Clunker remorse (or ‘I sold my clunker, so why am I in one?')

In the mania that was the cash-for-clunkers stampede a year ago, few noticed a little provision in the program that allowed 60-month vehicle leases to qualify for Uncle Sugar’s $3,500 or $4,500.

That is, few beyond eagle-eyed sales and F&I managers. A year later, there’re maybe 100,000 five-year leases among the 700,000 clunker deals.

That anybody would opt for a five-year lease seems odd. Make 60 monthly payments and then pay repair and excess mileage fees to give it back?

But I know the siren call of cash from the government. And I can almost hear a showroom conversation: “You know, if you’re willing to lease a few extra months, Uncle Sam could help you move from this [insert name of practical vehicle] into a [shiny object of desire] for the same monthly payment.”

Well, it’s a year later. And sure enough, some of those 60-month lessees want out.

“It’s clunker remorse,” says John Sternal, vice president of, an outfit that matches people wanting out of a lease with people willing to take over payments.

The calls started in April. Now LeaseTrader is getting about 150 calls a week from people who want out of the five-year leases they signed to get clunker cash.

Some lost their jobs and worry about making lease payments. Others worry about unemployment rates and the economy. And surprise, surprise, some lease customers are bored and just want a new ride. They may have traded in one clunker but they’re in another.

“But they still have 48 payments left, and few people on the buying side are interested in taking over a lease longer than 30 months,” Sternal says. The firm’s buy-side customers prefer leases with 16 to 18 months left.

So if that clunker-era long-term lease feels too expensive or just stale, is there an option besides parking it to afford the payments?

Nope, Sternal says.

“They’ve just got to sit on it.”