Big savings with Cash for Clunkers

Skeptics question whether Cash for Clunkers, due later this month, will do much for the ailing car industry, but for the right customer, there looks to be some sweet savings on tap.

Car-buying research Web site on Thursday released a list of five new cars and five new trucks, crossovers, and minivans that it believes will give new-car shoppers the biggest benefit under the government-backed incentive program.

Understanding the deals and then actually qualifying for one is another matter all together, however.

Essentially, the government will offer vouchers between $3,500 and $4,500 toward the purchase of a new car or truck in exchange for a qualifying car to be crushed.

The old car must have been built after 1984 and achieve less than 18 miles per gallon.

The new car also has to get at least 4 mpg more than the old one, which has to have been insured and operated by the buyer for at least one year.

The math doesn’t work for cars with a trade-in value of more than $4,500 and critics contend that customers driving cars worth only $2,000 or $3,000 probably aren’t really looking to take on payments that, despite the price cuts, will still be a big hit to their monthly nut.

And then those who can afford to get behind the wheel of a new car probably aren’t driving around in “clunkers” as their primary mode of transportation.

Still, those that fit the mold stand to benefit from some great deals, with many of the models on the list offering big promotions on top of the federal cash. Then others are “hot models” that should be considered because they typically don’t come with incentives, according to the guide.

The 2010 Toyota Prius, for example, carries an MSRP starting at $22,000. The customer will get the maximum $4,500 credit because the 50 mpg will easily top the necessary 10 mpg differential on any trade-in. The adjusted price comes to $17,500 ? not bad for a car that used to sell well above sticker price.

Then there’s the 2009 Sonata, from Korea’s Hyundai, arguably the hottest car maker in the world. Take the Cash for Clunkers credit, tack on $2,000 cash back plus a gas-capping promotion and the MSRP shrinks to $13,900.

On the truck side, the 2009 Ford Escape is priced starting at $20,435 but can come all the way down to $13,435. A 2009 Toyota Tacoma can be taken home for only $9,170 after all the incentives ? that’s a 40 percent discount.

(c) 2009, Inc. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.