Hands Off My Clunker!

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I’ll be keeping my “clunker” – a 1998 Nissan Frontier with about 120,000 miles on it – until the proverbial wheels finally fall off it (or more likely, the frame finally rusts to dust).

But why? How come I didn’t take the government up on its $3,500-$4,500 taxpayer-financed handout in return for bringing my old truck in for destruction? 

For openers, I like to pay my own way – and am not into making others pay my way by having Big Bully (the government) do my dirty work for me.  

And while my truck may be  a “clunker” as far as the government’s concerned, what matters more (to me) than what the government thinks – or even its offer of a $3,500-$4,500 handout – is what I know to be true about my truck. 

It is still running great. I think it has another 100,000 miles of life left – maybe more. Why would I want to toss away a perfectly good truck? It’s “old”? Ok. So what?  I think too many people have let themselves be bamboozled into believing that it is an essential part of being American to throw away things that are still perfectly good in order to get the “newest” and “latest” thing. This places people on a treadmill of endless consumerism – that is, debt – which profits no one except those who are doing the selling (and the lending). 

But my truck is paid-for. 

That means I have zero fixed expenses beyond the cost of gas and every now and then regular maintenance. Sure, it will likely need this or that as the years roll by. But I’ll take the occasional unexpected expense for, say, a new alternator over the absolute certainty of a monthly payment (with interest) for the next five years. 

You may snicker at me when you pull up next to me at the next red light in your new Obama-mobile. But I’ve probably got more money in the bank than you do. I definitely don’t owe some shyster bank or finance company a fistfull of cash every month. I have better things to do with my money – which these days means spending it on stuff that may mean all the difference come The End (which may be closer than you think). Long-term storable food; ammunition. Necessary supplies. Maybe I’m a kook. But maybe I’ll be better situated to deal with hard times, too.

In any case, I won’t be broke.    

I’m also not a sucker – and only suckers signed up for Cash for Clunkers.  

Even if your old car got 15 mpg and your new Obama-mobile gets twice that, the total cost of the new car (don’t neglect to include all  those taxes – including personal property taxes – as well as insurance and interest payments and all the rest of it) is going to wash away any “gas savings” you may have been hoping for. 

And if you really do drive a “clunker”? A car that is on its last legs and no longer reliable or constantly nickel and diming you into the poorhouse with repair costs? 

You’d still be better off  selling your old car for whatever it will fetch, then using that money plus whatever else you have saved up to buy a mechanically sound used car – for cash on the barrelhead. No financing; no interest. 

No debt.

For between $5,000 and $8,000 you have your choice of a veritable bounty of new-looking, new-driving and (yes) high efficiency slightly used cars. I recently bought a back-up Frontier – an ’02 model very much the same as my ’98 only newer and with  58k miles on it – for $7,200. It looks brand-new and it drives brand new and it cost me less than half the cost a stripped-down base model 2010 Frontier. And the insurance is next to nothing because it’s older – and because I can buy a basic, liability-only policy (because the truck is paid-for). If I bought a new Frontier – even with the aid of Obama Bucks, I’d still be on the hook for a new (full-ride) comprehensive coverage insurance policy, plus the much higher personal property taxes – which are based on the vehicle’s retail value.   

Most people who can afford to finance a new car in the $15-18k price range can afford to buy a used car under $10k outright. This is a far smarter move, financially, than tying the albatross of a 5-6 year loan with interest around your neck. 

Debt is financial cancer. You’d think people might have figured this out by now.  

And yet, the suckers think they are getting such a deal. It’s no wonder. This is the same crowd that buys into advertising slogans such as “up to” 50 percent more! (which of course means 1 or 2 percent more in actuality), that buys tax-yourself lottery tickets every week for years on end (“my numbah’s gonna come up today, I can feel it!”) and which can’t perform sixth grade arithmetic without the aid of a calculator – and maybe not even then. 

You cannot help such people. 

All you can do is manipulate them to your advantage. I want no part of that. I may not be religious but I like to think I am not an asshole. Exploitation is not my bag, baby.

I leave that to the government.


  1. I know someone who did well with the program. He turned in a decrepit Nissan 4×4 pickup (190,000 miles, a slipping clutch, and major rust to the point the frame was not structurally sound) that was worth, basically, scrap value. His wife got a new Focus, her Prism went to their daughter. He got a used Ram 2500 diesel he still has, now with ~320,000 miles.

    • Hi John,

      My ’02 Nissan is a “clunker” according to the generally accepted definition. It is pushing 20 years old and has high miles. But it runs great, it’s paid for – and thus I will keep on driving it probably for another 10 years or even longer.

      One of the things many people seem not to grok about the shove toward electric cars is that it will mean much shorter service life; you won’t be able to drive around in a paid-for, 20-year-old “beater” electric car.. such won’t exist. Instead, you’ll be nudged into perpetual payments/debt for your EV.


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