Thanks For The Memories, Cash For Clunkers!

car claw cash for clunkers

Tonight, the Department of Transportation shuts down the most popular government program of the Great Recession.

Cash for clunkers is kaput at 8 pm eastern time. All things must pass.

The controversial program put over 500,000 new cars in American driveways. It gave a much needed, though short lived, jolt to the economy, and automakers in particular.

Here’s our retrospective of cash for clunkers. It’s a collection of some of our favourite photos, and story lines that emerged in the brief period that cash for clunkers lived.

View the best and the worst moments from cash for clunkers →

It's Approved!

After getting sufficiently watered down, cash for clunkers is a go. Automakers, car dealers, and drivers looking for a bargain, all rejoice.

We called the program an embarassment, and said it would be a 'total failure.' We couldn't have gotten that latter prediction more wrong.

Irrational Consumers Make C4C A Huge Success

Here's our excuse for getting it wrong. Consumers were acting irrationally! They were trading in cars worth more than the $4,500 voucher they received. For instance, Jalopnik found someone trading in a 1989 Toyota Land Cruiser with 77,000 miles. That's worth $5,500. Whoever dumped it lost $1,000!

Jalopnik found plenty of heartbreaking trade ins. Here's a 1985 Maserati BiTurbo with 18,480 miles on it, in great shape that was sent to the clunker graveyard.


Just because it ran out of funds, doesn't mean it ended, obviously. The Senate stole some cash from the stimulus and created Cash For Clunkers 2: Electric Boogaloo.

We really wanted to see a Senator imitating Oprah shouting, 'You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!' Never happened.

Where Do Clunkers Go When They Die?

So what happens to a cash-for-clunkered car? It ain't pretty if you're a car lover, or if you just need a car.

Clunkers aren't just crushed, they're killed. Sodium silicate (liquid plastic) is poured into the engine, the car is run for a while as it wheezes to its death. Bob Lutz, the GM car-god said this of the murders, 'I, like, have so not even ever heard of this before.'

Via Jalopnik, a video of an execution...of a Corvette!

Dealers Get Shafted

The program whipped up so many new customers, so fast, that the government wasn't able to disperse cash to dealers fast enough. A number of dealers faced a negative cash problem. While the DOT had thousands of people processing claims, it couldn't keep up with demand. Many dealers pulled out of the program early because it was just untenable.

GM To The Rescue

But GM--of all companies--stepped in and fronted cash to its dealers. GM realised that as soon as the program ended, demand would fall off a cliff. It needed to sell as many cars as possible.

Ray LaHood Takes Away The Punchbowl

As suddenly as it began, it ended. Ray LaHood told the public on Thursday that the program would end on Monday, August 24th at 8 PM.

What Was Hot, What Was Not

Courtesy of the Department of Transportation and the AP, here's what was sold and what was kept, as of Friday. This is subject to change, as more information pours in.


1. Toyota Corolla

2. Honda Civic

3. Ford Focus front-wheel drive

4. Toyota Camry

5. Hyundai Elantra

6. Toyota Prius

7. Nissan Versa

8. Ford Escape front-wheel drive

9. Honda Fit

10. Honda CR-V four-wheel drive


1. Ford Explorer four-wheel drive

2. Ford F-150 Pickup

3. Jeep Grand Cherokee

4. Jeep Cherokee

5. Ford Explorer two-wheel drive

6. Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan two-wheel drive

7. Chevrolet Blazer four-wheel drive

8. Ford F-150 pickup four-wheel drive

9. Chevrolet C15000 pickup two-wheel drive

10. Ford Windstar front-wheel drive van

The Winners, The Losers

Who won? You guys! (So long as you bought a new car and got a discount.) Who else? Auto dealers, Barack Obama, Congress, companies selling dumpsters to hold cars, Nucor steel, who turns scrap metal into sheet metal.

Here's the losers--you guys! (So long as you didn't get a new car.) You're subsidizing your fellow Americans' new car, adding to our exploding debt problem.

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