By Bob Wooten
If the "Grey Ghost" gives up the ghost tomorrow, I won't mourn.
I'll just leave my old friend by the side of the road and walk away satisfied. The Ghost, my 1993 Nissan pickup, is the single best automotive investment of my life.
Purchased secondhand with low mileage back in 1995, the odometer has just rolled past the 204,000-mile mark. I made my last payment on the truck well over a decade ago.
Other than predictable repairs -- a muffler rots off, the tires wear out, the brake pads go -- I've had very few problems.
Granted, it looks like a rolling advertisement for a scrap yard. The tailgate is dented, the silver paint job has decayed to a mottled gray and the rust is spreading like liver spots in a nursing home.
Fortunately, I've never attached much ego to autos. I like driving them until they drop.
But imagine my surprise this week when I found out my heap doesn't qualify as a clunker -- at least not in Uncle Sam's eyes.
That pickup is ineligible for the federal government's much ballyhooed "Cash for Clunkers" program. I know because I went to the Department of Transportation's Web site, www.dot.gov, and plugged the vehicle information into a form. I just wanted to see whether that rattling beast had a shot at the $4,500 bounty the government is paying to get older vehicles off the road and new ones out of the showrooms.
So far, the Car Allowance Rebate System, better known as Cash for Clunkers, has been one of the few broadly popular programs to come out of the federal government's multibillion-dollar stimulus package.
The idea is to encourage Americans to trade in gas guzzlers that spew lots of pollutants so they can be junked. Using their rebate, car buyers drive away in new vehicles that are safer, cleaner and use less fuel.
In theory, everyone wins.
The car manufacturers and dealers get to make sales, which have been at a near standstill since the economy went in the toilet last year. Consumers, who have been sitting on their wallets, get a bargain on new cars and spend less on fuel moving forward.
And, as a nation, it should mean we will buy less oil from the international petro-thugs who have been shaking us down for the last 40 years.
We are even supposed to get a slightly cleaner environment in the process.
People thought this was such a good idea that the first $1 billion allocated for the program was gone inside a week. That's why Congress has OK'd another $2 billion to keep the program going until Labor Day.
So how did I get left out of such a sweet deal?
Apparently, it's because I did the "right" thing 14 years ago.
One of the catches in the Clunkers program is that the trade-in has to get 18 miles per gallon or less to be eligible for the federal dough.
Unlike people who bought hulking SUVs and pickups that tool around at 11 or 12 mpg, I bought a fuel-friendly vehicle. My four-cylinder, five-speed rust-bucket actually gets close to 27 mpg on the highway -- better than some new vehicles.
Which shows that no good deed goes unpunished.
Now my tax dollars are helping the guy who bought a Suburban trade it in for a Prius. From where I sit, it seems like the government is rewarding his poor decision instead of my good one.
Which reminds me -- the Ghost is due for an oil change.
* Bob Wooten is the managing editor of the Daily. Contact him at 800-296-5137 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.