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We've been hearing plenty of horror stories this past week about people trying and failing to trade in their vehicles under the Cash for Clunkers program. We recently received an e-mail from a reader named Rex asking about his particular case. Unfortunately, a big part of the problem is either lack of information or inaccurate information on the part of both dealers and the government. In Rex's case, he was trying to buy a 2009 GMC Sierra half-ton pickup with a 5.3-liter V8. His initial rejected trade was a 1985 GMC Suburban. After that, he was given two different government numbers to call and no one at those numbers or at the dealer could explain why he was rejected.

The answer is actually quite simple. The 1985 Suburban is rated at 13 mpg combined and the base 5.3-liter 2009 Sierra is rated at 16 mpg combined. To qualify for the clunker rebate, the new vehicle must get at least 4 mpg more than the old one. In this case, if Rex had opted for the Sierra XFE, he should've be able to get the rebate because it is rated at 17 mpg, thus clearing the lower limit.

After the 1985 truck was rejected, Rex offered up a 1990 3/4 ton pickup (example above), which was also turned down. The explanation here was also mpg-related, but for a different reason. The larger, newer truck is a heavy duty unit with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of over 8,500 pounds. These larger trucks are not subject to CAFE standards and aren't assigned EPA sticker ratings. Without an EPA sticker value, even though this truck is considerably thirstier than the Suburban, it was also turned away.

The moral of the story is to make sure you carefully check the mpg rating of your trade-in and the new vehicle you want to buy before you go shopping. For trucks, the improvement must be at least 2 mpg for the $3,500 rebate and 5 mpg for the $4,500 (for cars: 5 mpg and 10 mpg). You can do the research by visiting fueleconomy.gov.

[Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty]


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  • 49 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      my 91 mustang gt doesnt qualify. its an automatic and gets 19mpg overall. however the 5 speed variant gets 18mpg overall and qualifies. i thought a 5speed would get better mileage.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Man, this whole program bothers me for one big reason: it rewards those who've been driving guzzlers all along, but punishes those who bought wisely 10 years ago. We all know that cars lose efficiency over time as wear and tear takes its toll, but the program uses the car's MPG rating WHEN NEW as the major qualifier. So all those folks who've been driving Camrys, Civics, Corollas, Mirages, Accords and etc, and are now facing huge repair bills because their cars are basically all worn out and spewing ever-increasing amounts of pollutants (not to mention returning ever-diminishing fuel efficiency), are barred from participating in this program because they were smart enough/stupid enough to purchase a fuel efficient vehicle in the first place.
        • 5 Years Ago
        That comment about 'work-out cars get lousy mileage' is BS. My Chevy Metro just rolled 176K miles and still gives me 44mpg combined. (Too bad it leaks a quart avary 1K miles - (stupid main seal))
        • 5 Years Ago
        And miles, let me ask you this, why should you be barred from these incentives just because you drive an old, fuel-efficient vehicle? Aren't you just as entitled to help with a new car as a Ford Explorer driver? Just because something gets good MPG doesn't mean it isn't a polluting POS.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Hi Charles,
        I understand that leaking a quart every 1K miles is no good for the environment, but if you think that's a problem how about a 100+ mile round-trip commute to work every day! I don't drive it because it makes me feel clean, I drive it because it's the lowest cost-of-ownership vehicle sold by the big3. I would like to fix that leak, but my situation doesn't give me the time to pull the motor to replace that front crank seal. Believe it or not it doesn't burn oil, before the leak I would be down by less that half of a quart after 5k miles.

        I only need it to last until the Fiesta goes on sale anyhoo...

        My point was that high-miles vehicles shouldn't have a big hit on fuel effeciency. (polluting is a different story) A high-miles car that's not out-of-tune should give very close to mileage you would get when the car was new. if one or two hundred bucks of plugs/wires/sensors/filters can't correct poor mileage, then you have much more serious problems and the end is likely near...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Depends on the car and how worn it is. I got a 98 Mirage in great shape (oil changed every 3k, air filter every 7k, etc) that was rated 31 new, but is now returning around 23. And, yeah, leaking "a quart of oil every 1k miles" is just dandy for the environment. Not to mention how much oil that sh!tbox is burning and the fact the smog pump ain't doing what it used to or that the catalytic converter is probably running at 20% efficiency. Dude, theres more to "efficiency" than just MPGs.

      • 5 Years Ago
      I agree with the rejections.
      He wanted to trade in gas guzzlers for another gas guzzler.
      I think the mpg restrictions should be much higher.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Some people still need trucks. Going from 13 to 17mpg will mean he uses 25% less fuel when you need some help moving.

        I agree, it would still have high fuel consumption but it would be significantly lower than before and you know that trading from a truck to a non-truk gives up certain capabilities that some people are not willing to sacrifice. So, take your pick - he keeps driving his existing truck at 13mpg untill it needs replacement and buys another truck a number of years down the road, or he trades to a newer truck now. If he drives 13,000 miles per year (which is pretty low, but makes the math easy) then the new 17mpg truck will save 250 gallons of gas per year.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Best post yet. Give this person a prize.
      • 5 Years Ago
      i have a 1995 GMC suburban diesel. its not even on there list, but the 1995 yukon diesel is.
      i e-mailed the epa months ago when i first heard about the program, they said if the car is over 8500lbs it is not rated. however mine is a 1500 therefor it should be.
      so why does it not work or show up?
      • 5 Years Ago
      Actually, I don't think this answer is right, either. From my understanding, a new Category 1 truck (light duty truck, like the example in this blog entry) has to get a minimum of 18 mpg combined to qualify. So neither the base half ton nor the Sierra XFE would qualify for any C4C rebate, regardless of the "clunker" being traded in.

      Also, the mpg improvement requirements are different for Category 1 trucks than they are for passenger cars. A new Cat 1 truck must get a mileage improvement of 2 mpg to qualify for a $3500 rebate, or 5 mpg to qualify for a $4500 rebate, plus the above mentioned minimum of 18 mpg combined.
      • 5 Years Ago
      sounds to me like the asshat just didn't read the rules and is now crying because he can't wrap his brain around how the game works.

      Even if he had understood the rules, he's totally going against the spirit of the program, trading in one big heavy gas guzzler for another, with no real boost in efficiency. I've made my opinion of the cash for clunkers program. It's another idiot govt program that takes money out of my pocket so Joe Blow can get a new set of wheels he really can't afford in the first place. The guy in the article is pissy because he can't get what he wants? Boo hoo if you can't afford it, why should I as a tax payer have to pick up the difference? Live within your means, play by the rules... if we all stopped spending every waking moment trying to screw the system for our own personal gain, we wouldn't have a lot of the problems we currently do.

      i would be more supportive of this program if the requirements for the difference in efficiency were much tougher. If you are coming from a truck that gets 12mpg, then force them to move into something that gets 22-25 or better. That being said, I think the whole program should be shut down and the money used towards our crippling national debt.

        • 5 Years Ago
        You called him an "Asshat", now that was funny.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This program is so stupid its criminal.

      Using borrowed money that the gov't doesn't have in order to bribe people into debt to buy cars they don't need or else don't need help buying. Leverage anyone? Sort of like giving mortgages to people who don't qualify.

      Since thats not destructive enough, we'll also destroy the availble pool of cheap transportation for the working poor and students. Destroying assets to create wealth.

      Just brilliant. This nation is doomed.
      • 5 Years Ago
      oh well
      • 5 Years Ago
      In a word, "duh!".
      • 5 Years Ago
      This just proves to me that CARS is almost useless. If you can trade in an 85 GMC Pickup and purchase a new pickup with it that gets all of 4 mpg more how is that really helping? If you ask me, since they seem to be billing this as a way to green the earth a bit more (why else put an MPG rating on the damn thing?) they should have made the minimum mpg increase requirement something a bit (a lot) higher so that people wouldn't just turn in a truck they own and buy another one with very slightly better mileage. I'm fine with them requiring a low end mpg for the car you turn in, but what good does trading in a car that gets 14 mpg for a car that gets 18 mpg? That's still way below the CAFE standard if I'm not mistaken. Just proves to me that my one hope for the government to do something right is gone.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Wwwwaaahhhh!! They won't give me money for my H2 hummer. Now I can't get that H3 I've always wanted. Waaaaahhhh!
      Rules are rules. This country pissses me off. I'm surprised the article didn't end
      with the guying suing the dealership/goverment.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sounds like one of those "birthers - people who just don't get it.

      This is why CARS is bad for America. For most (read those who don't read, which is sadly many it seems) it comes off as a government subsidy to just buy any new car they wish. You don't want to give the public the impression that the government will just pay you to buy stuff.

      Then again, in a culture obsessed with "cheap" and "bargains", this thirst can never be quenched.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Don't forget the fact that the majority of Americans can't exactly fit inside a compact car that gets 30+ MPG."

        Really? I'm 6'2" and I fit fine in the majority of compact cars. Also there are a handful of cars that get around 30mpg and aren't exactly that compact. The new A4 is a large car, almost as big as a BMW 5 series, and it gets 30mpg. (non-quattro version)

        I think as Americans (in general) we need to be less fat and not stuff our faces with crap. Exercise is good too. But then again, unless you live in a major city with cultural diversity sometimes you don't have many choices in the diet area.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Naaa, he sounds like either a Truther, or someone who believes in change.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Fun fact:

        The French obesity rate is growing faster than the United States' obesity rate.
        • 5 Years Ago
        tC: that's not true at all.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Don't forget the fact that the majority of Americans can't exactly fit inside a compact car that gets 30+ MPG.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @JZeke

        Actually he did kinda get the idea, just made a bad choice of picking yet another car with awful mileage to purchase. Probably not the target for the rebate, which, is why he didn't get it. Seems like it worked out in the end.

        @tC

        Really? I'd like to see some numbers on that. I'm a fattie at 280lbs and I can fit fine into more than a few cars (as passenger and driver) that get well over 30mpg. (Insert joke here about lower mileage with me in it ;)). Still, I imagine that a lot of the really big folks larger than me might have some trouble with tiny cars, but even some mid-size ones can pull 30 flat or better (G6?). That being said, I'm not convinced that the really big folks are the 'majority' in this country, I'm not even sure folks my size are the majority.
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