How to disable a car

| Comments (3) | Misc
The cash for clunkers program presents an interesting security challenge: a lot of the point is to take cars off the road, so this means we need to be sure that cars that are turned in don't end up back on the market. The natural solution is to put the vehicles "beyond use permanently", as they said of the IRA's weapons. But you want a simple and safe method of disabling them The WSJ covers the solution (literally), some stuff called "sodium silicate" (pointer due to Terence Spies):
What Mr. Mueller discovered is that sodium silicate is the designated agent of death for cars surrendered under the federal cash-for-clunkers program. To receive government reimbursement, auto dealers who offer rebates on new cars in exchange for so-called clunkers must agree to "kill" the old models, using a method the government outlines in great detail in its 136-page manual for dealers: Drain the engine of oil and replace it with two quarts of a sodium-silicate solution.

"The heat of the operating engine then dehydrates the solution leaving solid sodium silicate distributed throughout the engine's oiled surfaces and moving parts," says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publication. "These solids quickly abrade the bearings causing the engine to seize while damaging the moving parts of the engine and coating all of the oil passages."

Sounds like it beats sugar in the gas tank.


This whole cash for clunkers thing seems so incredibly wasteful to me. The whole "get a new car and trash the old one" might be good for propping up the automakers, but environmentally it sounds awful, since making new cars takes a large amount of energy. I'm reminded of this article from wired last year:

I still wonder stops dealers from just *saying* that they disabled the car, while selling the engine off to some parts dealer. If it involves just signing a form, I wouldn't rely on that. (IIUC the dealer is allowed to sell off any piece of the car except the engine and the drivetrain.)

And following up on what Scott linked to, I was trying to figure out what a good metric would be for when to trash an old car, from an environmental point of view. When the floor rusts out is probably too late. Maybe cars should have EPA stickers include an "equivalent gallons of gasoline in production" value. Although that also raises the issue of how much of the energy encased in the old car you can reclaim through recycling.

The solution of when to scrap cars is pretty simple. You tax old cars according to the estimated emissions they produce (a halfway decent model would probably only need the year of manufacture and gross weight). When they become economically inefficient to operate, the owners will scrap them.

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