There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about so-called "Cash for Clunkers" programs being considered for the US. Apparently, in a few European countries, the governments have been giving away a voucher (usually under $2,500) to owners of older cars to junk them early and trade up to a Brand New Car. The logic is that Old Cars must be worse polluters and use more fuel. To say nothing of the fact that the buying pressure created by these voucher giveaways should keep auto workers at their jobs for many years to come.


These people really lack imagination.


I speak from the experience of exchanging my Cash for Clunkers since I was 16 years old. I am a Master at giving money to people and taking their useless old corrosion-collecting lawn ornaments away from them in return. So, in the interest of my Patriotic Duty to help out the Economy and the Environment in one go, I propose my alternative plan:


Bucks for Beaters!


It has the same laudable goals and several similar features to the Cash for Clunkers program, with a few important changes. My plan also lowers pollution and the need for imported oil. It contains provisions for keeping auto workers gainfully employed for the long term. And the dollar amounts involved would be much lower, from around $2,500, to something closer to $1,000 per voucher. Beyond that, the similarities diminish.


Most of the government schemes require that the car you junk be a minimum age, say, eight years old. Bucks for Beaters uses the same figure, but instead, that becomes the upper level for the car that you buy. That rule, coupled with the $1,000 price limit, virtually guarantees that you will be buying a car that does not run. Non-running cars use no fuel nor do they produce tailpipe emissions. Two aims are immediately satisfied. It won’t even matter if the car is imported or made in the USA. In fact, a more obscure foreign make is apt to stay off the road longer and so enhance the benefits. The only requirement is that you then try to make it your daily driver. I have some personal experience with this.


For instance, the 1970 Ford Cortina I bought that had been painted dull yellow with a brush by its’ previous owner. It had an odometer that only the "tenths" digits spun around on. It had VW Beetle turn signals grafted on the front fenders. It had a starter solenoid which spontaneously caught fire in the parking lot of the church outside my brother's wedding rehearsal. It had front MacPherson struts so worn that every time the brake pedal was touched, the nose would dive. Releasing the pedal would produce a reactive bounce. Careful, rhythmic application of this principle could give a reasonable imitation of the hydraulic kits that low-rider showcars have installed, as the nose would dive and hop as you pressed and released the pedal.


This car lasted six months and yet I had paid only $50 for it. The total cost was more than doubled by the addition of a $39.95 Montgomery Ward battery and a $60 set of used bias-ply Firestone tires. So for $150, I had a Beater. You couldn’t rent a car for six months for that. The 1.6 liter 4-cylinder engine, when it could be started, used hardly any gas at all. Yet this example alone would have left $850 in the pockets of the taxpayers.


As far as shielding auto workers from sloth, consider the endless stream of parts and repairs an old Beater needs. Surely, all those brake pads and tires and mufflers, ball joints, taillight lenses and water pumps come from the same factories that can be held responsible for the original car. (If you add in the cans of ether, castoff coat hangers, bus tickets and sticks of JB Weld, you can begin to see what a major economic impact such a transportation choice can make.) In fact, all of the tooling cost must have been amortized several business cycles ago. Turning a profit on obsolete car parts ought to be a cinch. Any business analyst will tell you: wide profit margins can keep a workforce engaged for decades.


Another example from my Book of Beaters: the 1968 Sunbeam Alpine GT. Bought for $75, its mechanical components were largely contained in seven cardboard boxes stuffed into the back seat and trunk. It languished in my parents’ driveway for an entire summer as I searched Victoria British catalogs and the local swap meets looking for a brake master cylinder, the twin carb setup and finally for a motor that I could afford to bolt in.


Months later, after hundreds of dollars had been released from my dark and inhospitable wallet to stimulate the sunny and welcoming auto parts industry, the Sunbeam was unceremoniously towed to the metal recycler, now crammed with nine cardboard boxes of parts and an even dozen of crushed dreams. (I was always going to have it ready for some road trip or car event. Deadlines that were never met until long after the car itself was dead.)


Had my plans been subsidized by government largesse, I might have even bought a $59.95 Sears battery or set of 721  Firestones before abandoning hope. Not one ounce of gasoline, imported or domestic, was consumed by that car while in my possession. Pollutants? There were none, other than some inconsequential eyesoreness experienced by my parents. And yet the replacement parts market was measurably better off and the environment, at least in the seller's neighborhood, was vastly enhanced. He was now able to mow his yard properly and try to coax that unsightly brown rectangle on his front lawn back to looking more like a putting green and less like a bunker.


So write to your Congressperson, let your opinion be heard! Tell them not to squander your hard-earned taxes on some less effective plan. Cash for Clunkers? Why, people would be driving those New Cars all over the place, warming the globe, changing the climate, funding foreign baddies and, after the first batch of inventory is drawn down, turning skilled autoworkers towards idleness filled with Sudoku, Twit-ing or even internet blogging.


My Bucks for Beaters plan will keep the planet clean and the cobblers at their lasts, so to speak. I am sure I could find something in my personal inventory to get the plan up and (not) running.


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