Posted in: Green News

Cash For Clunkers Hurt The Environment, Says New Report

cash for clunkers

President Obama’s Car Allowance Rebates System (CARS) was praised in 2009 for helping the environment as well as the economy. It turns out, however, that the “Cash For Clunkers” program may have hurt the environment more than it helped.

The idea behind the Cash For Clunkers program was to get people to buy more fuel efficient cars. People who traded in their old gas-guzzling jalopies got $4,500 toward a new fuel efficient cars. The program was touted as a win win. The auto industry gets a boost, the consumer gets a new car and America’s ecological footprint gets a little smaller.

According to Yahoo News, close to a million cars were traded in for more fuel efficient vehicles during the program. But that doesn’t mean that the program was environmentally friendly.

E Magazine reports that Cash For Clunkers actually hurt the environment.

How? Well, instead of recycling the parts from the used cars the program shredded many of the vehicles. All of the engines were reportedly destroyed, since the government didn’t want anyone reselling the engines, and the rest of the parts were put up for auction. After 180 days, however, the leftover parts were destroyed.

And destroying a car is no easy task.

The magazine writes:

“For each ton of metal recovered by a shredding facility, roughly 500 pounds of shredder residue are produced, meaning about 3 to 4.5 million tons of shredder residue is sent to landfills every year. This shredder residue typically consists of a mix of materials including polyurethane foams, polymers, metal oxides, glass and dirt. A partnership between the American Chemistry Council, Argonne National Laboratory and USCAR has been working on a way of extracting more of this material, specifically the plastic. Argonne estimates that recycling just the plastic and metal would represent 24 million barrels of oil saved each year. Unfortunately, that did not happen with the 690,000 vehicles scrapped during the Cash for Clunkers program.”

In addition to the environmental impact, the Cash For Clunkers program may have not been as beneficial to the economy as it planned to be. Mike Smith of explains in an opinion piece that the program took many used vehicles off the market while driving up the price of new cars.

Smith writes:

“The program destroyed approximately 750,000 working vehicles. They were crushed and sold for scrap metal, primarily to China. This created a severe shortage of affordable, reliable cars for folks like my customers who cannot afford newer, expensive cars. For independent dealers like me, the availability of used cars to resell diminished drastically, while prices skyrocketed.”

On the bright side, the Cash for Clunkers program did put more fuel efficient cars on the road. Most cars traded in got 15.8 mpg or less compared to the new cars that got 25.4 mpg or more. That is a fuel-economy increase of 61%.

What did you think of the Cash For Clunkers program?

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43 Responses to “Cash For Clunkers Hurt The Environment, Says New Report”

  1. Dave Gaskin

    bull. the damage was being done everyday as the vehicles were driven and they no longer exist. next fake story please.

  2. John James

    Right. I guess you're an expert on environmental impact, AND have performed multiple studies comparing the differences between the effects of a Cash for Clunkers turn ins, and the cars that replaced them, to the impact shredding the cars has on the environment.

    Next ignorant post please.

  3. Richard Walsh

    So fuel economy increase 61%–and the price of fuel doubled–seems fair—NOT.

  4. James Sikora

    Seems some people can find the bad in anything. I like the part where the guy said it took cars away that he would have sold to customers who couldn't afford new. Those cars had to be 10 years or older and have over 100,000 miles. Maybe he missed the word "CLUNKER." The new cars weren't only more efficient, but they are safer too.

  5. Lance Trowbridge

    what did u expect from a government program in case u didn't know the politicians steal half the money too…

  6. Gary Kist

    Not to mention the building of all the new cars; which aren't even THAT much more fuel efficient. A 61% increase is deceiving when its only from 15mpg to 25mpg……25mpg sucks. Also, the people who bought those cars will most likely double their driving; thus no difference is actually achieved.

  7. Mike Sims

    Just another example of "Government Programs" that are short-sighted and inefficient. I especially loved the "spare parts for 180 days"…. You mean the spare parts to cars that have already been taken off the road, broken down, or traded-in? No wonder you couldn't sell those off. And destroying the engines because they were inefficient? WHY? You weren't going to re-use those engines in the first place, why would you destroy them? Just take the clunkers and use all of it as scrap metal and recycle as much as you can.

    Sigh, and these are the people and programs you want to oversee your health care? Government should be the LAST people you want to run something, just look at the Post Office over the last 5 years and tell me you want THAT type of management for something important.

  8. Wayne Varner

    Yes many engine parts were lost so people have to buy new. Also Junk yards have less sales so many lost their jobs. The program had flaws since not everyone could take advantage. If you car got decent MPG you were not qualified to participate. So many lost out on buying a new car.

  9. Richard Walsh

    James Sikora–the government used the word "clunker" I worked at a dealership and some of the so called "clunkers" were in great condition–my vehicle is 14 years old, has 147,000 miles and runs better than some of the new cars–as for safety, that has to do with the driver–unsafe driver=unsafe car. My son has a vehicle 15 years old 347,000 miles looks new and get great mpg. One good thing with the vehicles we have–they are paid for and it is cheaper to keep it.

  10. Jeff Zakany

    Terrible article. This does not prove the program was bad for the environment, it merely shows that it was not perfect. In other words, it does not show the detriments outweighed the benefits, it merely shows that there were detriments from the program to the environment. I participated in the program. I traded in a 1988 Chevy C1500 that got 12 miles to the gallon for a 2009 Chevy Cobalt that literally got twice the mileage. The article says the average consumer got 61% better fuel efficiency. That is misleading. They are going by the EPA rating when the vehicle was new. I would bet most of the trade ins were not running very well. If the sticker said 15MPG new it may have gotten 12mpg as is (just like my example). So I ma certain the real mileage improvement was better than the 61% posted. Economically, the program was a huge success. Not only did it help the dealers and the car owners, it helps lower our dependence on foreign oil. We're using less gasoline today than we did in 2000.

  11. Nicholas Murphy

    It was stupid….but what Govt. program isn't. The amount of TAX dollars it cost the "people" was insane. People that were going to get a new car anyway got to steal from me. There has NEVER EVER been 1 Liberal program that saved the TAXPAYER a penny. I the long run the have cost jobs and created a 16 trillion dollar debt. People like Obam, Pelosi, Reid, Gore, The Kennedy's etc. should be in jail for what they do….regular citizens are put in jail for the same scams.

  12. Tom Williams

    does the govt have to try and engineer everything we do? I cant tell you how happy I am that my tax money was used to help people get newer cars….. now maybe the govt shd buy everyone a new cellphone too.

  13. Phillip Johnson

    This was terrible for the economy, it was only created to try to force people into buying new vehicles at a time when the auto industry was struggling, and the government stuck their noses into it and decided to get into the car business when it can't even run its own, now the price of a new vehicle has almost doubbled thanks to cash for clunkers.

  14. William Turner

    The program was made to jump start the American Car industry (GM, Ford and Chrysler) Instead about 1/3 of the car buyers bought foreign cars which only helped the foreign market–these are people that are the main problem with the economy–they have jobs and don't give a rat's ass about others. This was suppose to be the trittle down process where American car manufactures bought supplies from small American business.

  15. Christopher Norton-Beavers

    I'm sure it also hurt auto repair shops as well. Instead of people taking their cars to a repair shop to be fixed they took it to a dealer where the engine was destroyed then the car crushed.

  16. Anonymous

    You should have used this ammunition during the Presidential Campaign.. Maybe some of the idiot loser "47 percent" welfare treehugging people would have voted for Romney and we wouldn't be raising our debt ceiling.

  17. Rebecca Onehalf

    Makes no sense to me to trade in a paid-off, good running vehicle that gets 12-15 mpg for one that costs say $25,000 and gets twice the milage, even if you get $4000 credit for your trade. Let's use Jeff Zakany's figures for this and presume he paid about $20,000 for the car after the credit. At an average price of $3.50 per gallon it will be nearly 140,000 miles before he's broken even. My $700 van gets a steady 15 highway, is very reliable and cheap to fix when it does have a problem, and if it does blow up I can replace it easily for about the same money. At $3.50 a gallon I can drive it 10,000 miles a year for 8-10 years before it exceeds the cost of buying a new car. It will rust out from the road salt before that – although if I were in the south I could just change out the engine and trans every so often and conceivably go until parts are too expensive to replace.

    Cash for clunkers only helped me out in that when I needed parts for the vehicle I had in 2009 I was able to get some decent things out of relatively low milage vehicles that had been turned in and made it to local salvage yards. The 62,000 mile van was a shame to see there with the engine ruined though.

  18. Anonymous

    No matter what, the Environ-Nazis will always bitch and complain about something. You fix that and it's still not good enough.

  19. Steven Ray Ward

    How do you force someone to buy a new car? Offering a deal is not force, and it amped up the car industry and rescued jobs at the time, so how was this bad for the economy? You sound like my dad, paranoid and pissed off about nothing

  20. Anonymous

    Not sure I agree. If these cars just sat around they would rust and corrode and all of the oil based stuff in them would just seep into the environment of people's backyards. Under a gov program, you know that they are being disposed of in the best way possible. Also salvaging the metal means there is less of a reason to mine for raw materials. When considering environmental impacts, you have to consider ALL impacts and sum up the pros and cons.

  21. Anonymous

    Actually totally accurate? Who knows. Obama just got reelected so its kind of late to bring it up now.

  22. John James

    I know, people that believe in freedom and self governance. Ones that understand that government is flawed, and big government is even more flawed. People that look to history to see what will happen in the future. I mean, who does that nowadays, right?

    "You people" slay me….

  23. Robert Benson

    Boy did you 'buy' the propaganda……..You might have done ok, but most did not. Most of the vehicle brought in were NOT pickup trucks, they were sedans. and most were by EPA average were 18 – 20 mpg cars. So even trading for your Cobalt – which actually gets around 24 mpg , not much was saved. And our dependence on foreign oil – what crap. We export more oil to the far east than we bring in. So much for the foreign oil garbage statements. Wake up and stop believing all the goivernment misleading statements…..

  24. Lee Valverde

    I own a small used car lot. This program made used car prices go up so people who cannot afford a new car had a hard time buying a car. The supply of used cars is way down and the prices are still higher. Also, with so many cars destroyed, it is hard for us to find used parts for older cars. We are still seeing the negative impact of this program. I would estimate that 30 to 40% of the small lots in our area went out of business taking a lot of jobs with them. You would think that with so many dealers going out of business that we would be selling more cars. Not true…we are seeing our sales a mere 60% of what they were before the program. The law of unintended consequences! That is what happens when you have liberals with no business experience managing the government!

  25. Roy Hale

    Cutting both engine size in half and the vehicle weight in half and 21 year in tech improvements and your are inpressed you milage doubled?? doesn't take much to impress you plus taking 3/4 million cars that are the only cars available that low income people can get. Volkswagon rabbits, chevy chevettes and ford escorts with diesel engines where getting 45-55 m.p.g. in the early 80's environazi's in our goverment got rid of them by making epa standards that made them not legal in the U.S. Here is a dirty little secret for you. the cars need to get more milage crap from the goverment is just that crap .!! the goverment makes more money from oil than the oil companies do

  26. Ryan Caldwell

    I got out of college around that time and I needed to buy a car to drive to work. I could not find a car for under 10k that was worth buying. There were barely any used cars on the market. I went to several dealers in my area looking for a used car which they replied "We don't really have any used cars over a few years old, most of with will cost you over 10k." They also told me it was because of the cash for clunkers deal because they were legally not allowed to sell them, instead they have to be destroyed." Imagine how many low income families that hurt that needed a used car. Not everyone can buy used! So now I am stuck with a car payment!

  27. David A Logan Sr

    I traded my beautiful 88 Crown Victoria,and even it rebelled knowing it was a wrong move! My beautiful car was in dramatically good shape and except for styling would and did pass for a 3 year old car. It got about 12 around ttown

  28. Anonymous

    This is wrong. Only ENGINE parts could not be re-sold,, seats and glass were allowed to be resold. And how does adding dirt to a landfill create pollution? I buy from auto recyclers frequently and they ALWAYS pull the glass and seats for resale – auto glass is HUGE money to them. The CARS program didn't prohibit that, only reselling engine parts. I also have a hard time believing that 25% of all scraped vehicles end up as landfill material. Most all steel scrappers require all fluids and non-metal parts be removed. So how is it that 25% of what comes out of the shredder is NOT recyclable? Sounds like "E magazine" didn't actually research how many seats and windows were dumped, they merely assumed all were, and extrapolated their 3 – 4.5 million tons claim from thin air. Its amazing the lengths that conservatives will go to try and attack and belittle Obama at every turn.

  29. James Sikora

    I was thinking more of the safety features to protect a driver and passenger. Seems like every day there is another drunk driver ramming someone.

    As far as a "clunker," I have a 12 year old jeep with 105,000.

  30. Anonymous

    most cars had carbuerators, which means no obd system, no computer, no tracking ability.. rfid and the big brother conspiracy!

  31. Norm Goforth

    never let the president or congress decide if a vehicle is a clunker. they don't even know how to run the country. Good transportation has been taken off the road, and half the people that got their new car lost them because they lost their jobs. Terrible article , terrible to think Yahoo is even smart enough to read what they print. Yahoo has gone to the dogs. its not only gotten sickining its almost useless anymore.

  32. Bill Campbell

    Has the government ever done anything to help us? Not
    And now we a socialist in the WH boy are we in trouble.

  33. Sue Lani Madsen

    Cash for clunkers did disrupt the used car market for those of us who can't or don't buy new. That was clearly not good for the environment (i.e. reducing purchases and reusing what's already been manufactured is far better than recycling pieces of a manufactured product). You may have a few good points regarding the data, but your last sentence tips your hand. Its amazing what lengths liberals will go to try and defend and rationalize for Obama at every turn.

  34. Paul V Sutera

    I've never owned anything but a 4 cylinder car. I can retire a year earlier on just those savings alone. So those clunkers going off the road were a good thing in the long run. Especially since gasoline costs more due to speculation that is supported by most Republicans – and they voted that way in a bill designed to limit oil and gasoline speculation.

  35. Dick Cox

    Destroying useful vehicles gave the lie to the notion put forward by the Obama Administration that "Clunkers" was about saving the environment (and would actually make a difference in that regard). Not only was the amount of gasoline "saved" by the newer vehicles totally miniscule in the grand scheme of things, I would wager that the amount of total energy inputs and resources wasted by destroying perfectly good and usable vehicles resulted in a net INCREASE in fossil fuel use and resource consumption, when all is said and done. Not to mention the economic harm done to middle-class families who couldn't afford newer cars, by completely undermining the used car market as a result of having the "clunkers" destroyed and sold to China for scrap.

    The average automobile has already consumed close to 1/3 of the resources it will consume over the span of its lifetime before its first owner inserts its key into its ignition. The manufacturing process that brought it to the showroom floor is extremely energy and resource intensive. Steel, glass, plastic, rubber, foam, fabric, wire and electrical components must be produced, refined and purified. Metal must be cast, formed, machined and heat-treated to produce intricate parts that perform to exacting specifications. All of this takes material and energy — and a lot of both. Prematurely destroying an asset such as a perfectly usable automobile makes absolutely no sense. But, little factoids do not matter a whit to our current regime because 0bama, his minions and 60-some-odd million infatuated lemming supporters are not about sense.

    For libs, it's all about emotion and perception, not logic and facts. Look at all the people losing jobs and having their working hours significantly reduced as a result of Obamacare. Government "kindness" and benevolence at work — the law of unintended consequences, because liberals don't think big picture when it comes to proffering the next big statist scheme.

    "Clunkers" was a thinly-veiled stimulus for the UAW-affiliated auto companies, nothing more. The claimed environmental rationale was transparently disingenuous from the get-go, and was obvious to anyone not drinking the Obama Administration Kool-Aid.

  36. Anonymous

    Ecomically, this program was not a success. It didn’t take a Ph.D. in economics to recognize that the federal “Cash for Clunkers” program would put upward pressure on used-car prices. In nominating it “the dumbest program ever” back in August, Chris Edwards noted that “low-income families, who tend to buy used cars, were harmed because the clunkers program will push up used car prices. The basic fallacy of cash for clunkers is that you can somehow create lower prices by destroying existing assets that are still productive, in this case cars that still work.

    The program didn’t help the economy or auto industry. Despite a bump in the 3rd quarter to auto sales, consumer spending dropped 0.5% in September and the vehicle output bump was artificial and unsustainable, meaning it will drop off considerably in the next quarter as the market stabilizes to its real level. As Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy pointed out Reason, even the reported GDP bump is misleading, because is includes government spending. So if government spending increases it will increase the GDP, but that doesn’t mean any more was produced.

    Speaking of handouts, a new report from found that the real subsidy for each car sold as a result of Cash for Clunkers was much higher than $4,000. During the program 690,000 new vehicles were sold, however, 565,000 would have been bought even if the government didn't implement Cash for Clunkers. Only 125,000 vehicles were purchased as a result of Cash for Clunkers, meaning each car cost the taxpayers $24,000. According to the Department of Transportation, the Toyota Corolla was the top selling car under the program. The MSRP on a 2009 Toyota Corolla at the time was $16,750. We spend $24,000 so someone else could get a discount for four thousand collars on a $16,750 car, what a deal! Who says the government isn’t efficient? It's amazing what lengths you and other liberals have gone to in endeavoring to defend and rationalize for Obama at every turn with the most ineffiecent programs since the new deal.

    Its amazing what lengths liberals will go to try and defend and rationalize for Obama at every turn

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