As this radio story airs, Congress is debating two Cash for Clunkers proposals, one from the Senate and one from the House of Representatives. (A third proposal, also from the Senate, is almost identical to the House version.) Both would pay consumers to scrap their “clunkers” in exchange for brand-new, more fuel-efficient models. Both define “clunker” as a car that gets less than 18 miles per gallon. But after that, they diverge.

The House version comes from Democrats on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. If it passes, a consumer would get a $3,500 voucher for trading in a truck with 15 miles per gallon in exchange for buying a new truck that gets 16 miles per gallon – a one MPG difference. (If the new truck got 17 miles a gallon, the consumer would earn $4,500). That’s why environmentalists complain that the legislation is more about stimulating car sales than it is about getting gas guzzlers off the road.

The Senate version proposed by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), puts the bar a bit higher. In order to qualify for the $3,500 voucher, that same replacement truck would have to get 20 MPG – five miles per gallon more than the old truck. (An improvement of seven miles per gallon would earn the consumer a $4,500 voucher.)

Interestingly, this is a compromise even for Senator Feinstein herself. Check out her original, more stringent, Cash for Clunkers bill here. Proposed in January, it required stricter efficiency from the replacement vehicle, and would have allowed consumers to use their vouchers for used cars, or for public transit. Those conditions were junked, presumably, because they don’t stimulate new car sales.

This article from the Christian Science Monitor, takes the number crunching even farther. Among the details worth considering is the “carbon cost” of making all these new vehicles that consumers will be enouraged to buy, should C4C pass: between 3.5 to 12.4 tons of CO2 per vehicle, according to a Duke economist.

Listen to the Cash for Clunkers radio report online.

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Reporter’s Notes: Cash for Clunkers 12 June,2013Amy Standen

  • This bill would put every charity car donation program in the nation out of business since the amount of the voucher would be much greater than the tax deduction. The solution is to simply allow the charity to issue the voucher in lieu of the tax deduction. The charity would then junk the car in accordance with the bill. This way, everyone wins, the car dealer, car maker, car buyer and the charity.

  • Amy Standen

    Good point. It would also likely funnel cars out of the state Cash for Clunkers programs that we mention early in the piece.

    Of course, the federal $$ comes in the form of a voucher, redeemable only toward the purchase of a new car. Not everyone with a donation-ready clunker is going to be ready to come up with the remaining $10K + it would take to buy the new car.

    (The state programs ( a check, no strings attached.)

  • Malinda

    If you don’t have your vehicle’s manual handy and want to figure out what your vehicle’s combined gas mileage is, the government has a free site where you can plug in your year, make and model to get your car’s info. It is at:

    If you want to follow the latest news on the Cash for Clunkers legislation, I found a site that lets you sign up for an alert and also has the latest news info. It is at:

  • Pingback: Reporter’s Notes: Smog Checks Made Easy | QUEST Community Science Blog - KQED()


Amy Standen

Amy Standen (@amystanden) is co-host of #TheLeapPodcast (subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher!) and host of KQED and PBSDigital Studios' science video series, Deep Look.  Her science radio stories appear on KQED and NPR.

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