Monday, August 3, 2009

Cash for Clunkers for MORE Clunkers. WHAT?

Since I first heard about the Obama administration's Cash for Clunkers program I have been questioning it. Generally, I approve of programs coming out of this White House, but this one I'm not so sure of. As soon as I heard that you can trade an 18 MPG "clunker" for a more fuel efficient 22 MPG new car and get a big rebate I said "WHAT? Are you kidding?" The energy and resources it took to make that new car would take years to make up when you're only getting four more MPG.

Finally, someone has my same thoughts. This evening on NPR I heard a great story by Christopher Joyce who seemed to be asking the same questions I had. In "Critics Say 'Clunkers' Program Isn't Very Green" Joyce lays out how un-green the program really is:

For instance:

"...if you trade in an 18 mpg clunker for a 22 mpg new car (22 miles per gallon is the minimum mileage allowed for a new car under the program), it would take five and a half years of typical driving to offset the new car's carbon footprint. With trucks, it might take eight or nine years..."

If you buy a Toyota Prius it might only take a year and a half, but most people are trading in clunkers for newer clunkers. And that's not worth the two billion MORE dollars Congress is about to approve to expand the program. I would much rather see that two billion dollars go towards expanding the public transportation system and get all clunkers, old and new, off the roads.

While in theory the Cash for Clunkers program is a great idea it doesn't go far enough. We need to make bigger changes if we're going to make a difference.


  1. I agree with you, invest the money in public transportation or give some type of incentive for car pooling. The number of vehicles with one occupant far outweighs those with multiple people.

  2. You are so right. I have questioned it from the beginning. It doesn't make sense. I hope congress comes to their senses and doesn't approve another 2 billion to continue this program.

  3. I'm with you on this one, it's just not going to make that much of a difference. Maybe if it had been restricted to more fuel efficient vehicles like the Prius it would have been worthwhile.
    The money would have been far better spent on improving public transportation. Even the building of more bike trails around cities would have been a better use of the funds.

  4. Two points that mitigate some of Joyce's points.

    1) Adding fuel efficiency at the bottom of the range gives a much bigger bang for the mpg than adding it at the top. For a driver going 22,000 miles per year going from 15mpg to 22mpg saves 467 gallons of gas. Going from an already nice 35mpg to 42 mpg (same 7 mpg improvement) only saves 104 gallons. Sure it'd be nice if that driver went from 15 to 42, but the point remains that the biggest saving in terms of gallons burned is by upgrading the clunker portion, not the top end.

    2) I suspect many of the people taking advantage of this offer were going to replace that vehicle anyhow within some shorter timeframe. The point being that there was already going to be an impact of a vehicle being produced for a person, this incentive just slides that time forward.

    Those points being made, I don't agree with the program. I wish all people would drive as fuel efficient vehicle as possible that still meets their needs for usage of that vehicle. I don't agree with spending billions of taxpayer dollars to do so.

  5. WOW! I had expected to face some opposition to this post. It's wonderful that you all feel the same way.

    Beej: you're right, there is a much bigger difference at the low end of the MPG scale. But I wish the government made the minimum mileage requirement even 5 MPG higher. That might have been worth it.

    And SQ, I didn't even think of bike trails! We definitely need more bike trails, especially here in Boston where so many people do commute that way.

    It looks though like congress will approve more money for this program. hopefully with the new press coming out people will make smarter decisions this time around.

    thanks for reading everyone! -kate

  6. I'm still picking my jaw off the ground that anyone thinks 22mpg is good, I get 50 - 60mpg from my Golf. Does everyone need a lorry over there?

  7. Lulu, my jaw is on the floor next to yours. VW is just now starting to import diesel cars again, one is on our list when my husband's car dies. the only other option for high mileage in this country is a hybrid, which only get in the low 50s. and i just don't like the idea of the nastiness that goes into making those batteries.

    And you are right, many Americans tend to think they're entitled to a lorry-like car, I just don't get it.

  8. Being that I'm from Canada, this is the first I've heard of this program. I can only say that putting money into an improved transit system would be a much more efficient program.

    We can only hope that more people will speak up like you and the others here. Maybe then Obama administration will rethink this program and initiate a more green-friendly proposal!

    Hugssss, Susan

  9. I received a flyer in my mail and just tossed it without really reading it. Glad for your post. I had not idea of the crazyness.

  10. I think the program is a bad one too. What is going to happen to all those old clunkers? Did anyone think about that. Can you say scrap metal/landfill. And what do I get? I was a responsible citizen two years ago when I purchased a vehicle that gets over 40 mpg. I Paid full price. I drive the speed limit but from what I can see, I am the only one.

    One thing that would cost a lot less and save more is to put speed limiters on cars. Cheap and efficient. It would save lives too. But that would just cut fuel comsumption and the government really doesn't want to do that.

  11. Susan, Public transit down here in the States definitely needs help. hopefully it will get some soon!

    Squirrel: Toss out those flyers! :)

    Greg C: I've given up thinking this program is supposed to help the environment. at least it did its job as a stimulus package, but you're right, disposing of those 300,000 cars can't be good. kudos to you for being responsible and purchasing a high mileage car on your own. If I didn't work for a non-profit I'd give you $4,500! And don't get me started on driving habits (one of my favorite blog-rant subject)....perhaps eco-driving habits will be my next blog.

    Thanks for visiting! hope to see you here again! -Kate


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