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CARS program takes off in Saratoga

It's earned the title of the only government-run program the majority of taxpayers actually want to participate in, and in Saratoga County and elsewhere, Cash for Clunkers has been a resounding success, with some headaches reported.

Officially dubbed CARS (Car Allowance Rebate System), motorists can have up to $4,500 knocked off the price of a new car, courtesy the government, for trading in their gas-guzzler at a participating dealer. The program burned through $1 billion in days, though that amount was supposed to last for months. On Thursday, Aug. 6, the Senate gave the final approval for an addition $2 billion for the program.

The intent is twofold. Lawmakers hope to give contracting automakers a much-needed shot in the arm, and by taking gas-guzzlers off the road the environment will theoretically reap benefits (during the first week of the program, the average participant bought a car with a 10 mpg improvement over his or her old one). The clunkers have a mixture poured into their engines that causes them to seize up, decommissioning the vehicles.

Those pining for a rebate should check their situation first. To be eligible, the old vehicle must get an average of 18 mpg or less, and the new vehicle must get at least 4 mpg more than the old one. To check your vehicle's stats, visit www.cars.gov.

In the mind of Kajal Lahiri, professor of economics at the University at Albany, the program has thus far been a success in that it benefits the poor"who tend to hang onto autos longer"and gets the industry moving by shifting news cars off dealership lots.

"If you pull them [cars] out, demand is created, demand for transportation," he said. "A vacuum is created naturally, and that can be filled in by new production, so that helps the auto industry."

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