Credit where it's due: Solving our old car crisis
The cousin was driving (his own car) and, seldom as it happens, I had a few minutes to look around me. We met a smattering of 10-reg and 11-reg cars in the course of our journey but I was forcibly struck by the huge numbers of older cars on the road.
I suppose that should not have come as any great shock really, considering everything, but one tends not to notice just how many mature motors there are -- especially in city driving. This was down the country, where people need transport even more.
Anyway, I got to thinking and dipped into an even worse mood than when we started out. The implications for hundreds of thousands of people are massive, as far as I can see. So many people simply don't -- and probably won't for some time -- have the money to change to a newer car.
And I have to say that while it is alright for the likes of me to talk about new cars and reviewing motors costing upwards of €30,000 on the one hand, on the other hand one has to ask where in the name of God are ordinary decent people going to get the money to buy anything decent on four wheels?
Now, I am not being negative for the sake of it but there is a stark reality here, unless I'm badly mistaken (a frequently recurring phenomenon). Older cars need more repairs, are harder on fuel, less safe/roadworthy and (thoroughly obviously) worth little or nothing.
The only constant is that people need them. They are lost without them to get children to school, to travel to work and to go about their business. Often they have to fork out more money to keep a sinking ship afloat for another while.
We're talking middle Ireland here, we're not talking Luas/Dart/bus on your doorstep. And this is serious stuff. Here people are making do and realising that they do not have €5,000 or €6,000 to move up a couple of years to a better car that isn't burning oil, or rattling, or unevenly wearing tyres and that doesn't slurp petrol.
Before you jump to conclusions, by the way, this is not a piece of advocacy for another scrappage scheme. Nor is it based on anything other than my own observations and deductions. Really, it is an attempt to bounce back Michael Noonan's 'spend' appeal in a positive fashion to him. He is absolutely right. A few more euro flushing through the system would lift all boats. But there are plenty of people whose money runs out earlier each week/ month and who have to string it out for days and maybe weeks before the next pay cheque.
Not much point in asking them to spend, is there? They don't have it. And yet these are the very people who need to spend -- on a newer/better/safer/more economical car, for example. The irony is that a newer/better car would cost them a lot less to run so they would have a few euro more.
Here's where the likes of Mr Noonan could possibly help. Can he instigate or facilitate reasonably priced credit through the banks for genuine people? Banks, understandably after the bloodbath they've created and we've endured, are reluctant in the extreme to loan to someone who is scraping by.
I know there are several car manufacturer banks here as well but in the main I am talking about being able to go into a bank in your own town and get a few euro so you can drive away with a better, safer motor.
Now the scrappage scheme is gone, the reality is there needs to be something to help people in the second-hand market from drifting into serious banger driving. I've seen it happen. I also know from my dim and misty years of driving bangers, it is a long and costly way back to get into something decent.
In Brazil some years ago, the government devised a scheme whereby they underpinned loans to people looking to buy a car. That got people spending -- indeed there are those who claim there are far too many cars on the roads there now. But it struck me as a way of encouraging a flow of money for something practical and, ultimately, positive.
I honestly believe something is needed for two reasons: human and economic. It is an awful sensation to know your car is going to need more repairs but that they will only keep you going for another short while, when even more money will have to be wasted patching up again.
Maybe I am taking too extreme a view of all this. Maybe older cars keep going better than they used to. But there is a limit to most cars' safe lifespan. And I believe we are reaching a critical level.
I would value your comments.