BREAKING: Feds Release Sneak Peek At Cash-For-Clunkers Rules

July 24, 2009

In an effort to meet its deadline for releasing the rules of the federal "Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save" initiative (i.e. the official, clunky name of the cash-for-clunkers program), the government has released a 136-page PDF offering more detail than many will want about CARS. However, the document says very clearly at the top, "While we have taken steps to ensure the accuracy of this Internet version of the document, it is not the official version." Naturally the official version will be housed at the fed's thoroughly confusing, impenetrable, Federal Register website. (Last redesign: 1998.) Hopefully, someone will have the smarts to post it to the official CARS website, which is much easier on the eyes.

As you might expect from a 136-page document, there's a lot of information here to digest. The good stuff -- as far as most of you are concerned -- is found in section IV, subsections D ("Determining Eligibility of Trade-In Vehicles and New Vehicles") and E ("Requirements for Qualifying Transactions"). Here's a quick rundown on vehicle eligibility, found on page 27:

The CARS Act establishes four criteria for an eligible trade-in vehicle. The trade-in vehicle must:

(1) be in drivable condition;

(2) have been continuously insured, in accordance with State law, and registered in the same owner’s name for the one-year period immediately prior to the trade-in;

(3) have been manufactured not earlier than 25 years before the date of trade-in and, in the case of a category 3 vehicle, also be from a model year not later than model year 2001; and

(4) have a combined fuel economy value of 18 miles per gallon or less, if it is a passenger automobile, a category 1 truck, or a category 2 truck.

There's a lot of footnoting throughout, including the standards of "drivable" and this little tidbit: "pre-model year 1984 vehicles, and most model year 1984 vehicles, are not eligible as trade-in vehicles." We suppose the line has to be drawn somewhere. Besides, who, in good conscience, could send one of Ricardo Montalban's beloved Chrysler Cordobas to the crusher?

On page 35, the discussion moves to trade-in values. For example:

"if the new vehicle has a combined fuel economy that is 4 to 9 miles per gallon higher than the trade-in vehicle, the credit is $3,500. If the new vehicle has a combined fuel economy that is atl east 10 miles per gallon higher than the trade-in vehicle, the credit is $4,500."

All useful information, but not especially surprising, given the info that's dribbled out during the past few weeks. Still, if you're looking for a way to goof off on a Friday, slogging through 136 pages of scintillating legalese is a great way to make the boss think you're really sifting through those expense reports. Alternately: fake swine flu and play hooky for the afternoon.

Fun fact: the CARS acronym used to stand for "Car Allowance Rebate System", which is just as unwieldy as "Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save", but at least it had the word "car" in its name.

[AutoNews, sub reqd; PDF download here]

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