More Than Wheels: The Mobility Anti-Charity

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

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]

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  • Jpolicke Jpolicke on Aug 12, 2011

    I should have seen it coming, being a NYT story. Started to gag after the second reference to "carbon emissions". Trust a NYT writer to get right to the important part of the story. The woman in the story didn't need a course on managing finances; her financial situation is thanks to a dirtbag ex. They don't let you move (even if there's crack dealers in the hall & perverts next door sizing up your kids?) or change jobs (even if you find a better paying job closer to home?); sounds like a typical over-intrusive approach by know-it-all activist types. $60 to apply & an $895 "fee"? Sounds like someone set out to do good and ended up doing very well.

    • See 2 previous
    • NulloModo NulloModo on Aug 13, 2011

      I didn't see any mention of a dirtbag ex, just that a bad divorce hurt her credit. For all we know she was responsible for the events that led to the divorce or the decisions that led to debts being unpaid during it. Most of the time people feel they have some justification in not paying their debts, and most of the time it's BS. I've had plenty of people come in with foreclosures on their credit reports who feel that it shouldn't negatively effect them because their loan was upside down or 'everyone is doing it'. The fact is that when you take on a loan either solely or in a joint credit situation you take on the responsibility to make sure it's paid no matter what or you face the consequences. Your credit score reflects your ability to pay and your history of payment regardless of circumstances. Lenders want customers who have proven that they find ways to make it work in any circumstance, not those that run from their obligations when the going gets tough. Many, but granted, not all, of those with poor credit have spotty job histories with lots of gaps and periods of unemployment because they are unwilling to put in the effort to work through less than ideal situations until things get better, or because they have become excellent manipulators so that they can easily get jobs through the interview process, but not keep them once they are asked to prove their worth. Requiring proof of steady employment makes sense. Similarly, being willing to stay at the same location for an extended period of time shows that someone is trying to put down roots and is invested in turning things around, plus, if things go sideways, it's easier to locate and repossess the collateral. I don't have a lot of sympathy of the situation of those with poor credit. Being poor doesn't mean that your record of paying your debts also had to be poor - it's still possible to live within one's means, it just means that certain unearned luxuries and creature-comforts have to be postponed. Those that have earned their good credit ratings through a history of fiscal responsibility and follow-through on making good on their debts should be rewarded with lower interest rates and easier access to loans in the future. Those who have shown by their own actions that they can't be trusted to make good on their financial promises should be punished until they can prove their worth again. I do like the idea of this program, as even those who have made mistakes in the past can always turn things around. If they only have a 5% default rate they are obviously doing something right.

  • Buzzliteyear Buzzliteyear on Aug 13, 2011

    Good News Garage... ...has been doing similar services for the New England region for over 15 years without having to charge its beneficiaries for the privilege. Yeah, More Than Wheels sounds like a 'typically American response', i.e. let's take something that's a charitable service or public utility and find a way to make a boatload of money off of it. Yet another logical outcome of 30+ years of "I've upped mine, now up yours" mentality.

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