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Best idea of the week: Bonnie CLAC gives fair car loans for low income people to buy fuel-efficient vehicles

As we've mentioned, it's going to take a loooong while for all of the cars on the road today to be replaced with newer, more fuel efficient models. As people buy newer, cleaner cars, the old ones get sold to other users and they stay on the road. Only after a decade of more of use do most cars make their way to a recycling center or junkyard.
The people who buy used cars are, sometimes, people who cannot afford a new vehicle. But, if you're low on cash, then driving an older, less efficient vehicle can eat up more in fuel costs than you'd like. You might be eying a Prius, but you've got a 1992 Caravan, with the corresponding fuel bills.

Enter Bonnie CLAC (car loans and counseling), a non-profit negotiating agency. This ingenious service, which I heard about on PBS' NOW news program, charges a fee to low-income families (possibly with bad credit) to get them loans from banks and car dealers so they can buy newer, more fuel efficient vehicles they might not otherwise have been able to afford. Newer cars (on average) not only are cleaner, but they're also safer and break down less, so there are savings to the buyer all around, and Bonnie CLAC claims that their fee is paid back to the user in reduced car usage costs.

Bonnie CLAC is based in the Northeasten US and was started in 2001. They claim to have helped almost 900 people buy new cars in six years (getting them $13 million worth of loans for an average of about $14,000 per person). The organization's website doesn't really mention the part about newer cars being more fuel efficient, but that was certainly the message conveyed in the NOW piece. You can read the full transcript from NOW here.

[Source: Bonnie CLAC, NOW]

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