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Is Cash for Clunkers wasting perfectly good cars?

“With a car, you can do things,” says Lawrence Hyden, a 33-year-old father of four. “Without one, you’re kind of stuck.” Hyden left his car in Tennessee when his family moved to Florida in October; he wasn’t sure it would make the 1,000-mile drive. Hyden walks to his job at Buddy’s Home Furnishings each day.


“With a car, you can do things,” says Lawrence Hyden, a 33-year-old father of four. “Without one, you’re kind of stuck.” Hyden left his car in Tennessee when his family moved to Florida in October; he wasn’t sure it would make the 1,000-mile drive. Hyden walks to his job at Buddy’s Home Furnishings each day.

Cash for Clunkers is supposed to help the environment by destroying older gas-guzzling cars, but Susan Jacobs finds it a bit wasteful.

Six years ago she started Wheels of Success, a program that matches low-income families with cars.

Since the cash for clunkers program began in July, car donations to Jacobs' organization have dropped.

That means many poor people on her waiting list, who walk miles or take multiple buses to get to work, will have to wait longer for a car.

"I understand they want to get them off the road because of the emissions," Jacobs said. "But these cars could keep people working, paying taxes, off unemployment.

"Don't destroy these cars."

• • •

Under the $3 billion clunker program, more than 200,000 people have turned in older cars for up to $4,500 on new, more fuel-efficient models.

Hundreds of thousands more are expected to participate. The old cars' engines are destroyed and the car is shredded.

On a radio program recently, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, said he is thinking of proposing an amendment to the program that would put at least some of the cars in the hands of charities. The next session of Congress begins Sept. 8.

And quite a few citizens around the country have wondered in letters to the editor if the clunkers could be put to a higher use than blocks of steel without hampering the green movement.

"I myself would never 'throw away something that wasn't broke,' " wrote Janie S. Weger in a letter to the the Muskegon (Mich.,) Chronicle,

"Destroying working cars is not being 'green,' " wrote Karen Hessel of New Rochelle, N.Y. "When a second owner buys a used car, it is a form of recycling."

Wrote J.D. Richmond of Crystal Springs in a letter to the editor in the St. Petersburg Times: "I couldn't help but wonder who would benefit from the cars that are being executed each day."

The program, many say, is out of reach for the people who need it most.

"I could make the case that Cash for Clunkers is not helping families who need it most, but only helping the car manufacturers," said Clifford Meth of the national car donation program, Kars-4-Kids, in Lakewood, N.J.

Joining the chorus of naysayers are used car dealers and auto parts recyclers.

"We've never been supportive of the Cash for Clunkers because we've always seen it as having potential impact on demand, inventory and pricing," said J.D. Wilson of the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association in Arlington, Texas.

"Over at the Automotive Recyclers Association, they're more frantic. Auto recyclers get a third of their income from the engines, which must be destroyed.

"Taking 700,000 plus engines out of commerce is going to lead to an increase in prices for used engines," said Michael E. Wilson, executive vice president of the Automotive Recyclers Association in Manassas, Va.

• • •

Jacobs, who started Wheels of Success, gets about 50 applications every month for the cars donated to her organization. The cars are not entirely free. Payments of $40 a month for a year cover the repairs.

It's a popular program. Wheels of Success gives out about 10 to 20 cars a month to the neediest on its waiting list.

Lawrence Elton Hyden, 33, got on the waiting list in April and is still waiting. He walks almost a mile down Park Boulevard every day to his job, making $10 an hour at Buddy's Home Furnishings.

He and his wife, who have four children, have not had a car since last October. If he could get a car, his wife might be able to get a job.

He is about 10th on the Wheels of Success waiting list.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at or (727) 893-8640.

Is Cash for Clunkers wasting perfectly good cars? 08/14/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 14, 2009 9:25pm]
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