An Inside Look: The Death of a Clunker

Ford tech offers a behind the scenes look into administering the "clunker bomb."

July 31, 2009, 4:50 PM

August 3, 2009— -- Whether or not Cash for Clunkers gets a new lease on life this week, many dealers will continue to face the unusual task of having to permanently disable the gas-guzzlers they've collected as part of the program.

"It's kind of a process that we're not used to at the dealership," said Shawn Lynes, general manager for Sheehy Ford in Gaithersburg, Md., "We're used to vehicles coming in with problems, we fix them and get them back on the road... our technicians are now having to kill these vehicles."

Before the clunkers are shipped off to the scrap yard, Lynes says a technician must first render obsolete the cars' engines and then certify they will never consume gasoline again. He says the certification is essential in order to receive the federal credit under the program, which requires gas guzzlers that are traded in be taken out of service to help lower the nations demand for gasoline, and curb air pollution.

Lynes and technician Jacob Henning demonstrated for ABC News the process of killing a clunker -- a black 2001 Ford Explorer Sport.

"This could have been a pretty good car for somebody," said Lynes as the SUV took its final drive. The Explorer appeared to be in good physical condition and only had 100,000 miles.

But it gets 16 miles per gallon. And since it was traded in for a newer, more fuel efficient car under the Cash for Clunkers program, Lynes said he has to make sure it never drives again.

Lynes watched as Henning drained the oil from the Explorer's engine. Then, lifting the hood, Henning poured a jug of "Clunker Bomb" -- a sodium silicate solution -- into the engine chamber. The liquid mix hardens as the engine runs, causing it to irreversibly seize up.

Henning revved the engine at 2,000 to 5,000 rpm's, and a little over 3 minutes later the engine sputtered to its death.

"It's dead," Henning said.

Lynes said his dealership has performed more than 20 clunker-disabling procedures since the start of the program.

"The first one yesterday died at exactly 3:01," said Lynes smiling and pointing to his watch.

Lynes says a salvage service will come to claim the nearly two dozen dead clunkers sitting at the back of his lot. Red paint on their windshields identifies that the cars are "DEAD."

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