Why The Next Car You Wreck Might End Up In Afghanistan

We Americans are guilty of treating our cars like any other disposable commodity. We drive them until they're wrecked or used up, and then we replace them. Haven't you ever wondered what happened to a car you were forced to part with? It's possible it ended up in a very interesting place: Afghanistan.

This story in the Chicago Tribune tells of an increasingly common fate for American and Western European cars that were written off after crashes: they get sent to new, more interesting lives in Afghanistan.

In previous decades Afghans would cruise around in big Fords, Chevrolets and Mercedes-Benzes. Then they switched to Volgas when the Soviets invaded.

These days, they prefer Japanese cars — like that Toyota Corolla on ram-hauling duty above — for their perceived superiority in fuel economy, as well as more readily available parts. They're all brought into the country by dealers who purchased them "pre-owned," which in many cases means "pre-crashed."

As the story notes, many of these recent imports are decked out with registration stickers from Texas, Washington D.C., or Hollywood, and often with "total loss" decals.

And while they were unusable in the U.S. or Europe, they're vital to people's lives here.

Musty interiors reveal vestiges of former lives, from sweat-stained lumbar supports and air-freshener strips to coffee-stained upholstery and shag carpeting.

Dealers in this Muslim country are careful to remove such potentially offensive hitchhikers as liquor bottles and pork-sandwich wrappers. "No one worries if 'infidels' drove them, as long as they're cleaned," said lot owner Abdul Aziz, 35.

Some lots sport frayed colored flags and one has a rusting model airplane out front, but there isn't much devoted to marketing, as evidenced by dealers who apparently see insurance "collision" stickers as a point of pride.

Here's another funny tidbit: the cars from Europe tend to be a little less trashed than the ones from America, at least, according to one man.

"I think Germans and Swiss must be better drivers, neater, more law-abiding," Aziz said as a chicken strutted past. "Americans have that cowboy history."

That's kind of funny.

More and more cars have gone onsale in Afghanistan, the story says, but they remain relatively rare. There were about 20 cars per 1,000 people at the last check in 2010, compared to about 797 per 1,000 in the U.S.

Anyway, it's a fascinating story, and one I think is worth a full read. And they have a good lesson that the rest of us could learn from:

"I don't know why Americans don't fix their cars after an accident and keep using them," salesman Abdullah said. "Perhaps they have so much money they don't care? Anyways, we sell 'em all."

Photo credit Getty Images