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Column: Some Used Cars Are More Used Than Others

In this photo provided by Rolex, jury members inspect a 1933 Duesenberg SJ Brunn Riviera Convertible Sedan owned by John D. Groendyke at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion during Monterey’s Classic Car Week, Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, in Carmel, Calif. (AP Photo/Rolex, Tom O’Neal)

In this photo provided by Rolex, jury members inspect a 1933 Duesenberg SJ Brunn Riviera Convertible Sedan owned by John D. Groendyke at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion during Monterey’s Classic Car Week, Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, in Carmel, Calif. (AP Photo/Rolex, Tom O’Neal)

Let’s talk about buying used cars.

The other day a 52-year-old car that was once involved in a fatal crash sold for $38,115,000 at an auction in Carmel, Calif. It was a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta. It is red. Apparently, cars are not like houses. In many places, if somebody dies violently in a house it has to be disclosed to buyers, who then tend to shun it.

Fun fact number two. Old cars are stolen at a remarkable rate, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, because they are easier to steal than new cars, and are wanted for parts or to use in crimes. About 700,000 cars are stolen each year, which elates crimes fighters because that is down from 1.7 million stolen vehicles in 1991.

I am interested in used cars because I just bought a used 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and it’s been a disaster, although as far as I know nobody was killed in it. However, Bruce, the mechanic who checked it out after I bought it from a man named Larry, said I was very lucky not to have been killed in it. Bruce and Larry, who used to be friends, are not speaking right now, or rather, they are speaking to each other in one-syllable words.

Bruce said the moral of the story is that 1) Larry is a cheat, 2) women should never buy a car without a man along and 3) women should never go to a mechanic without a man in tow, although Bruce stressed that he is honest with female customers.

Bruce’s philosophy is thoroughly depressing, and I don’t accept it, although I seem to have proved the truth of it. At any rate, Bruce suggested I park the car in my front yard with a For Sale sign or the keys in it. (Not happening. I intend to put 150,000 miles on it over the next several decades and then sell it.)

All this is relevant because this is the fifth anniversary to the month of President Obama’s Cash for Clunkers program, which raises questions about the success of stimulus-based programs. Obama insists he saved the American auto industry and continues to maintain that if we buy American-made cars we are patriotic and helping the economy.

Obama’s 2009 $3 billion Car Allowance Rebate System got 690,114 old cars off the road. They were destroyed before they could cause more pollution or be stolen for parts or to commit new crimes. The University of Michigan found that the program improved the average fuel economy of all vehicles purchased by 0.6 mpg in July 2009 and by 0.7 mpg in August 2009.

But Texas A&M University this month produced a study claiming that the program was ineffective because it made people buy less expensive cars, such as the Toyota Corolla, than they otherwise would have done. The fact that the U.S. was in the worst recession since the Great Depression apparently seemed irrelevant to the researchers and Fox News, which widely touted the study, National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 20349, as another bit of proof that they really do not like Obama.

At any rate, despite Obama’s controversial stimulus-based efforts to revive the new car industry, Americans are in love with used cars, buying them at a remarkable rate. If you have a Toyota or a Honda or a Nissan or some other popular car such as a pickup truck, you will get a notice every month urging you to sell it.

My friendly advice here is to have a used car checked out before you buy it. Meanwhile, since the 1962 Ferrari was already sold before I could test drive it, I have bought a 2001 Ford 150 Super Crew pickup. It is electric blue. It was not stolen. I am taking it to Bruce tomorrow.

Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.