Was ‘Cash for Clunkers’ a Dud?

If “Cash for Clunkers” rebates were used to buy new vehicles with only marginally better fuel economy numbers, was the program a failure?

That’s the question posed by a big story zooming around the Intertoobs today: An impressive examination of last summer’s “Cash for Clunkers” program by The Associated Press. Reporters analyzed data acquired through the Freedom of Information Act and found that the most common transactions were people trading in their old pickup trucks for new ones that get only slightly better gas mileage.

An expert is quoted as saying the $3 billion program started out as being about improving the environment, “but it got detoured as a way to stimulate the economy.”

“Cash for Clunkers” apparently worked best here in California, where 76,000 cars were traded in, and where the Honda Civic was the most popular new car.

While the AP article uncovers some abuses and raises legitimate questions about the fuel economy numbers, it doesn’t address the fact that the new vehicles likely produce less pollution than the clunkers they replace. Maybe there’s no way to measure that yet.

Full story here.

  • Mark Your Calendars for next Tuesday, when the Shasta College Foundation presents renowned jazz trumpeter and composer Ralph Alessi. The FREE program in the Shasta College Theatre includes a lecture at 11 a.m. and a performance at 12:30 p.m. For more info about Alessi, click here.
  • I drove up to Burney yesterday to attend a meeting, and took full advantage of the sunny day, poking along and stopping at every vista point to enjoy the autumn leaves. Our fall color tends to be more subtle than back east, but there must’ve been a hundred shades of gold. Especially striking was the vast area burned in the Fountain Fire years ago. It’s covered with deciduous trees that are golden now.
  • Calling All Veterans: On Veterans Day, which is next Wednesday, veterans and active-duty military eat free at Applebee’s restaurants nationwide. Details here.
  • If you’re interested in crime fiction, check out this article by author and former editor Jason Pinter. Interesting insights on mysteries and on the publishing industry in general.

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is the author of CUTTHROAT and 17 other books. Read more of his columns at http://stevebrewer.blogspot.com/, or follow him on Facebook.
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3 Responses

  1. Avatar someonesgram says:

    sadly, the folks who needed to trade in their cars for something better couldn't afford the monthly payments. nothing good there. what percentage of cars were traded for newer models that showed a 1-3 mpg improvement?

    AP reported:

    • In at least 145 cases, mostly involving trucks, the government reported consumers traded old vehicles that got better than or the same mileage as the new vehicle they purchased. The government said it was continuing to investigate. A driver in Negaunee, Mich., traded a 1987 Suburban that got 18 mpg for $3,500 toward a new Silverado pickup that got only 15 mpg. An Indianapolis driver traded a 1985 Mercedes 190 that got 27 mpg for $3,500 toward a new Volkswagen Rabbit that got only 24 mpg. "It's possible some quirky deal slipped through the cracks," Anwyl said.

    • In at least 15 deals in nine states, owners of large pickups cashed in old trucks for between $3,500 and $4,500 toward new Hummer H3 SUVs that got only 16 mpg.

    • A driver in Arlington, Va., traded a 1999 Ford Explorer with 15 mpg in July for $3,500 toward a new $28,000 Jeep Commander that weighs about 4,700 pounds and gets 16 mpg.

    • In at least 32 deals, drivers traded older vehicles for new large trucks — including versions of Toyota Tundras, GMC Sierras, Chevrolet Silverados, Dodge Rams and Ford F150 pickups — that got only 14 mpg.

    • A driver in West, Texas, earned $4,500 in July in exchange for a 1989 Chevrolet Suburban SUV that got 14 mpg and bought a 2009 Suburban that weighed 5,900 pounds and got 16 mpg. Across Texas, seven of the 10 most common transactions involved drivers trading old pickups for new ones.

    was this a dud of a program? you bet. those who needed it the assistance the most, didn't get it. i would have loved to have traded my l6 year old 4×4 f150 for something more economical, but hey, i can't make the monthly payments of 350.00 for a new car.

  2. Avatar JeffG says:

    C4C wasn't really about improving the environment – it was about stimulating the economy (with a feel-good nod to environmentalists with mileage restrictions). Judging by Ford, Honda, Toyota, and Nissan all either returning to profit or lowering their 2009 loss predictions, the program, while flawed, was still a success.

    And while going from 14mpg to 16mpg doesn't sound worthwhile, that's still a 14% reduction in fuel usage — comparable to someone going from a car with 25mpg to a car with 29mpg (or to someone not driving for 1 1/2 months each year).

  3. Avatar mike says:

    I've always had a problem with Cash4Clunkers. To me it seems to go against simple supply and demand economics. How can we push all of these new cars into a market already saturated with used and repossessed vehicles (see http://www.repofinder.com)? Now new cars are worth even less, we have more Amerians in debt, and eventually more repossessions.