Crash Data Suggest Driver Error in Toyota Accidents

This is an interesting read published by the Wall Street Journal

By MIKE RAMSEY And KATE LINEBAUGH

The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that at the time of the crashes, throttles were wide open and the brakes were not engaged, people familiar with the findings said.

The results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyota and Lexus vehicles surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes. But the findings don’t exonerate Toyota from two known issues blamed for sudden acceleration in its vehicles: sticky accelerator pedals and floor mats that can trap accelerator pedals to the floor.

0713DRIVER

Associated PressA recalled Toyota gas pedal is posed next to a recalled Toyota Avalon at a dealership in Palo Alto, Calif.

The findings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration involve a sample of reports in which a driver of a Toyota vehicle said the brakes were depressed but failed to stop the car from accelerating and ultimately crashing.

The data recorders analyzed by NHTSA were selected by the agency, not Toyota, based on complaints the drivers had filed with the government.

The findings are consistent with a 1989 government-sponsored study that blamed similar driver mistakes for a rash of sudden-acceleration reports involving Audi 5000 sedans.

The Toyota findings, which haven’t been released by NHTSA, support Toyota’s position that sudden-acceleration reports involving its vehicles weren’t caused by electronic glitches in computer-controlled throttle systems, as some safety advocates and plaintiffs’ attorneys have alleged. More than 100 people have sued the auto maker claiming crashes were the result of faulty electronics.

NHTSA has received more than 3,000 complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyotas, including some dating to early last decade, according to a report the agency compiled in March. The incidents include 75 fatal crashes involving 93 deaths.

However, NHTSA has been able to verify only one of those fatal crashes was caused by a problem with the vehicle, according to information the agency provided to the National Academy of Sciences. That accident last Aug. 28, which killed a California highway patrolman and three passengers in a Lexus, was traced to a floor mat that trapped the gas pedal in the depressed position.

Toyota has recalled more than eight million cars globally to fix floor mats and sticky accelerators.

A NHTSA spokeswoman declined to confirm the results from the data recorders. She said the agency was continuing to investigate the Toyota accidents and wouldn’t be prepared to comment fully on the probe until a broader study is completed in conjunction with NASA, which is expected to take months.

Transportation Department officials, however, have said publicly that they have yet to find any electronic problems in Toyota cars.

Daniel Smith, NHTSA’s associate administrator for enforcement, told a panel of the National Academy of Sciences last month that the agency’s sudden-acceleration probe had yet to find any car defects beyond those identified by the company: pedals entrapped by floor mats, and “sticky” accelerator pedals that are slow to return to idle.

“In spite of our investigations, we have not actually been able yet to find a defect” in electronic throttle-control systems, Mr. Smith told the scientific panel, which is looking into potential causes of sudden acceleration.

“We’re bound and determined that if it exists we’re going to find it,” he added. “But as yet, we haven’t found it.”

Toyota officials haven’t been briefed on NHTSA’s findings, but they corroborate its own tests, said Mike Michels, the chief spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales. Toyota’s downloads of event data recorders have found evidence of sticky pedals and pedal entrapment as well as driver error, which is characterized by no evidence of the brakes being depressed during an impact.

Some company officials say they are informally aware of the NHTSA results. But Toyota President Akio Toyoda has said the company won’t blame customers for its problems as part of its public-relations response.

Toyota is still trying to repair damage to its reputation caused as much by disclosures that the company hid knowledge of safety problems with its vehicles as by the reports of sudden acceleration.

NHTSA levied a $16.4 million fine against Toyota earlier this year for failing to notify the agency in a timely manner about its sticky-accelerator issue. Toyota’s handling of a rash of safety complaints involving high-profile models such as the hybrid Toyota Prius has prompted Congress to consider a far-reaching overhaul of U.S. auto-safety laws.

Last week, Toyota announced it had taken steps to improve its vehicle quality, including moving 1,000 engineers into a new group that will try to pin down problems. The Japanese auto maker also will extend development times by at least four weeks on new models to do more testing and will cut down on the use of contract engineers.Toyota showed reporters the inner workings of its labs, including how it has been testing its electronic throttle control module to find any malfunctions. The system is controlled by a main computer and has a second computer as a backup if the first fails. In either instance, failures should be noted in the car’s main computer and result in engine power being cut.

The car maker also has tested its vehicles’ responses to strong electromagnetic radiation, such as the waves generated by cellphones and radio towers, which some critics have said could be causing a malfunction. The only interference engineers have encountered after bombarding cars with electromagnetic waves is static on the car radio.

U.S. Reps. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) and Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) have been critical of Toyota’s efforts to track down alternative causes of unintended acceleration. They have said Toyota has been slow to react or evasive. Toyota has said it is doing everything in its power to respond to both Congress and customer complaints.

—Josh Mitchell contributed
to this article.


Could Runaway Prius Have Been Faked?

Posted: Mar. 12, 2010 10:03 a.m.

Yesterday we told you about doubts Edmunds Inside Line raised about a California man who claimed his Prius had raced out of control. Today, more people are looking into the story.

Jalopnik thinks James Sikes, the man in the incident, may have had a motive: “James Sikes, the San Diego runaway Toyota Prius driver, filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and now has over $700,000 in debt. According to one anonymous tipster, we’re also told he hasn’t been making payments on his Prius,” they write, adding, “it’s potential motivation for wanting to find an out — any out — on paying for the vehicle.”

Jalopnik’s questions about Sikes’ motives add to questions Inside Line raised about the story.  Inside Line pointed out that it’s relatively easy to shift the Prius into neutral, even at highway speeds.  They also found it odd that though he claimed to be doing well over 90, Sikes managed to avoid an accident on a California highway for over 20 minutes — while panicking.

The Associated Press says the runaway Prius story may be reinforcing itself. “Experts on consumer psychology say the relentless negative media attention Toyota has received since the fall makes it much more likely that drivers will mistake anything unexpected — or even a misplaced foot — for actual danger.” AP adds, “In just the first 10 weeks of this year, 272 complaints have been filed nationwide for speed control problems with the Prius, according to an Associated Press analysis of unverified complaints received by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. By comparison, only 74 complaints were filed in all of last year, and just eight the year before that.”

Autoblog Green comments, “We’ll let the authorities investigate these latest cases and determine as best they can what happened there, but we also want the madness to calm down. Problems should be fixed, sure, but just because some people have problems doesn’t mean everyone does.”

The day after the Prius incident in California, according to reports, a Prius accelerated suddenly in New York. In that incident, a woman was pulling out of her driveway when she says the accelerator stuck, causing the Prius to surge forward into a stonewall. No one was hurt in the incident.

However, Richard Schmidt, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, writes in the New York Times that the kind of driveway scenario the woman describes is a prime example of driver error being mistaken for a mechanical problem. Shchmidt has spent much of his career investigating cases of unintended acceleration for automakers.  His work has found that reports of unintended acceleration “typically happened when the driver first got into the car and started it. After turning on the ignition, the driver would intend to press lightly on the brake pedal while shifting from park to drive (or reverse), and suddenly the car would leap forward (or backward). Drivers said that continued pressing on the brake would not stop the car; it would keep going until it crashed.”  Schmidt adds, “Drivers believed that something had gone wrong in the acceleration system, and that the brakes had failed.”

When engineers would examine the cars, they’d find nothing was wrong.  Schmidt writes, “Several researchers hypothesized how a driver, intending to apply the brake pedal to keep the car from creeping, would occasionally press the accelerator instead. Then, surprised that the car moved so much, he would try pressing harder. Of course, if his right foot was actually on the accelerator, the throttle would open and the car would move faster.”  The result? “This would then lead the driver to press the ‘brake’ harder still, and to bring about even more acceleration. Eventually, the car would be at full throttle, until it crashed. The driver’s foot would be all the way to the floor, giving him the impression that the brakes had failed.”

Of course, Schmidt’s reasoning doesn’t explain the reports of the runaway Prius in California, and it doesn’t prove that nothing was wrong with the Prius in New York.  But, driver error plus increased publicity may explain some of the spike in reports of problems with Toyota.

Check out the latest Toyota recall news and information, including how the company’s recent troubles affect our rankings. If you’re in the market for a new car, check out the U.S. News rankings of this year’s best cars as well as this month’s best car deals.

Here are some other good reads as well………

Unintended Acceleration Expert Provides His Perspective in the New York Times

In a column in Wednesday’s New York Times, Richard Schmidt, professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles and the author of a well known study on unintended acceleration, provided his perspective on this issue in response to reports that the federal government may require brake override systems on new vehicles.

Approaching the issue from a historical perspective, Prof. Schmidt noted: “From the mid-1980s until 2000, thousands of incidents of sudden acceleration were reported in all makes and models of cars (and buses, tractors and golf carts). Then, as now, the incidents were relatively rare among car crashes generally, but they were nevertheless frequent and dangerous enough to upset automakers, drivers and the news media.  But when engineers examined these vehicles post-crash, they found nothing that could account for what the drivers had reported.”

To read the full column, click here

Two Professors Say Satisfied Toyota Customers Protect the Brand
Two Rice University management professors say in an op-ed piece in the Houston Chronicle that the media frenzy on Toyota has “focused on vivid yet highly unrepresentative events that ignore the most important constituents: Toyota’s current customers.” Vikas Mittal and Utpal Dholakia note that Toyota has a large base of unwavering loyal customers who “drive their Toyotas day in and day out and experience reliable and trouble-free performance.” That positive experience, accumulated over decades, “insulate” the brand from long-term damage. “When customers are highly satisfied and consistently so (and consistency in the key), they are prone to see the occasional performance lapse as an anomaly.” They go on to say Toyota has that “brand insulation effect” and can recover from its current difficulties. To read the full column, click on the link below:

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/6909344.html

Toyota Didn’t Pay Stanford Professor for Unintended Acceleration Analysis

In light of recent press reports, Toyota issued a statement Thursday making it clear the company didn’t compensate Stanford University professor Chris Gerdes for his analysis of unintended acceleration claims made by Southern Illinois University professor David Gilbert.

News reports have implied that Toyota’s support of Stanford’s Center for Automotive Research may have influenced Gerdes’ analysis, which challenged Gilbert’s claims. Yet, Toyota is only one of many auto manufacturers that support the center. Toyota also supports other automotive programs, including the Division of Automotive Technology at Southern Illinois University, where Gilbert teaches. Such support is common in the auto industry and does not mean that independent professors will naturally side with corporate donors.

To read the entire statement, click on: http://pressroom.toyota.com/pr/tms/toyota-update-regarding-dr-chris-155054.aspx.

2-second Prius video causes headache for ABC News

By DAVID BAUDER

NEW YORK (AP) – For the want of a better two-second picture of a tachometer, ABC News has called into question its reporting on acceleration problems with Toyota vehicles.

The network’s handling of a Feb. 22 “World News” story about potential problems with computer systems in Toyotas has created ethical questions and intensified bitter feelings the besieged automaker already had toward ABC.

ABC has admitted to a misjudgment and swapped out the brief dashboard video in its report, which continues to be available online. Its story illustrated a report by David Gilbert, a Southern Illinois University professor who suggested that a design flaw in Toyotas might leave a short-circuit that could cause sudden acceleration undetected by the car’s computer system.

Correspondent Brian Ross'”World News” report showed him driving a Toyota with Gilbert that was rigged to quickly accelerate. Even though he knew it was coming, Ross said the incident left him shaken, and he had a hard time getting the car to come to a stop.

Briefly during the drive, ABC cut to a picture of a tachometer with the needle zooming forward. The impression was that the tachometer was documenting the ride Ross was taking. Instead, that picture was taken from a separate instance where a short-circuit was induced in a parked car.

ABC said that editing was done because it was impossible to get a good picture of the tachometer while the car was moving because the camera was shaking. The camera shot was steady when it was taken in a parked car.

“The tachometer showed the same thing every time,” said ABC News spokeswoman Emily Lenzner.

Toyota spokesman John Hanson disputes that, saying tachometers react much more dramatically when short-circuits happen in a parked car than a car that is moving. Tachometers measure engine speed.

It all points to problems that are created when visual journalists try to alter reality in order to get a better picture.

“Anytime you give the audience any reason to doubt the honesty of the piece, that’s a serious problem,” said Charlotte Grimes, a Syracuse University journalism professor who specializes in ethical issues.

“Do they honestly think that a company like Toyota, with all the resources that it has, would not be looking at these things?” Grimes asked.

Toyota recognized the differences right away: the shot showed the car’s speedometer was at zero, the parking brake was on and no one was using the seat belts – while Ross wore one on the test drive, Hanson said. Online discussion of the differences began almost immediately, and the Web site Gawker.com wrote about it last week.

ABC edited the online version of its story shortly after that story appeared and wrote a note on its Web site explaining why.

“This was a misjudgment made in the editing room,” Lenzner said. “They should have left the shaky shot in. But I want to make clear that the two-second shot that was used did not change the outcome of the report in any way.”

The inserted tachometer shot still didn’t specifically illustrate Ross’ ride. It was from another ride made in order to create different camera angles. A camera person could not have captured the tachometer shot with Ross and Gilbert both in the car, Lenzner said.

Toyota’s Hanson said it was next to impossible for the short circuit detailed by Gilbert to happen in real life. The automaker, which had to recall many of its cars because of problems associated with a depressed gas pedal, held a news conference on Monday to try and refute Gilbert’s study. It depicted similar short circuits in other cars, none of which were detected by the vehicles’ computer system.

Gilbert did not return phone or e-mail messages for comment, and a woman who answered the phone at his home said he was unavailable.

Hanson said he wished Toyota could have been invited to see the simulation conducted by ABC. “Simulation” is a word that brings back tough memories for TV networks: NBC’s news president lost his job in 1993 after it was revealed that for a “Dateline NBC” study about alleged safety problems with General Motors trucks, the network rigged a truck with small explosives for a story. Lenzner said it was ridiculous to compare a two-second tachometer shot to the NBC case.

She said Toyota was given a chance to comment on the story the day it was aired.

“It was not like ABC was trying to alter the footage,” she said. “There was no staging. There was no dramatization. It was an editing mistake.”

Even before this report, relations between Toyota and ABC were on edge. More than 100 Toyota dealerships in the Southeast had agreed last month to pull advertising on local ABC affiliated because they were angry with Ross’ aggressive reporting on the automaker’s problems.

Toyota Announces Details of Remedy to Address Potential Accelerator Pedal Entrapment

Torrance, Calif., November 25, 2009 – – Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. (TMS) announced today details of the vehicle-based remedy to address the root cause of the potential risk for floor mat entrapment of accelerator pedals in certain Toyota and Lexus models. Toyota issued a consumer safety advisory on September 29 on this issue and has, as an interim measure, commenced the mailing of safety notices to certain Toyota and Lexus owners on October 30.
The models involved are: 2007 to 2010 MY (model year) Camry, 2005 to 2010 MY Avalon, 2004 to 2009 MY Prius, 2005 to 2010 MY Tacoma, 2007 to 2010 MY Tundra, 2007 to 2010 MY ES350, 2006 to 2010 MY IS250, and 2006 to 2010 MY IS 350.
The specific measures of the vehicle-based remedy are as follows:
1. The shape of the accelerator pedal will be reconfigured to address the risk of floor mat entrapment, even when an older-design all-weather floor mat or other inappropriate floor mat is improperly attached, or is placed on top of another floor mat.  For the ES350, Camry, and Avalon models involved, the shape of the floor surface underneath will also be reconfigured to increase the space between the accelerator pedal and the floor.
2. Vehicles with any genuine Toyota or Lexus accessory all-weather floor mat will be provided with newly-designed replacement driver- and front passenger-side all-weather floor mats.
In addition, as a separate measure independent of the vehicle-based remedy, Toyota will install a brake override system onto the involved Camry, Avalon, and Lexus ES 350, IS350 and IS 250 models as an extra measure of confidence. This system cuts engine power in case of simultaneous application of both the accelerator and brake pedals.
Toyota is in the process of completing development of these actions and for the ES350, Camry, and Avalon will start notifying owners of the involved vehicles via first-class mail by the end of this year.  The remedy process regarding the other five models will occur on a rolling schedule during 2010.
Dealers will be trained and equipped to make the necessary modifications to these models starting at the beginning of 2010.  Initially, dealers will be instructed on how to reshape the accelerator pedal for the repair.  As replacement parts with the same shape as the modified pedal become available, they will be made available to dealers for the repair, beginning around April 2010.  Customers who have had the remedy completed will have the opportunity to receive a new pedal if they desire.
In the meantime, owners of the involved vehicles are asked to take out any removable driver’s floor mat and not replace it with any other floor mat until they are notified of the vehicle-based remedy, as notified in the consumer safety advisory and the interim notice.
The brake override system will be made standard equipment throughout the Toyota and Lexus product lines starting with January 2010 production of ES350 and Camry and is scheduled to be incorporated into new production of most models by the end of 2010.
The safety of our owners and the public is our utmost concern and Toyota has and will continue to thoroughly investigate and take appropriate measures to address any defect trends that are identified.
Owners who have further questions are asked to visit www.toyota.com or www.lexus.com or contact the Toyota Customer Experience Center at 1-800-331-4331 or Lexus Customer Assistance at 1-800-255-3987.
###
The latest news about Toyota’s consumer safety advisory for potential floor mat interference with the accelerator pedal in certain Toyota and Lexus vehicles:
Toyota USA Update on Safety Advisory – Video (Nov. 2, 2009/Updated Nov. 5, 2009)
NHTSA report (Nov. 2, 2009)
Toyota owner letter (Nov. 2, 2009)
###
NOTE TO CONSUMERS: We’ve received a number of comments and questions about the floor mat issue and understand the safety concerns. We want to be responsive, but the Toyota USA Newsroom is not intended as a place for consumer complaints, or detailed information about any vehicle features, specs or capabilities. These types of concerns are best handled by our Customer Experience Center where they will be routed to the appropriate customer service representative for Toyota, Scion or Lexus. You can reach our customer service representatives by calling 1-800-331-4331. Prefer to email or chat? Simply access our website email or live chat links for Toyota, Scion or Lexus.
MEDIA CONTACTS ONLY:  Toyota Environmental, Safety and Quality Communications
Brian Lyons    (310) 468-2552
John Hanson  (310) 468-4718

Media Web site: www.toyotanewsroom.com
Public Web site: http://www.toyota.com and http://www.lexus.com

CARS program in full

Hello All!

I have included a current graph for the Cash for Clunkers program that is supposed to go into effect on July 23rd. We are currently taking deposits on cars and trucks that qualify for the program. We also know the money that is set aside for the program is limited so if you are interested, we can help you before the program goes into effect so you can get the voucher that is coming to you plus the car or truck you want.

Incentive Chart for Cash for Clunkers
Incentive Chart for Cash for Clunkers

2010 Toyota Prius vs. Honda Insight

Prius vs. Insight: A clash of corporate cultures

Hans Greimel
Automotive News
May 18, 2009 – 12:01 am ET

TOKYO — Few cars better embody the wide divergence in the corporate cultures of Toyota and Honda than these two hybrids.

In one corner is the Honda Insight — a case study in utilitarian expedience. It’s powered by a simplified four-banger with an electric motor adding just enough oomph to cut down on trips to the pump. It sports a plasticky, no-frills interior and poaches parts from sister models.

In the other corner is the redesigned Toyota Prius — a paragon of engineering excellence. It pushes the envelope with an ingenious planetary gear transmission, outstanding fuel economy and snazzy options such as solar panels. The car that made hybrids famous carries a first-class sticker price to match.

For better and worse, the redesigned Prius and Insight exude the distinct corporate identities that gave them birth. The result is as much a battle of the automakers’ business philosophies as a two-car rivalry.

Faultless Toyota Motor Corp. reached new technological heights but drifted into cost creep, a risky trend in a recession. Penny-pinching Honda Motor Co. did a lot with a little, churning out a low-budget hybrid that can’t match its rival’s specs.

Different strokes
The Insight and Prius highlight personality differences between Honda and Toyota.
Honda Insight Toyota Prius
Objective Affordable sticker Fuel-efficiency tour de force
Price No discounting No discounting
Drivetrain Simplify current engine Go high-tech for more power
Bottom line Practicality with compromise Perfection at a price
Pricing policies

image

2010 Toyota Prius

The redesigned 2010 Toyota Prius goes on sale in the United States in late May with a base price of $22,750, including freight. The price of the top-trim Prius will be $28,020. Later this year, a stripped-down base model will be offered for $21,750.

The Insight, by contrast, starts at $20,470 and climbs to $23,000, fully loaded. Toyota’s aggressive pricing of the third-generation Prius may pressure margins again. Says Takaki Nakanishi, an auto industry analyst at JPMorgan: “It will be difficult to make a profit at the lower grades.”

Honda and Toyota share a reverence for the principles of kaizen — or continuous improvement — and just-in-time manufacturing. But their subtle differences are best summed in Honda’s pragmatism vs. Toyota’s perfectionism.

Pragmatism vs. perfectionism

image

Honda Insight

“Honda always has to prioritize what they can and can’t do because they just don’t have the resources of Toyota,” says Tatsuo Yoshida, an auto analyst with UBS Securities in Tokyo. “If they tried to follow Toyota on development, it would be like committing suicide.”

Take mileage. Honda was satisfied with a respectable EPA rating of 40 mpg city/43 highway for the Insight. But the Prius reached for and attained an eye-popping 51/48.

Honda got there by simplifying an existing 1.3-liter engine to two modes of variable valve timing, instead of three. It chose a one-clutch drivetrain instead of a two-clutch version. That reduced the efficiency of regenerative braking but was cheaper.

The lowest trim-level Insight lacks such staples as cruise control and stability control.

In aerodynamics, the Insight has a 0.28 drag coefficient. Good, but not even as good as the Honda Civic‘s. Yasunari Seki, the chief engineer, was ordered to poach body structure from the Honda Fit compact, a move that limited aerodynamic improvements and also resulted in ho-hum styling. In fact, attention to styling is such an afterthought at Honda that the company doesn’t have a company wide design chief.

The pursuit of expedience is echoed in Honda’s aversion to full-sized trucks and V-8 Acura offerings. Honda can’t be all things to all people so it compromises with the car-based Honda Ridgeline and a V-6 Acura. They may not be best-in-class, but they leverage Honda’s strengths.

“We believe it fits with the culture of our company, where we want to build environmentally friendly cars that get good gas mileage,” says Dick Colliver, who retired recently as executive vice president of sales at American Honda Motor Co. “You don’t have to have a V-8 engine to be Tier 1.”

High-tech luxury

Meanwhile, Akihiko Otsuka, Toyota’s chief engineer, was striving to make his Prius the world’s greenest car. The solution was cutting-edge.

Otsuka used a bigger engine to get better mileage at high speeds. He eliminated drive belts for the air conditioning compressor and water pump, making them electric. He devised an exhaust-heat recapture system to help keep the engine operating at optimal efficiency.

Otsuka also improved drag to 0.25, from 0.26. The new Prius was the world’s slickest production car until Mercedes unveiled its new E-class coupe at 0.24.

The Prius brims with luxury features, most famously the gimmicky solar panels whose sole task is to run a ventilation system to cool the cabin when the car is parked in the sun.

Toyota’s approach mirrors the whole-hog ambition that thrust it into the full-sized pickup segment with the Toyota Tundra and into premium sedans with the Lexus lineup.

“It’s part of Toyota culture to always improve on what it’s already done,” says Chris Richter, of CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets. “It wants to position itself as higher end.”

Honda re-engineered the Insight’s hybrid system to cost 40 percent less than the previous-generation hybrid drivetrain, used in the current Civic Hybrid. Toyota was able to shave 35 percent off the costs of the current generation. But Otsuka missed the internal target of halving the cost.

Cash For Clunkers Automotive Stimulus

I found an interesting read about a proposed bill about getting older, less fuel efficient vehicles off the road. I hope you enjoy the information.

Cash for Clunkers Car Buying Stimulus Bill//

Cash for Clunkers Car Buying Stimulus Bill

Cash for Clunkers FAQ
By Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor

The Cash for Clunkers bill is a proposed federal program that would encourage consumers to trade in gas-guzzlers for new cars that get better fuel economy. Modeled after several programs that have already been successfully implemented in Europe, similar legislation is currently making its way through the U.S. Congress. The program would offer vouchers for consumers, allowing them to save thousands of dollars on a new-car purchase if the new vehicle meets improved mpg requirements.

Edmunds.com has put together this Cash for Clunkers FAQ page to track the program as it comes to fruition, and we’ll be updating this space regularly as new information becomes available.

Though the legislation hasn’t yet passed, we’ve provided some details of the current version of the proposed Cash for Clunkers program making its way through the House. The program would offer vouchers that allow consumers to save up to $4,500 on a new-car purchase. There are also various credits, in the form of vouchers, for trucks and work trucks. The earlier versions of the program that received a lot of media coverage have been reworked, with several objectionable elements having been jettisoned. A former version of the bill stated that the used cars would be crushed, but now the engines and transmissions will be shredded.

Though information from Congress suggests that the program may stimulate anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million new-car purchases, Edmunds.com believes that if properly implemented, the program may stimulate up to 3 million new-car sales. The proposed bill still needs to pass through Congress (and it is likely to be modified again in the Senate), but the president has already expressed his approval of recent drafts of the bill. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce has put together a fact sheet (see below) to detail the key elements of the proposed legislation. We’ve followed that with an FAQ that we will continue to update as details emerge.

Committee on Energy and Commerce Fact Sheet: Cash for Clunkers
Consumers may trade in their old, gas-guzzling vehicles and receive vouchers worth up to $4,500 to help pay for new, more fuel-efficient cars and trucks. The program will be authorized for up to one year and provide for approximately 1 million new car or truck purchases. The agreement divides these new cars and trucks into four categories. Miles-per-gallon figures below refer to EPA “window sticker” values.

Passenger car or minivan: The old vehicle must get 18 mpg or less city/highway combined. New passenger cars or minivans with mileage of at least 22 mpg are eligible for vouchers. If the mileage of the new car is at least 4 mpg higher than the old vehicle, the voucher will be worth $3,500. If the mileage of the new car is at least 10 mpg higher than the old vehicle, the voucher will be worth $4,500.

Light-duty truck: The old vehicle must get 18 mpg or less city/highway combined. New light trucks or SUVs with mileage of at least 18 mpg are eligible for vouchers. If the mileage of the new truck or SUV is at least 2 mpg higher than the old truck, the voucher will be worth $3,500. If the mileage of the new truck or SUV is at least 5 mpg higher than the old truck, the voucher will be worth $4,500.

Large light-duty truck: New large trucks (pickup trucks and vans weighing between 6,000 and 8,500 pounds) with mileage of at least 15 mpg are eligible for vouchers. If the mileage of the new truck is at least 1 mpg higher than the old truck, the voucher will be worth $3,500. If the mileage of the new truck is at least 2 mpg higher than the old truck, the voucher will be worth $4,500.

Work truck: Under the agreement, consumers can trade in a pre-2002 work truck (defined as a pickup truck or cargo van weighing from 8,500-10,000 pounds) and receive a voucher worth $3,500 for a new work truck in the same or smaller weight class. There will be a finite number of these vouchers, based on this vehicle class’ market share. There are no EPA mileage measures for these trucks; however, because newer models are cleaner than older models, the age requirement ensures that the trade will improve environmental quality. Consumers can also “trade down,” receiving a $3,500 voucher for trading in an older work truck and purchasing a smaller light-duty truck weighing from 6,000-8,500 pounds.

Summary of Cash for Clunkers Agreement
Minimum Fuel Economy for New Vehicle $3,500 Voucher $4,500 Voucher
Passenger Car or minivan 22 mpg (EPA combined) Mileage improvement of at least 4 mpg Mileage improvement of at least 10 mpg
Light-duty truck 18 mpg (EPA combined) Mileage improvement of at least 2 mpg Mileage improvement of at least 5 mpg
Large light-duty truck
(6,000-8,500 pounds)
15 mpg (EPA combined) Mileage improvement of at least 1 mpg or trade-in of a work truck Mileage improvement of at least 2 mpg
Work truck
(8,500-10,000 pounds)
Trade-in must be at least pre-2002

FAQ

How much are the vouchers worth? This will depend on the car you are turning in and the type of car you buy. In general, if the improvement in fuel economy between your old car and the car you buy is 10 mpg (combined highway mileage according to the EPA), the maximum credit will be $4,500. The requirement for improvement in fuel economy for trucks is lower. For specifics, see the above chart.

How old does my car need to be? There is no age restriction on vehicles eligible for trade in. For work trucks however, it is any built before 2002.We anticipate that most cars traded in will likely be model-year 2000 and older.

What types of vehicles qualify? In general, this bill aims to take polluting gas-guzzlers off the road. The vehicle must have a federal combined city/highway fuel economy of 18 or less miles per gallon. This means that many American-made cars and trucks will be eligible for vouchers toward the purchase of new vehicles. The categories of vehicles that will qualify fall into four classes: passenger cars, light-duty trucks, large light-duty trucks (6,000-8,500 pounds) and work trucks (8,500-10,000 pounds).

What kind of mpg will the new vehicle need to get? Different levels of improvement are required for each type of vehicle. In passenger cars, if mileage is improved by 10 mpg, the $4,500 voucher is awarded; if fuel economy is improved by only 4 mpg, the $3,500 voucher is awarded. The mileage improvement levels and voucher amounts for the different classes of trucks are listed in the chart above.

The proposal mentions a one-year time limit. Is there a cap on the number of vehicles? The bill is written to provide vouchers for 1 million purchases. However, we are predicting that the program has the potential to stimulate up to 3 million sales. For this reason, it is important for consumers who are interested in taking advantage of this program to track the progress of the bill and apply for the program as soon as funds become available.

How long do I need to have owned the vehicle I’m trading in? The vehicle must be registered in your name and in use for at least one year.

If I have an older car that is in good running condition, or a classic car, is it mandatory for me to turn it in? No. This program is completely voluntary.

What happens to the car that you trade in? The old car is given to a salvage operator. Vital engine and transmission components, that would otherwise pollute more than a modern engine, are destroyed so that the car does not end up on the road again. The salvage operator can then sell off any remaining parts on the vehicle. The destroyed engine and transmission can also be sold to recyclers.

How will this affect used-car values? Since the “clunkers” will be taken off the road, there will be fewer older vehicles in the marketplace. However, our analysts don’t expect this program to drastically affect used-car values.

Where do I find the mpg numbers to see if my vehicle qualifies for the Cash for Clunkers vouchers? The EPA’s combined mileage will be used. This is a combination of the highway and city mileage for vehicles. Models prior to 2008 will use the converted MPG numbers which take into account the new EPA testing methods. This information can be found on the window sticker of the car or at fueleconomy.gov.

What kind of vehicles qualify as light-duty and large light-duty trucks? Trucks qualify based on class and vehicle weight. For example, the Ford F-150 would be considered a light-duty truck. If you are considering taking advantage of this program, look up your vehicle on Edmunds.com and determine its weight. If it is between 6,000 and 8,500 pounds and gets less than 15 mpg, you have a large light-duty truck and will need to buy a truck that improves your fuel economy by 1 mpg for a $3,500 voucher. If you select a truck that improves fuel economy by at least 2 mpg, you will qualify for the $4,500 voucher. A work truck is classified as being between 8,500 and 10,000 pounds. The only requirement for this class is that the trade-in vehicle needs to have been built before model-year 2002.

As the program details emerge, check back here for a complete list of eligible vehicles.

When is the program expected to go into effect, and will it be retroactive? The language of the bill hasn’t been finalized, but the program is expected to have a retroactive date of March 30, 2009. However, you must be able to prove that you were the registered owner of the vehicle and that the old car has been scrapped. Passage of this bill could come before June and the vouchers would be available shortly thereafter. The current House legislation has been folded into a broader energy package and will be in committee for another two weeks as of this writing. Then it goes to the Senate, where it undoubtedly will go through changes.

Where will the money for vouchers come from? Since President Obama wants this to move as quickly as possible, it is likely that the money will come from the already approved Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds and the economic stimulus package.

Does the voucher augment or replace what the dealer would give me for my trade-in? The money you receive from the Cash for Clunkers program will act as your trade in value. It cannot be combined with the dealer’s trade in offer. This program is primarily designed to inflate the value of older vehicles worth less than $4,500.

Is there a limit on the price of the vehicle purchased with Cash for Clunkers vouchers? Vehicles purchased with the vouchers must have an MSRP of $45,000 or less.

How will the program be tracked? Via dealers or the DMV? Little information has been made available on this aspect of the bill. It is likely, though, that the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) will be the prime tool in verifying information on the trade-in vehicle such as model year, engine size and the corresponding EPA-rated fuel-economy levels. The government has numerous databases with information on cars that are tracked through their VIN.

How will you get the money toward the trade-in? An electronic transfer from the government to the dealer will be issued once a vehicle is determined to be qualified for the Cash for Clunkers program. The voucher amount would be credited as all or part of the down payment on a qualifying new car.

Will it apply to used-car purchases? The final details of the bill are not yet available. However, it has always been assumed that the vouchers will only apply to new car purchases.

What if you’re leasing a vehicle and wish to trade it in? Again, final details are not available. But it is unlikely that consumers who are currently leasing vehicles will qualify for this program.

What if you wish to lease the new vehicle? In this case, it appears likely that the voucher could be applied to a leased vehicle as a “capitalized cost adjustment.” This would lower the price of the vehicle and thus reduce the monthly payment of a lease.