Cash for Clunkers Wind-Down: Taxpayers, Car Buyers Should Not Have to Pay Twice, Consumer Groups Warn

For Immediate Release

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Cash for Clunkers Wind-Down: Taxpayers, Car Buyers Should Not Have to Pay Twice, Consumer Groups Warn

WASHINGTON - Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), Consumer Action
and Public Citizen today called upon the U.S. Department of
Transportation (DOT) to ensure, as the agency winds down the Cash for
Clunkers program, that dealers are not “double-dipping” and getting
paid twice - once by their customers and again by the government.

During the past several weeks, the rejection rate for Cash for
Clunkers transactions has hovered around 80 percent. Many dealers
jumped the gun and entered into a high volume of contracts in July,
before the rules governing the program were issued and before any deals
were approved. Since then, the program has been overwhelmed, causing
delays in payments to dealers. As a result, many dealers are on the
hook for tens of thousands of dollars. Experiencing cash flow problems
and under pressure from lenders, some dealers have resorted to
pressuring their customers to make up the difference. The program is
now scheduled to end Aug. 24.

Some dealer associations even provide standardized “contingency
agreements” for their dealer members that shift all the risks for
rejected deals from the dealers to car buyers. Whether they signed the
agreements or not, car buyers across the country are complaining that
they are being pressured to give the dealers $3,500 or $4,500 extra in
cash or sign a new contract agreeing to pay more, typically under
threat of losing their new car or having the dealer report it stolen.

Acknowledging the complaints, the DOT posted information on its Web site, at www.cars.gov,
to advise car buyers that they do not need to sign the contingency
agreements. However, many car buyers are unaware of that information.
Having surrendered their “clunker” and dependent on their new car for
transportation, they are vulnerable to being pressured, even if they
did not sign the agreement.

Car buyers have no way to know if the dealer is being paid by the
government, making it easy for auto dealers to game the system by
collecting the $3,500 or $4,500 from the car buyers and collecting that
amount from the government.

To protect taxpayers and reduce the risk of fraud and abuse, the
groups are calling upon the DOT to take the following step prior to
issuing any more Cash for Clunkers incentive checks to auto dealers:

• Require auto dealers to certify in writing that they have not
already collected the amount of the incentive from the car buyer or
reconfigured the deal in a subsequent contract.

The DOT also should take the following step to provide a check and balance to the reporting by the dealers:

●  Send a notice to the car buyer informing them that the deal was
approved and the dealer was paid either $3,500 or $4.500. Provide a
simple pre-addressed form with prepaid postage for the car buyer to
mail to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration if they have
paid that amount to the dealer themselves, or if they entered into an
amended contract to buy the same vehicle.

“Unless the DOT takes these simple steps, it will have no way to
know whether the dealers are gaming the system,” said Rosemary Shahan,
president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.

“By including these simple safeguards, the Department of
Transportation can both protect consumers and verify that the
taxpayers’ investment in this program has not been misused,” said Joe
Ridout, consumer services manager of Consumer Action.

“The DOT has focused on car dealers’ concerns with the program,”
said Lena Pons, policy analyst for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch
division. “It’s time to protect consumers who could be abused by
unscrupulous dealers.”

Last week, CARS and Consumer Action wrote to Secretary LaHood urging
DOT to prohibit dealers from luring or pressuring car buyers into
signing the contingency agreements and to survey car buyers to find out
the full extent of the problem.

Read the letter HERE.

For more information, see: Groups seek crackdown on Cash for Clunkers Scams.

 

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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