Washington wants to pay you thousands to junk your jalopy

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I'm not sure if this goes into the category of greening America or bailing out Detroit, but U.S. Senators Feistein, Collins and Schumer have introduced a measure to set up a voucher program for American auto owners that would pay them thousands of dollars to junk their old, low-mileages vehicles and buy new high-efficiency models. As the owner of a 1995 Dodge Caravan, I'm intrigued.

Autos on Display

    (FILES) A combo image showing the classic Fiat 500 in Rome and (bottom) a Dodge Truck with Jim Press, Chrysler Vice Chairman and Co-president during the Detroit Auto show in 2008. The Italian Fiat auto group with its tiny Cinquecento back-street "people" car and flashy Ferrari brand agreed to tow mighty Chrysler out of a product-range abyss on January 20, 2009, swapping Italian technology for 35 percent of the US giant. AFP PHOTO/FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/STAN HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    Car lovers enjoy the Chevrolet Corvette during opening day of the North American International Auto Show, Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Jerry S. Mendoza)

    AP

    Tim Butt, right, of Plymouth, Mich., looks at a cross-section of the 2008 Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle on display during opening day of the North American International Auto Show, Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Jerry S. Mendoza)

    AP

    Masakazu Sasaki, left, and his wife, Nami Sasaki, of Ann Arbor, Mich., take a picture of their daughter Rin, not pictured, inside the Jeep Compass Limited 4x4 on display during opening day of the North American International Auto Show, Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009 in Detroit. The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Electric Vehicle can be seen in the background. (AP Photo/Jerry S. Mendoza)

    AP

    A Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Electric Vehicle is seen on display during opening day of the North American International Auto Show, Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009 in Detroit. The Wrangler sports a 200-kilowatt lithium-ion battery and is capable of a 40-mile all-electric range with zero fuel consumption and zero tailpipe emissions. (AP Photo/Jerry S. Mendoza)

    AP

    General Motors' Chevy Volt is seen on display during opening day of the North American International Auto Show on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009 in Detroit. The Volt uses a lithium-ion battery with a gasoline-powered, range-extending engine that drives a generator to provide electric power when driving beyond the 40-mile battery range. (AP Photo/Jerry S. Mendoza)

    AP

    A cross section of General Motors' Chevy Volt is seen on display during opening day of the North American International Auto Show on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009 in Detroit. The Volt uses a lithium-ion battery with a gasoline-powered, range-extending engine that drives a generator to provide electric power when driving beyond the 40-mile battery range. (AP Photo/Jerry S. Mendoza)

    AP

    Prince Philippe from Belgium tries out the Renault Zero Emission during the 87th annual car show at Heysel, on January 16, 2009 in Brussels, Belgium.

    Mark G. Renders/WireImage.com

    Prince Philippe from Belgium is seen during the 87th annual car show at Heysel, on January 16, 2009 in Brussels, Belgium.

    Mark G. Renders/WireImage.com

    Prince Philippe from Belgium is seen during the 87th annual car show at Heysel, on January 16, 2009 in Brussels, Belgium.

    Mark G. Renders/WireImage.com

The 'Cash for Clunkers' proposal would reward drivers with a $2,500-$4,500 voucher for sending their jalopies to the scrapyard. Since the program is designed to get the vehicles off the road permanently, no credit would be given for selling a rustbucket to another person who intends to keep driving it.

To qualify for the credit, the junker must have had a fuel economy rating of no more than 18 mpg when new, still be in drivable condition, and have been registered in the U.S. for a minimum of the past 120 days. The proposal calls for the program to run for four years, until 2013, with the expectation that it will consign as many as a million cars a year to an early grave.

Participants would be given a voucher good toward the purchase a new or used higher-efficiency car or truck, or for rides on participating public transportation. The proposed amounts for scrapping

  • Vehicles from 2002 and later- $4,500 for the purchase of a new vehicle, $3,000 toward a used car/truck or transit fares.
  • Vehicles 1999-2001: $3,000 toward a new car/truck, $,2000 for a used one or transit fares.
  • Vehicles 1998 and earlier: $2,000 toward a new car/truck, $1,500 for a used one or transit fares.

The Kelly Blue Book lists the value of my current ride at $1,635, so I'd stand to make a grand on this proposal. I suppose then that I should be more excited than I am.

The reason I'm not doing cartwheels over the possible largess is that I don't see the environmental advantage of scrapping vehicles that still have a reasonable road life ahead. Yes, we will burn less gas, but at the cost of wasting part of the effort put into making the car in the first place, and the cost of more new cars than we really need. This seems like more consumerism run amok.

It also strikes me as a bill destined to create a whole new black market, smuggling cars back from Mexico.

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