Many auto industry analysts and dealers expect sales volumes to fall now that the program is over. They worry that many people who took advantage of the program were merely accelerating purchases they would have made later in the year.
If that's true, the premature sales could hurt automakers, which increased production in the third quarter to replenish clunker-depleted inventories that had already grown low because of factory shutdowns over the summer.
Because there's a lag time between production and getting a vehicle to a dealership, the new vehicles "will hit when there's a lower demand," said Jeff Schuster, executive director of forecasting at the auto industry research firm J.D. Power and associates.
"There might not be as many people to buy because they bought during the clunker program," he said. "And if at the same time there's less of an incentive program from carmakers, you could have fewer people buying. That could stall the recovery we're in."
Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of Edmunds.com, another automotive research group, agreed.
" 'Cash for Clunkers' created a nice little blip," he said. "We'll look back and say, 'Nice party, but the hangover is awful.' "