Cash For Clunkers Program Ends Monday; Auto Club Offers Tips For Car Buyers

(LOS ANGELES, Aug. 20, 2009) – The federal government’s “Cash for Clunkers,” sparked a surge in new car sales in the U.S., but will end at 5 p.m. Monday, Aug. 24, it was announced today. While the program can offer motorists a great incentive to purchase a new vehicle, the Automobile Club of Southern California urges motorists wishing to take advantage of the program before it closes to educate themselves about the program, their options and their potential new vehicle.

The announcement stated that car dealers must submit their sales voucher paperwork to the government by 5 p.m. (8 p.m. EDT) and the Dept. of Transportation said this week that it was significantly increasing the number of workers to handle the rebate paperwork.

“For most motorists, their vehicle is the second largest investment they make,” said Dave Cavano, the Auto Club’s Car Buying Service Manager. “The program allowed many Auto Club and AAA members to take advantage of the trade-in deal. About 457,000 deals were made since late July, when the program officially started, with rebates of nearly $2 billion.”

The Auto Club’s Car Buying Service dealer network reported significantly increased foot traffic due to the rebate program. In addition, Auto Club offices were busy assisting members with obtaining duplicate vehicle titles to meet the program’s administrative criteria.

The program offers motorists an economic and environmental incentive to purchase a more fuel-efficient vehicle by trading in their older and less fuel-efficient vehicle. When the program went into effect last month, the average fuel economy of vehicles purchased through the clunker program was significantly better (on average from 25 miles per gallon and up) than the older gas-guzzlers traded in. Approximately 80 percent of trade-ins were SUVs, vans and pickups. Sales of Fords, Toyotas and other vehicle manufacturers increased.

Congress passed “Cash for Clunkers” so older vehicles getting 18 mpg or less in combined city and highway fuel economy would be exchanged for vehicles that get 22 mpg. (The mpg information on new vehicles is on its window sticker.) Window sticker data for pre-2008 vehicles isn’t valid since the methodology for estimating mpg was updated in 2008. To obtain the correct mpg go to http://www.fueleconomy.gov/.

The government credits drivers $3,500 to improve fuel efficiency by four mpg and $4,500 if they improve it by 10 mpg or more by buying a new vehicle. Dealers apply the credit at purchase. Criteria must be met to receive the credit. For more information, go to http://www.cars.gov/, the official site that offers program details or call the government hotline at (866) 227-7891.

The Auto Club’s Cavano recommends that 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 AAA.com to seek out the vehicle you want, the dealer’s cost, 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.