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Clunkers piling up as disposal deadline nears

WASHINGTON — Trade-ins from the Cash for Clunkers program are piling up and auto recyclers are seeking more time to meet the deadline for disposing of all those vehicles.

At some places, Ford Explorers, Chevy Blazers, Chrysler Town & Country minivans and other popular clunkers are parked bumper to bumper on several acres, many marked "C4C" on their windows, waiting to be drained of fluids, stripped of valuable parts and eventually flattened for scrap.

"I've got a parking lot of almost 4,000 vehicles right now," said Harry Haluptzok, chief executive of John's Auto Parts in Blaine, Minn., near Minneapolis. His business typically dismantles 100 vehicles a week, but the workload has more than doubled, and Haluptzok hired 10 more workers to keep up with the extra vehicles.

Under the program, the cars are required to be crushed or shredded within six months of the date the vehicle is transferred from the dealership. Recyclers say the deadline, even a few months away, will be hard as they try to remove spare parts such as transmissions, front and rear axles, starters and alternators.

"True recycling is using something to its fullest potential and then recycling it over again by making it into steel and sending it out to become another engine or transmission or car," said Jeff Cantor, an auto recycler in Candia, N.H. "We're breaking that circle here by crushing good quality parts. We can't process them quick enough in six months."

Consumers bought nearly 700,000 new vehicles in late July and August through the program, taking advantage of rebates of up to $4,500 on new cars in return for trading in their older vehicles. Congress tripled the size of its original $1 billion price tag because of the program's popularity.

The American Recyclers Association, a trade group representing auto recyclers, said the six-month deadline to crush the vehicles was developed in line with the initial $1 billion program, but never took into account the additional vehicles sold when the program was expanded. The association met with the Transportation Department in late September seeking an additional six months.

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