August 4, 2009 in Business

Confusion abounds over cash for clunkers’ future

Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Bruce McConnell, owner of McConnell Chevrolet Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Healdsburg Ca., blows off some steam by jumping on a Mercury Villager that was traded in last week under the cash for clunkers program.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – If you didn’t make it to a car dealer last week, have you missed your chance for the cash – and are you stuck with your clunker?

Congress is working on a plan to extend the government’s cash for clunkers program, which has been so popular that the $1 billion fund set aside to pay for it has nearly dried up. While lawmakers haggle over the details, here are some questions and answers about what you should know if you still want to buy a car under the program.

Q.Is cash for clunkers still on? Can I still qualify?

A.According to the government, yes. But for how long remains unclear.

There’s been a lot of confusion about this, especially after the news came out late last week that the program was running out of cash. The Obama administration says sales made under the deal are still covered for now, but the government is waiting to see what Congress does before making any concrete promises.

The House voted last week to add $2 billion to the program, and the Senate is expected to take up the same bill this week. If the Senate doesn’t approve it by Friday, the program will probably end.

And remember, the program still has restrictions, like the vehicle mileage of the car you are trading in. The government Web site has all the details.

Q.What will happen when I go to the dealer? Are they still offering the deals?

A.Some dealers stopped making cash for clunkers deals Monday, fearing they could lose money. Under the program, dealers take the value of the rebates, which range from $3,500 to $4,500, off the price of the car. They then go to the government to get reimbursed for that amount. As a buyer, you don’t have to do anything. You get the credit when you buy the car. The risk is on the dealer.

Many were still offering deals Monday but said they’re not sure about the rest of the week. Others are making only verbal deals that will go through if more money comes into the program. Some are telling buyers they’ll have to bring their new cars back or pay back the rebate if their applications are rejected when they are submitted to the government. And some dealers are holding off on sending trade-ins to be scrapped, just in case the deals don’t work out and the buyers need their old cars back.

Q.Will I still be able to find the car I want and get the credit?

A.If you’ve had your heart set on that cherry-red Focus at your local Ford dealership, you should probably act fast. Dealers say their inventories are running low because of high demand under the program.

Q.What are the chances the program will be extended the way it is now?

A.The House version would for the most part just add new money. But the Senate may tinker with the program, like by raising the fuel economy requirements for cars to qualify for the rebates. Of course, any Senate changes to the bill would require the House to take up the issue again – and they went out on summer recess last week, with no plans to return until September.

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