Americans are often quick to celebrate our unique car culture, the whole-hearted embrace of private mobility that seems to embody our independent character. But if you’ve lost your car, or were never able to afford one, you probably don’t spend much time dwelling on the feel-good benefits of our national romance with the automobile. Instead you probably tend to focus on the downsides: sprawling development and inadequate public transportation. As it turns out though, there’s a typically American response to the problem of carlessness: a non-profit founded by two former auto salesmen, which “helps consumers get the best deal on a reliable, fuel-efficient car.” But don’t call it a charity…
The New York Times explains:
More Than Wheels got its start in New Hampshire, where there is little public transportation, and residents are highly dependent upon their cars. The state’s ruggedly individualist bent also probably shaped the program, which is hardly a handout. Clients of More Than Wheels receive many services, but significantly, they pay for them. When [Tammy] Trahan first heard about More Than Wheels she needed to be screened to see if her credit could be repaired. Assured she’d be accepted into the program, she had to pay an application fee of $60. Once accepted, she enrolled in an online course in finance and mending her credit. She learned to be more financially resourceful, using Freecycle and other online resources to avoid spending. With a counselor, she looked up her credit scores and worked out a strategy to pay off her old debts. (In the meantime More Than Wheels gave her a “bridge car” — a used Honda — to drive to and from work. (She had to pay $300 a month for the car and sold the Jeep to the mechanic who had fixed it over the years for $500.) When she’d been paying off her debts for six months (other conditions include holding the same job and living in the same place) she became eligible for a car loan.
More Than Wheels is still a small organization, but only five percent of the 1,450 families they’ve helped have defaulted on loans, a number well below the industry average. Read more at the Times, or check out the More Than Wheels website to find out how you can help. If you appreciate your mobility and want to help fellow Americans help themselves obtain theirs, this sounds like on of the better options out there. [Hat Tip: David Holzman]