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Jun 192009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Congress has approved what will be a big bonanza for car buyers — not to mention car dealers — with the “Cash for Clunkers” bill that cleared the Senate on Thursday.

Once signed by President Obama, who pushed for the law, car buyers will be able to get up to $4,500 toward more efficient new vehicles (like the Honda Insight shown here) when they trade in their aging gas guzzlers (or even just their aging cars that get so-so mileage). Cars must pre-date 2002 but not be older than 1984 models.

Ironically, this generous program would not be available had it not been for the short-sighted American car manufacturers who made so many gas gulpers, their heedless American customers and also the torpid economy. None of those players gets chastened or overhauled or even pinched in this deal.

Consumers, in fact, get rewarded for not paying attention earlier. The forward-thinking person who bought a Civic years ago can’t trade it in now because they get good gas mileage!

Ironies aside, the Clunkers law should help get some high-emissions vehicles off the road: Clunkers have to get 18 mpg or less to qualify as trade-in candidates. The new car or truck you choose to replace the clunker must provide an improvement of 10 mpg to qualify for the $4,500 voucher.  If you improve your mileage by just four mpg, you would qualify for a $3,500 voucher (which is just about the weeniest of requirements, indicating that this is really all about triggering new car purchases and not so much about improving the Earth’s atmosphere.)

There are likable aspects to this bill. It helps people with old cars that aren’t worth much, and in this economy, that’s apropos. In other words, if your trade-in is worth more than $4,500, then it doesn’t qualify for the program, and you probably don’t need the help anyway. Keep your fancy-pants aging gas guzzler, you, you, SUV person!

And with all this sad news about car dealers losing their dealerships, tanking Michigan towns, and idled factories, this law will spread some dollars around. Rather like George Bailey handing out a few needed dollars to the savings and loan customers, instead of letting the whole system crash.

And yet, it feels like once again we’re shopping to save ourselves.

For more info on the Cash for Clunkers program, visit the website.

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