk, while a salvage car can be fixed. You’re typically only going to get money from a scrap car based on its weight in metal, whereas you might be able to repair a salvaged car’s engine and continue using it for years. Salvaged cars also may yield valuable used parts for mechanics.

    Is it worth it to repair my car?

    If the car is both in fairly decent shape and you either know of a fair mechanic or you’re a hobbyist on the side. Otherwise, you’re likely better letting it go.

    What’s the most common type of car in junkyards?

    It varies by year, but the Honda Accord was our top junk car in 2021.

    What do you call a rusty or really old car?

    The polite term is vintage. The real word is scrap.

    How old does a car have to be before you can call it junk?

    A brand new car that is totaled in an accident, has fire damage, or water damage can be considered a junk car. There is no predetermining number.