‘Clunkers’ destined for scrap heap

Posted Aug. 05, 2009, at 8:50 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Some of the trucks and cars that have been traded in to local dealers during the “cash for clunkers” program are at Green Point Auto Parts being stripped of their used parts, owner Randy Spain said Wednesday.

“I’ve got close to 100, and I have a lot more coming,” he said. “I’m getting the bulk of them from this area.”

Other vehicles traded in as part of the federal Car Allowance Rebate System, or CARS program, are heading directly to metal salvage yards.

The CARS program roared out of the gate on July 24, giving customers a $3,500 to $4,500 rebate for trading in their gas-guzzlers for more fuel-efficient models.

On Wednesday, the government said it had spent $775.2 million of the $1 billion CARS fund through late Tuesday, accounting for nearly 185,000 new vehicles sold. President Obama has said the program would go broke by Friday if not replenished by Congress.

Late last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an additional $2 billion to keep the program going with Democrat Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree of Maine supporting the measure.

But negotiations in the Senate dragged on Wednesday, prompting Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to warn lawmakers — set to begin a month-long break on Friday — that they might be stuck in the Capitol a few more days if Republicans and a handful of Democrats do not agree on what to do with the House version of the bill.

Indications are that the Senate will approve the funding to extend the program this week, possibly even today, aides said.

“We all acknowledge there’s a significant majority that want to move forward with this legislation,” said Reid.

The CARS program requires the motors of the trade-ins be destroyed by the dealership where they are traded. The entire vehicle must be crushed or shredded within six months. These provisions are designed to prevent the gas-guzzling clunkers from being put back on the road.

However, salvage yards are allowed to remove parts before the vehicles are crushed.

“If the car is worthy, we’ll pull the transmissions, the mechanical parts and some of the body parts,” said Spain. “We’ll inventory the good, quality body parts, and we’ll leave them on the hulks” until sold.

“Some will immediately be crushed,” he said.

The auto parts recycler has a showroom on Green Point Road and sells used parts on the Internet. Spain said he’s trying to sell the parts from the CARS vehicles before the program’s six-month deadline to crush or shred them expires.

Some dealerships, including Varney-GMC in Bangor and Hartley’s in Newport, have opted to send the trade-ins directly to scrap metal yards without being picked clean of any parts.

“They are being sent straight to the shredder,” Steve Hartley, owner of Hartley’s, said Wednesday afternoon. “They picked up six or seven this morning.”

Hartley’s has sold eight trucks or cars under CARS, but has not been paid by the federal government for the rebates given to customers, he said.

“I’ve suspended it right now until I get paid for the few I have in there,” Hartley said.

Representatives from One Steel Recycling, which has facilities in Bangor and Augusta, “came in and made a proposal and I said, ‘You got it,’” Hartley said. All the trade-ins are being sent there. “I didn’t want to do research for an extra $50. I’m more concerned about getting paid by the government.”

All of Hartley’s CARS applications are pending, which means the car dealership is awaiting $28,000 to $36,000 from the federal program.

“All of our vehicles are going to a crushing facility — One Steel” in Bangor, said Tray Prouty, sales manager for Varney-GMC on Hogan Road in Bangor. “Per the program guidelines, we have to destroy the motors.”

Of the 40 gas-guzzling vehicles that Varney has taken in, “at least 70 percent are trucks and vans,” he said.

“They pay by the pound,” Prouty said of One Steel Recycling. “They are crushing them.”

Jared Jacobs, One Steel Recycling facility manager in Bangor, said the Varney vehicles are still at the dealership, “waiting for the paperwork to be finalized.”

Once he’s allowed to pick them up, each vehicle will be drained of its fluids — gas, transmission fluid, refrigerants, antifreeze — and hazardous parts, such as batteries and mercury switches, will be removed before they are crushed.

“We do that for any vehicle” before it is crushed, Jacobs said.

The CARS program, which requires “an ungodly amount of paperwork,” is flooding the used-parts market, Spain said.

“I have eight ’98 or ’99 Tahoes,” he said. “I’m not going to sell all those body parts. It’s impossible. I’ve got to crush the cars in 180 days and 180 days isn’t a long time.”

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