A Clunker by Any Other Name . . .

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

What is a clunker? Various dictionaries I consulted used terms like “a decrepit machine, especially an old car” or “an old or badly working piece of machinery” or “a noisy, dilapidated automobile.” Apparently there’s a new definition, courtesy of Congress: “any vehicle rated at 18 mpg or less.” The Detroit News has a link to a database to let you find out if your car would qualify for the “Cash for Clunkers” program that has passed the House and is headed for the Senate. The first thing you notice: the database has nothing to do with the condition of the vehicle in question.

Nope, the only deciding factor in determining clunkerhood is fuel economy. Forget about mufflers dragging the ground, doors and trunks bungee corded shut, mismatched tire sizes, rusted floorpans, broken windshields and crumpled bodywork. If you can manage better than 18 mpg, you’re not officially driving a clunker. At least those Arnage, Murciélago and F430 owners can sleep easy, knowing that their clunkers are worth $4500 should they want to trade them on a Chrysler Sebring. But this must really annoy drivers who opted for fuel efficient automobiles.

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  • Runfromcheney Runfromcheney on Jun 17, 2009

    My 1993 Escort that broke down every Friday (without fail) got 29 MPG. So it wasn't a clunker, I guess. Try to tell that to Bobby (my transmission mechanic) who had it in his shop more then 20 times while he tried to figure out what was making the gears slip.

  • Johnson Schwanz Johnson Schwanz on Jun 17, 2009

    Jonathan I. Locker, My clunker is a 1997 Honda Passport. It qualifies under the list as aggregated by the database, and is currently worth about $800. I can afford a new car right now, since after I paid for my 2002 Accord Coupe in 2005, I continued to make the $400/mo payments to myself in a separate savings account. I now have approximately $22,000 saved in my "new car" fund, and coupled with the credit from the government, I could definitely afford almost anything I want.

  • WildBill WildBill on Jun 17, 2009

    My '89 Ford Club Wagon definately qualifies (combined 14 mpg) but I would want something like an F150/250 to replace it. That would be too expensive now for a new buy. I don't call it a clunker, it runs and drives fine and I know how it's been maintained since I'm the original owner (smells a bit inside from hauling animals, but not bad). It would hurt my feelings and be a big waste to think it would be crushed when it is perfectly usable for someone that needed it. I'll just keep it, thanks Mr. O.

  • Davejay Davejay on Jun 17, 2009

    It seems so obvious to me, somehow. If you're poor, you're not going to buy a new car because of this. If you've got a decent car worth anything reasonable, you're not going to buy a new car because of this. And, if you've got an older car (possibly a POS) that still gets decent gas mileage, you're not going to buy a new car because of this. But, if you have an old American, big car or truck (remember, most old foreign cars get better than 18mpg) and you have been hanging onto it not because you're poor but because you love your big, American car or truck (POS or not), this will probably push you over the top to buy a new American, big car or truck (most of which get more than 18mpg.) Not that there are tons of people out there like that, but considering the limited funding, there doesn't need to be. And what are the dealer lots most full of? Big, American cars and trucks. By that measure, this bill is aimed perfectly. Just think of it as a government-funded $3500-4500 rebate on big American cars and trucks meant for those who love big American cars and trucks the most.