The old clunker

Published 1:47 pm Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Most of us of a certain age have had old clunkers. Now if you know what I mean, you’ve had one. If you don’t, well I guess you haven’t.

An old clunker usually refers to an old automobile that has seen better days. The word clunker may conjure up negative connotations, but if the clunker is your only mode of transportation, it is appreciated.

A clunker usually is not attractive. There has to be a dent or two and, if it is a truck, the tailgate, either must not be attached or must not work. If the windows are of the automatic type and one goes out, you generally won’t fix it because it cost too much money.

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More often than not, clunkers could use a paint job, but why paint an automobile when the price of the paint job is more than the clunker is worth? And when the blasted thing won’t crank or seems to be coughing too much, the conversation with the mechanic goes something like this.

“Well, it could be the alternator or the battery,” ole Shade Tree Timmy says. “Or it just might need a new set of spark plugs. I also see that the water pump leaks and that smoking that is coming from the engine doesn’t look good. You also need a new set of tires and it sounds like there is a leak in the manifold.”

The owner of the clunker says to his friend the mechanic, “This old car ain’t worth all that work you’re talking about. What do you have to do to get me back on the road for just a little while longer?”

Timmy replies, “Well, a set of spark plugs and a tune-up is probably the cheapest way to go.”

“Great,” the owner says, “I’ll wait while you put ‘em in.”

I’ve been through that conversation many times in my life. Perhaps you have too. It’s a great example of living in the real world and making decisions based upon the principle of not throwing good money after bad.

You know what that means don’t you?

It’s what is known as an idiom. An idiom is a way of saying something that is understood by most of the people even though it might not sound so simple.

That mechanic knows that a clunker has seen its better days. So does the owner of the clunker. Both know that it is not an appropriate or responsible use of money to spend a lot on it. If the motor is good, the body is shot. If the body looks good, but the motor is history, don’t waste your money. If both motor and body are untrustworthy, get a new clunker!

I have brought this up today because, once again, our government is talking about a bailout; this time of the Big Three automakers in Detroit. Ford, GM and Chrysler are boohooing to Congress that they need a transfusion of cash. They don’t want a loan; they want a handout to the tune of $25 billion!

They’re spending money faster than they are making it and, if something isn’t done quickly, the sky is going to fall. Heard that lately? Well, sure. In fact just a few short weeks ago, we threw $700 billion at a credit crisis to keep Wall Street from melting down.

Last time I looked (yesterday), Wall Street didn’t act like they appreciated our $700 billion. The secretary who instigated the original bailout has all but admitted that he is ready to change courses because he doesn’t know anything else to do.

Now GM and its brothers in Detroit are calling upon their savior Uncle Sam.

If it weren’t so sad, it would be funny. I remember buying one of GM’s cars back in the 1980s. Actually, it was a very dependable small car that served me well. However, I don’t remember Mr. GM helping me out when I got in between that rock and the hard place when I was paying for that car.

Maybe you could look back on your experiences with the Big Three. When the times got tough and that car payment was pretty big and difficult to make, did you call GM credit and ask for a reprieve?

“Hello, I’d like to talk to the credit manager,” you might have said after you pressed one for English and went through another maze of birth date, Social Security number and what you had for dinner last night.

The person on the other end of the phone sounded like someone from Nimrod, India, but swore that his name was Sam.

“How may I help you today?” Sam said.

“I need a bailout,” you said.

“What’s a bailout?” Sam asked.

“It’s where you give me money,” you replied. Sam then put you on speaker phone so everyone could laugh.

That’s a silly beginning to a conversation that could go on for a while. And I don’t think that the conversation ends with GM sending you any money.

There is a lot of emotion and history tied up in our automobile industry. The Big Three are counting on emotion and history as they try to grab any easy fix.

It’s ironic. We began the auto industry for the whole world. Now, it seems that the American automobile industry is in trouble, but is the only one asking for a bailout. It’s coughing and sputtering like an old clunker.

We know about clunkers. They will “dollar you to death.” Sometimes we have to make a responsible decision not to throw any more good money after bad. It’s not a happy day when the old clunker finally gives up the ghost, but it’s also not a happy day when you spend a lot of money on something that is never going to be what you need!