Cash for Clunkers: the stories salesmen can tell

O'FALLON, Ill. — New car dealers' lots are packed this week but not with anything they really want.

Older model Dodge Caravans, Ford Explorers, Lincoln Town Cars, Jeeps, pickups and other vehicles are the remains of the government's Cash for Clunkers program. All are valued at less than the $4,500 the government was allowing on trade-ins and are destined for junkyards and shredding.

The government Car Allowance Rebate System ended Monday, and at Meyer Honda in O'Fallon, the last of some 70 cars that had been traded in were sitting, dripping transmission fluid.

If nothing else, the program has provided car salesmen with some interesting stories, Meyer used car manager Nick Nastoff said.

He is in charge of the unwanted cars and trucks, which sit tightly packed together in one far corner of the dealership's lot. There is little worry about dents or scratches on the battered cars.

"It did generate a lot of sales," he said. "But it's been a logistical nightmare. Nothing is paid for yet."

So the cars and trucks will sit until the dealership gets paid by the government. Otherwise, they still have some wholesale value.

Although a lot of people did take advantage of the program, there were some who just couldn't pull the trigger, like one older couple he talked about.

"They had a late '90s or 2000 Mercury Mountaineer," he said. "It was old but nice and clean. It was probably worth $3,000 in real money and they could get $4,500 in trade as a clunker.

"When they were told the future of their car, they flat refused to have the car scrapped. In their minds it was a nice enough car that they couldn't send it to the scrap heap."

Other people weren't so particular.

"One guy brought one in on a trailer," Nastoff said. "He was afraid to drive it. We got it down off the trailer and I drove it. There wasn't a straight piece of metal on it."

Older, less fuel-efficient vehicles qualified for the program. A vehicle was required to be driveable, to have been titled for a year and to have been insured for a year.

The dealers made sure everyone went by the letter of the law in the program. But some people took off valuable parts before bringing in the vehicles, Nastoff said.

"There's nothing in the law against that," he said. "People kept airbags, radios, tires, and even the grill in one case."

John Isbell, a salesman with George Weber Chevrolet in Columbia, said the dealership has seen some interesting vehicles.

"One Jeep only had three doors," he said. "I don't know if it got taken off and sold on E-Bay or if it fell off."

Another man brought in a truck he had purchased for $2,000 off the dealership's wholesale lot years ago.

"He used it for seven years, came in and got $4,500 for it," Isbell said.

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