Colorado auto group takes high polluters off road: 5 things to know

Clear the Air Foundation takes donated cars, provides auto tech scholarships

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In 2007, Colorado's then-Gov. Bill Ritter made a push to tackle climate change. Among the efforts: suggesting that Colorado adopt a policy similar to California's stringent auto-emission regulations.

The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association opposed that idea, but it put forth a vision of its own.

“Most vehicle emissions come from older, high-polluting vehicles. It is our opinion that rather than heavily regulating new vehicles, the most effective solution is to permanently remove as many of these older, high-polluting vehicles as possible,” said Mark Zeigler, director of Clear the Air Foundation.

Thus, that foundation was born, an arm of the dealers' association that takes in donated vehicles, recycles them and puts the proceeds toward scholarships for Colorado students looking to enter the automotive technician field.

With about 12 years under its belt, the foundation has taken thousands of cars off the road and counting. Here's a look at how it all works and what the organization has its eye on.

How it works

The nonprofit foundation was created in 2007 by the board of directors of the dealers' association. Zeigler became the foundation's director in 2018.

“When vehicles are donated, the engines are always destroyed, ensuring that we are clearing the air. Other parts are either recycled or parted out,” Ziegler said.

The foundation accepts vehicle donations from anyone in Colorado, and since it's a 501(c)3, donors may get a tax benefit. It also takes in cash donations, which are combined with proceeds from the sale of vehicles to fund scholarships.

Racking up numbers

Clear the Air is budgeted to provide $50,000 in scholarships annually. By partnering with school foundations, the foundation can receive matching funds, which doubles the award, Ziegler said.

“We also work with Matco Tools and Snap-on Tools to take advantage of their student discount programs. These programs provide students with a 50% discount, which doubles the award,” Ziegler said. “We anticipate the total value of scholarships awarded in 2019 to exceed $100,000.”

Donations to Clear the Air come from all over Colorado, and its largest donor in 2018 and so far in 2019 is the Pueblo Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram store. Most donations come from new car dealers, and the foundation also takes donations from the public.

“I can tell you that in 2019, the average age of donated vehicles is 19 years,” Ziegler said.

Fueling education

Most of the foundation's scholarships go to students enrolled in a two-year auto tech program.

“Also, we are able to recognize employees at new car dealerships in a formal apprenticeship program with a tool scholarship,” Ziegler said.

There are thousands of jobs available in Colorado alone, according to Ziegler.

“According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the average pay for an automotive technician is more than $61,000 a year, plus benefits,” Ziegler said. “A master certified automotive technician can earn more than $100,000 a year if they have the right work ethic.”

Pulling thousands off road

As of Dec. 5, the foundation has permanently taken 4,421 vehicles off the road, Ziegler said.

“Over the past five years, we've averaged 619 each year,” Ziegler added. “However, we are already at 731 this year. We received the 501(c)3 designation in 2011; at that point, we could recycle vehicles.”

Addressing shortage

For now, the foundation is focusing on increasing vehicle donations and getting more people interested in an auto tech career.

“We have a significant skills shortage across the country and here in Colorado,” Ziegler said. “There has been a focus on four-year degrees, to the detriment of skilled trades careers. A two-year associate's degree in an automotive technician program can run around $14,000. Some schools even provide tools as part of tuition.”

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