July 28, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

The "Cash for Clunkers" program started off with a bang yesterday. The idea is that you can take your old car to a dealer and get a coupon for $4500 to be used toward the purchase of a new, energy-efficient car. There aren't that many requirements, except that the old car has to really be a guzzler - to qualify it has to get 18mpg or less. And the car you purchase must get at least 10mpg MORE than that. You can get a coupon for $3500 if you raise your fuel-efficiency by somewhat less than that.

The program is supposed to spur sluggish car sales and encourage the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles. That sounds good. It's also intended to get the gas hogs and polluters off the road. Even better.

But here's the part that worries me: "Dealers must remove the engine and transmission of the cars that are turned in, disable them and take them to a junkyard." That sounds like we're leaving the task of responsibly disposing of tons of heavy objects to used car dealers. Am I the only one who's worried about this?

First of all, is it really better to junk those old cars, adding enormous (possibly toxic) waste to the landfills? And secondly, who will oversee that the process is done in an environmentally friendly way?

I couldn't find any analyses of these questions in my search last night, the day the program went into effect, but I'm going to continue looking. Please let me know if you find anything. I have a feeling we're about to see one of those "cash-strapped, recession-weary consumer" versus "sanctimonious environmentalist" arguments crop up. Like the one where we're all supposed to want gas prices to be so low that people can drive around in SUVs and Hummers, because, hey, that's their choice. As Americans. That really gets my goat. When you point out that in countries where gas prices are high, people drive more fuel-efficient cars, you're called un-American.

What do you think? Is there some way to head off this storm before it happens? Please tell me your thoughts in the Comments section.


Kim said...

I personally think the junk yards would do a better job of stripping the cars of usable pieces. Not everyone can buy a new car, no matter what the discount is. Someone, somewhere is going to need the spare parts.

Angela said...

Kim- So maybe as long as the cars get to the junkyard, they'll be used for parts. That would be good. Thanks for your comment.

WilliamB said...

There was an article about this on NPR. The point of stripping out the engine is that the car isn't resold as a working car. (In theory to keep the gas guzzling off the streets but if you read the Congressional record you see it's to help sell more cars.)

Junkyards aren't happy because reselling working engines and transmissions is what gives them their profit margins. (Or so they say; I have no independent confirmation.)

Anonymous said...

The engines and transmissions once stripped, can be sold as scrap metal. My husband has done this several times as he has changed out motors for us and others. Fluids are drained, then you take it to them and they recycle it. Not worth as much money for the seller as scrap, but it will be used again and not just sit in a heap in a landfill. (At least this is what they should do, but there are no gaurentess!!)

Kris S

Angela said...

Thank you all for sharing. My husband was telling me something similar- so I think I overreacted. Hopefully most of the cars will be disposed of properly and used for scrap metal, etc.

I really appreciate your comments.

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl said...

This just does NOT seem like a green idea to me.

If you have an old clunky washer, should you junk it and go buy a new energy efficient one? Most experts say that the greenest thing to do is to keep your washing machine until it dies, and then when you HAVE to replace it, buy a more efficient one.

This seems like an enormous waste of cars that are perfectly functional. My husband's 2000 Toyota Tacoma pickup which will easily give him another 100K miles qualifies for this program. There is NO way his truck should be junked.

Angela said...

That was exactly what I thought - with the same comparison about using a washer or dryer until it dies.

I think there are some differences- for example- your husband's truck should definitely not be junked- Toyotas run forever! But I wouldn't think it qualifies because of the mpg.

I don't have all the answers, but some of my readers and my husband are telling me that the cars turned in will be used for spare parts or scrap metal at the least.
But I'm still with you that it doesn't seem "green" to take a car off the road that's still running, as long as it's not emitting pollutants and using way too much gas.

Deane said...

The sheer number of cars in existence has always boggled my mind - far more than people to actually drive them. How could we possibly justify manufacturing more? Even when I was a kid I imagined a huge machine that would feed old cars in one end, cartoon-like, and spit new ones out the other. Wouldn't that be great? Otherwise, I agree with previous thoughts - even non-efficient things should be used down to the ground, and ideally usage should be modified to be more green - just use less of whatever it is and use it smarter. I joke that our house is the place where washers and driers go to die - we've never purchased new (never purchased, in fact), they are not efficient and in bad shape. But we use them up and we try to do it samrt, fewer loads, air drying mostly, etc. Same goes for my clunker car!

Angela said...

Deane- I agree with your philosophy. It seems to me there are already enough consumer goods in existence to last us for decades.

UPDATE: The cash for clunkers program was so successful it may be suspended less than a week after it started. Apparently they may have already run out of the alloted money. It wasn't suspended over environmental concerns or my blog post, as one reader suggested- ha!

ND Life said...

The cars will not be used for spare parts. They put a chemical into the engine, run the engine which basically burns it out. The rest of the car has to be junked/crushed. In my opinion this causes several problems.

First for the people who don't junk their cars where will they find spare parts if a lot of the older cars are junked.

Second the engines are going to China or Japan (I can't remember which) that is really environmentally friendly (sarcasm).

Third even though this will give a bump to the auto industry in the short term it is a false boost to our economy. It worked, great, so we add another 2 billion dollars, when that runs out do we give another 2 billon, when does it stop? When it does stop who will be buying cars, no one.

Fourth, does it make sense since, in my opinion only, to take on more debt when you have a perfectly fine working car. Isn't unnecessary debt part of our overall problem.

Fifth, I'm not big into government programs...but if you are going to do a program like this would it not be more beneficial to somehow provide transportation to people who really cannot afford a working auto.I know the idea is to get the gas guzzlers off the highway but really until China, India Japan and other countries get with the program this small change is not going to make a huge difference in the environment where having a working car could make a huge difference in someone's life who can't afford one.

I agree that we have to protect the environment, be conservative with waste, use up, reuse, watch our family debt as well as government but this program in my opinion does little to solve any problems.