True, it seemed to work a little faster than was expected, but it got hordes of people to buy cars, Which I thought was the point. The economy is bad overall, and worse still in the automotive industry, which has been in the equivalent of a deep depression.
So to try and stimulate sales, and the economy with it, the government said, look. If you trade in a car for one that gets better mileage, we’ll give you money. You get $3,500 if your car gets at least five miles per gallon more than the old one.
Boost the increase to 10 miles per gallon, and the government will give you $4,500. There is a catch or two. First of all, that’s all you get; if you sell your used car to the dealer for more, you can’t get the rebate on top of that. And the dealer has to junk the car.
You can’t get the money if your old car goes back on the road. By the way, the so-called clunker you trade in can’t be more than a quarter-century old, meaning it had to have been made after 1984.
Initially, I was dubious about this program. People haven’t been in a buying mood. Plus, I thought that many of the so-called clunkers would still be worth more as trade-ins. But it is clear that thousands of people were willing and eager to line up to turn in their old chariot.
Unfortunately, the federal bureaucracy that was hastily assembled to deal with the cash-for-clunkers paperwork wasn’t ready. Dealers complained they were spending all day trying to submit applications. The backlog meant the government wasn’t sure how many cars they had sold or how close they were to the end of the billion dollars Congress appropriated for the program.
So they called at least a temporary halt. This irritated Candice Miller, a congresswoman from Macomb County who used to be Michigan’s secretary of state. She called the program the most successful part of the government’s attempt to stimulate the economy, and called on Congress to pour more money into it, fast.
Well, if they do so, it better be fast, because the House is about to take a month-long vacation. Part of me thinks she is right. If this program has cars flying out of the showrooms, great. Yet I also wonder if maybe a breather would be a good idea.
It might be useful to know more about who is trading in and who is buying what. What if most of the new purchases are imports? Would it make sense to extend the program to the real clunkers still on the road, like cars from the 1970s?
And is just destroying all the old cars really the best thing to do, from a practical and environmental standpoint?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I think it would be a good idea to find out. After all, one of the scariest sentences in the language is this: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”