Clunkers Redux

Auto Recyclers Comment On The Government Program


The Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), the 2009 government program that gave consumers credit for trading in their old vehicles for something new, has recently made headlines that question the program’s environmental impact. The articles, appearing in early January 2013, claim CARS, commonly known as Cash For Clunkers, added to environmental waste because many of the nearly 700,000 vehicles taken off the road skipped auto recycling facilities and went straight to shredders instead. A vehicle that’s shredded, instead of recycled, creates 500 pounds of residue per ton of metal. The articles doubt the overall success of Cash For Clunkers based on these facts, yet those in the auto recycling industry have a different opinion.

“I believe it did exactly what it was supposed to do, and that was sell new cars,” stated Alice Corns, president of Colorado Auto & Parts in Englewood, Colo. In 2009 she expected 500 vehicles, but ended up processing about 1,200. “We’ve never worked harder, or longer,” she added.

Krystyn Roberts, co-owner of County Line Auto Parts in Kingsville, Mo., agreed that the program did benefit the economy somewhat.

“In my estimation, this program did not make as significant of an impact as intended overall,” she said. “I think the program was successful from the standpoint that it did provide a shortterm shot in the arm for economy through the manufacturers and dealerships, which was the intent.” 

County Line Auto Parts originally expected to process 500 - 750 vehicles, but its final count totaled 1,400. The CARS program wasn’t without its hurdles for the industry. Auto recyclers had to process the vehicles within 180 days, keep track of the VINs and were limited to selling only certain parts off the vehicles.

“From a recyclers’ perspective, however, the program was a bit complicated and communication on the parameters came too soon to the start date of the program to prepare adequately,” Roberts added. “The unfortunate result of not placing more attention on the long-term ripple effect when this program was developed was a lot of vehicles, drivetrain and viable parts were destroyed because of the time constraints and guidelines that could have been recycled more optimally. This in turn could have provided benefit to even more people so the program would have had a much more significant impact to the economy long-term. There are trade-offs to everything and the cash for clunkers program was no different.”

Dave Kokot, general manager of Spalding Auto Parts in Spokane Valley, Wash., said he agreed with the above mentioned articles that the Cash For Clunkers program didn’t meet the environmental expectations it was touting for having.

“The program was supposed to incent those with wore out, environmentally-unfriendly ‘clunkers’ to get them off the road,” he explained. “Very few of the vehicles were clunkers. Most of what we received was very nice used cars. I don’t believe it impacted the environmental one way or another as those cars were disposed of in the same way as the on-going stream of non-program vehicles being recycled. Now that is good for the environment, but nothing changed. Those vehicles would have eventually been recycled the same way.” 

Kokot originally expected Spalding Auto Parts to receive at least 1,000 CARS vehicles, and he said the company ended up processing 1,300.

One bright spot for the Cash For Clunkers program was that is put a spotlight on the auto recycling industry, showing how it works with end of life vehicles. Corns said CARS gave her a chance to form partnerships with new car dealers. Colorado Auto & Parts also became an associate member of the Colorado Automotive Dealers Association after CARS ended.

“Cash For Clunkers helped to educate the new car dealers about what we do,” she said. “It gave (the new car dealers) the opportunity to work with people that do it the right way.” 

If the government ever decides to implement the program a second time, Corns hopes it would ease some of the restrictions the industry faced.

“I wouldn’t call the CARS program a success,” added Kokot. “I’d call it a learning experience.”

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