Cash for Clunkers rebates slow to flow

PORT ANGELES — The Cash for Clunkers auto rebate program ended Aug. 24, and while the government is hailing it as a major success, local car dealers are still saying “show me the money.”

The CARS program, or Cash Allowance Rebate System, was so successful that it could not keep up with all the rebate requests.

The only way to submit the 13-page claim forms for the $3,500 or $4,500 rebates was via the Internet, which created a clog in the system that has yet to clear.

When the program was launched July 27, the federal Department of Transportation estimated 250,000 vehicles would be taken off the road and replaced with more fuel-efficient models.

By Wednesday, dealers across the nation had submitted paperwork for 690,114 sales totaling $2.88 billion, according to the program’s Web site, more than twice the anticipated response.

Port Angeles car dealers felt the program was a success, but they also expressed concerns over the payment process.

“It was extremely successful from a sales standpoint,” Chris Koenig, owner of Koening Chevrolet Subaru, said Friday.

“But from an administrative standpoint, it’s been a frustrating and confusing process.”

He reported receiving less than 10 percent of the rebates so far.

He declined to name sales figures during the monthlong program.

Ruddell Auto Mall owner Howie Ruddell said the program was probably the most successful stimulus money the government has spent thus far, but that it can put some dealers in a cash crunch.

His dealership is waiting for reimbursement on about three dozen deals and has received rebates on about 5 percent of the cars sold under the program.

At Price Ford Lincoln Mercury, owner David Price said the program was extremely successful and that his dealership had received about 10 percent of the outstanding rebates so far.

Large Ford vehicles held three of the top four trade-in spots, with the Ford Explorer 4 WD ranked No. 1. On the flip side, the Ford Focus FWD was No. 4 on the vehicles-purchased list.

Price said he didn’t have the figures on the number of vehicles sold at the dealership, but added, “We were selling vehicles not even on the lot yet.”

The dealership sold out of the top-selling Ford Focus, Ford Fusion, Ford Escape and Ford Ranger.

He noted that not all new vehicles qualified for the trade-in program as they had to meet greater fuel-efficiency levels.

The Toyota Corolla was the No. 1 new vehicle purchased nationwide, with the Honda Civic No. 2 and Toyota Camry No. 3.

At Wilder Auto Mall, Dan Wilder Sr. called the program a “real success.”

He said the dealership sold 68 cars under the program and has been reimbursed for nine sales.

He estimated the program I.O.U. to his dealership to be nearly $250,000.

The dealership sold out of Toyota models Prius, Fit and Insight.

Koenig felt there was a lot of press about how successful the program was, but not enough reported on the delays in payments to dealers.

Dealers were told they would receive their funds in 10 days, Koenig said, and that has not been the case.

“There are a lot of dealers out there not receiving the rebates in a timely manner,” he said.

“Cash flow is important in any business. It’s a problem when you are owed money and have no idea when you will be paid. There is very little to tell us when we will be paid.”

He felt the government Web site for submitting rebate requests was confusing and was often not available.

His dealership had one claim rejected with no explanation, just a note to re-submit.

Would they do it again?

Koenig is reserving judgment on the value of running the program again, but if that were to happen — and there are no plans to — he would like to see the process streamlined.

Ruddell said he would be open to doing it again.

“It succeeded in its goals — it jump-started the economy and got these cars off the road,” he said.

He noted it was also a big boost for the state sales tax. Car sales in Washington state totaled nearly $56 million.

Wilder said he would prefer to see factory incentives rather than a government-funded program.

“We need to be good stewards of our government,” he said.

Price said he would “absolutely” do it again, saying it gave people an opportunity to get a far greater trade-in value for their cars and trade them in for vehicles that will be on the road for a long time.

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