Gov't extends deadline for clunkers paperwork

WASHINGTON - (AP) - The Transportation Department is assuring autodealers they will get time to submit their pending Cash forClunkers deals, as continued problems with the government's Website make it difficult for dealers to file for repayment under thepopular $3 billion government rebate program.

All sales under the program ended Monday evening. The deadlinefor paperwork to be submitted was pushed back to noon Tuesday froman earlier 8 p.m. EDT Monday cutoff after government computers setup to handle the filings buckled under a flood of dealers trying tosend in their sales agreements at the last minute. Under theoriginal plan, those deals that weren't submitted on time wouldn'tbe repaid, leaving many dealers fearful that they would be left onthe hook for clunker sales they made.

However, it now appears that the deadline could be pushed backagain.

"We continue to address technical problems with the CARSwebsite, and have determined that the website will not be fullyfunctional before (Tuesday) morning," the TransportationDepartment said in a statement sent to dealers late Monday evening."Dealers should be assured that they will be provided time tosubmit pending deals equivalent to the time that was lost thisafternoon while the system was down."

The DOT declined to elaborate further.

"The computer system has been down or very slow for most ofthis day, and we literally have thousands of dealers with probablymillions of dollars of deals that they would like to submit andjust have been unable to," said Michael Harrington, chieflegislative counsel for the National Automobile DealersAssociation, earlier Monday.

Computer problems have plagued the program, as it proved farmore popular than government officials expected. A rush of filingsalso bombarded the online system earlier this month when itappeared the first $1 billion Congress set aside would run out justdays after sales began. Transportation officials later expanded itscomputer network capacity and tripled the number of staffersworking on the program.

The big rush of filings on Monday, however, shut down the filingsystem temporarily, prompting auto dealers to push for anextension.

"We've spent the better part of the last three days trying tohack our way into their computer program that has been down morethan it's been up," said Alan Starling, who owns two GeneralMotors dealerships in central Florida. His staff was still tryingto submit all the paperwork for 75 deals through the clunkersprogram.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking to reporters inNorristown, Pa., earlier in the day, said the program was anunprecedented success and a boon for car dealers, automakers, scrapyards and financial institutions. He estimated that by the salesdeadline later Monday, "there will be 700,000 to 800,000 cars thathave been sold, most of them fuel efficient," replacinggas-guzzling cars and trucks.

Transportation officials said that, through early Monday,dealers had submitted 625,000 vouchers totaling $2.58 billion. Manycar dealerships have worked overnight in recent days to submit the13-page application to be reimbursed for the trade-in vehicle,including the title, proof of registration and proof of insurance.

Dealers have only received a fraction of the reimbursementfunding. Through last Thursday, the most recent data available, theTransportation Department had reviewed and processed more than150,000 reimbursement applications and approved $140 million inpayments to dealers. At the time, DOT had processed about 30percent of all the applications they had received.

Cash for Clunkers has been wildly successful in spurring new-carsales and getting gas-guzzling models off the road, though someenergy experts have said the pollution reduction is too small to becost-effective. Customers receive rebates of between $3,500 and$4,500, depending on the improvement in fuel efficiency from theirold vehicle to their new one.

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