STEVE INSKEEP, host:
If you got to a car dealership these days, you may well encounter a salesman who's asking, what do I have to do to get you into a car rebate today? Dealers have been promoting the cash for clunkers program for weeks, talking about the 4,500 bucks in government money available for those who trade in an old gas guzzler for a new, more efficient car, even if only slightly more efficient. The new program has been around for nearly a month. But no money has being paid out. The Department of Transportation has been busy writing the rules, which are designed to help the auto industry. And those rules are finally due out today.
Here is NPR's Jeff Brady.
JEFF BRADY: As car sales plummeted in the last year, there was little for the Dealin' Dugs and Famous Eds across the country to feel good about. But something called the Car Allowance Rebate System, better known as Cash for Clunkers, has their creative juices flowing again.
(Soundbite of ad)
Unidentified Man: This is so exciting - Cash for Clunkers is starting now at…
BRADY: This ad from a Baltimore car dealer shows a man taking a sledgehammer to an older GM car.
(Soundbite of ad)
Unidentified Man: And he keeps smashing the window.
(Soundbite of smashing window)
Unidentified Man: Wow…
BRADY: But even with a cracked windshield and now numerous dents…
Unidentified Man: It's still worth over $4,500 at (unintelligible) where Jack says, Yes!
BRADY: Actually, it could be worth that at just about any new car dealership in the country. Fifteen hundred miles away, at Emich Volkswagen in Denver, the atmosphere is a bit more dignified. Still, Fred Emich is not above accepting government help for his industry.
Mr. FRED EMICH (General Manager, Emich Volkswagen): We've actually been doing some Cash for Clunker deals already.
BRADY: That's a bit risky because rules governing the program won't be out until later today. But Emich says customers came in asking about it and he didn't want to lose sales. His employees have made sure that each deal fits the criteria already known. The car has to be under 25 years old and get less than 18 miles per gallon. The customer also must have owned the car for more than a year, kept it insured, and it has to be running. Emich has questions about that last requirement.
Mr. EMICH: You know, there's obviously different levels of vehicle running. You know, can I get around the block or can I make it from here to Kansas?
BRADY: He hopes the rules will clarify that. He also wonders exactly how he's supposed to dispose of the old cars. The law says they have to be destroyed. That's where people like Alice Corns come in. She's president of Colorado Auto and Parts. You might call her a junkyard owner. She refers to herself as an auto recycler. Out on her 40-acre property there's a big yellow machine that has a blue Pontiac inside. One of her employees walks over and flips a switch.
Ms. ALICE CORNS (Colorado Auto and Parts): Right now he's having to turn on the crusher.
(Soundbite of machine starting)
BRADY: Within a few seconds the car is squished into a block of metal that's ready for scrap.
(Soundbite of machine)
BRADY: Corns also is anxiously waiting for the rules due out today because she has questions of her own. Before crushing a car and recycling the metal, she sells the parts that are still useable, that's how she makes money. Corns already knows the law bars her from selling the engine or drive train from a clunker.
Ms. CORNS: For a lot of recyclers, selling a good running engine is a lot of where their money comes from. So that puts a bit of heart on the industry.
BRADY: But she wants to know specifically what she can sell and still comply with the law. Back at Emich Volkswagen, Fred Emich says he has already discovered an unexpected trend among those coming in to take advantage of this new program.
Mr. EMICH: It's been bizarre because I was expecting, you know, low income, poor credit, you know, stuff like that, and it has been the complete opposite.
BRADY: Instead, Emich says most of the customers are middle class, thrifty types with good credit. He says a few are even able to pay cash for their new car. The Cash for Clunkers program runs through November 1st or until the billion dollars appropriated for it runs out.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.
INSKEEP: And you can learn more about the Cash for Clunkers program at npr.org