Thirteen years ago, Cash For Clunkers offered a unique premise. Help save a struggling domestic auto industry, inject the capital it desperately needs into an economy ravaged by a massive recession, and replace the old devourers on American roads with more efficient cars. The federal scrapping program that destroyed nearly 700,000 allegedly gas-intensive vehicles had basic criteria: no car could be 25 years old or older, cars had to handle 18 mpg combined or worse, driveable, and its discount and value. of scrap must be applied to a car that would have been registered and insured for one continuous year after purchase.
Hopefully what was taken off the streets has been recycled multiple times, but the truth is not lost, as we have recovered a little-known and long-lost full report on every car destroyed by CFC. With talk of a new buyback program to push people from internal combustion to electric vehicles echoing in Washington DC, it’s the perfect time to revisit what happened the last time we cashed in on our clunkers.
We found the report on a Wayback Machine archive of CARS.gov, the website of the Car Allowance Rebate System, aka Cash For Clunkers. The site has now been offline for more than five years, but the full record of each of the nearly 700,000 vehicles destroyed survives. Although there was a lot of moaning and gnashing of teeth about CFC claiming some exotics, that coverage was not based on a checked list to eliminate incorrect entries, duplicates, and other errors.
We have now finalized the data which gives us an idea of what was destroyed under CFC and yes this includes a number of cars that will really make you wince. We have a few stories coming up that will go through it all with a fine-toothed comb, including one about the classics, rarities and high-performance cars that met their fate during those heady days of summer 2009.
But first, here’s the full list of scrapped cars and trucks. We have incorporated the PDF below, sorted alphabetically by manufacturer. We’ve also set up a public Google Sheet linked here in case there’s a problem with the PDF. Get it all in:
I wanted to start by looking at what CFC has destroyed more. But due to the way the report is formatted, it’s not easy at all. The vehicles are divided by year, make, model and transmission configuration, dividing the individual models into multiple items. Even so, I was able to skim the cream off the top by only processing the first 150. This still gave me a pretty clear idea of which CFC cars were claiming the most. And here they are:
- 1995-2003 Ford Explorer / Mercury Mountaineer: 46.676
- 1996-2000 Chrysler / Dodge / Plymouth MPV: 23,998
- 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee: 20,844
- 1992-1997 Ford F-150: 20.222
- 1984-2001 Jeep Cherokee: 18,329
- Pick-up GM C / K 1988-2002: 17.202
- Chevrolet 1995-2005 Blazer: 15,668
- 1999-2003 Ford Windstar: 12,157
- 1991-1994 Ford Explorer: 11,612
- 1994-2001 Dodge Ram 1500: 8.103
While the list is a tidy rundown of the most popular cars in the US at the time, popularity alone isn’t why these vehicles were the most crushed. They were destroyed because the CFC was intended (at least apparently) to increase the poor fuel efficiency of US drivers’ cars. Not a single vehicle above beat 18 mpg with an automatic transmission, and in total they average just 16 mpg.
This appears to be pretty much the average for everything The CFC shifts, which the Department of Transportation calculated to be 15.8mpg. Because CFC worked on a rebate system, where retailers received cash for accepting coupons, the federal government could track the gas mileage improvement margin for each sale. In doing so, it found that the average mpg of replacement vehicles under the CFC program was 24.9 mpg, an improvement of 58%.
But while 700,000 vehicles earning over 9 mpg sounds like many, the US Energy Information Administration has not noticed any improvement in the fuel economy of the nation’s motor vehicles due to the CFC. If anything, it recorded a marginal decline from 2009 to 2010. The effect of CFC on the fuel consumption of the US fleet was further diluted by subsequent years of record car sales: since 2010, more than 185 million new cars have been sold in the US according to Axelwise.
The program’s effect on our gas consumption was ultimately negligible, without acknowledging the other downsides of CFCs. It cost the US government $ 3 billion, some of which indirectly supplemented bailouts issued to US automakers, though much of it went overseas. Apocryphal, CFC has also been accused of rising used car prices. But this could be explained as the result of increased demand for low-cost used cars during the recession.
The “recession” is again on the tongue of economists, so CFC revivals are proposed, sometimes aimed at adopting electric vehicles: the latter has been proposed in Washington according to speculative reports. If the US really enters another recession and a CFC-style program returns, its supporters must take into account what happened the first time we tried to cash in on clunkers. not to mention the differences in market conditions between 2009 and 2022. Then the problem was demand; today it is supply and a CFC EV could quickly turn into a boon to auto dealers and a few others.
We can speculate that CFC has achieved what it set out to do and we will. But what’s gone is not in question, and here’s the final list.
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