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Dealers took clunkers, waiting on cash
Federal program ends with no money in sight
clunker cash with ford
Dealerships await reimbursement from the government for the “cash for clunkers” program. - photo by File photo
After one month, $2.6 billion and an estimated 625,000 new car owners, the federal Car Allowance Rebate System known as “cash for clunkers” has ended.

But many area car dealerships are still waiting for the government to reimburse them for each $3,500 or $4,500 rebate.

Bill Howell, vice president of Billy Howell Ford-Lincoln-Mercury, said he hasn’t been paid back for any of the more than 30 cars he sold through the program.

“None of it, nada,” he said. “It’s been so bad, in fact, the computer crashed [Monday] night ... they’ve given us more time to get everything entered in the system.”

Still, he said, the dealership has “definitely had more sales this month.”

“This will be our best month this year, and it surpassed what we did in August last year,” Howell said.

The “cash for clunkers” program, designed to remove the country’s highest polluting cars from the roads while also helping drive up auto industry sales, required car dealerships to front the government money.

But because there is no federal approval process, dealerships can only follow the rules and hope for reimbursement.

“All they do is basically say that it’s pending,” Howell said. “The agreement originally was for 10 days [to be paid back], but we’ve got stuff going on four weeks.”

While Howell has shelled out more than $130,000, he also sold 32 cars through the federal program, and another 15 to customers who didn’t qualify but still bought a new vehicle.

In total, an estimated 750,000 Americans cashed in their “clunkers” to take advantage of the rebate program. About 50 of them traded in their vehicles at Andean Chevrolet.

While he hasn’t been reimbursed for most of those, Andean general manager Jerry Williams has received money for four vehicles.

“We started processing the first day. It just took several weeks to go through the system,” he said. “But they’re starting to fund them now. I just think the government was overwhelmed by the program.

“It’s a slow process dealing with the government, but it’s a certain process too.”

Williams said navigating the system, along with the response from the federal government, has been a learning curve. In the end, however, it was “really good.”

“It boosted sales, customers were really happy because they got a good deal, and it took gas guzzlers off the road,” he said.

Howell said he’s contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, who was “responsive and understood the concern, [but] all I can do is wait.”

Howell’s also waiting before deciding if the program was more of a help or a hinderance.

“I couldn’t tell you right now, it just depends,” he said. “If we lose five deals at $4,500 apiece, no it wasn’t successful. If I get paid on everything, it was successful.”