Ca$h for Clunker$ is Not for Me

Being in the middle of the complex process involved in purchasing a vehicle, I feel I can now, at least a little bit, comment on the government’s Cash for Clunkers program.

First, and my biggest problem with the program, is that in order to get a credit for your clunker you must purchase a NEW car. USED cars do not apply. Now, I understand that the idea is to get rid of older, less fuel efficient and more pollutive cars, but it seems that the program considers any car manufactured before 2009 to be a clunker. I am a college student, and cannot afford both tuition and car payments on a new car. I can only afford to purchase a used car outright, and hopefully for only a few thousand dollars. However, given that most new cars lose several thousand dollars in value as soon as you drive it off the lot, that usually makes them cheaper alternatives to purchase under the moniker “used” than would be a “new” car. As far as I know, we have been making relatively fuel efficient and cleaner cars since the turn of the millennium. What I really want to know is this: why can I not trade in my 1995 “clunker” (which I can afford) and purchase a used car manufactured after the year 2000?

In particular, I have been searching for a Jeep to purchase. My father owned a Wrangler at one point, and I have very nostalgic feelings about Jeeps. Furthermore, I don’t intend to drive my Jeep farther than six miles a day, simply needing transport back and forth to college for classes, and occasionally to the local Giant store for groceries, so fuel efficiency isn’t a terribly big deal to me. However, I have found that most used Jeeps made before 2000 are within my price range of $3500, that is, if you can find someone willing to part with their Jeep. Most of these Jeeps are 87-91’s, which, unfortunately, is within the Cash for Clunkers timeframe. If any of these owners wish to trade in their old Jeeps for credit towards a new one, my available pool evaporates. Unfortunately, my troubles are not over. Those Jeeps that are made after about 1998 that are available on the used car circuit are likely to still be in condition and mileage to make them priced around $6-7000, which is almost twice what I can afford, that is if they are being sold at all, because they are likely to be more fuel efficient, and still owned by somebody because they aren’t clunkers, just a few years old.

Here I come to my point: if the Cash for Clunkers program applied to used cars manufactured after 2000, I could indeed afford a used 2001 Jeep for $7000 because the program would net me at least $3500, which combined with my own budget would allow me to get a vastly cleaner and more fuel efficient Jeep, but in my price range. And isn’t that the point? Instead of driving a 1995, or worse, a 1988 Jeep, I would have one at least 15 years newer, but without having to pay for a brand new vehicle.

In general, I like the idea of an incentive to help people decide to drive cars better for the environment and that conserve fossil fuel usage, but that doesn’t demand the purchase of something new, or the total destruction of the old.

However, I am very glad to have found, and be taking possession of this afternoon, a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee that has a new engine and transmission and will (hopefully) last me a few years until I can trade it in for perhaps a post-2000 Jeep, which by that time will be old enough to fall within my budget, that is, if they haven’t all been wantonly destroyed.

And, let’s say nothing of my fiancee’s 1992 Toyota Camry which is still getting around 29 mpg, which isn’t the best, but is still twice what “clunkers” must be under in order to qualify for the upper tier of credit ($4500). Why destroy such a fuel efficient and affordable car (she got hers used for $2300)?

I just simply do not understand destroying valuable vehicles, and in the process, an entire segment of the economy, for as we all know the Used Car market is an old and honored American tradition. We may be cleaning up the air, or at least, not polluting if further, but who will care if they are out of work or unable to afford transportation?