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Some folks like flipping cars for cash. They like fixing them up and listing them for sale. They like haggling over prices. It’s fun for them. For me, selling a second-hand car involves many unpleasant activities.

For instance:

  • Meeting strangers;
  • Talking to strangers;
  • Having anything to do with strangers.

I also believe that selling a car online requires far more effort than one might assume. A few years ago, I tried to give away a bag of unused concrete for free on Kijiji. It was a pain. A person would arrange to come by and then not show up. When someone did show they would haggle, which I thought was impossible as I was giving it away for free. One guy said he wasn’t sure he could carry the concrete to his car, as if I would care. “Then don’t take it,” I told him. Ultimately, I arranged to leave the bag by the curb. A guy came by (with, I assume, good upper body strength) and took it.

If I’m being honest, however, the main reason I’m averse to selling my car privately is that I’m sentimental. Some people may not relate to the feeling, but a bond can form between man and machine. When a car has been good to me, I want to be good to it. I want it to go to a good home. In the past, I’ve given away a 1999 Camry to a reader who was in need. One of my greatest automotive regrets is selling my 1982 VW Rabbit for scrap in 1995. I was too broke to afford a tow. Which was irrelevant, as I had no money to pay for repairs. I received $25. This devil’s bargain haunts me still.

So when I decided it was time to say goodbye to our 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan, I wanted to do something worthwhile. It had 185,000 kilometres on it and as many dents as the average Toronto bartender has tattoos. Some people were listing similar vehicles online for $6,000. Who were they trying to kid? Maybe I could get between $1,000 and $2,500 for it. Maybe. There would be haggling and dozens of strangers. The process would make the bag of concrete giveaway look easy.

What was I to do?

The answer came about when I was on the Canadian Kidney Foundation website. I have a friend who is hoping for a kidney transplant and I wanted to donate some money. While browsing, I read that the Kidney Foundation has been accepting car donations since 1992. It was fate. Once Christmas had passed, I made the call.

A tow truck arrives to take Andrew Clark's 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan to the Canadian Kidney Foundation.The Globe and Mail

And so it was that on a frigid January morning, a tow truck arrived. It wasn’t hard to arrange. The entire process can be completed online or by phone. I’d cleared the minivan of all personal items and had the ownership signed over. The tow-truck driver was genial. He said he much preferred doing work for the Kidney Foundation to towing cars that had been ticketed for parking illegally. He knew all about where the money went. “The medical procedure is covered, but if you live in the country, the cost of going to the city for the operation can be huge,” he told me. “They cover that.”

“We are a Canadian car donation program and all our proceeds stay in Canada,” David Cybulski, the Ontario Kidney Car Program’s senior manager later told me by telephone from Ottawa. “We are fully engaged in the process, and we ensure that cars which go to a wrecking yard are properly drained and repurposed.”

Cybulski says the busiest months for donations are in the spring, when the weather is good and new-car sales are happening, and in October and November when the weather grows harsh and drivers begin to wonder if their old set of wheels is worth keeping. Many come from Ontario, due to its population. Albertans are particularly generous and have a long history of donating. Those who donate receive a tax receipt for the value of the vehicle as-is. The minimum receipt is $300 for a car that is stripped for parts and recycled.

The Kidney Foundation receives between 25,000 and 30,000 vehicles annually. Last year, $4-million of the money they raised was invested in kidney research. Short-term financial assistance was given to 2,900 people, and over 100,000 educational materials were distributed.

When I gave away my beloved Rabbit to the scrap yard, I felt terrible. The cold bit and the wind whipped unsparingly. I can’t recall what I did with the $25. I probably blew it at a bar. The day I donated my “Anti-Porsche" was just as cold, but the chill didn’t go as deep. My trusty minivan had carried us safely for a decade. Now, it was going on to do a little more good.

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