- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

In late June, President Obama signed a law that’s a pretty strong incentive for you to part with that beat-up old car cluttering the driveway.

You’ve most likely heard about the “Cash for Clunkers” program — officially called the Car Allowance Rebate System — which Congress dreamed up to spur the economy. CARS gives you $3,500 to $4,500 to trade that old beater in on a new vehicle. The CARS program kicks off on July 24 and lasts through Nov. 1, or until the federal funding of about $1 billion runs out.

If you’ve been considering a new ride and you’ve got an older vehicle that’s still running but practically worthless, the CARS-guaranteed minimum of $3,500 on trade-in is a great deal. Know how to make it work for you and the Cash for Clunkers program can deliver a big financial boost to your new-vehicle transaction. But as is typical in the business of buying and selling cars, it’s best to understand the ground rules. Here are the key points for the new CARS program.

For the vehicle you want to trade:

• Your car, pickup or SUV (there are slightly different rules for larger trucks) cannot be older than a 1984 model.

• It cannot have a combined fuel-economy rating of more than 18 miles per gallon. How will you know your clunker’s combined mpg? Go to this site: www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/cars.shtml. Select your vehicle make and model year and you’ll see a red “Estimated New EPA MPG” banner. Just under the banner is a red “Combined” figure for your vehicle. It’s important to the whole CARS deal.

• The vehicle must be driveable and legally owned and insured by you for at least one year.

• The sticker price of the new vehicle you want to buy (or lease) cannot exceed $45,000.

For the new vehicle you want to purchase:

• The combined fuel economy figure has to be at least 22 mpg and must be at least 4 mpg better than the vehicle you’re trading. If it is, you’ll get $3,500 for your old vehicle.

• If the difference between your clunker’s fuel economy and the economy of the new vehicle you want to buy is 10 mpg or more, you get $4,500. The extra thousand-dollar payoff for the 10-mpg improvement underscores one goal of the CARS program, which is to encourage scrapping old guzzlers and purchasing new, more-efficient models.

• Small pickups, SUVs and minivans have slightly different rules about fuel economy, but the same $3,500 or $4,500 rebates apply.

Those are the basic rules. If you’re definitely planning to take advantage of the program, we advise getting a rundown on all the details at the special CARS Web site set up by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (which is in charge of the CARS program): www.cars.gov.

Some added advice you won’t necessarily get from the government:

• Be absolutely sure of the worth of your “clunker.”

If you’re able to get more than $4,500 for your vehicle on trade, you shouldn’t consider it for the Cash for Clunker rebate. Any number of used-vehicle Web sites offer free valuations for your vehicle; one of the best is Kelley Blue Book at www.kbb.com.

• The CARS rebate has nothing to do with the multitude of manufacturer and dealer incentives available. The rebate should be deducted from the vehicle price after manufacturer incentives are applied. A reputable dealer will not substitute the clunker rebate for ones the manufacturer was already offering anyway.

• You really don’t have to do anything special to get the rebate if you qualify; all of it will be worked out at the dealership when the transaction happens.

• There already are numerous scams enticing new-vehicle buyers with promises of “registering” them to qualify for the CARS program (mostly via the Internet). Just hit delete.

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