Popularity and problems with "Cash for Clunkers"

The federal government’s billion-dollar “Cash for Clunkers” program was so popular, it started running out of gas quickly. Congress rushed Friday to put more in the tank. KPCC’s Brian Watt talked with one Southland car dealer dealing with the program’s popularity and problems .

Brian Watt: Bring in your old clunker of a vehicle, and Uncle Sam gives you a rebate of up to 4500 dollars on a brand new, more fuel-efficient ride. Sounds simple enough, right?

Norris Bishton: No, it’s total absolute insanity…the best way I can describe it.

Watt: Norris Bishton runs 6 car dealerships in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. He sells Toyotas and Fords – and whatever else he gets in trade. Bishton likes “Cash for Clunkers.” He says people want to buy cars again - and he says the program’s getting really bad cars off the road. Bishton’s lots have taken in more than a hundred clunkers since the program started a week ago. He says a lot of people bringing those cars in haven’t bought one in a LONG time. Bishton says they’re zapped with severe sticker shock.

Norris Bishton: They can’t understand why on buying a new vehicle, they don’t end up with a monthly payment of 150 dollars or something which is the kind of monthly payments people had back when they bought these clunkers.

Watt: If a deal goes through, the dealer’s left with the clunker – and the responsibility of getting back the government cash for it. You have to scrap the old car. You destroy the engine by pouring in a half-gallon of a special liquid. Bishton says dealers are scrambling to get some of that engine-seizing juice:

Norris Bishton: I talked to one of my stores yesterday that had 20-25 of these clunkers, and they’d only been able to purchase enough liquid to destroy the engines on 8.

Watt: Toyota and Ford dealer Norris Bishton says a lot of would-be buyers don’t know the “Cash for Clunkers” rules. If you don’t and you’re thinking about swapping your bucket of bolts for a sleek 21st century model, here’s a refresher: Your clunker must be less than 25 years old; it has to have been registered and insured for at least a year prior to trade-in; and it has to get 18 miles per gallon or less. Got one of those? If you do, the federal government has a deal for you … at least, for a few more days.

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