Drivers paid to retire old cars

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON
-- Some U.S. states and Canada are boosting efforts to get older, dirtier cars off the roads.

The moves come as people are holding onto vehicles longer than ever, amid a weakening economy. And it's expected that people will hold on to their cars and trucks even longer when new U.S. fuel efficiency rules boosting the industrywide, fleet average to 35 miles per gallon drive up the price of new vehicles.

That's why new initiatives are sprouting to get older cars off the roads.

In January, Texas unveiled a $45 million annual program, dubbed "Drive a Clean Machine" that offers up to $3,500 toward a new vehicle for consumers in Austin, Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area who make lower incomes and own a vehicle at least 10 years old.

The program has retired more than 11,000 vehicles this year, said Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. "It's a great way to get those older vehicles off the roads."

Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing Detroit's Big Three, Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler AG and six others, said vehicle scrap programs are a big benefit. "We strongly support efforts to get older, less-efficient vehicles off the roads and help consumers."

R.L. Polk said in a report earlier this year that the median age of passenger cars remained at 9.2 years in 2007, tying a record set in 2006. The median age of light trucks increased to 7.1 years, its highest level since 1998.

Americans junked about 13 million vehicles in 2007, or 5.2 percent of all vehicles, up from 5 percent in 2006.

States offer incentives
A family of four must make $63,000 or less to take part in the program in Texas, which ranks second among states in number of vehicles with 8.7 million. The vehicles they own also must fail an emissions test and be driven to the dealership under their own power.

Consumers get a voucher worth $3,000 to buy a car up to three years old or a truck up to two years old. Drivers buying a hybrid up to one year old can get $3,500. Only vehicles that cost $25,000 or less and are on a state-approved list are eligible for the money.

A similar program exists in California, home to 33 million cars and trucks, or 13.5 percent of the nation's fleet. The state's Bureau of Automotive Repair offers a program that spends $50 million a year to give lower-income residents up to $1,500 to retire vehicles that fail emissions tests or $500 to have them repaired. It has no income requirements.

The program replaced 16,000 vehicles last year.

California's Air Resources Board predicted that by 2010, about 30 percent of the state's vehicles will be at least 13 years old and older.

Canada starts new program
On Jan. 1, Canada will launch a national program that aims to get 50,000 vehicles off the roads, or 1 percent of its older vehicles.

The $92 million, three-year program will offer Canadians $300 cash or a discount on a bicycle or a public transit pass in exchange for their older vehicle. The vehicles must be in running condition.

Canada's environment minister John Baird said in a statement that the program will help "get Canadian's smog-causing, gas-guzzlers off the road."

Canada has funded local programs like "Cash for Klunkers" in Kelowna, British Columbia; "Bye Bye Beaters" in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Nova Scotia; and "Steer Clean" in Halifax.

You can reach David Shepardson at (202) 662-8735 or dshepardson@detnews.com.