It was meant to take gas guzzlers off the road, but after less than a month, there’s no fuel left in the Cash for Clunkers tank.
The government-sponsored program — which gave drivers a financial incentive to trade in their gas guzzlers for more fuel efficient cars — burned through the $3 billion allocated by Congress more quickly than originally projected and came to an end Monday night.
The Transportation Department on Thursday said the program would end at 8 p.m. Monday, but later decided to extend the deadline to submit paperwork until noon Tuesday.
That deadline meant dealerships across the United States needed to decide whether to stop early or keep participating until the very end.
Joe Lowdermilk, general manager at Tamiami Ford in East Naples, said his company opted to halt the program Friday. The decision was made to ensure the company was reimbursed for all of the cars, Lowdermilk said.
The company took in about 112 cars between the Ford and Hyundai dealership, Lowdermilk said. They haven’t been reimbursed yet for any of those vehicles, though.
That was one of the key factors for why the dealership stopped accepting Cash for Clunker cars last week. Lowdermilk said he wanted to make sure they were able to get all of the paperwork filed before the deadline.
“My big concern was that we were able to get that done, but then if the Web site on the government end crashed, what were we going to do?” Lowdermilk asked.
That worry came to fruition Monday, prompting the Transportation Department to extend the deadline.
The Transportation Department says the extension is due to an overwhelming demand on the computer system set up to handle the claims. The Web site was shut down temporarily Monday afternoon because of the overload.
Officials at Germain Honda in Naples were also concerned about getting reimbursed, but decided not to let those concerns stall prospective sales over the weekend.
Mike Soles, a new car sales manager at Germain, said the dealership kept up with the program through the weekend, but decided to slow sales Monday.
Soles said Monday Cash for Clunker sales were only being completed on a “deal by deal basis.” Customers had to have every form filled out and if sale wasn’t accepted by the government by 8 p.m., then it wouldn’t be processed, he said.
Administration officials said last week applications for rebates would not be accepted after 8 p.m. Monday and dealers should not make additional sales without receiving all the necessary paperwork from their customers.
Germain Honda in Naples had 58 clunkers sitting on its lot Monday afternoon, Soles said.
“It brought a lot of vehicles and customers in,” he said. “It was a substantial increase in business.”
Auto dealers have made deals worth $1.9 billion as of Thursday, and were on pace to exhaust the program’s $3 billion in early September.
The incentives have generated more than 457,000 vehicle sales; and administration officials said they reviewed nearly 40 percent of the transactions, paying out $145 million to dealers.
Follow Naples City Hall reporter Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster at twitter.com/ndn_jbuzzacco