South City Fire Department wants old vehicles

To prevent the loss of fire education and citizen CPR classes, the South San Francisco Fire Department is asking residents for their unwanted vehicles.

Donating a vehicle can be a win-win for the donor and the charitable cause: the donor gets rid of an unwanted car or other vehicle and gets a tax benefit; the charity gets the profits when the vehicle is resold.

Starting this month, the South San Francisco Fire Department is taking donations of unwanted vehicles, even if they’re blighted or broken down.

“Vehicle donation is one strategy to offset the costs,” said Christine Crosby, a management analyst for the Fire Department. “Historically, we’ve funded fire education and prevention programs through grant funding, but those grants are becoming scarce.”

Without the extra funding, the fire education and CPR classes available through the Fire Department would have to be cut, she said.

“These are the first to go,” Crosby said. “And these are very important. All fire prevention starts with
education.”

South San Francisco fire Chief Philip White said there is no way to tell how much money the program will generate because it is based on the number of vehicles donated. But he hopes it will make up the bulk of lost grants for fire prevention classes at public schools and CPR classes for citizens, estimated to cost about $10,000.

“Because of the downturn in the economy, we’ve had to look for creative ways to fund these programs,” he said. “Basically, we want to offset the cost and continue to offer them.”

A contract for the Fire Department’s vehicle donation program was awarded to Rancho Cordova-based Car Program Inc. When a donor calls to donate a vehicle, Car Program picks it up and determines its worth, according to company President Taron Reeves.
At that point, the company will decide whether the car can be repaired in order to be resold or if they should just take the vehicle to an auction or sell it to a salvage yard, he said.

The South San Francisco Fire Department will receive 70 percent of the profits of the final selling price, Reeves said.

An estimated 4,300 charities nationwide have a vehicle donation program, according to a 2003 report by the United States General Accounting Office for the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. Of the 129 million individual tax returns filed for 2000, an estimated 0.6 percent, or 733,000 returns, had tax deductions for vehicle donations, the GAO found.

“Selling a car is not easy,” Reeves said. “If you want to do it yourself, you’ve got to put it in the paper, answer phone calls, make appointments and pass smog. We’re dealers. We remove hassle and headache from the donor.”

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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