Friday, August 07, 2009

Smart cash for clunkers

Setting aside Sodini and Obama’s COLB for a while ….

All the talk about the Cash for Clunkers program has reminded me of what was I guess an announcement of mathematical common sense a year or two ago. It was pointed out by someone (I canna remember who) that replacing vehicles at the low end of the mileage scale with even mildly better vehicles was more beneficial than taking good cars and replacing them with the best. Of course, it would be ideal to replace the worst with the best, but we should take what we can realistically expect.

It all comes down to a 100 mile trip. Take Fred, the suburbanite. He bought a pick up truck a few years ago (the commercials won him over) and it gets 10 miles per gallon (MPG). That 100 mile trip takes 10 gallons of gas in Fred’s pickup. If Fred trades in his truck for a mid sized SUV (remember, commercials) that gets 20 mpg, suddenly the trip only takes five gallons of gas. Five gallons saved, for Fred and the rest of us.

Now take Nick, the city dweller. Nick has a Honda Accord, which he bought because all his friends had them. It gets 25 mpg (not great, but good, 4 gallons of gas on the 100 mile trip. Now Nick wants the Toyota Prius, a 50 mpg car (because all his friends are buying them). Now the trip will only take two gallons, very impressive.

But the Sierra Club should give it’s environmentalist of the year award to Fred, because going from bad to merely mediocre does more for all. So too the Cash for Clunkers may not put that many Prius’ on the road, but the overall savings in gas will do us all good. The Ford Focus is the top seller in the program, which is great. The Focus is a fine and capable car that gets good mileage. I got 35 mpg in one on a trip I took, beating the EPA estimates with cautious driving.

This link is where I got the figures for the above hypothetical, and it has some other good links too (

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