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Vol. 4, No. 10
August 9, 2009

Why CARS/Cash For Clunkers Is A Bad Deal
by Andrew Angove

Follow-up Article:
CARS/Cash For Clunkers Death List

Image: MILEPOSTS Garage

- O P I N I O N -

Everyone knows the economy is in trouble. It's no secret, and you'd have to be very isolated to not realize what's going on. Lots of people have lost their jobs, unemployment figures keep climbing higher and higher, credit card interest rates are going through the roof, major corporations that were once the backbone of the nation have filed for bankruptcy or disappeared altogether. It's not good. And it hasn't been good for a very long time.

Regardless of your political affiliation, most people at this point realize some very serious mistakes have been made in order for us to get to this point. Whether it's due to a lack of oversight, too much oversight, or whatever, the fact is something went very wrong for us to get to this point. The official word is that this recession started in December 2007. Now I realize that these things don't just happen overnight, but I sure don't remember hearing anything prior to this date that we were in trouble. I seem to remember assurances in early 2008 that all was well, this despite figures that no doubt indicated trouble was on the horizon.

This isn't a political site, so I'll refrain from making political statements. However, I will say that it would seem the events that brought us to this point likely didn't happen overnight, and even though I'm no economist it's easy to see where job outsourcing and the loss of manufacturing in this country has led us. Who is going to buy stuff if there are no jobs? And where are all those great things the 8 years of Bush tax cuts were supposed to bring us? It's obvious to me things didn't work out the way we were told they would. And that's enough of that.

I haven't really been seriously in the market for a new car. I prefer older models, and don't like the thought of having another car payment. After all, that monthly new car payment can pay for a lot of repairs to an older car when they occur, and since I've tried to take care of my cars, they're pretty dependable. So, I hadn't really paid much attention to the Cash for Clunkers program (now called C.A.R.S. or CARS, the "Car Allowance Rebate System" that's now underway. At first, I was concerned that a lot of classics would be scrapped, but when I heard that it wouldn't apply to anything older than 1984, I was relieved.

Just recently, I read up on the details of the process required when a car is accepted into the Cash for Clunkers program, and that's when I became very concerned. Why is it that our government, regardless of which party is in charge it seems, is incapable (or unwilling) to create programs that truly help the American people? We all know they bend over backwards to protect corporate interests, not that corporations necessarily ever do the right thing for us. (Check the Wall Street meltdown last year, if you have any questions.)

One of the requirements of the CARS/Cash for Clunkers program is the mandatory scrapping of all trade-in vehicles. This is where I take issue. WHY is this necessary? I find this requirement a bad idea for the following reasons:

  • It destroys perfectly good vehicles. True, many of them may be "gas hogs," but they are still in most cases, safe, fully operable vehicles.
  • Why was no consideration given to removing environmentally-dangerous vehicles like those 1983 Plymouth Minivans that always seem to expel blue smoke from their exhaust systems from the moment they're started in the morning until they're turned off at night?
  • And how about those pre-1984 cars that are mostly rust buckets, being driven because their owners can't afford anything else? They are likely not safe to drive since they've been neglected, yet they don't qualify for the program.
  • The CARS/Cash for Clunkers program is removing thousands of affordable vehicles from the market. People who are struggling to make ends meet will have a difficult time finding affordable used vehicles in the near future, as so many of them will have been scrapped.
  • How much environmental damage is being caused by destroying the engines in these vehicles? I've seen news reports and video online of smoke pouring out the exhaust of these cars. Considering what must be burning in those engines to create that smoke, I wonder how friendly this is to the environment? Especially when thousands of cars are enduring this abuse.

For those of you who may be considering turning in a car, you should know what will happen to it. First of all, it will be marked with a "CLUNKER" designation to make sure it isn't sold to someone else. Next, all of the oil in the engine will be drained out, and the engine will be filled with two quarts of a sodium silicate solution, which is basically a liquid filled with ground glass particles.

"The heat of the operating engine then dehydrates the solution leaving solid sodium silicate distributed throughout the engine's oiled surfaces and moving parts," says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in its 136-page publication outlining the details of the program for participating auto dealers. "These solids quickly abrade the bearings causing the engine to seize while damaging the moving parts of the engine and coating all of the oil passages."

So, the engine is started and revved up. This continues until the engine seizes up from the intense heat caused by lack of lubrication as the metal components in the engine literally become red hot and scrape themselves to oblivion. This process can last anywhere between several seconds to minutes. One observer reported an Audi took over 40 minutes to seize. Anyone who loves cars has got to feel a little sad for the fate being handed down to these vehicles.

And while the engines are running, a mixture of burned oil, anti-freeze, and other harmful pollutants are being expelled into the atmosphere. Let's see...we are doing this because it's supposed to be good for the environment, are we not? Perhaps someone could explain to me how doing this hundreds of thousands of times over is going to help the environment?

Oh, it will eventually save gas because all those gas guzzlers will be off the road for good. Think again, folks. Now these disabled vehicles, marked "CLUNKER - BLOWN" to indicate the engines have been rendered useless, must be TOWED everywhere they go. Wanna venture what kind of gas mileage a TOW TRUCK gets? Keep in mind, these are miles that these tow trucks would not otherwise be driving. So much for having a smaller carbon footprint.

I think most vehicles deserve better than this. Most have likely served you well over the years. They protected you from the rain, brought you and your family safely home time after time. When your kids were born, they brought them home from the hospital, their first ride in a car. They rushed us to the hospital when a loved one got ill, got us out of harm's way when a hurricane was about to hit, provided a place for conversation with good friends, or perhaps just a moment of peace and quiet in our hectic and hurried lives.

Dismantlers, salvages, recyclers, or whatever you want to call them have 6 months to strip whatever is left on these vehicles before they're sent to the crusher. What a horrific way to come to an end. Especially when it was a perfectly usable vehicle just a few months earlier. And I get the feeling there's a big gaping hole in this whole plan that's supposed to save the planet, stimulate the economy, and create peace and prosperity the world over. (OK, not that last thing, but if they could they'd sell it to us that way.) And that big gaping hole is the fact that many of the vehicles that should be removed from use the most won't be, because they were excluded from this plan. Like that rusty, smoking, Plymouth Minivan with bad brakes and bald tires. Or the 2003 Hummer H2, which gets less than 10 miles per gallon but has a current average retail value of over $14,000, according to NADA. Yeah, so much for all the good this program will do.

In order to feel good about the CARS/Cash for Clunkers program, you'll need to overlook the fact that only those with money and good credit currently qualify for the benefits of this program. It does nothing to help those who are out of work obtain reliable transportation so they can find a new job. It does nothing to help those who are spending everything they have to make their escalating house payments and avoid foreclosure. All of those people, now in the hundreds of thousands, get nothing.

And how typical is this, anyway? Take something that's perfectly good, label it as bad and spend tons of money to do away with it. In the process, cause further damage to the very things you've stated you want to protect and preserve, and don't address the people who could have been helped the most by it.

They got one thing right. And that's the "CLUNKER" part. This program is a real CLUNKER. Not that it isn't helping our economy (for now), but the hits don't justify the misses. I think I'll just keep my 20-year old car and my 40-year old classic. Any damage done to the environment in their manufacture will be lessened the longer they are in use.

What a waste of resources the CARS/Cash for Clunkers program is. Resources in raw materials to make the vehicles in the first place, the damage to the environment as the engines are trashed, the additional (and needless) fuel use to tow the now junked vehicles around after they've been ruined, and the natural resources now being used to build new cars to replace them, ship the parts all over the world to build them, then use more oil and gas to deliver them to dealers from the assembly plant. Lather, rinse, and repeat, several hundred thousand times.

Feeling good, yet?

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