Cash for My Clunker? No Thanks

2000 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab
By Larry Edsall

According to the just-signed-into-law Car Allowance Rebate System legislation, my 2000 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 is a … I can barely bring myself to type the word … a clunker.

There, I wrote it -- but I don’t believe it.

When I think of a clunker, I think of a vehicle that’s all but outlived its usefulness, fit only for duty as a “winter rat” -- a vehicle purchased in the fall for less than (hopefully much less than) $500, with the intent of being driven only back and forth to work on the frigid cold and rust-inducing salted roads of a bitter Michigan (or, I assume, any other far-northern state) winter.

Except for some snow up in Flagstaff, Ariz., or the rim country around the Grand Canyon, my truck hasn’t experienced extended winter weather, though it has gotten dirty while exploring desert trails and Arizona mountain two tracks.

Rippled chrome grille

Even as it approaches its 120,000th mile, my Frontier is a long way from being used up.

Back in November 2007, I wrote about my truck turning its 100,000th mile, and I anticipate seeing its odometer spin to at least 200,000. Of course, come to think of it, at its current rate of use it would take another eight years to reach that figure.

Except for some bubbles where the glue beneath the fake chrome on the grille has come lose, a couple of scratches, a paint chip on the driver’s side mirror, some splashes of white paint and an indentation in the rear bumper, the truck looks nearly new, at least on the outside.

Inside, there’s a decade of wear becoming visible on the outside edges of the driver’s seat fabric, and the carpet could use a good cleaning.

But a clunker? No way.

That title becomes even less apt if you disregard the EPA gas mileage ratings in favor of my real-world figures. The EPA says my two-wheel-drive truck, with its 3.3-liter V-6 and four-speed automatic, is rated at 14/18 mpg city/highway, 15 mpg combined.

Frayed seat cloth

I’ve kept a notebook in the truck since it was new, recording every refill – miles traveled, gallons pumped, the price of each of those gallons and, when on the road, the town in which I bought gas. I typically average mileage in the 19-20 range, 20-21 if I’ve been doing a lot of freeway or Interstate driving.

The worst figure I’ve seen recently was 16.4 on a drive up the mountains with the air conditioning on. The best I’ve seen lately was 24.1 after cruising two-lane roads across New Mexico.

Do I wish my truck were even more fuel efficient? Of course. In fact, I’d love to have Nissan’s newest V-6 powertrain, which not only provides more – nearly 100 more -- horsepower and enhanced torque, but also has a five-speed automatic that figures to boost highway fuel economy well beyond what I can get with only four gears. At the same time, having another gear would make driving on mountain roads much more enjoyable, whether making the long climb from Phoenix to Flagstaff, or for so-called engine braking when winding down into Oak Creek or the Salt River canyons.

Still, instead of monthly payments, which ended years ago, the only payments I make on my truck are for regular maintenance – primarily oil changes and fresh air filters -- and the occasional price of belts, hoses or brake pads.

Ding in the rear bumper

The way I look at it, I can pay for a lot of repairs for the equivalent of just two or three months of car payments.

From a fiscal standpoint, getting a cash credit for my clunker isn’t attractive, even for my almost-decade-old truck. According to, if I’m completely honest about the truck’s condition, it’s worth about $6,500. That’s $2,000 more value than I’d get from the maximum credit for scrapping my truck.

Sure, there are nicer trucks out there than my Frontier, but nothing that’s compelling enough to make me bite. Two reasons:

One: The latest Frontier (and Equator) aren’t compact pickups, they’re midsize, which means they’re like 90-scale full-size trucks. My ten-year-old Frontier is smaller than these trucks but it's as big a truck as I need. I’m not towing 10,000-pound trailers every week.

Two: I don’t feel guilty about driving a truck that gets 19-22 mpg on average and can haul pretty much everyone and everything I’ve needed to carry in the last decade. Yes, I’d like to get better mileage, saving me money and helping save the environment, but not at the expense of several years of car payments -- or of having to live with the fact that I declared my Frontier a clunker.

Cash for My Clunker? No Thanks

I’m going to skip Cash for Clunkers. Government incentives aren’t enough to get me to buy what’s only a marginally improved vehicle from what I own today. My truck is in good enough shape to last until something really worth my money comes along.

Perhaps if Toyota changes its mind and is ready to take the A-BAT compact hybrid from concept to 30-mpg production vehicle before Cash for Clunkers expires … or maybe I’ll just explore a really new frontier when Mahindra launches its 30-mpg compact diesel pickup this fall.


Gosh, now I know for sure, that the foreign pick ups sucks - even the front grill hadn't been chromed! No wonder, they get better MPG than some of the US-domestic trucks - they're just a rolling piece of plastic... What a paradox!

Good intentions with this article, makes some valid points, especially when understanding the potential of future small truck models with diesel (Mahindra) and Toyota concepts. Good article, Larry!

Aron.........your kidding right?????

We are from the government we are here to help

I hate to disappoint you, but the newest Nissan V6 gets worse mileage than your 2000 model.

I agree with the columnist. The gov't wants you to trade in your 'clunker' for a credit, that's of less value than the vehicle is worth, because your 'clunker' pollutes the environment, so you can throw more money into new vehicle, which also has an infamous 'carbon footprint' of its own (it takes energy to produce vehicles and then to dispose and/or recycle them!). It makes NO sense. It smacks of the cap-and-trade nonsense going on right now. The gov't coming in and saying 'I know what's best for you' by trying to convince people to make unwise econimic decisions is ridiculous. This makes me come unglued!

Taylor: Having owned a 2002 frontier, a 2005 frontier and a 2007 frontier, I can safely new powertrain gets far better fuel economy.

I have a 2 door full sized Blazer (basically a Tahoe). It's a 1992!! and it still looks really good, in fact, my youtube videos of it have a combined 10,000 views! To call it a clunker would be outrageous, its just now getting to 200000 miles, and still runs great. Oh, I do know that it doesn't qualify anyway, I just wanted to give a comparison, if Mike's Nissan is considered a clunker, then mine must be considered beyond worthless, but it's not!

Oh, and Mike, I like the Super Bumper :-D

@Wayne: I meant it a bit ironically, but certainly I wasn't kidding... IMO it was a joke seeing the quality of this tough-outside, plastic-inside looking mini truck!

That truck looks just like the one my buddie had in college, he flogged the heck out of that thing off road, it was a beast.

a better way to stimulate cars sales is to return to allowing a person to donate car to charity and claim the book value as their tax deduction.

if they realy want us to start buying new, the best stim. package they could give us is for one yr. let us just keep all of our tax witholdings, make the states do away with sales taxes, and the dreaded exise tax, then maybe just maybe something would happen? but noooo that would be giving away too much power over us.....

Clunker must be 1984 or older. read the fine print.

Clunker must be a 1984 or NEWER... read the not-so-fine print...

Since when has the government staarted driving my 2001 Pathfinder? 266,000, new upolstery last year and it still runs better than most new cars. Oh, and it's paid for. Hang onto that Frontier it's got a lot of life left in it. I get 17 mpg, highway, 4 wheeling or city.

I agree with the writer that one can do repairs for the cost of a few months car payments. One can also purchase alot of fuel instead of making car payments. There are people who are suggesting we buy used vehicles instead of new ones in the name of recycling since there is a huge carbon footprint in manufacturing. I think that one should properly maintain their vehicle and drive in a reasonable manner. A 4,000 "beater" credit will work for me once I've worn out or "beat" to death the vehicle I'm driving to the point it has no value.

Is the only truck Mike Levine has? I did not know he was a Nissan truck driver, or maybe he is just not a full size pickup guy. I thought he had a Ford.

well no thank'.. i will keep my american silverado all 18 mpg of it..yea i know i should trade it for any asian made nameplate offered..but think i will wait for the new indian made line to hit our shore's i am sure they are all 5 star safety rated also...and get 100 mpg too.

It's true... that Nissan would be a "clunker" while this 1970 Oldsmobile isn't:

Something's wrong here...

I got a 1999 Dodge Ram Sport it gots 135K it runs superb and no problems but I got T-boned on a intersection so I got it fix but since I got a low budget I did most of the repairs my self
but I know that my resale value is @ 1500-2000 so if I get on this then it would be perfect since everyone I know got new wheels and them New Dodges and GMC look nice. but I wonder if I will get the whole 4500 or 3500 since truck are not green.

You can either Lease or buy a new car to use the cash for clunkers program. It has to be new vehicles and not used ones.


get a clue...get a life...and suck it american
u will never get a better deal than whats out there now
marginally???improved....check out the stats....u will find u r one of the gross'ly uninformed.
Chevrolet and Ford r the # 1 and #2 trucks ytd

looks like to me u CAN'T afford it....hahahahaha

be honest next time you post


I like that energy absorbing Superbumper on the rear.


nissans have a lot of electrical problems in the higher 100 thousand miles wait till the injectors start to go in a few more miles and you have nothing but headaches and costly repairs to the heap.. you'll wish you got rid of that rat of a pickup.

No, it's not another little truck. It's a 1-Ton 4-door with a 7.4L Vortec. I've been the proud owner of a 2000 Chevy CK3500 with just 178k miles and counting. There is nothing new out there that I can afford or trust, that would safely pull a 30ft camper, or handle all the things I do and places I go. It was bought for me by my wife; and I buy her the mini-vans. A "Clunker" program letter was sent out to her by Moran Chevrolet, here in Michigan. Tell you what, I'll cash in my truck when it turns into a pile of rust in the driveway. There's lots of things they don't tell you, like did you know you must have full coverage insurance on the new purchase until it is paid off? This is vehicle #36 for me, and the Clunker program is set up by stupid people we voted into office, that don't do their homework first. The idea of recycling vehicles is fine, but this hints at an intrusion of our personal space and family, and being rammed down our throats. I've since read from other places and sites on the Web, that if you do cash your car or truck in, they will get into your home computer files, and plant something that will track your Internet movements from then on. If you can't afford it, don't trade in your best friend. The way the economy is, most are living beyond their means or budget, {savings, what's that} and are now getting caught short in the wallet. just an opinion. Everyone has one. it's when their opinions are pressed onto others that there's a problem.

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