Cash For Clunkers: The Changes and My Clunker Tales

Hmmmm. I don’t have a clunker, but I thought that “Cash For Clunkers” would be a good idea, to help people get the gas guzzling, carbon spewing problem children off the roads and into the landfills, where they belong!

But there seems to be a problem in wonderland. First of all, those who drive clunkers drive them for a reason: They can’t AFFORD to buy a new car! $4,500 isn’t even going to solve their problems!

I remember having nothing but clunkers (or bomb cars) from when I was in High School, until I made Captain, and was overseas with a monster exchange rate advantage boosting my ability to buy a new car.

I would simply buy a bombing-around car for about $700, drive it until something serious needed to be fixed (serious meant the third time that a mechanic had to do something), then sell it for $700.

When it comes to cars, I’ve had some dogs that just wouldn’t bite, and actually got into a drag race with Sidney Poitier’s limo. During this epic race, Sidney Poitier’s limo would have to slow down and wait for my car, which only had one or two gears that worked, to catch up, farting and smoking, as we chugged our way into town. My friends were screaming at me to speed up. It was too much, trying to drive through the laughing and screaming.

I had that cherry red Camaro that I bought from this brother’s shop in Oakland. It ran like a monster and got me into soooo much trouble, just as Camaros should.

I remember drag racing down Highway 101, from San Francisco to San Jose with a man who thought that I AND he were cute. The race went on for about five miles, until we noticed that a third car had joined us…a Highway patrol officer wanted to join in on the fun. We made it all the way to San Jose, all three of us in a perfectly aligned row, at EXACTLY the speed limit.

I drove my nieces and nephews around in my bomb cars. I would leave change for them to find before I strapped them in and took them with me for adventures (and free babysitting) with Auntie. They would be thrilled to find those pennies and dimes and nickels, and would quiet down for a few minutes as they calculated their vast wealth.

I drove my last bomb car halfway across the country and back. I drove from California to Kansas, where the infamous epithet “Fuck Your Salt” was discovered. That epithet inspired me to write this poem:

Odius To The Sodium

I drove my last bomb car from Kansas to California, reading those ubiquitous “Tumcacari Tonight” signs until I wanted to scream. I finally got to Tumcacari and found it to be a friendly place, as advertised. But I spent the night in Alberquerque.

Then I shipped my last bomb car (A nasty little AMC Spirit) to Europe. I never went to the port, which was somewhere up in the Scandanavian Arctic circle, but paid a service to pick it up and deliver it. The nasty little car actually became a “Certified Autobahn Screamer” (you have to run it over 100 mph on the Autobahn for it to have the status of screamer.)

Finally, my last bomb car died at the mechanics. The mechanic was a middle aged man who once had been a marksman for the German Olympic team. He had my car for a week, then called me to tell me that my hood had flown open while he was test driving the wreck. “The car is kaput!” he yelled. “Kaput!”

So, I was forcibly kidnapped and taken to the Volkswagen dealer to buy a brand new car. That car never became a bomb car. That car became a legend as a certified Autobahn and Autostrada screamer. Three trips over two parts of the Alps, 5 countries, and mile after mile of music and speeding.

I drove that car for 20 years until I donated it to the Cancer Society, still running like a little sewing machine, exquisitely maintained by a man who knew everything that there was to know about Volkswagens. He hated my car. But he went to grammar school with us, so he never cheated me and never failed to fix whatever was wrong in a day or two.


Now, we have cash for clunkers. Apparently the EPA changed it’s mind and came up with new Miles Per Gallon (MPG) numbers for an “unknown” number of vehicles. Many vehicles that qualified under the original plan may be ineligible now.

The general rules are: The car was made in 1984 or later, gets less than or equal to 18 MPG, and has been registered and insured over the past year. So don’t try to break out the mothballed fleet of junkers that you have stashed in Grandma’s barn.

The cash ranges from 3,500 if the new vehicle gets 4 more MPG, to $4,500 if the new vehicle gets 10 more MPG. SUV’s, Minivan’s and Pickups only have to improve by 2 to 5 MPG.

The replacement vehicle must be new and cost less than $45,000.

People who thought that their vehicle qualified for Cash For Clunkers may be in for a terrible surprise, as the list is being updated.

Apparently, a lot of people are interested.

Here are some links for your further enlightenment.

1. To check your bomb car’s eligibility:

2. Edmunds Article on the whole mess (Plus a very detailed list of cars that are currently eligible.).

3. ABC News on “Cash For Clunkers”


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