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Cash for Clunkers is a GO!

As of Friday Jun 19, 2009 5:00pm, the controversial Cash for Clunkers has just passed Congress and is now heading to President Barack Obama for signature as a piece of legislation meant to help get gas guzzlers off U.S. roads and replace them with new, more efficient vehicles. Many say the act is too lenient and is merely being pushed through as a measure to help get Detroit’s unsold inventory off dealer lots.

Called the “Consumer Assistance Recycle and Save Act of 2009”, or more commonly, “Cash for Clunkers,” the $1 billion program will provide a voucher of up to $4,500 (effectively just knocking that much off the price tag — dealers will get electronic payments from the feds) to help offset the cost of new car purchases or leases over the next five months. The cars that you’re limited to must cost no more than $45,000. So that means I can’t trade in my old 1998 Dodge Caravan (MPG rating of 18) for a 2009 Lotus Elise (MPG rating of 26) because the MSRP is too high ($47,500). However, that awesome new 208HP 2009 Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works (MSRP of $29,200) would not only get me the basic $3,500, but it’s combined cycle of 28 MPG (10 more than my current car) will get me an additional $1,000 for a total of $4,500 off the price of the car! Not a bad deal, in my humble opinion. This rebate also works with other rebates from the manufacturer or hybrid car rebates offered from the Federal Government.

So what is going to happen to all these old cars now that they are off the road? Most will have their engines taken out and destroyed (to ensure these “high pollution” drive-trains stay off the road). However, miscellaneous parts like doors, bumpers and other non-drivetrain parts will still be around to make sure those cars that are running can be repairs and made roadworthy.

The House bill would go into effect within 30 days of enactment but it is not retroactive for new purchases made earlier this year. For a more complete description of all the applicable situations, see the chart below:

Passenger Car Light-Duty Truck Large Light-Duty Truck (6,000-8,500 lbs.) Work Truck (8,500-15,000 lbs.)
Minimum fuel economy for new vehicle 22 mpg (EPA combined) 18 mpg (EPA combined) 15 mpg (EPA combined) Not applicable
$3,500 voucher Mileage improvement of at least 4 mpg. Mileage improvement of at least 2 mpg. Mileage improvement of at least 1 mpg or trade-in of a work truck. Trade-in must be at least pre-2002.
$4,500 voucher Mileage improvement of at least 10 mpg. Mileage improvement of at least 5 mpg. Mileage improvement of at least 2 mpg. NA
Source: House Committee on Energy and Commerce

However, if your vehicle has low mileage, it still may be preferable to look into an auto refinance program as opposed to purchasing a completely new car.