Staff column: Valid excuse for cash cows in the barn
Having been a car buff my entire life, I like to think that I have respect for all cars that have ever been built, even those that were junk the day they came off the factory floor. Cars are like opinions; everyone has one, and sooner or later they end up in the junk pile.
Over the years I have junked many opinions, including those about some cars. There was a time when I wouldn't have considered owning a Japanese car, but even though I don't own one now, I do at times think about it. I really like the Mazda RX 8's and the new Nissan Z cars. I also think the Toyota FJ Cruisers are pretty cool. Still, despite their shortcomings at times, I still like American tabled cars. There's a lot of history in driving a Ford, Chevrolet or Chrysler product. I realize some of that history isn't so good, but I still like that feel.
I've owned some pretty bad American cars in my life but they were usually bad because they were worn out when I bought them. When I bought a new or reasonably new American car, they have always been pretty darn good. I'm not one of those people who measures the gap in the hood vs. the fenders or looks to see if there is a rough edge under the dash board where the floor coating meets the metal, so maybe I'm easy to please.
I had a friend buy a new BMW by trading in a Chevy Blazer a number of years ago and the salesman told him as he drove away from the dealership, "you will never own another American car." It was true; he never has. He still owns that BMW because he could never afford another new one.
I have even thought about taking advantage of the new "cash for clunkers" (henceforth know as the C for C program in this article) that the United States government is now sponsoring. The only thing is that the very vehicles I would like to trade in gets too good of mileage for what I want to buy. The clunker you trade in needs to get less than 18 miles per gallon. The only vehicles I have that does that are ones I don't want to part with; my old Mustangs and my F-250 Ford flat bed. Cash cows are no good if you aren't willing to cash them in.
I would like to buy my wife a new car, but her 1999 Taurus still runs pretty good and it gets darn good mileage. Sure that transaxle problem those cars are burdened with is starting to act up a little at 160,000 miles, but it isn't bad enough to have it fixed for what the car is now worth. It also doesn't fit the C for C program, so no cash for a clunker there.
I have a 1996 Saturn that my kids drove to death in my pasture. It runs really bad (actually not at all right now since I put the battery from it in one of the Mustangs one miserly day). It probably only gets about 13 miles to the gallon the way it is running, so if they went by that it would qualify. Problem is that when it was new it got great mileage, but after a gazillion miles on it is ready to rest in peace (or be driven by another teenager if I can find one gullible enough to take it). I understand that cash for clunkers goes by the original EPA mileage estimates, so it won't qualify either.
I always tell my wife I am car rich because of the number of blocks of Detroit metal tucked away in the barn. But none of them qualify for the C for C program, or more to the point, I just can't part with those that do qualify. I tell her they are like life insurance. If ever a car goes bad and we are broke we have replacements coming out our ears.
It seems some people are upset by the C for C program. Many say that the program is taking cars out of the market that the poor can afford. You know, the cars that middle class Americans have just about used up. You find these cars on lots along the Wasatch Front that have signs in windows that say "$200 down and $95 per month." Those are usually the kinds of cars the poor seem to buy. Actually, considering the junk on those lots and the interest rates the people who buy them pay, we might actually be doing the poor a favor by getting rid of many of those old cars.
Others, in the charity business, say that these clunker cars are one of the things many people have donated to their causes over the years. The charities either fix them up and resell them for a profit, making money for the charity or they fix them and give them to people who need wheels.
Both these arguments sound like legitimate complaints to me. When I was young and poor (as compared to being old and in debt as I am now) those were the only kinds of cars I could afford. Without those I might have been riding a bicycle. Nowadays that would actually be a good choice.
The point is that new car sales are up for some of the manufacturers and they attribute at least some of that to the C for C program. I watched an ad the other night that said that with the rebate and other offers a dealer was giving his customers, you could buy a new sub-compact for only a little over $7,000. I think I would like that, especially if I could get that one little car they advertise on TV with the hampsters running in cages. I like it when four of the cute little buggers pull up in that red mini-like car, tapping their toes to some cool music.
But I'd only buy it if they threw in the giant hampsters to ride along with me.