Local car dealers sign up for federal trade-in program

By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico

New car dealers in Clovis and Portales spent a little time on Friday trying to register their businesses to be part of the federal government-sponsored Car Allowance Rebate System, formerly Cash for Clunkers, program.

How much customers or the dealerships themselves will benefit from the $1 billion nationwide program, local business owners say, is debatable.

“I’m sure they’ll be a spurt in business, but it probably won’t last very long,” said Bryce Bender, owner of Bender Chevrolet in Clovis. “Everyone will jump on it, and it’s supposed to run until November.”

Dealerships got their first chance on Friday to look at a 100-page document that details the chance for consumers to get $3,500 or $4,500 toward the purchase or long-term lease of a new car.

To be eligible, trade-in cars must have fuel efficiencies of 18 miles per gallon or less, with the exception of some work trucks that were never rated for fuel efficiency, according to the Car Allowance Rebate System Web site. Vehicles must also meet age requirements, be drivable and have been registered and insured to the same owner for a year before trade-in.

The new car leased or purchased must also meet requirements, according to the Web site.

A rush of dealers to register led to an Internet logjam when the rules were released, which caused online waits up to two hours for those able to log on.

Bender said that the old trade-ins have to be taken by the dealer to be “recycled” — crushed or shredded according to the Car Allowance Rebate System — for eligibility in the program.

Getting fuel-inefficient vehicles off the road is one intended result of the Clunkers For Cash program, but there’s little doubt that the government is hoping to fuel new car sales for the struggling auto industry nationwide.

Some dealers just outside of the program’s purview say that they’re fine not being part of it.

“I’ve heard something about it. It’s just a gimmick is all it is. Since I’ve been in the car business for 35 years, I know it’s a gimmick,” said Bill Case, an owner of a used car business in Clovis.

Will the program bring a clunker to his door?

“I don’t know,” Case said with a laugh. “I hope not.”