Surprise! The Cash-For-Clunkers Program Is a Clunker! Now With Special Authorial-Intent Clarifier!


The much-hyped cash-for-clunkers program—passed as part of an "emergency" supplemental bill to fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (don't even get me started)—is supposed to take old, gas-guzzling jalopies off the road by offering folks as much as $4,500 to trade up to new, cleaner cars.

The program became law in late June and expires on November 1. The pre-cog verdict?:

"It's a very small number of people that this plan will end up helping," Wachovia senior economist Mark Vitner said….

On the surface, the program would seem to have a triple benefit: the consumer saves a chunk of money, the suffering auto industry gets a boost in sales, and the environment can breathe just a little bit easier.

But there are restrictions. The vehicle being turned in must have been made after 1984 and have a fuel economy rating of less than 18 miles per gallon. Vehicles traded in will be scrapped, so the owner cannot get any money from a trade-in or sale on top of the government payment.

The vehicle must also have been insured continuously by the same owner for at least a year and the size of the payment is linked to the relative mileage improvement of the new vehicle. The program ends on November 1.

The $4,500 is a top limit, by the way, and not all participants will get that amount. And you've got to be ready to purchase a new car (not a used one with better mileage) as well, among many other conditions that make this about as usable as frequent-flier miles on Thanksgiving weekend. More here. Official government site, complete with unironic '70s design and frustrating, on-demand FAQs, right here.

Does your piece of crap qualify? My 1998 Buick Century does not, if that gives you any indication of the far-reaching sweep (not) of this program. Go here to see if your jalopy, like yourself (when discounted for future tax increases and mandatory national service), is worth more dead than alive.

Bonus points for whoever can name which game show gave out "clunkers" as gag gifts.

Update: Re: questions in the comments section about whether I was lamenting the ineffectiveness of the program or its general crapitude: It's the latter! This is precisely the sort of petty, poorly planned program that showcases the general (though not complete) inepitude of government.