Cash for Clunker envy

Posted on July 28th, 2009 – 11:30 AM
By Kara McGuire

I recently wrote a column about how my husband’s 1992 Toyota Camry is on its last legs. The photo posted with the story cracks me up because the shot was intended to show how the key is stuck in the ignition. But instead it just highlights how we’re total slobs. Thank god you can’t whiff the indescribable-but-I’ll-try motor oil/grease/hot Goldfish crackers smell too!

To recap. The car has a lot of problems, but it still runs. And it does not qualify for Cash for Clunkers. And its trade-in or charitable value is laughable.

I thought writing the column would help me to retire the household topic of whether we should buy a car now (answer: No) .  But all of this cash for clunker talk makes me envious.

Part of me wants to join the new car party. I know it’s expensive. I know my car can run longer. I know I can buy used. But buying a new car would help the economy. There are good deals out there. And frankly, we can afford it if we want to, Cash for Clunkers or not. It’s all a matter of priorities.

Our 2003 Ford Windstar with 93,000 miles on it does qualify for the program. The $3,500 government dough plus a $1,500 cash rebate and a discount I get because my father used to work for Ford would equal a pretty good deal on the Ford Flex, the grocery getter I think we’d buy to haul around the three kids and the pop-up camper. I’m all for fuel efficiency, but  you try fitting three car seats in a Focus.

So I played around on the Ford web site and got a quote. Picked up the phone to call Mr. Kablog. His response? “$20,000 is $20,000.”

How true.

Yes, it’s a good time to buy a car. But cars are expensive, even if you qualify for the rebates and incentives.

In the next weeks as Cash for Clunkers is in the news, I’ll try to think of Jason each time I have the urge to head to the dealer’s lot. He sent me the following email:

My clunker is a 1999 Grand Caravan. It has 140,000 miles on it. The value is $2,000 because it is in poor condition – lots of body rust. The Caravan is list at 18 MPG so I would qualify for the $4,500 cash for clunkers incentive.

Originally I wanted use the cash for clunkers to get a small high MPG car. However after much consideration I decided not to.

The Caravan should last another two years (another 15,000 to 20,000 miles). Based on the current economic situation and uncertain job market I decided to wait until the car dies and tow it to the junk yard.

Readers, any of you planning on taking advantage of CARS? If so, what made you pull the trigger? Any trouble finding a vehicle?

If you are considering a new car, check out this tip sheet from Americans Well-Informed on Auto Retailing Economics.

I’ll keep you posted on my car-waffling. As you know, it’s often the behavioral/psychological aspects of finance that trip us up. And my heart might just overrule my head on this one.

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