The government doesn't have to bribe me to buy a car. I've got dents in my driver's side, tears in the ceiling and an air conditioner that's as reliable as the stock market.
What I don't have is a crystal ball to pinpoint the next time Cash for Clunkers will run out of money. So, like a lot of consumers, I'm on the fence.
Do I save for a down payment and risk losing the rebate? Buy now or wait for an end-of-the-year sale? And will I have to trade my mom-van for something that looks like a Happy Meal toy?
I cold-called dealers from Brandon to Northdale, hoping for advice. Most seemed sick of reporters (can't say I blame them) but I did get through to the president of Jerry Ulm Dodge in central Tampa.
Here's how our conversation went:
So there really is a Jerry Ulm?
"There sure is."
He's 56 and lives near the stadium-area dealership. He drives a Ram pickup. His wife drove a Caravan for what seemed like 100 years.
Am I the only consumer confused and frustrated by Cash for Clunkers?
"There is not so much confusion on the part of customers," he said. "Most of our customers, when they come to us, they are ready to do something. But there has been confusion on our part."
Have people tried to buy minivans and SUVs?
"Absolutely. The Caravans were one of our biggest sellers under the program."
So they do qualify. But, it turns out, these buyers got the rebate by trading in larger, less fuel-efficient vans and trucks.
Can your customers even fit into a little car? I mean, we're not all built like Barack Obama.
"It depends on how overweight you are." He's seen larger people do fine in the Dodge Caliber, which is considered a compact car. "Smart cars are a different story."
Hard to get into?
"Getting out's the hard part."
Did you have to hire a whole new staff to process the paperwork, like an employment stimulus plan in itself?
"No. Virtually all of the incremental paperwork was handled by our sales and finance management staff."
But, he added, "it was cumbersome at times." His general sales manager was hard at work at 2 a.m.
Aren't you going to dump a whole lot of inventory at the end of the year anyway?
Maybe not this year. "These manufacturers had trimmed down their production levels," he said. Between slowdowns at GM and Chrysler and a surge of car sales because of Cash for Clunkers, dealer inventory is at historically low levels.
Hey, I believe the guy. Even though he does sell cars.
Reach Marlene Sokol at (813) 269-5307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.