Regional: Auto dealers help take polluters off roads
August 4, 2014
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — High Country Honda owner David McDavid could have made a cool grand or so if he had resold a 1998 Chevy Blazer that one of his customers recently traded in for a new vehicle.
Instead, he donated the still-working vehicle to the Clear the Air Foundation of Colorado, recognizing that, with 200,000-plus miles on the odometer, it had seen better days and is far less efficient than today's new cars and trucks.
More and more, McDavid and other auto dealers in Glenwood Springs and across Colorado are turning the keys of older trade-ins over to the foundation, helping meet its goal to reduce polluting auto emissions by taking old or inadequately maintained vehicles off the road.
"We don't want to be mistaken for attempting to take classic cars off the road, that's not what we're about," said George Billings, program coordinator for Clear the Air, who was in Glenwood Springs last week along with Colorado Automobile Dealers Association (CADA) President Tim Jackson arranging to collect the latest dealer donations.
Instead, the organization targets 15- to 20-year-old vehicles that may not have been kept in the best of condition, and for which it would not be cost effective to get them running properly again, Billings said.
"We're targeting the old polluters that are still out there on the road," he said. "And what better way to target these high pollution emitters than to work with the dealers who often end up with them?"
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Clear the Air was founded in 2007 with seed money from the CADA in response to then-Gov. Bill Ritter's push to have Colorado adopt something similar to California's stringent auto emission regulations.
Rather than spending money to test and retrofit vehicles to ensure they meet emission standards, "We simply thought this was a better solution," Jackson said.
"It is the only program like it in the country that takes high emitters off the road completely and ensures that they are recycled," Jackson said, offering a contrast to the federal "Cash for Clunkers" program that was in place a few years ago.
While that program offered cash payments to take older cars off their owners' hands, it required that only the engines be destroyed, meaning the auto shells and frames could easily be reused with replacement, equally inefficient engines.
"Our goal is to take these vehicles off the road completely," Billings said, explaining that under the Clear the Air program the engines and bodies are both crushed and shredded, leaving the scrap metal to be recycled for other uses.
According to a study prepared for Clear the Air by University of Denver professor Don Stedman, half of vehicle emissions released into the atmosphere were found to come from fewer than 5 percent of the automobiles on the road.
"Furthermore, he found that newer and properly maintained vehicles contribute very low emissions in comparison to what Stedman calls the 'gross emitters,'" according to the Clear the Air website [www.cleartheairfoundation.org]. "One 'gross emitter' contributes as much emissions to the atmosphere as 100 newer, cleaner cars do."
After collecting its first dealer donation in 2011, Clear the Air set a goal to collect 1,000 cars that year. It's taken a little longer than they had hoped, but the organization just did surpass 1,000 vehicles this spring and to date has taken more than 1,074 old vehicles off the road, Billings said.
The vast majority of the donations, 95 percent, are dealer trade-ins, he said. In exchange, the dealers can take a tax write-off.
Glenwood Springs auto dealers have done their part, donating 40 vehicles to the effort over the last two years, said Don Gerbaz, vice president and general manager of Berthod Motors and a past CADA chairman.
"It doesn't make sense to spend money to make an older car marginally cleaner," Gerbaz said. "It also doesn't make a lot of sense to spend a lot of money on emissions tests."
Most of the vehicles that come in as trade-ins and that qualify for the program "are not prime merchandise," Gerbaz added.
"Sure, we're trading a tax break for what little bit we might make on a resale," he said. "But this just makes way more sense for everybody."
High Country Honda's McDavid, in addition to donating individual trade-ins, has also been working with an upvalley real estate and property management company to replace its older fleet of 20-year-old vehicles with new Honda CRVs. He intends to donate the older vehicles to Clear the Air.
In addition to working with dealers, Jackson and Billings said the organization is ramping up its efforts to educate consumers about the program and encourage more donations from individuals.
"Plenty of times we have gone to pick up a car wherever it happened to break down … in a parking lot, on the side of the street, wherever," Billings said.
Another of the organization's goals is to provide up to $50,000 in scholarships each year to help train student automobile technicians. CADA is also committed to that effort, dedicating a large portion of its cash reserves to support the scholarship program, Jackson said.
He said Clear the Air is a model that could work in other states.
"There's no reason this couldn't go national," he said.
Clear the Air also supports different charities that are dedicated to helping Colorado residents who suffer from environment-related health problems, such as asthma and other breathing disorders.