Last minute rush for "clunker" deals

By Chuck Weber email

NORTH PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX)-Many car dealers were extra busy Saturday, as customers rushed to take advantage of the last weekend of the Cash for Clunkers program. The popular measure is set to expire on Monday.

Mary Pugliese was one of dozens at Earl Stewart Toyota in North Palm Beach. She said "good-bye" to her clunker, a 1996 Doge Caravan, and "hello" to a 2010 Toyota Prius, a model of fuel efficiency. "I get my chance to get my new Prius," proclaimed Pugliese.

Cash for Clunkers is the stimulus program allowing consumers to trade in a qualifying gas guzzler, for a new, more fuel-efficient car, all while getting a rebate of up to 45-hundred dollars.

"When they put the clunker program in," recalls Pugliese, "the wheels started running in my head, and I said, 'This is a good deal.'"

Management at Earl Stewart Toyota figured about 90 percent of their customers Saturday were potential Cash for Clunkers buyers. "Oh a good Saturday would be selling 20 to 25 cars," explained Earl Stewart. "We'll do nearly double that. This clunker thing is unlike any promotion I've ever seen in my 40-some odd years as a car dealer."

So far Stewart says his dealership has inked more than 230 Cash for Clunkers deals, meaning he's owed around $1 million in rebate money from the government. However, Stewart says reimbursement has been very slow.

"I have 204 submitted to the government right now," said Stewart, "and I've only been paid on 10 of them." Stewart says he's confident he'll be paid, but he says dealers have to have a lot of working capital to front that kind of money.

The Obama administration has increased the number of personnel handling the program, in response to complaints from dealers.