Since July 1, the Cash for Clunkers program has spurred 358,851 vehicle sales valued at a total $1.5 billion, according to the Department of Transportation. The most popular trade-ins include the Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Caravan and Chevrolet Blazer.
Though clunker sales are done — and there's no word yet on how many of those $3,500 and $4,500 rebates have been processed — the program has given an undeniable boost to some automakers. Toyota, General Motors and Ford Motor have benefited the most, receiving 18.9 percent, 17.6 percent and 15.4 percent, respectively, of total sales made under the program.
But owners of new, foreign cars might want to take a closer look; many of these cars carry the highest out-of-pocket costs of any models this year.
The BMW M5 sedan, for instance, exacts an average of $5,700 for repairs and maintenance over five years, while the Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster and E63 AMG Wagon fall closely behind, each with maintenance and repair costs of more than $6,000. By contrast, Honda's $23,550 Civic sedan costs $2,700 to repair and maintain for five years.
Behind the numbers
To compile our list of clunkers in the making, we used data from Vincentric, an auto-industry analysis firm based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. We added the five-year costs of fuel, repairs and maintenance for model-year 2009 vehicles, eliminating any vehicles with production fewer than 500 units per year. We did not factor in rates of depreciation, since expensive cars depreciate at a faster and proportionately greater rate, effectively skewing our results toward super rides like the Audi R8 and BMW M6.
Granted, to qualify for the program, a vehicle must have been registered and insured continuously for a full year preceding the trade-in. But our list applies to drivers who purchased a 2009 model early last year and hope to trade it in right at the end of the program, Nov. 1. And it serves as a guide for uncovering future models with unusually expensive maintenance and repair requirements.
The most prominent brand on our list of under-the-radar clunkers is Mercedes-Benz. Buyers of its high-end AMG line — engines with a big appetite for gas and the delicate engineering of a race car — should expect to spend proportionally more on fuel, repairs and maintenance than on almost any other type of vehicle.
The $88,350 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG SUV, for instance, sucks up $2,900 in fuel per year and requires an average of $1,641 in repairs after five years. The $199,700 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG coupe behaves much the same.
Large trucks and SUVs also made our list, thanks to their gas-guzzling ways and tech-heavy systems that often require more attention. The Dodge Ram 3500 placed No. 1 on our list of hidden clunkers, due to its almost $18,000 fuel cost and $3,600 maintenance costs over five years. Jeep's Cherokee SRT8 and Ford's F-350 and F-450 pickup truck lines also made the cut.
But Mike Caudill, head automotive expert for NADA Guides, an automotive data Web site, says the size of those trucks is a lasting part of American culture, even if they seem ripe for the plucking in a clunkers deal. And rather than urging Americans to avoid big trucks, Caudill says, the program is instilling them with feelings of patriotism.
"I actually think the mentality in the U.S. right now is to buy American," he says. "This Cash for Clunkers program is really kind of tugging at the heartstrings of the American consumer, that 'Hey, you know what? If I can go buy American and get a decent price point, I'm going to do it.'"
Besides, he adds, America's love for trucks goes back decades. And that's not likely to change any time soon.