Cash for Clunkers outdoes itself with runaway popularity
The Cash for Clunkers program was a success. Too much of a success, apparently.
Members of Congress are calling for more money after the Car Allowance Rebate System burned through $1 billion in less than a week.
They hope Washington will appropriate another billion or more toward the program, which provides $3,500 to $4,500 to buyers who trade in an older, less fuel efficient car, for a newer one that gets better mileage. The original program called for $4 billion in rebates.
Response to the program in McCook ranged from so-so -- one salesman saw it as a government boondoggle -- to enthusiastic.
"We've had tremendous response," said Chris Wagner, owner of Ford, GM and Toyota dealerships in McCook.
"A lot of folks are coming in with a printout from http://fueleconomy.gov) and saying 'This is what I want,'" Wagner said. "We've had a lot of tire-kickers. It's what we've needed."
But some dealers are intimidated by the paperwork (150 pages or more) involved, and the chance -- apparently a good one -- that deals might not get done before the money runs out.
"It's a good program for the customer," said Lee Janssen, who has dealerships in McCook and Holdrege, including Honda, which has many models meeting the CARS requirements.
"The bad news is, it's a documentation nightmare," he said. "If you like this program, you'll love national health care."
Wagner said his service and parts department business has been "stellar," even when the recession first hit.
Ironically, good maintenance may go for naught, if the vehicle is traded in under the Cash for Clunkers program. Dealers have to add a chemical to the vehicle's engine and run it until it seizes, ensuring the vehicle's drive train is inoperable before it is sent to an approved salvage yard for shredding.
That's a little galling for those of us who remember the "fix it up, wear it out, make do or do without" motto of the Depression and World War II.
Still, the program will have worked if better, leaner, tougher car companies emerge, ready to compete on the worldwide market.