Friday, August 7, 2009

"Cash for Clunkers" or "Cash for Suckers?"

by Felicia Donovan

Portland art car - duct tape style by green earrings.I felt somewhat vindicated back in February 2008 as I slipped the final car payment into the envelope, gave it a good lick and mailed it off.  Free at last, free at last. A few weeks later, the vehicle title arrived in the mail to prove it was officially mine.

My van, with its 70K plus miles, was still doing duty after many years of porting me through New England blizzards and ice storms to get to the Police Department where I worked. Nobody ever calls a Snow Day when you work in Public Safety and my van has done a good job of getting me there even when the going was tough. 

"I'll drive it into the ground," I thought.  I rubbed my hands together gleefully as I tried to estimate just how many years I could be without a monthly car payment.  So what's all the hoopla about "Cash for Clunkers?"

First of all, if it's running and it's drivable, it's not really a "clunker." I know a clunker when I see one. The hub caps are all gone, the windshield is sealed in place with bathroom caulk, the foam padding from the seat cushions juts out all over the place and flies through the air when the windows are down, and there's more duct tape than metal. I haven't seen any program cars that look like that. The mere fact that you can drive it onto the car lot proves it's not really a "clunker." What was Washington thinking?

Secondly, somebody's got to figure out what this program is all about. Do they really want to clean up the environment and make it healthier for us all by putting more fuel-efficient cars on the road? How about issuing a law banning cigarettes first? I betcha that will do more for my health and my children's health than trading a car in that gets 5 more miles to the gallon. No disrespect to the President, but if you want to set a really good example for the American public, quit the sticks.

How about instead of trading in my 2003 van for a 2010 car that gets a few more miles to the gallon and paying me $4500 in the process, I get to trade in my house with its leaky walls and windows for a new one? There's a housing glut out there, in case you haven't noticed. Not only will I be improving the environment with my nice new R-Factor insulation, I won't be contributing to the coffers of the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia trying to keep it heated in the winter. I'll even stimulate the economy by committing to shopping locally to buy furniture to fill my new rooms.

While I can't claim to be a true-blood Yankee, I've lived in New England for over twenty-five years so that old adage swirls in my head wherever I go. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And if it ain't broke, why get rid of it and take on the burden of a monthly payment? Doesn't that increase our debt and isn't that how we got into trouble in the first place?

When the Government decides to let me have the new car but not burden me with payments every month, I'll reconsider. Meanwhile, I'll keep my trusty old van with the dented bumper and scratches and drive it into the ground payment-free. Sure, I could get a few more miles to the gallon, but is that any reason to toss it aside? Besides, I've got a few dents and scratches myself and I'd like to think I'm not ready for the junk pile because of it.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I've got an old minivan that I'm driving into the ground. We don't have a car payment, and I'm in no hurry to change that...

Mystery Writing is Murder

G.M. Malliet said...

I drive a 2000, low-mileage Jeep Wrangler. I love it and I'm just waiting for the day I can put antique plates on it. It really is a girl thing.

You are on to something here, Felicia: "trade in my house with its leaky walls and windows for a new one."

Alan Orloff said...

I've got two older vehicles that I'm planning to drive into the ground, too. If it kills me.

And put me down for the house trade-in, but only if the mess inside gets trading with it.

Felicia Donovan said...

There you go. Keep the "clunkahs," as we say in New England, on the road. I have enough dog hair in mine to keep me toasty warm in the winter should I ever break down on the side of the road.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I'm with you, Felicia. Can't see the benefit of trading in a paid car for a car payment. It does stimulate sales for the car companies, but adds another bill to the stapped citizen.

As for stimulating home sales, I'd be happy to trade in my ratty apartment for a modest condo in the same area with the same or lesser monthly payment and a low stable interest rate if the government will handle the hefty downpayment. That would stimulate me.

Or, even better, how about letting me have ALL of my pay for a year, tax-free. That would stimulate me to the point of internal combustion.

JStantonChandler said...

This is the best post I've read all day! My husband and I are driving at '96 Jeep Wrangler, paid for. Why on earth would I want to trade it in for a new car that's going to fall apart in a year or so that I'm going to have to make payments on. Makes no sense to me either.

Happy weekend!

G.M. Malliet said...

Another Jeep aficionado (or should it be aficionada)!

My Jeep has proven to be sturdy and reliable, requiring only routine maintenance and almost nothing in the way of repairs (it's air conditioned and that did give out last year).

If I park it on the street, it emerges unscathed, since it has *real* bumpers/fenders - no paint to be scraped off, as with fiberglass.

RBeaulieu said...

I'm with you keep your "clunker" and keep your cash. I have a big problem with the requirement that these "clunkers" need to go directly to the junk yard, do not pass go and do not collect $200.00.
Do we not have people in this country that could use a "clunker" to enhance their quality of life, possibly help them find a job, get to medical appointments or simply replace a vehicle that is truly a clunker? Are we looking for a way to truly help Americans, the environment and the economy or are we teaching our young people how to put a big Looney Tunes band aide on a problem that needs a tourniquet or maybe should just be amputated?
I try to teach my kids to reduce, reuse and recycle while always looking for a way to help their fellow neighbor. It seems that this "stimulus incentive" promotes just the opposite. It encourages people to junk what is still useful, go in debt for a possession that in many instances is not needed (however it sure feels good to drive a brand new vehicle) and lets not forget we shouldn't pass along our used things to someone in need because although that may show compassion to our brothers and sisters, we don't want people to think that we don't care about the environment. Can we not get a little more creative with our incentives? Obama, how about providing some incentives to the people so we can create stimulating ideas that everyone can benefit from, you may be surprised at the diverse ideas that emerge.

Felicia Donovan said...

RBeaulieu, you make a very valid point. If these cars are still running (and they have to have passed inspection the year prior in order to qualify for the program), why would we junk them if there are those in need who could use them?

Mind you, I'll be kicking myself in the back bumper if my van dies the day after the program ends, but still, it's working and it's payment free. I wasn't raised to toss things aside just because they have a few dings, dents or miles on them. Lord knows I'd never see my parents... (Sorry, Mom & Dad. Love you both!)

Cricket McRae said...

Great post! I don't get it either. I heard on NPR yesterday about how they have to ruin the engine by running something nasty through it until it seizes up. That's crazy -- there are plenty of people who could use these vehicles. They were talking about a classic Lincoln Continental in perfect condition which received that treatment. Ack!

I drove an '85 Chevy Blazer for years, and I miss it -- but it's still in use. First it belonged to my grandfather, but when he stopped driving I bought it from him. Then twelve years later I gave it to my dad for a year when he needed an extra vehicle, and then he sold it to a college student for a couple hundred bucks because she really needed it. I drive a Scion XA now, and love the gas mileage, but we still have a ratty old '59 Caddy sitting in the garage that will NOT be going to the junkyard, thankyouverymuch.

Keith Raffel said...

I haven't bought a car for myself since 1993. But I must admit if a really big royalty check shows up, I just might be tempted.

Deborah Sharp said...

Im still driving my ancient Mazda Miata, a 1992. I love it, and won't leave it until it finally loses more parts than it keeps when I hit a pothole.
And, PS, Keith ... how do you get away with not having to buy a car for yourself? Are you a kept man?

Anonymous said...

Classic straw man argument!

Greg Lyons

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