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Cash for Clunkers?

I'm dipping into quasi-political matters here, in violation of my own policy--but this is just too apropos to Car Lust for me to pass up.

SEMA, the aftermarket performance part/accessory trade group and organizer of the behemoth SEMA trade show, is very active in legislative lobbying. This morning it sent out a legislative alert with the following warning:

"Washington lawmakers are drafting a large economic stimulus package to help create jobs and rebuild infrastructure.  They want to include a nationwide scrappage program which would give U.S. tax dollars to consumers who turn-in older cars to have them crushed, as a misguided attempt to spur new car sales.  The lawmakers need to scrap this idea. 

"The stimulus package is being drafted right now.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wants to introduce the bill on January 6 and have it approved by Congress by January 20, so that President Obama can sign it into law after he is inaugurated." has no official position on this, and neither do I, but speaking as a private citizen who harbors lust for older cars, the idea of a systemic scrapping of older cars sends shivers down my spine.

In its alert, SEMA included some germane talking points--i.e. scrapping older cars reduces options for people who can't afford new cars, it hurts small business, likely will have a minimal effect on fuel economy and emissions, etc.--but my viewpoint is characteristically smaller and more selfish.

Most of the cars I've publically adored in this space could be fairly described as clunkers. From Renault Fuegos to 1970s Impalas, the cars after which I lust tend to be old, unpopular, and, to put it mildly, not very good. The idea of rounding up these cars and systematically scrapping them puts a tear in my eye. I have no interest in living in a world in which the roads are filled with anonymous late-model jellybean cars, with nary a Plymouth Valiant in sight.

Besides, who determines what a clunker is? If the motivation is to drive demand for new cars, might we not see the age cutoff moving forward rather rapidly? Who will protect the rights of the older-car owners?

I was horribly tempted to paraphrase Pastor Martin Niemoller's poem, starting with the line "First they came for the Studebakers, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Studebaker owner." You'll be glad to hear I resisted the impulse to paraphrase a poem discussing fascism and political bravery to make a point about old cars.

--Chris H.


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"They can have my Mustang II when they pry the steering wheel out of my cold, dead hands."

Couldn't help it. =)

As a matter of economics, it makes no sense to "stimulate" demand for new cars by reducing the supply of bottom-of-market used cars, which do not really compete with new cars. Practically nobody cross-shops battle-fatigued $500 J-cars against new Buicks. All you'd do is drive up the price of bottom-of-market used cars, which would tend to degrade the quality of life for the poorest among us.

If the program extends to better-quality used cars, all you will be doing is taking vehicles which have a lot of utility left in them off the roads, which is wasteful.

(Chris, if the next sentence violates the ban on overly-political commentary, go ahead and cut it.)

It wouldn't shock me if the same people pushing this scheme to increase consumption are the same people who were so recently, and so self-righteously, criticizing American society for its wasteful, conspicuous consumption, especially of automobiles.

The bigger problem isn't what a nationwide scrapping program would do to our market - it's what it would do overseas. Many of Latin America's used cars come from here; if we start scrapping our used cars instead of simply selling them off somewhere, we're going to set back a large chunk of the world's economic progress by a good 20 years. Look at Cuba's automotive environment to get a feel for what the proposed law would do to the rest of our hemisphere. As if that weren't bad enough, if they started scrapping "like new" cars, resale values would plummet, which would only encourage people to hoard their cars for as long as possible, instead of buying new every 3-5 years.

It's a poorly thought out piece of legislation that will hopefully never see the light of day.

Around 1990, the government was going to try to scrap as many muscle cars as they could. Then they tried to retro-legislate those cars with emissions standards. Soon after, they wanted only certified technicians to be able to open the hood to your car. Now this nonsense. *sigh* When will it end?

this is lunacy and stupidity wrapped together in an unholy mingling of idiocy and waste. not since the US government engaged in wanton protectionism of HarleyDavidson has something so lame been proposed. only this is way worse!!! i was mixed about the whole bail out program, but willing to accept that there was some underlying benefit. not this clause though.

there are two types of people who buy used cars. those who do so for economic reasons (can't / don't want to buy a new car). and those who do so for preference, ideology, or love... namely fanatics like us. either way reducing the pool of used cars only hurts the low income, the cheap, and the fanatical, and those people did not buy new cars in the first place.

this is a weird sort of internal protectionism that makes no sense. protecting the new market cars from the used market cars. the problem is NOT that people are choosing to buy used cars when they could buy the same new car. people are getting laid off and they can't buy anything, let alone a new car. the problem is that detroit (as it has historically done many times before) has refused to build AND MARKET cars that are appropriate to the actual needs of the US automarket. they sold SUVs in the way that a meth dealer sells what his customers want, but it's not what they need. Everyone needs a good healthy diet of nutritious food and reasonable portion sizes - not supersized crack pipes with a side of fries and a 2-liter coke.

If detroit had put the marketing dollars it spent on SUVs into selling smaller efficient cars that are well built we would not be having this conversation today, and detroit would not be requesting a bail out from the holders of our tax dollars.

i'm not trying to start an SUV topic here. i'm talking about the underlying problem of selling cars that get 10mpg in a market where the gas prices go up over $4.50 a gallon. we saw the same thing happen in the 70s. my god, how short sighted do you have to be to believe that gas will always be cheap. detroit kept building gas guzzlers (term appropriate to 70's and yachts and SUVs) while prices climbed, in an undeterred effort to make everything bigger and less efficient. then when prices got SO high that even the most die hard gas consumers were reeling from the trauma, detroit was up s---creek with a s---load of giant gas guzzling cars that would not move off the showroom floor.

so now the plan is to destroy the existing pool of good used cars? we're going to start crushing Geo metros, old rabbits, and civics, because they pose a threat to "new cars". who do i need to write to!?!?! some one needs to get strung up for this one and i don't care what party they are affiliated with.

Oh, also if I may... during the Great Depression, most of the large ocean liners, such as Titanic's sister ship Olympic, were scrapped for their steel value, rather than transport value. Since people weren't crossing the oceans like they used to, and this was also during Prohibition, many ships would load passengers and spin around in international waters with liquor on board on a trip called a "Booze Cruise". Then this feller named Adolph came along and guess what? The scrapped ships would have been worth their weight in gold to ferry people and material across the Atlantic. The Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were seized for transport duty before they were ever used by a paying passenger. (The Queen Mary holds the record, over 16,000 people, ever on a ship at one time.) The Normandy was sabotaged and burned at a pier in New York and was lost.

My point is that older vehicles DO serve a purpose. And are we getting ready to see history repeat itself again?

The lighter side:
1. I thought Chrysler and GM quality and design took care of some of this already?
2. If only I could decide which cars don't deserve to live another day!! Come to Papa, little PT Cruiser.....

More seriously:
There is a big disconnect between stimulating new car sales and saving the environment. People always overlook the resources that go into building a Prius, regardless of the mileage and emissions. Someone above mentions Cuba, now that's simplicity (not voluntary simplicity, but it is reduce, reuse, recycle...). A question never posed is how we create an economy that is functional without wanton and endless consumption?

Hey I know what if the Governement bought the car companies and gave everyone a new car every two years. That would solve all the problems it would put folks to work in the factories and we could all drive clean cars........Oh wait a second that was already tried in the USSR. WHY ARE THE AMERCIAN PEOPLE ROLLING OVER TO THE GOVERNMENT?

I think this is a horrible idea. Old cars will eventually die off due to attrition, and the majority of older cars available now are not gross polluters. I rely on the availability of cheap parts for older cars so that I can work delivering pizza. I can in no way afford a new car to do this as the repair costs will drive me to homelessness. It is another example of how the left does not give a damn about the poor except to use them as a voting block. Such a move will further stratify our society and put those on the margins into poverty. I am truly scared for my future with the incoming government as I fear that the new laws that will be enacted under the dubious auspices of Global Climate Change will destroy my quality of life. Right now, I spend $300-500 a year on repairs for my 309,000 mile Nissan truck. If I have to buy a new car, I will spend that a month on the payments and additional insurance. It will drive me into poverty.

i've calmed down enough to think of one case where this makes sense. In the northeast and part of the country where cars rot out due to salt, having the option to get a credit for crunching a rotted car makes sense... but only if it is over 17years and 170k miles. by that time most cars are terminal cancer victims in need of euthanasia - unless they've been restored and/or kept off the roads in the winter they are ready for scrap - what's left of them. but seriously that's it. dumbass politicians.

in japan there's been a tax based or inspection fee based penalty for owning an older car. if a car is older than a certain number of years it has to be inspected and the costs associated with keeping the car on the road become prohibitive. personally i think that's a dumbass idea too. but it works in japan, AND there is a benefit. you can buy used engines and entire halves of cars - as well as a host of complete vehicles. there's a nice trade through canada for nice old japanese cars. and i'm thinking about a Vtec head for my D-type civic engine. So basically south america gets our cars, and we get japan's cars (via canada) or their parts. Must be some north south trickle down economic rule.

Last summer here in Colorado the Politicos started bandying about the idea that cars twenty five years old and older and bearing collectors plates were producing the lions share of pollution. They said that legislation was going to be passed ending the collector car license program which meant that no more cars would be eligible for collectors plates, thus requiring an annual emissions test. Any car that couldn't pass would be taken off the road and possible scrapped. It came to light that the Automobile Dealers Association was behind the idea and it was their hope that this would cause people to buy more new cars. I haven't purchased a new car since 1964. I realize that if everyone were like me all of the auto manafactures would go out of business which would put a great number of people out of work. The conundrum is who does the government look out for the person who wants to keep an old car or factories full of workers who may lose their jobs. There has to be a way to satisfy both groups. If the situation isn't reversed this country is in for some very tough times.

I am going to open up all kinds of parameters here, and please, as you read take into account that I am a long time car enthusiasts, especially of odd ball cars and small sporty cars.

I doubt the Left are the ones behind this type of legislation. I mean, the less worldy thinking left or right can be at fault...but there is a number of people out there who realize consuming more cars and dropping cars from the 80's...many of which are actually more or the same efficiency as cars sold today is not a responsible move. My old Chevy Sprint Turbo has the same emissions as a new 22k Prius...but there is no way on earth I would spend money on a new car.

The production of a new car...just the building of that over 40% of it's pollution emitted over a lifetime of use.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is a better move by far. Reduce our dependance on the car, our replacement of the ones we use only when absolutely no other choice make's more sense (walking, biking, mass transit are not feasible for any reason).

Our country does have a serious oil addiction. Statistics show we drive over 40 % of the time we drive when a destination is only 4 miles away. This needs to change dramatically. 4 miles is so little. A mere 20 minute very leisurely bike ride, walk, etc.

Stimulus package?

Invest in improving Americas poor infrastructure with mass transit, speed trains, alternative fuels, incentives for not driving, get employers to give a incentives for alternative transit to bus (passes, increased bonus pay, tax incentive), more telecommuting days or all around FT jobs, AND just make sure people take care of the car's they own if they still want or have a need for a car. If the car is no longer sensible as a truck makes more sense or they now have 4 kids instead of 3 making a 3 door hatch back Civic less than ideal, then I can see moving on to another.

New, old, classic, weird...what ever. Regardless...there will be those who need to drive...the roads can be more commonly filled with commerce with automotive personal use down considerably due to so many other more economically and environmentally beneficial means available to society.

I do not think focusing on alternative fuel cars if the answer. It should be a portion of the future but it is also important to remember that putting just as much and more cars on the road regardless of how clean they are will not solve congestion (it will get worse as population increases). We need to more toward making the car a "well...OK, since all 3 other options we have to get somewhere are less than ideal let's take the car has been a week anyway".

Taxing gas in the 90's before the financial crisis and creating a more intelligently planned transit system is what I will call a "coulda, shoulda, didnta" scenario. Now might be a time to slowly increase the gas tax while increasing more options for drivers and promote means of getting people to drive less. Had we done this in 1990...people paid half more in taxes...I can say we might have a system comparable to many well planned European countries.

I speak coming from a city that already has a pretty OK infrastructure that allows me 2 decent busses to work or a bike ride and bus combined with no problem. I can take the bus and light rail to the airport, my neighborhood has a very walkable business district that allows us to use our car very little as we can walk 10 minutes to Trader Joes and Safeway...but I see no reason why similar living environments can be created for those who are in lesser sound infrastructures. We chose our home not for square feet, but for being near everything so driving was not necessity.

Density is key and creates community. Building Mc Mansions instead of sensibly laid out homes in already developed land locations with all the essentials must be the new shift for America.

I will not sell my 92 GTI or 87 Sprint Turbo. These cars may get used 2000 miles a year when I used to drive closer to 8k a year in my last city due to a less than ideal location, but i see no reason to buy new when it just makes no sense to at any level. I also figure if I sell one it isnt like I am helping the environment by having someone else own and drive it even more than I do. ; )

To sum it up: Make more options for people and incentives to utilize those means, get the word out, and leave what is already on the road alone.

Additionally there will be jobs in the future, but they might be at a bus depot and advanced speed train locations, electric car stations, making greener vehicles, an increase in well made American commuter bikes, and so on and so forth. Just change. A new American way.

Why do I think some lobbyist working for car companies is behind this?
About the only thing we can do is to write your representative and tell them not to support it, and remind them that if they do, they lost our vote.
The Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) generally alerts its members to stupid legalization like this because it affects a lot of their members who produce/manufacture/sell parts for older cars.
It would be nice if our legislature did something worthwhile, like forcing countries that sell their products here, get rid of their protectionist policies so we can sell our products their.

This program comes out of Washington, therefore it is a bad idea. Anytime DC gets involved, it muddies the waters beyond recognition. (Think the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac). I have an '89 LeSabre and an '84 LTD Crown Vic, both of which drive smothly and get decent mileage. Why would I get rid of them?

"...lunacy and stupidity wrapped together in an unholy mingling of idiocy and waste"...isn't that Webster's definition for politics, Mochi? LOL!

My family doesn't fit in our '03 Cavalier very well anymore, but I'll be damned if I'm going to give up my '82 Jag or my '48 Chevy truck so we can cash in on this insane stimulus garbage. We'll buy our next vehicle (which won't be brand new) the old fashioned American way...we'll EARN IT! In the meantime, I will continue to drive my beat up Metro to work and squish the boys in the back of the Cav.

However, with the current problems the big three are facing that is putting my job at risk as well. We are in the process of relining a major steel companies Detroit plant with new conveyors, etc. Since the big three have slowed down and now shut down for an extended amount of time, our project is being postponed. The trickle effect of this economic recession is mind boggling.

The bottom line is capitalism is based on companies thriving by providing products that people need. In order for the Big 3 to survive they obviously need to shift their focus...that is, if they have the opportunity to continue. People like us still need the older vehicles, it's just unfortunate that there are people out there who do not see the value in what we hold so dear.

As a representative of SEMA in its government affairs office, I appreciate the comments posted here in opposition to the proposed Congressional “Cash for Clunkers” program.

Representing an industry that includes products and services that cater to vehicle restoration enthusiasts, we are extremely familiar with national and state efforts to address older car emissions concerns. The cash for clunkers concept is hardly a novel approach to this issue. In fact, many states have considered these programs as a means to supplement existing clean air efforts and chosen to abandon them. Why? They just don’t work. Questions over the ability of such programs to achieve verifiable benefits to air quality, as well as concerns over lower than projected cost-effectiveness, have caused several jurisdictions to modify, delay or even cancel their programs.

The reasons are fairly simple. Many state clunker programs focus on a vehicle’s age rather than the emissions the vehicle produces, based on the erroneous perception that all older cars are dirty cars. Most clunker programs do not bother to measure the real emissions of the vehicles involved. In order to demonstrate emissions reductions, these programs create estimates of emissions, which studies show are often significantly overstated.

A further shortcoming of clunker programs is that they rarely capture gross polluters. The gross polluter is an improperly maintained vehicle of any model year, which puts out dramatically more emissions due to poor maintenance. Those seeking a quick fix through vehicle clunker programs ignore this reality. The real solution is to clean up the gross polluters, not waste tax dollars by indiscriminately buying up and crushing well-maintained and infrequently driven older cars.

Clunker programs further diminish the availability of affordable transportation and repair parts to low-income drivers as more and more older cars are crushed. They do not guarantee that low-income individuals will be able to afford to purchase new vehicles, let alone more fuel efficient or cleaner vehicles, with the money provided by clunker programs.

In lieu of clunker programs, SEMA recommends programs that identify gross polluters and upgrade them with equipment that improves their emissions performance dramatically. These benefits are measured and cost-effective in reducing emissions. Adapting newer technologies to older vehicles on a voluntary basis benefits the vehicle owner and achieves air quality benefits as well. A number of commercially available products and technologies exist which could substantially lower the emission rates of older vehicles while also offering the owner added performance, driveability and fuel mileage. These innovative solutions drive product sales, produce American jobs and secure tax revenues for the government all while sustaining the multi-billion dollar vehicle restoration industry for our members. Now, that’s an economic stimulus we all can support.


Old Cars Are Valuable To Collectors, But Not Taxpayers: Auto restoration, customization and repair shops nationwide would suffer with the loss of older cars, trucks and parts they need to supply and service their customers. An unchecked Cash for Clunkers program risks destroying classic, historic and special-interest vehicles. America safeguards its artistic and architectural heritage against indiscriminate destruction. Our automotive and industrial heritage deserves the same protection.

Negative Impact on Small Businesses: Federal funds to Cash for Clunkers programs would deny automotive aftermarket businesses access to a supply of older cars which are repaired, restored and accessorized. As a consequence, efforts to do business nationwide will be severely hampered. The vast majority of all automotive aftermarket companies are small businesses. It would be counterproductive to undermine these companies at a time when the federal government is trying to help small businesses stimulate the national economy.

Squeezes Low Income Citizens: Low income Americans would be hurt by expanding Cash for Clunkers. Such programs reduce the supply and availability of affordable transportation and repair parts, the very cars and parts most often bought by low and fixed-income drivers.

There is a better choice to stimulate business,
protect the environment and conserve global resources

Repair & Upgrade Is a Better Policy Option: Cash for Clunkers programs ignore better options like vehicle maintenance programs that maximize the emissions systems of existing vehicles. Dramatic emissions improvements can be achieved in older vehicles through relatively simple and inexpensive means: repaired/replaced exhaust systems, tune-ups, etc. The repair and upgrade option is a win-win for consumers, dealers and manufacturers.

Cash for Clunkers programs fail in environmental protection and fuel economy

Cash for Clunkers Programs Do Not Take Gross Polluters Off the Road: Cash for Clunkers focus on vehicle age rather than actual emissions produced. This approach is based on the erroneous assumption that "old cars are dirty cars." However, the true culprits are "gross polluters" – vehicles of any model year that are poorly maintained.

How Can the Federal Government Ensure that the Replacement Vehicle Is Any Cleaner? There is no guarantee with Cash for Clunkers that a replacement vehicle (if there is one) will be cleaner running or more fuel-efficient than the vehicles the government paid to scrap. For example, many popular cars in 1979 achieved higher mileage ratings than 2008 vehicles.

Webster's definition of politics explains succinctly why everything from DC is a mess. A similar situation was enacted in the tri-county area around Detroit in the late 80's. Every vehicle owned by an employed driver had to pass an emissions test before the driver could purchase license plates. There was one escape clause. Anyone who was on public assistance or a similar program did not need this check, but they were the ones whose cars were often in the worst shape and terrible on emissions. After a few years, brighter minds prevailed and the program was cancelled. Score one for sensibility.

FYI, you can contact Nancy Pelosi here:

Give her a piece of your mind.

Please, please, please take my Pontiac Montana EXT. If I had the cash, I would *pay* someone $4500 just to take it off my hands

That clunker has depreciated so fast, I'm now trapped under it, despite having bought it used.

Forget that the trans is busted, very little of its trim remains, the power locks have shorted as have the rear power windows and only in a matter of 2 years. It is the bane of my existence.

It's certainly no Valiant or Mustang. I would jump at the opportunity to trade it in for anything...A-NY-THING. If the federal government wants to pay down my negative equity on another craptacular GM be it :)

This may seem to sound a little selfish but I would love for someone to take over the 1991 Mazda MX6 I have. Well, I cant say that I have it now, because it wouldnt pass emission inspection so I dont have a tag for it. My mistake was putting my friend's tag on it as a replacement temporarily and thinking I would go up the street to a McDonald's to get a biscuit not thinking that there would be a cop, waiting in the wings to stop the first person not obeying the law, which happened to have been me that morning! Now, the car has been impounded and I dont have the funds to get it out and I have 4 tickets that I have to appear in court for. I still dont know how I'm going to get it out of impound. So if someone wants to take it off my hands.....have at it. Ive had enough! I just want to be able to ride in a car thats nice and runs efficiently

Why not let them try to stimulate auto sales for a year or so. If you need parts from a classic car make that person an offer before they scrap it. Better yet have an endangered model list where those parts get housed for resale. Not everyone is in the market for a new car and this won't remove every old car from the roads anyway. Plus this will bring more value to a collector's car.

Buyer beware: You should do your homework prior to making a car purchase under the 'cash for clunkers' program. Various news outlets have highlighted some scams, both online and at the dealership that you should look out for.


My name is Terri Jones
MY address is 12518 CAMBLETON DR.
Upper Marlboro MD, 2077
My Email address is tej9773@aol
What can I do ?

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