Does your car qualify for Cash for Clunkers program?

Now that the "Cash for Clunkers" bill is federal law, it's a good time to see if your car is eligible for the $3,500 or $4,500 rebate when buying a new car with better gas mileage.

UPDATE: The program was so successful that after learning the program is running out of money, the House of Representatives approved an additional $2 billion for the financially strapped program.

Government officials are saying that the program is still in effect.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has 30 days to implement the program, although trade-ins will probably be able to start in about three weeks. The government Web site for the program,, targets the program implementation to begin in late July. The program ends Nov. 1.

See below for more details on the program.
The law is designed to get old "clunkers" off the road and replaced with new cars that get at least 22 miles per gallon. Small trucks and SUVs must get at least 18-mpg and large light-duty trucks must be rated 15-mpg or better.

I own a 1991 Acura Integra and wanted to see if it qualified as a "clunker." It met the trade-in standard of 18-mpg. I called my local Acura dealer a few days ago, and they didn't have any information on the program yet. I also called a Toyota dealer because the Prius looks like a good car to get, but they didn't have any details yet, either. (Read another blogger's successful trade-in here!)

The best option I found to see if my car got 18 mpg or worse, was to go to and select the model year, then the make and model, then I selected my engine and transmission options (a manual five-speed for me). It then took me to my car, with a red number in the middle showing the combined mpg. My Acura gets 23 mpg combined on city and highway driving. In other words, I'm not eligible for the program.

Along with the 18 mpg-or-less combined fuel economy threshold (although some large trucks and vans have different mileage requirements), there are other requirements:

  • Your car must be less than 25-years-old, meaning it was manufactured in 1984 or later.
  • It must be in drivable condition and insured for at least a year.
  • Only purchase or lease of new vehicles for up to $45,000 qualify.
  • You'll get $3,500 if your new car has at least 4-mpg better fuel economy than your old one.
  • The credit is $4,500 if the new car's combined fuel economy is at least 10-mpg higher.
  • Trucks and SUVs have lower requirements. New ones must get at least 2-mpg more than the old one for $3,500 credit, and 5-mpg for $4,500.
  • Old, large light-duty trucks of 6,000 to 8,500 pounds must be rated 18-mpg or less and the new one must be 1-mpg better for $3,500 and 2-mpg better for $4,500.
  • Work trucks of 8,500 to 10,000 pounds don't have fuel economy ratings, so the model year is used. The old truck must be from 2002 or before to get $3,500.
  • Vouchers aren't needed. Dealers will apply a credit at purchase.
If that's all too confusing, here are some examples I came up with after checking out the government's fuel economy Web site. Keep in mind that all clunker trade-ins are based on if you buy a new car that gets high enough gas mileage to qualify:

1985 Mazda RX-7, automatic four-speed: Yes it's eligible for the program with 17-mpg combined. Buy a 2010 Toyota Prius, which gets 50-mpg, and you'd get a $4,500 in credit. Or buy any car that gets 10-mph or more than the old Mazda and get the $4,500.

1989 Cadillac Seville: Yes, 18-mpg, depending on what you buy. Buying a 2010 Cadillac CTS with an automatic transmission only gets 21-mpg, which isn't even 4-mpg better than the old Cadillac and doesn't qualify for $3,500. In fact, none of the 2010 Cadillacs get good enough gas mileage to qualify for the rebate. You'd have to buy a car that gets at least 22-mpg to get the $3,500 credit.

1997 Nissan 2-wheel-drive truck with an automatic transmission: Yes, 18-mpg. But it depends on what you buy. The 2010 Nissan 2-wheel-drive Armada is an SUV that gets 14-mpg, not high enough to reach the 18-mpg requirement for new SUVs and not 2-mpg more than the old one to get a $3,500 credit. A 2009 Nissan Frontier 2-wheel drive with manual transmission, however, gets 21-mpg and qualifies for $3,500.

2001 Ford Focus with automatic transmission: No, it gets 25-mpg, which is more than the 18-mpg maximum.


Congress has decided to provide a new incentive for Americans to buy new cars. On June 10, 2009 the House approved a plan to offer vouchers of up to $4,500 to consumers who trade in their gas-guzzling vehicles for more fuel-efficient models.

To be qualified for this voucher, the trade-in cars must be:
• 1984 models or newer
• Drivable condition
• No more than 18 miles to the gallon
• Insured to the same owner for at least one year

The more gas mileage saved in the newer vehicle, the larger the voucher.

Months of lobbying by dealers, automakers, and unions have paid off. The $4 billion plan won support from Republicans and Democrats by 298-119.

This is a great strategy to spur demand for the struggling auto industry. The Congressional Budget Office stated that the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save (CARS) bill can boost auto sales by 625,000.

Being that fuel-efficient cars are expensive, the voucher will help ease this cost. Now you can "drive green" while saving money.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at
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