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CARS audit staff up 9-fold, but payouts still lag

November 15, 2010

The original staff of 225 workers assigned to review dealer invoices under the CARS program has been bolstered to 2,000, but reimbursements to the dealers continue at a snail’s pace.

The government does not release reimbursement data. But a survey by the National Automobile Dealers Association on Aug. 27, two days after the submission deadline, found that dealers had been paid on just 5.7 percent of their claims, and that 83.7 percent of the applications are still under review.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which manages the CARS program, held a ninth Webinar on the topic on Sept. 2. Officials said the presentations are helpful for them to disseminate program updates and to get a feel for dealer concerns, from among more than 1,000 questions submitted during each presentation.

Among other impressions, it appears that while the NHTSA favors documents to be submitted in a pdf format, a number of the staffers who are reviewing the submissions are not familiar with Adobe Reader.

Frank Borris of the NHTSA said daily training sessions for the reviewers now emphasize Adobe Reader’s zoom feature so that a document can be viewed more clearly. That has reduced rejections, he said.

Reviewers also have been coached to look for subsequent pages in documents. Many submissions have been rejected for missing signatures and the like, even though the information is included somewhere after a document’s first page.

The CARS program’s intention of treating submissions on a first-in, first-out basis has not been fulfilled, with many dealers saying their July transactions still have not been treated.

"We apologize," said the NHTSA’s Dan Smith. "From now forward, our plan is to do that. Within a couple weeks, that is an issue you won’t see. We’re moving faster every day."

Smith said as many as 650,000 submissions remain in the system, and the NHTSA is processing thousands daily, "when system stability permits. We’d like to ramp that up to tens of thousands per day, but we’re not there yet."

Dave Billion, a South Dakota dealer, said he is waiting for $3.2 million from the government. Billion said one submission was rejected for multiple reasons. "We didn’t see anything wrong with it," he said, "so we resubmitted it.

"They rejected, we resubmitted it. They rejected it, seven times and finally they paid it, and we never changed a single thing on it."