News Columns & Blogs

Pro-con: Is 'cash for clunkers' a good idea?

The "cash for clunkers" program would allow car owners to turn in their old gas-guzzlers in exchange for a voucher for up to $4,500 to help buy a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle. Way too many people still drive their SUVs and large trucks because they apparently don't care about the harm that their vehicles do to the environment. Smaller cars generally cost less up front than big gas-guzzlers, and they use much less fuel. But SUV drivers bought SUVs instead. So these drivers are apparently not motivated by the price of a vehicle or the ongoing cost of fuel. Perhaps they will be motivated by the prospect of a $4,500 voucher. I hope they will be, because that would mean fewer gas-guzzlers on our roads. But it pains me to realize that we have to bribe people into doing the right thing. — Mary Shaw, Philly

"Cash for clunkers" is a bad idea whose time seems to have come. Congress added trade-in incentives for old gas-guzzlers to a $106 billion supplemental appropriations bill. Motorists who have owned an older car or truck for at least one year may trade in their vehicles and receive vouchers to help pay for new, more fuel-efficient models. The bigger the fuel-efficiency gain, the bigger your voucher, up to a maximum of $4,500. The program, which is expected to start in August and run through October, is supposed to help the auto industry and modernize the U.S. auto fleet. It's modeled on similar plans in many European countries, which have boosted new-car sales. The program is capped at a total cost of $1 billion, down from $4 billion in earlier versions. Even $4,500 per clunker may not be enough to help many owners trade up: Clunker "owners are either not looking for an increased car payment or cannot afford to purchase a new vehicle, which averages nearly $30,000," a report by analysts at concluded. They believe the program will struggle to produce sales of 250,000 vehicles — or half of Congress' goal. — Washington Post editorial