While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn't plan to release its final rules and regulations for the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), otherwise known as Cash-for-Clunkers program, until July 23rd, Hyundai has decided that its customers don't have to wait. Alexandria Hyundai in Alexandria, VA has already accepted the first trade-in and doled out its first rebate. The clunker is a 15-mpg 1995 Ford Explorer, and Katherine Michon of Arlington, VA traded it in for a $4,500 credit on a brand new 26-mpg Hyundai Elantra Touring.
How can Hyundai get away with accepting clunkers early? The automaker is giving dealers short-term cash advances to cover the cost of its rebates until the CARS program officially kicks off later this month. Hyundai has 13 models with particular engine combinations that qualify for CARS, and the NHTSA has already confirmed that transactions on or after July 1, 2009 are eligible.
This could be a brilliant move on Hyundai's part, since its own internal research shows that 11 percent of car shoppers have delayed their purchase to take advantage of the rebates. If Hyundai is the only game in town that's accepting trade-ins and giving rebates early, it could steal a few sales away from other brands that are waiting patiently for the program to officially begin.
On the other hand, the NHTSA warns on the CARS official website that "interested dealers and consumers may want to wait until all of the detailed issues that must be addressed in the implementing regulations are resolved and the final rule is issued." By that time, however, you'll be driving around in a new car and getting reimbursed for the rebate will by Hyundai's problem.