Squeaky Car Dealers

Although some car dealers are not complaining about the delay in getting the cash in the Cash for Clunkers ($4C) program, others are whining like little kids whose parents changed their minds about letting them stay up late. It is hard to find sympathy for these pouters because the program moved hundreds of thousands of cars out of their inventory and the delay is not a big burden. Furthermore, the dealers had the choice to take the “clunkers” as trade-ins for $4,500 and resell them. In many cases, the clunkers could have been resold for that amount or more.

Close to $3 billion was pumped into the U.S. car market by $4C, facilitating the sale of between half and three quarters of a million cars. This has to be a mega-Red Bull for the retail car business. My wife and I bought a car under $4C. We went to several showrooms to look at cars and everywhere the sales agents were talking about how high the demand was. Considering that many of the most popular car models would not qualify based on the difference in gas mileage between the trade-in and the new car, there must have been many ancillary sales, in addition to $4C deals. Dealers complain about the paperwork, but there will be forms to fill out any time government money is involved.

The effective date of $4C was July 1, 2009, but many dealers did not process any $4C deals until more than three weeks later. Less than 60 days after the first deals were consummated, many dealers are complaining that they have not been paid yet. The Obama administration is promising that the payments will be made by the end of this quarter, but even if dealers have to wait until the end of the year, they have little to complain about. This is not the price of the new car they are waiting for, it is just the trade-in on some of the deals they wrote in July and August.

Car vendors generally see their money within a few days, so they are spoiled. They are not used to waiting for money. However, they have much better access to credit and much bigger cushions than many people who have to wait for government money. When I was representing assigned appellate cases and being paid by the county, I often had to wait more than a year to get paid. Furthermore, the amount private defense attorneys were paid for representing indigent defendants was, and is, pitiful. Nursing homes are required to wait for Medicaid approval for residents who are eligible for the program. In Wayne County, here in Michigan, it is common for a Medicaid application to take more than a year before the worker is satisfied and the case is opened. If car dealers see their money this year, they have no legitimate complaint.

Finally, it must be remembered that many of the clunkers traded-in were not worthless. The car buyer just decided that he or she could not get more than the program would pay or did not want the bother of selling the clunker. In order to qualify for $4C, the trade-in had to have been registered to the car buyer and insured for at least a year and it must have been driven to the dealership. I could have sold the 1999 Blazer I traded in for $3,000 to $4,000. If I could have realized that much, I am sure a dealer could have done that well or better. Therefore, the dealer had a choice: He could have taken the car as a clunker, knowing he would have to wait awhile to get $3,500 or $4,500, depending on type of car purchased, or he could have given me that much as a straight trade-in and peddled the car at the auction or put it on a used-car lot. The fact that he took my Blazer under $4C was a business decision. To whine now that he has to wait too long to get paid is immature.


John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2009 John B. Payne, Attorney

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