Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cash for clunkers - you can't just go in and kick the tires

Unloading that beat-up late '90s Ford Explorer or other gas guzzler in the government's new Cash for Clunkers program may be a lot easier if you have a calculator, Internet access and a flexible schedule.

Basic rules are already posted on the program's official Web site. But some auto industry analysts say waiting until about July 23 might get you the best deal. That's the the National Highway Traffic Administration's deadline for coming up with detailed rules spelling out how auto dealers get paid for fronting us $3,500 to $4,500 and making sure our clunkers actually make it to the scrap yard and not some underground resale market. Some dealers may be more cautious until they know those details

But you may not want to wait too long either. The program is scheduled to end Nov. 1 or sooner if buyers hit a 250,000 sales limit set by federal spending caps.

Meantime, Detroit, its competitors and camp followers are revving up some sales pitches now. General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai already have added Cash for Clunkers sections to their Web sites. Other auto makers and related outfits such as finance companies seem likely to follow.

Financing the new fuel-sipper you buy with your clunker cash gets interesting too.

Lenders to auto buyers are just as antsy about loan quality as home lenders. According to some indicators, it takes maybe a 720 to 760 point credit score now to get the same comfortable interest rates that a 600 to 700 point score fetched six months ago.

700 points is going to be stretch for a bunch of us with foreshortened income prospects. Outfits such as, which collects loan applications online and coordinates them with payday and other lenders, offer to seek loans for borrowers with scores ranging as low as the upper 400 to low 500 range. Rates depend on the lender who agrees to actually make the loan, but won't be cheap. Or you may need a co-signer.

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