Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cash for Clunkers - Not a Good Idea

Okay, everymen (and everywomen), it's time for a thought about government intervention:

So our spend-and-tax federal government has decided to continue to offer the "Cash for Clunkers" program, which effectively provides up to $4500 to those who will turn in their less-efficient vehicle and purchase a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle.

Don't fall into this trap! Unless you can afford to go and pay for the car up front, you'll end up doing what many participants of this program are doing: taking out an auto loan. Instead of driving that "clunker" - which in many cases is really a pretty good vehicle - that you've had paid off for years, you'll now saddle yourself down with an additional liability - a car payment. There are very few things in this world that this author despises more than a car payment. Not only does the vehicle depreciate with every mile that you drive it, but you also pay interest charges and other financing fees to drive the depreciating asset into the ground (sometimes literally!).

Couple of thoughts:

1. Most people are not going to get the benefit of $4,500. This would entail that your car was literally worthless. If your car was worth $3,000, they are NOT going to give you $3,000 + $4,500 for your car. No, you'll still only receive $4,500. So when you try to justify the purchase of a new car by telling yourself you're getting $7,500 or $4,500 off, don't fool yourself. You're really only getting $1,500 more than you would have had you traded your car in before this program. Is it really worth putting yourself into a position where you have monthly payments to drive a depreciating asset for a $1,500 break on the new car?

2. More directed at the government: say I was driving around a 1987 Caravan (I apologize if some car fanatic out there is saying "they weren't around then!" - I'm not sure when they were first produced, but that's not the point). And my neighbor, who is relatively better off than I am, is driving a 2000 Caravan. While I might be able to get $4,500 for my nearly worthless '87 Caravan, I can't afford to pay for a new car, even with the $4,500 'discount'. Now my neighbor: he can afford to go out and get that brand new car through the "Cash for Clunkers" program. What happens to that 2000 Caravan? It gets destroyed (by law, they must destroy the engine/tranny). Therefore, I'm still stuck driving an even less fuel-efficient vehicle, while a newer one is destroyed. Not only is it a waste, but it decreases the number of used vehicles available - driving the price of used vehicles higher - and giving less work to your local mechanic.

Does anyone else find it interesting that the government is running this program - and they are one of the largest shareholders in the industry? Go figure...

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