My Clunker

There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about the “Clunker Bill” passing the House.  This bill would allow for people to trade in their gas-guzzlers for a voucher towards a newer, more efficient car.

I’ve been paying particular attention to this bill, since I myself drive one of these so-called clunkers.  My car is a 1997 Ford Explorer.  Behold:

my clunker 001

I really love my Explorer, but I don’t love the gas mileage, the cost of gas, and the resulting carbon emissions.  According to, my car gets a combined mileage of 15 mpg, which means it falls under the 18 mpg required to be eligible for the voucher.  This car also emits about 12 tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year (if you estimate 15,000 miles per year… I’m not sure how many miles I drive each year but I don’t think it’s that much).  So why hasn’t this self-described environmentalist traded in her gas-guzzler already? Well, like many environmental issues, there are many factors to consider.

In terms of economics, my car is a winner.  Although the gas mileage is low, and therefore fuel costs are relatively high, I don’t have to make monthly payments.  Why buy a new (expensive!) car when I don’t have to? Why would I want to pay for a car when I have one that’s essentially “free”?

I like SUV’s.  I guess that shows I’m a true American, right? I’d love to get a big pick-up, but I think that’s kind of unrealistic for me.  Anyway, the four-wheel drive is a must-have in the winter, since our street is very steep and often icy.  I love having the extra room to cart around school supplies, since I make a few trips throughout the year to buy potting soil and greenhouse supplies, as well as the occasional farm trips (hay bales, etc.)  Those trips are rare, but still, I like having the option.  Also, being a 28-year old woman with plans for a family someday, I don’t think now would be the time to down-size in vehicles, since I tend to drive them into the ground. 

So, if I traded in my Explorer, I’d want to get another SUV.   I have had my eye on the Ford Escape Hybrid (34/31 mpg) for a while now, so I’m going to use that as an example.  If I traded in my Explorer, the clunker bill would allow for a $4500 voucher toward my new Escape.  According to Ford’s website, a 4X4 Ford Excape Hybrid in my zip code will cost $32,120, or about $630 per month for 60-months (assuming no down payment).  With the voucher, that brings the cost to $27,620.  With the $4500 trade-in value from the clunker bill, the monthly cost would be $547.  That’s still quite a bit, isn’t it?

While I think the clunker bill could be good for the environment, I have to say I’m not sure how many people will take advantage of it.  I know that if I want to trade in my clunker, this would be the best bet for me to get a new car.  I’ll never get $4500 for my car.  However, this bill is designed to stimulate the auto industry, with the benefit (or under the guise) of being environmentally friendly.

Of course, the bill’s not a done deal.  We still have to see what happens in the Senate.  But in terms of this bill, at least for now, my conclusion:

No car payment = Priceless

my clunker 002

Besides, would a new car have a rusty bumper like this?

What do you think?



Filed under Sustainable Living

11 responses to “My Clunker

  1. Hey, please don’t knock that “clunker!” It used to be mine! No payments ARE priceless!

    Oh, BTW, if you’re waiting for me to “hand-down” the ‘stang, you’re going to have a LONG wait, and I’m not about to give up my “clunker” anytime soon, either!

  2. This is precisely the logic that my daughter has used to decide to keep her 96 Intrepid. It has it’s quirks, but it runs. She is simply riding her bike more, and when she moves out next month it will be to rent a little house two blocks from where she works, so she will walk. That makes far more sense than getting into car payments on a hybird.

  3. I totally agree… someone told me that I need a new car what with baby and all. But I’m really attached to the no car payment factor. I don’t care how it looks or that it has no frills… it works!

  4. Jena

    Hey, your vehicle didn’t look bad at all minus that rusty bumper pic! I feel your pain, or at least I did. My Grand Prix had 180,000 miles on it, plus I drove it for almost a year with the front panel and bumper smashed in from hitting a dear last summer. After that I had a new headlight installed which pointed straight down at the ground and distorted the good light too. That made it very dangerous to drive it at night and we never made it a priority to have that adjusted. 3 of the 4 wheels had major issues until I finally got new brakes, then only 2 wheels were trouble. When we got our insurance money from the shed fire Brian started talking about another tractor. I put my foot down and asked that we make a vehicle for me a priority. We got an amazing deal on an 07 Dodge Ram with only 15,000 miles on it. I’ve driven little cars and even wrote a paper in college about why everyone should drive them but I’m a truck girl at heart. Plus, around here I kind of need one.

    I have a very short drive to work or I would have needed something with better mileage. To offset that I have tried very hard to plan ahead and avoid driving to town except on days that I work.

    I would encourage you to avoid a big payment like the plague. If you wait til gas prices rise again you can probably find a great deal on an SUV. We’re still paying huge payments on Brian’s truck. I can’t wait until my student loan is gone and we can knock that baby out. It sucks up so much of our income – I just hate it!!

    This is getting really long but one more thing: about the Escape hybrid. My Mom looked at those a lot before she bought her last Jeep. Ask about the battery, our friend that sells Fords told us that if the battery or some related part fails it cost $4500 to fix. Plus, the used vehicle warranty she would get did not cover that. I’m not sure about that but there was enough of a question that she opted not to buy one even though she really liked the vehicle. She ended up with a Jeep Patriot that she likes a lot.

  5. I think that if your car is working for you, I wouldn’t buy a new one.

    Plus, I sometimes wonder at what point the savings in annual emissions actually compensate for the carbon footprint of manufacturing and shipping a new car, and disposing of an old one. It doesn’t sound like you do that much driving, so the advantage of trading in your clunker would be even lower.

    At least, that’s my uneducated opinion. 🙂

  6. Chris Danner

    Don’t forget insurance rates on a new car are much higher than on ye olde clunker.

  7. Rob

    You know Abbie- I own a 95 Susuki Swift (Think Geo Metro) It runs and runs – no mechanical problems. It gets comporable to better gas mileage than a Prius. Always passes emission tests. Too bad The american car makers didn’t make a comporable car. Don’t mean I don’t like a truck. And the fact you aren’t buying a new car every 4 years makes your SUV a wise choice

  8. Rob

    P.S. That bumper can be painted. Ed can do it. simply sand it and prime it and paint. A day and a few beers and a few cans of spray paint. Cheaper than a a new hybrid and the longer you keep the car, it doesn’t end up a wrecking yard

  9. I love this post . . . I’m giggling on this end, 🙂

    Um, my hubby, who just bought a hybrid, has a well constructed (or at least it sounds that way to me) about why hybrids are not necessarily good for the environment. That said, if you were already planning to trade your car in, why not buy a hybrid and save gas money? I can’t believe how little gas his new car takes (it’s the toyota camry hybrid). I too like the Ford Escape hybrid and the Toyota Highlander hybrid, though for now, my VW is in our budget (and yes, has no car payment and won’t require additional resources to be produced).

    Anyhoo . . . I can’t wait to hear more about your car search. Oh, and I can definitely see you driving a truck; I’m just not sure how well a carseat or 2 will fit in a 4 X 4.

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