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Confusion greets clunkers program locally

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
August 1, 2009

Confused dealers and rushed customers in Walworth and Rock counties struggled with what to do Friday as news poured in that the federal government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program was running out of money and White House officials vowed to keep it going at least through the weekend.


On Friday, some Rock and Walworth county dealers were still making deals, mostly to customers afraid of missing out on the maximum $4,500 rebate on a new vehicle.


Others were being cautious, fearing Congress wouldn’t expand the program and leave local dealerships to make up for the promised reimbursement on cars already sold.


Shane Lott, a sales manager at Gordie Boucher Ford Lincoln Mercury, 2727 Old Humes Road, Janesville, said sales were still going at his dealership Friday, but he expected they would be suspended by midnight.


The latest information he received Friday afternoon was that Cash for Clunkers sales would only be available until Friday evening and were expected to pick up again Monday.


“They’ve changed it so many times, it’s going to be wait and see,” Lott said.


The House on Friday afternoon passed a $2 billion addition to the program, and the Senate is expected to vote early next week.


Bill Ederer of Kunes Country Chevrolet-Cadillac, 1231 E. Geneva St., Delavan, said his dealership was selling cars until late Thursday night. Some of his workers were filing papers until 3 a.m. Friday to ensure they would get approved before the $1 billion allotted for the program was gone, he said.


“One of my customers came in and said, ‘I really want this color interior, but I’ll take what you’ve got,’” Ederer said.


Customers Mark and Debbie Curcio of La Grange were not surprised to know funding was running out. On Friday, they were going through paperwork at Kunes Country after having traded their 1998 Ford Explorer for a new Ford Escape last week.


“The day we heard (about the program), we came in,” Mark Curcio said.


Scott Last, owner of Elkhorn Motors, 910 N. Wisconsin St., said he has been cautious with sales since the beginning of the program. Last said he finalizes deals but only delivers new vehicles when he gets approval notices from the government.


“It’s a great program,” he added. “But a lot of people come in, and their car doesn’t qualify.”


To be eligible for the program, a vehicle must get an average of 18 miles per gallon of gas or less. And the customer must have owned and kept the vehicle insured for at least a year.


The estimated mileage per gallon goes by the government’s record of what the car should get when new, not what the car gets at the time of trade-in. To verify mileage per gallon, dealers and customers can go to the government-run Web site, Fueleconomy.gov.


Entering information required by the federal government is quite the struggle for most dealers. The process has been lengthy because of the heavy traffic on the data-entry Web site. It doesn’t help that dealers have to electronically submit 11 different documents, scanned and attached separately, to prove the sale qualifies.


But they don’t mind. Most dealers said the program has boosted their sales and pumped new air into the tires of a struggling market.


“There’s people flying in,” Ederer said.


Ederer said he’s heard of larger dealers asking customers to sign documents stating they would have to return to the dealership and work out different deals if the government failed to honor the purchases.


For now, Ederer will stick to living the good life and cashing those federal checks.


“As of right now, if somebody walks in, there’s a deal,” he said Friday.



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