Ten Ways to Stretch Your Cash for Clunkers Dollar

Here at Cars.com we've listed five new cars and five new trucks/crossovers/minivans that would make the most of your Cash for Clunkers credit. Many have significant incentives on top of the thousands the government is handing out, but we've also listed a few hot models that rarely get cash-back offers of their own, as this may be the one time to get them at any type of discount.

The adjusted price we've listed here assumes you qualify for the biggest credit available, $4,500. If you're still not sure how the program works, check our Cash for Clunkers guide.

Cars

2010 Toyota Prius
Starting MSRP: $22,000
Available incentives: None
Cash for Clunkers credit: $4,500
Adjusted price: $17,500
Clearly, the most fuel-efficient car in America is the prototypical vehicle the framers of Cash for Clunkers wanted you to trade your clunker in for. You're guaranteed the full $4,500 credit for the Prius no matter your trade-in, because its combined 50 mpg will best any eligible Clunker by well more than 10 mpg. Because the new Prius is so popular, there are no manufacturer discounts and it may be hard to find one locally, but we still give it the thumbs-up as a money-saver because it'll save money on gas in the long run. Even the previous-generation Prius never saw incentives close to the Clunker rebate of $4,500.
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2009 Hyundai Sonata
Starting MSRP: $18,700
Available incentives: $3,000 cash back, plus $1.49 gas for a year (expires Aug. 31)
Cash for Clunkers credit: $3,500-$4,500
Adjusted price: $11,200
The Sonata is a favorite value pick here at Cars.com. It has a pleasant ride, upscale interior and better than average reliability ratings from Consumer Reports. There's a national cash-back incentive, plus a gas deal that will save you some pain at the pump — even at $2.50-a-gallon gas. The base model's mileage rating of 21/32 mpg city/highway is also good for the class. Staring at that $11,200 figure is kind of amazing; that's a lot of car for the price of a stripped economy car.
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2009 Mini Cooper
Starting MSRP: $18,550
Available incentives: None
Cash for Clunkers credit: $3,500-$4,500
Adjusted price: $14,050
The Mini Cooper is a blast to drive, even in the base form listed here. The car has been so popular since it was reintroduced in the U.S. that there are rarely cash-back deals available. Mileage is excellent at 28/37 mpg city/highway, with which you're guaranteed to qualify for the full $4,500 credit. That means you'll drive away in a stylish, European import for under $15,000.
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2009 Nissan Altima
Starting MSRP: $19,900
Available incentives: $1,500 cash back or 0% financing (expires Aug. 31)
Cash for Clunkers credit: $3,500-$4,500
Adjusted price: $13,900
If you like a little performance in your midsize sedan, the Altima is the way to go. Even in base, four-cylinder form, the steering is sharp and nimble. Plus, mileage is 23/31 mpg city/highway. Nissan's interiors are always top-notch for the segment, and while the $1,500 cash-back deal is a nationally advertised offer, the 2010 model goes on sale in September and will have some updates. That means dealers might want to make a deal on the 2009 model.
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2009 Pontiac Vibe
Starting MSRP: $16,100
Available incentives: $2,500 cash back (expires Aug. 31)
Cash for Clunkers credit: $3,500-$4,500
Adjusted price: $9,100
One of the unfortunate casualties of GM shutting down the Pontiac brand is the redesigned Pontiac Vibe. This little hatchback has a relatively upscale interior, good crash-test ratings and much better than average reliability scores from Consumer Reports. There should still be plenty of 2009 inventory on lots, as the 2010s are just arriving at dealerships. Again, we expect dealers will want to make even better deals because the brand itself is disappearing. Don't fear future repairs; GM says it will service all Pontiacs at other brand locations. For under $10,000, this is an exceptionally well-rounded choice.
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Trucks, SUVs and Minivans

2009 Honda Odyssey
Starting MSRP: $26,355
Available incentives: None
Cash for Clunkers credit: $3,500-$4,500
Adjusted price: $21,855
We know what you're thinking: If there's no incentive, why is buying a new Odyssey worth using a big government credit? Well, Honda is rolling out the 2010 model right now, and dealers will be ready to clear out old inventory to make room on lots. There are no noticeable differences between the 2009 and 2010 Odysseys, and the 2009 is rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That's good news for families looking for what is consistently one of the best minivans on sale today.
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2009 Subaru Forester
Starting MSRP: $19,995
Available incentives: 2.9% financing (expires Aug. 31)
Cash for Clunkers credit: $3,500-$4,500
Adjusted price: $15,495
Last year, the redesigned Subaru Forester came very close to being named Cars.com's New Car of the Year — that's how highly we regard this compact crossover. If you're a small family downsizing from a huge, gas-guzzling SUV, the Forester is a good choice with standard all-wheel drive, a low base price and Top Safety Pick status. Like the Odyssey, the 2010 Forester is just arriving on dealer lots, so now is one of the few times the hot-selling Subaru might get a dealer discount on top of financing deals. Don't expect to get too much off during your negotiations, though, because the starting price is so low. There aren't any significant changes on the 2010 model, but it does see a price bump of $300.
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2009 Toyota Venza
Starting MSRP: $25,975
Available incentives: None
Cash for Clunkers credit: $3,500-$4,500
Adjusted price: $21,475
Yep, here's another crossover on our list with no advertised incentives. But if you're looking for an alternative to a truck-based SUV and need lots of room, good gas mileage — 21/29 mpg city/highway — and available all-wheel drive, the Venza is a good bet. Like others on this list, the Venza is a Top Safety Pick. While there are no incentives on the Venza, buying one would be a good use of federally supplied funds, as they'd knock what we consider a pretty expensive sticker down to something more palatable.
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2009 Ford Escape
Starting MSRP: $20,435
Available incentives: 0% financing plus $1,500 cash back (expires Aug. 31)
Cash for Clunkers credit: $3,500-$4,500
Adjusted price: $14,435
Ford's long-running Escape is one of the most affordable compact SUVs on the market before any discounts. A redesign a few years ago was enough of an update to keep it competitive, and it also earns Top Safety Pick status. Lots of cash back from the automaker brings the adjusted price down to the low teens, which is an unbelievable cost for such a well-rounded vehicle.
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2009 Toyota Tacoma
Starting MSRP: $15,170
Available incentives: $1,500 (expires Aug. 31)
Cash for Clunkers credit: $3,500-$4,500
Adjusted price: $9,170
If you're wondering where all the actual trucks are, there aren't many that fit into the spirit of the Cash for Clunkers legislation. Most full-size pickups get just one or two mpg better fuel economy than their predecessors of decades past. Instead, buyers can pick something smaller and more efficient, like the Tacoma, which has better than average reliability ratings and is the only small pickup to earn a Top Safety Pick award from IIHS. Its better mileage should also help it qualify for the full $4,500 credit from the government. For under $10,000, it's a terrific alternative to larger trucks.
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*Incentives may vary by region.

© Cars.com 8/10/09