'Cash-for-clunkers' open at least until Sunday

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    A sign at Malloy Lincoln Mercury advertises the cash-for-clunkers program in Manassas, Va, on July 27. The program has been so popular that reports say it has run out of funding already — but the White House is telling dealers to keep making sales through the weekend.
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For car buyers and dealers, the past 24 hours have about been as smooth as a ’90 Crown Vic on a gravel road. Has the cash-for-clunkers program used up all of its funds – in just a week? What’s a “clunker” owner to do if he hasn't traded in yet?

If you have an eligible gas guzzler and want to trade it in for a new car with a plum government rebate, do so now. The White House has guaranteed that the program will stay open through the weekend, despite reports that it has already exhausted its $1 billion in funding.

“There’s no risk to [the consumers],” says Michelle Krebs, senior editor at Edmunds.com, which tracks the automotive industry. The White House is telling automakers to keep making deals as the House votes Friday on a bill that would provide an additional $2 billion in funding to the program, she says.

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Expect a rush at dealerships and for them to stay open longer hours, she adds. Whether Congress could approve the extra funds won't be known until the Senate votes on the bill next week. Ms. Krebs expects lawmakers to approve more funds, since dealers are a big constituency for them and “consumers have been screaming for some sort of economic stimulus that benefits them,” not just Wall Street.

Just how much pent-up demand is there for the program? Brian Pasch, CEO of an automotive digital-marketing group in Rumson, N.J., estimates that it is well beyond the original amount of funding.

“Probably you would see that a 3 to 4 billion [dollar] number is not unheard of,” he says.

He adds that the program's current level of demand – and whether the funds have indeed run out – is unclear because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's online system to register trade-ins crashed often due to the volume of sales being entered. But dealers continued to make sales anyway.

– Guest blogger Taylor Barnes is a Monitor contributor.

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