Since I wrote this post detailing my concerns about the "Cash for Clunkers" program, a lot has happened. It was so successful in terms of participation that the money ran out and 2 billion dollars more has been approved. All kinds of articles have been written giving the program the thumbs up or thumbs down, but I haven't seen many that address the specific issue of what happens to all the cars that get scrapped.
This article does mention that it might not be a great idea to scrap cars with less than 10,000 miles on them. And it claims that by junking all those "clunkers" the used car market will dry up and it will be more expensive to buy a used car. My husband and I have bought a lot of used cars over the years, and we've learned a lot in the process. I plan on writing a post on "How To Buy a Used Car" very soon that will help the people who couldn't afford to buy a new car, even with the $4500 voucher. The possibility of driving up used car prices is also discussed in this article, along with some other possible downsides like drivers using more gas and declining sales of other goods.
I've been surprised to find so little about the environmental impact of the program. Most of what has been written focuses on the positive impact of people buying new fuel-efficient cars such as the Prius. And I agree it is definitely a net positive to get gas-guzzlers off the road and more people driving cars that get better gas mileage. But back to the other part of the equation: trashing the clunkers. What are the environmental costs involved in that, and how will it be overseen?
Finally, this article rates the program as weak in terms of its effect on curbing pollution. Apparently the effect on global warming will be a "blip" and climate experts say it's not an effective way to address the issue. But on the upside, the program will get the dirtiest cars off the road for good. And I was happy to learn what happens to the cars that are turned in: their engines are destroyed by being "immobilized with liquid gas" and the rest of the parts can be recycled and used as scrap.
The director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University put it this way: "It's not that it's a bad idea: just don't sell it as a cost-effective energy savings method. From an economic standpoint, it seems to be a roaring success. From an environment and energy perspective, it's not where you would put your first dollar." That sounds to me like a plus for the economy, and a neutral for the environment. Like most things in life, a mixed bag. I guess it could be worse. The economy came first, but at least it wasn't exactly at the expense of the environment, as so often happens.
What do you think? Does the economy have to take precedence over the environment right now, or is it another instance of short-term thinking? Have you taken advantage of the program? Please leave your responses in the Comments section.