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Clunker owners welcome the deal

Some residents find terms of the offer, eligibility requirements challenging

Posted: August 1, 2009 9:39 p.m.
Updated: August 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Tim Lambirth was looking to save himself a headache or two as he attempted to take advantage of the "cash for clunkers" program Saturday.

"I've been following (the program) in the newspaper for months," said the Stevenson Ranch resident - just before he hopped into a Toyota 2009 Rav4 for a test drive.

"I have a vehicle not quite worth $4,500 and there's a certain amount of aggravation in selling a used car," Lambrith said.

"That is my clunker," he added, pointed to a faded 1987 Corvette.

"I thought I could get more if I traded it in and avoid the headache."

Under the Car Allowance Rebate System, otherwise known as "cash for clunkers," owners of old and inefficient cars and trucks can scrap their vehicles in exchange for $3,500 to $4,500 toward a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle.

Bob Corson, director of sales at Valencia's Frontier Toyota, said the popularity of the program has demanded longer hours from the dealership, which typically closes at 10 p.m.

"Thursday night we were here till 3 a.m. People were under the impression it was ending that day," he said. "Yesterday, we were here past two. We expect to be here late again tonight," he said Saturday afternoon.

Responding to consumer demand following the program's initial $1 billion set-aside by Congress, the House voted Friday to replenish the program with $2 billion. Dealerships and "clunker" owners await Senate action likely to take place next week.

While reports of dealers nationwide being swamped with buyers didn't seem to apply to Valencia's Auto Row Saturday, Corson said 30 percent to 40 percent of Saturday's morning and afternoon traffic was due to cash-for-clunker shoppers.

Many of those customers were doing their own homework to find out whether their vehicles qualify as a clunker, either by visiting or calling the dealership and asking questions.

"It's a very simple three-to-four-step process," Corson said.

Still, many Saturday were confused about eligibility requirements. Just because a vehicle looks and sounds like a clunker doesn't mean the "cash for clunkers" deems it a clunker.

"Someone may have a car from 1987 but it got good mileage then," Corson said. "It was an efficient vehicle, so therefore they're, unfortunately, not qualifying."

To be considered a clunker, the vehicle has to get 18 miles per gallon or less according to the Web site

And then there is the trouble of trying to find a suitable new car to trade for.

The Plantinga family of Burbank was not having much luck Saturday matching their top choices with the requirements.

"I'd like to get into a new car. I'd like to help the economy, but we're having a hard time finding a good match," said Scott Plantinga.

The Plantingas hoped to trade in their '98 Dodge Durango for a seven-seater SUV.

Scott Plantinga's first choice was a Volvo XC90; second was a GMC Yukon, but neither qualified for the program.

"I'd like to get rid of (the Dodge). It runs okay, but it's starting to have all those nickel-and-dime issues - $150 here and $200 there," he said.

But in order to get rid of their clunker, they may have to broaden their scope.

"Maybe we'll have to trade for a car instead of an SUV," he said. "We'll probably only buy a car if we're able to use the program."

Corson said those looking to cash in on the deal should remember one thing: If your car qualifies, it's vital to have the required documentation.

Owners need to show dealers their vehicle, title, proof of registration and proof of insurance.

Not all of Saturday's shoppers could take advantage of the deal.

"We can't because we don't have a clunker," said Gretchen Peterson of Highland Park. "We feel like we made all the environmentally friendly choices and now we can't qualify."

"But I'm glad the program exists," she added, "It's better for everybody."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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