(Updated to include word of an extension for car dealers to submit their paperwork.)
NEW YORK (
) -- Tick. Tick. Tick. Can you hear that? That's the sound of the government's widely successful (and administratively troublesome, depending on whom you ask) "Cash for Clunkers" program coming to an end.
Officially known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, or "CARS," the program is set to end Monday at 8 p.m. EDT.
But so chaotic have the last few days of clunker mania become that the Transportation Department has extended the deadline for dealers to submit new trade-in applications to the agency until noon Tuesday. (The 8 p.m Monday deadline remains for car shoppers looking to ink deals under the program, however.)
In a statement, the department cited "overwhelming demand on the CARS computer system" for the extension.
"Despite a large increase in the system's capacity, the website was down temporarily this afternoon," the agency continued. "Because of the temporary shutdown, dealers have been given extra time to file the necessary paperwork."
Indeed, reports have been circulating since the weekend that more than a few dealers saw a mad rush of buyers racing into lots over the weekend, ahead of the deadline.
The National Automobile Dealers' Association had urged federal officials on Friday to extend the paperwork-submission deadline all the way to August 31, citing the likelihood of computer problems.
The program, which gives car buyers either a $3,500 or a $4,500 voucher to trade-in old cars for more fuel-efficient models, began in late July. After trade-in takers burned through the first $1 billion outlay in a week, Congress quickly piled in an another $2 billion to continue the program in August.
, along with dealers like
have seen sales jump during the period.
Still, the program has not been without controversy. Car dealers have complained about the backlog of paperwork, the lack of clarity in the program, the need for multiple re-admissions and other administrative hurdles. The slow pace of the paperwork has left many dealers fearful about the government's reimbursement process, since dealers are required to cover the vouchers up front. AutoNation, the biggest car dealer in the country, is owed $45 million in rebates by the federal government.
As of Monday morning, the Transportation Department estimates that dealers have submitted 625,000 applications totaling $2.58 billion.
Still, to make sure that they meet the deadline for applications, AutoNation,
Group 1 Automotive
and several other dealers stopped selling cars under the program on Friday.
-- Reported by Sung Moss in New York
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