pounds 1,000 for your banger. Too good to be true? Yes, says John Simis ter
If you live in Ireland, and you have a car more than 10 years old, the Irish government will now give you Irpounds l,000 (just over pounds 1,000) if you scrap it and buy a new one. This is, of course, a jolly good thing, because everyone benefits. The environment benefits from the removal of smoky old bangers and their replacement by efficient, economical modern cars with catalytic converters. Car users benefit because new cars are safer, and the motor industry benefits because it will sell more cars.

Indeed, Ford's Irish operation is so thrilled that it has pledged to match its government's contribution, which means the punter can save pounds 2,000 on a new set of wheels with the blue oval badge. The Society for the Irish Motor Industry believes that the scheme will improve safety and help the environment. It is also, incidentally, hoping for a rise in sales of 10 per cent during the scheme's 18-month period.

France, Spain, Greece and Denmark have been running similar schemes, and if car sales figures are anything to go by, they have been quite a success with all sorts of unpleasant old heaps banished from the road and the environment becoming healthier by the second.

It's hardly surprising, then, that the well-known environmental protection organisation the National Franchised Dealers Association has joined with that other bastion of British clean-living, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, to press for a similar scheme here.

So why are they suddenly so concerned for our health? Taken overall, sales of new cars in the UK are rising slowly after a long time in the doldrums. But this rise is occurring entirely in the company-car sector, while sales to private buyers continue to sink (currently they're 7.7 per cent down on last year).

What has happened is that the manufacturers have shot themselves in the foot and are trying to dupe the rest of us into mopping up the blood. How so? Because, thanks to the strides manufacturers have made in quality and durability over the last decade, all with the ulterior motive of getting people to buy their cars with confidence, cars now last much longer.

Wax injection has all but banished rust in most cars - the French, in particular, have salvaged their reputation here and if an engine gets smoky it's seldom more serious than a set of worn-out valve-guide seals.

It has taken the recession to make people realise that cars are now decently durable artefacts and break the habit of buying a new one every three years or so, but now that they realise their cars aren't going to disintegrate after 50,000 miles even if the new-car gloss has worn off, they no longer feel a pressing need to replace them.

Similarly, owners of older cars no longer feel a cold sweat coming upon them as the odometer clicks over the 100,000-mile mark. Some cars - the Mark Two Volkswagen Golf GTi is a favourite example - may well be going better then than at any earlier time in their lives.

Some 10-year-old cars are smoky old bangers, of course, but it is the brief of the MOT test (which is currently too lenient on exhaust emissions) to weed out the polluters. There is no reason why a properly maintained 10-year-old can't run cleanly. Nor is there much evidence to suggest that a non-rusty car of that age - they do exist - performs drastically worse in a crash than many new cars.

The fact is that behind the weasel words of environmental concern, the retail motor trade is frightened for its life. But the scrapping incentive would never work in Britain. As a nation, we change our cars far more frequently than our European neighbours do, which explains why our used- car market is so huge. This means that the people who own 10-year-old cars have probably bought them well used, and are therefore unlikely to be the sort of people able or willing to buy a brand-new car, incentive or not.

As one who likes well-maintained old cars - and who abhors the greed- induced waste of scrapping potentially serviceable old cars and then expending huge amounts of energy making new ones - I hope this cynically-conceived scheme never takes root here.

There is also the matter of what would happen to the stocks of tired but salvageable cars that future classic-car enthusiasts might like to restore. This is one government-funded incentive we could well do without.

Search for used cars