WASHINGTON -- If you have a clunker that's also a gas guzzler, the federal government wants you to trade in the car so it can be scrapped, while you get a cash credit toward the purchase of a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle.
The Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act of 2009, or CARS, was pushed through Congress and signed by President Obama, purportedly to cut down on harmful vehicle emissions.
But in truth, this is welfare for the limping auto industry.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been given $1 billion to fund the program. However, the law doesn't apply to used cars, encourages people to take on more debt, and doesn't require the new cars to get substantially more in gas mileage.
Oh well, no use crying over unwisely soon-to-be spent taxpayer money.
So if you were thinking of trading in your aging car, here's your chance to get some government money. But before you rush to a dealer, you need to know the details of the program.
Specifically, CARS -- dubbed "Cash for Clunkers" -- provides $3,500 or $4,500 to help consumers purchase a more fuel-efficient car, van, sport utility vehicle or pickup from a participating dealer when they trade in an older, less fuel-efficient vehicle. Which amount you get depends on the type of car you purchase and the difference in fuel economy between the one you're buying and the trade-in.
To qualify for the program, your trade-in must meet, among other things, the following conditions:
-- The vehicle must be drivable.
-- It has to have been continuously insured and registered to you for a year before the trade-in. This was put in the law so someone wouldn't buy a junkyard car to try and get the cash credit.
-- It must have a "new" combined city and highway fuel economy rating of 18 miles per gallon or less. That word "new" is important here. To find out the new miles per gallon standard, go to www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/sbs.htm. Click on the year of your car, the make, and then the model. You will see a red banner with "Estimated New EPA MPG." Under it will be the new combined city and highway fuel economy for your vehicle.
For an overview of the cash for cars program, go to the official government Web site www.cars.gov, or you can call (866)-227-7891. While you wait for the NHTSA to put up complete guidelines (the agency has until July 24), you'll find useful information at www.edmunds.com and www.kbb.com. On the home pages for both Web sites look for "Cash for Clunkers" links.
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