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Drivers dash to cash in


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POSTED: Sunday, August 23, 2009

At Pflueger Honda downtown, Ted Tunney traded in the white 1991 Ford Aerostar minivan he purchased for $4,100 eight years ago.

He and his wife, Suzi, got in exchange a $4,500 discount on a new Honda Fit yesterday, the last weekend of the government's “;cash for clunkers”; program.

Their new car gets 27 to 33 miles per gallon, compared with the minivan's 10 miles per gallon.

“;Feels great,”; Ted Tunney said, “;especially since this is the last car that they had.”;

Car dealers saw a flood of last-minute customers trying to take part in the rebate program, which officially ends at 2 p.m. tomorrow. But customers trying to squeeze in a deal might be out of luck, as some dealers are no longer participating.

At Pflueger Honda the clunkers program boosted sales, creating a new one-day record on Friday of 41 cars, up from the usual 15, said salesman Huey Ho.

Ho, who sold three Honda vehicles Friday under the clunkers program, believes the program has helped rejuvenate the economy.

“;People are spending money,”; he said. “;It's going to be better than it was before.”;

T.J. Jones, general sales manager at the Pflueger Acura dealership on Ala Moana Boulevard, said at times the customers came in so thick yesterday the rush was “;unmanageable.”;

“;There's never been a better time in history to buy a car,”; he said.

Even though the program boosted sales, several dealers have stopped participating.

“;The problem, really, for many dealers across the country is they haven't been able to get paid, and there's a concern that funds may run out,”; said Larry Moody, general manager of Tony Nissan.

“;We run the risk if we do clunker deals this weekend and I can't access this (government Web) site after the deadline, I'm in the position that I'm out $4,500,”; he said.

Tony Group Autoplex stopped participating in the clunkers program this weekend.

“;We've made a decision to go ahead and not do any more of these right now,”; he said. “;I think that's true of most dealers at this point.”;

The program was successful while it lasted. Tony Group sold about 170 vehicles through the program and another 70 cars to people who came into the showroom but did not qualify, he said.

Moody said the auto mall saw about $4 million in sales because of the program.

“;It may turn out to have doubled sales”; in Hawaii, said Dave Rolf, executive director of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association.

Of 1,100 clunker deals reported by 11 dealers statewide, about 2 percent of those sales have been reimbursed, Rolf said. Hawaii dealers have put in for $5.7 million in rebates from the government, he said.