What is the Best Way to Clean up Our Auto Fleet?

By Chris Haak


Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) introduced a bill earlier this week that would encourage sales of plug-in hybrid passenger cars by providing a $3,000 to $6,150 tax credit for people who buy them. Is this the best, most cost-effective way to clean our air and reduce our dependence on imported oil?

Maybe a look at the bigger picture is in order. I propose that instead of tax credits on new cars, that the government provide similarly-sized tax credits to allow owners (who are in lower income levels) of older cars that fail emission tests to purchase a used car that pollutes a fraction as much as an older pre-1990 car. A $5,000 to $6,000 car is in most cases a heck of a lot nicer than a $1,000 one.I’d rather see the $5,000 incentives go to these less fortunate people who are buying a better used car than to someone who has money and just wants to get the latest environmentally friendly vehicle. In absolute terms, I really think something like that would clean up the environment and reduce oil consumption better than making already-clean vehicles cleaner. In addition, it could potentially help the market for used cars (more demand, hopefully better resale values) AND cut new car manufacturers some slack in their R&D expenditures.I don’t know – it’s just an idea – but I’ve always been bugged that the cars that are already not the problem are being focused on. Sort of like the argument in favor of large hybrids (city buses, UPS trucks, GM’s large SUV hybrids) rather than small hybrids (Prius, Civic). Sure, the Prius might get great fuel economy, but even if you took away all the exotic hybrid components and put a regular 1.8 liter engine in that thing, it would probably still get 35 mpg (as the Corolla already pretty much does). You’ll save many more barrels of oil reducing consumption of the biggest vehicles by 20% rather than reducing consumption of the smallest vehicles by 20%. Plus, you’d clean the air more effectively by removing the worst polluters rather than making the least-polluting vehicles even cleaner.

You can contact Chris Haak at chaak@autosavant.net

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Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. What if they take the money and buy a full-size SUV that doesn’t run very well? Not only are you now putting out lots of pollution and using lots of gas, now you have some guy driving around in a 3-ton piece of junk that had lousy brakes and lousy handling even when it was brand new. Now he’s dangerous to others and using up more resources, and the taxpayer has paid for this.

    I can see how this idea gets to be a bad idea pretty quick.

  2. Excellent idea. It’s been said for years that one poorly running old car produces more pollution than a large number of new cars. But there have been only sporadic, limited efforts to get these junkers off the road.

  3. Why don’t you give them $5000 to buy a NEW small-midsize car? Then the taxpayers know what they’re getting for their tax dollars.

  4. Here’s an even better idea: Why don’t all of you liberal morons take your socialist government ideas and move to Europe?

  5. AlanInGainesville, it would be easy enough to limit the eligibility of this program to a certain size of car, which meets predetermined emission targets, similar to Goodbattery’s idea below. The goal isn’t to get the folks in stinky old clunkers into used cars that would be nearly as bad, but to get them into economical new cars. If, for economic reasons, I had to drive around in a 1978 Plymouth Volare, I’d happily accept an offer to get a new Cobalt or Civic at a heavily discounted price, even if it’s a smaller car.

    mkaresh, I remember back in the 1980s when there were “clunker laws” that paid a $700 or so bounty for old cars to then be crushed. Apparently the initiative wasn’t successful, and I recall that folks in the collector car hobby were up in arms about it because it would eliminate a great source of parts cars, or even future restoration projects.

    vbremer, thanks for the worthless comment. Although members of the opposite persuasion have turned the word “liberal” into almost an insult, I don’t see how it’s liberal to ask that our government make it EASIER for automakers (you know, BIG BUSINESS) to meet requirements rather than legislating technical innovations that are costly and only marginally beneficial. So your ideal world would be for anyone who has a different opinion than yours to move to another continent? Sounds like a great way to keep a balance of power and an even keel in our country, to remove all dissenting opinions, right?

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