The "Cash for Clunkers" legislation, which provides the
owner of an unwanted gas guzzler with a rebate of between
$3,500 and $4,500 on a new car, depending on the improvement in
gas mileage over their old vehicle, probably won't be
implemented until September.
Some scrap processors that operate shredders see it as a
positive for their recycling business, and steelmakers will
benefit from increased demand for steel to make new vehicles
and the abundance of shredded scrap when the clunkers are
ripped apart. Similar laws have provided a stimulus to
automakers in Germany and elsewhere in Europe and are seen as a
market-driven way to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas
The "Cash for Clunkers" law appeals to my selfish motives. I
drive a 1998 Ford Mustang, and while the mileage is low-less
than 85,000-it is more than 10 years old.
Today, many of us have come to expect more years of service
and mileage from our cars. It is not unusual to see used car
ads offering a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry with 125,000
miles on it; in the old days, even the rusted hulks in auto
graveyards rarely had that much mileage.
The new law stipulates that the gas guzzlers must be
scrapped. In other words, our lawmakers don't want to see any
fuel-inefficient sport utility vehicles (SUVs) back on the road
after they have ponied up $4,500 of our tax money. They want us
tooling around in 30-mile-per-gallon sedans. No complaint from
me about that. We hopefully will have cleaner air to breathe
and reduce our dependence on imported oil.
But this is not the complete win-win situation that those in
Washington foresee. Some will be left on the side of the road
as old car owners take advantage of the rebate program.
Auto recyclers-once better known as junkyards or
wreckers-are one group that comes to mind because the whole car
has to be scrapped under the "Cash for Clunkers" law-it can't
be picked apart. And there are others left out as well,
including those who would have a tough time making monthly
payments on a new car, regardless of the $4,500 chit from Uncle
Sam, because their earnings are too low or their credit rating
Yet another group are the do-it-yourself or "shade tree"
auto mechanics, a group near and dear to my heart since I have
been a full-fledged member of the group for several
I have my late father to blame for this. He was a machinist
and a toolmaker by trade, but his hobby was cars. Not too old,
though. He was not interested in restoring a 1936 Lincoln or a
LaSalle. No, he preferred those that were dead or near death
and could be bought for about $20. Twice he bought cars with
cracked engine blocks. Most would regard such defects as fatal,
but not my father-they were challenges. One he had welded. The
other, a 1953 Ford hardtop with a V-8 engine, had only a
hairline crack between the piston wall and the valve-not enough
to wreck the motor or leak water and antifreeze. It just had a
rough idle once the engine was at operating temperature. With
the radio volume high enough you hardly noticed it.
Most of the time we had at least one junker sitting in the
driveway, sometimes as many as three. When there was work to be
done on them, he was the supervisor and I and one or two of my
teenage pals were the workers.
I learned a lot about cars from that experience-not enough
to make me pursue a career in the auto industry, but enough to
make me believe that no matter how badly a car was running,
there was a part that could be replaced or something that could
be adjusted to keep it roadworthy.
I've rarely owned a car that was less than 10 years old. My
daughters often complained that I bought cars that were on the
way to the junkyard. One such treasure was a 1980 Ford Pinto
station wagon whose dark green paint had worn away on the hood
and the roof. To them it was daddy's "tie-dyed car."
There were no mint-condition restorations en route to a
classic car show, although I have owned a few that could have
been included in that group had they been in better condition
or had I devoted more time and money to their upkeep. My aim
was simply to keep them running.
Cars were a lot more fun in those days. Working on them and
making them run smoother felt like an accomplishment. From my
father and others of his generation I learned that you only
need the right combination of three things to get a car
started-spark, battery and fuel. If you had a car with a dead
battery and it was equipped with a stick shift, get it rolling
up to about 5 or 10 mph, pop the clutch and it would soon be
running. If the distributor points were the problem, reset them
using a match book cover as a feeler gauge.
Cars today are a lot more complex and it takes a lot of
training and several thousands of dollars of electronic
equipment to diagnose what's wrong. We no longer have that
sense of control over our cars that we once had, and that's a
problem not only for those of us who used to enjoy tinkering
with them .?.?. it also seems to be a problem for those who