Auto Club: "Cash For Clunkers" Rolls Into Dealerships

(LOS ANGELES, July 27, 2009) – The federal government’s Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act (CARS), also known as the “cash for clunkers” program, began turning its wheels this month to offer motorists an economic incentive to purchase a more fuel efficient new vehicle by trading in their older and less fuel-efficient vehicle. The Automobile Club of Southern California has tips for consumers who want to take advantage of the new incentive.

“Retiring less fuel-efficient vehicles and replacing them with those that are more energy conserving helps lessen carbon dioxide emissions, which are reported to increase global warming, as well as our society’s dependency on imported energy supplies,” said Steve Mazor, manager of the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center.

Congress passed the “cash for clunkers” bill so that older vehicles that get 18 miles per gallon or less in combined city and highway driving would be scrapped and exchanged for vehicles that get at least 22 mpg. (The mpg information on new vehicles is on its window sticker.) Window sticker information for older (pre-2008) vehicles is not valid since the methodology for estimating mpg was updated in 2008. To obtain the correct mpg for your trade-in go to

The government will credit drivers $3,500 to improve the efficiency by four mpg and $4,500 if they improve it by 10 mpg or more through a new vehicle purchase. Newscasters are reporting that consumers already are visiting dealerships with their eligible trade-in to scout new vehicles.

“Regardless of incentives offered under this, or any other program, consumers should always negotiate the best possible deal on the three most important aspects of vehicle purchase transactions,” said the Auto Club’s Car Buying Service Manager Dave Cavano. “These are price of trade-in, price of the vehicle being purchased and terms of credit needed to purchase the vehicle,” he added.

“Cash for clunkers” likely makes the most sense for households that have several vehicles and are looking to trade in their oldest and least fuel-efficient vehicle for a new one, said Cavano.

Criteria (like the owner must have insured the trade-in vehicle for one year, etc.) must be met to receive the credit. For more information, go to, the official site that offers details about the CARS program and is hosted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Note: The NHTSA web site refers to CARS as the Car Allowance Rebate System. The government has also set up an information hotline at (866) 227-7891.
Cavano also recommends that car buyers avoid typical car-buying pitfalls and:
  • Research costs, features and safety. Before stepping foot on a dealership lot, use the Internet and car-buying web sites like to seek out the vehicle you want, the dealer’s cost, government mileage ratings, safety features, warranty coverage from the manufacturer and special features, like hybrid technology or 4-wheel drive. Crash-test ratings are available from NHTSA and the Auto Club. Both provide crash-test ratings and information at no charge. Ask the local Auto Club office for the brochure “Buying a Safer Car--2009.”
  • Set a budget and stick to it. Decide how much you can spend on buying a car and determine if you’re eligible for discounts, or any rebates or incentives from the manufacturer or dealer, in addition to the incentives offered this year through government programs.
  • Get pre-approved financing. Get pre-approved before going to a dealer. "If the dealer can offer better financing, that's great. If not, you know you have a competitive loan," said Cavano.
  • Get referrals from trusted sources. Ask family members, friends, neighbors, or trust-worthy organizations such as the Auto Club, about reliable makes and reputable dealers. The Auto Club has developed a network of reputable car dealerships in their Car Buying Service network which offer discounted vehicle prices to its members.
  • Know. Don’t Guess. Newspaper automotive ads are a good place to check for vehicles. The Auto Club also provides new vehicle pricing information.
  • Test-drive before you buy. Make sure you test-drive the car you want to buy in the manner you plan to use it. Drive up hills, on highways, and in stop ‘n go traffic, to mimic your commute and other driving patterns.

The “cash for clunkers” program will be available through Nov. 1 or when the $1 billion in credits is exhausted, whichever comes first, according to the guidelines of the new law.