Is there a new law sweeping the biggest gas guzzlers off the road and replacing them with the fuel efficiency of hybrids? Well, sort of. The Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) or “cash for clunkers” program has the government shelling out cash for a new more fuel efficient vehicle, from a participating dealer, when you trade in a less fuel efficient vehicle. So how much cash are we talking about? If the new passenger car gets four more miles to the gallon than the old car then you can receive a $3,500 credit, a 10 mpg improvement can receive a $4,500 credit. Trucks, SUVs and minivans are a slightly different story. You can receive the $3,500 credit with a small 2 mpg improvement and $4,500 with a 5 mpg credit.
Of course there are a few catches. First, your clunker must be drivable. In addition, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price cannot exceed $45,000 (so forget the Tesla Roadster). You may also lease a vehicle if the lease is at least for five years, a long time for a lease. You will not get full price for the vehicle you trade in, rather something closer to its scrap value as dealers are required by law to destroy the trade-in. If you plan to take advantage of this deal, you should act fast as the $1 billion appropriated for this program will only be able to give out about $1 million vouchers and will end November 1. However, Congress may extend the program in the fall.
How green is this law really? Well, unsurprisingly, this bill seems mostly aimed at boosting car sales rather than curing the nation’s oil addiction. Many key environmental aspects have been overlooked including increased emissions from car manufacturing, encouraging people to drive more frequently, taking vehicles off the road before the end of their lifetime and replacing them with new (not used) vehicles that receive only slightly better mileage. The green intent behind the bill is clear when, as Reuters puts it, in theory the government will offer up to $3,500 to a driver who trades in a 16 mpg Hummer for a brand new SUV that gets a dismal 18 mpg.
Yet don’t count this program out yet. As taking ‘clunkers’ off the road will help cut the 75 percent of car emissions to which they contribute. It may also help us take a few important steps in the right direction. More sales of cleaner vehicles could send signals to auto manufactures to improve engine technologies. The program could also encourage Americans to become more conscious about fuel economy, so the next time you go to purchase a vehicle you may be making a more fuel-efficient choice.