Lawmakers earlier today urged their constituents to take advantage of the program -- while it lasts -- and there was obvious uncertainty in Washington about the long-term future of the program.
"We don't know how long it will last, so people should go to their car dealers now if they want to take advantage of the program," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said in a statement. "We're also going to seek additional funding to hopefully make the program last longer."
"Cash for Clunkers" was supposed to continue through Nov. 1, 2009, or until the money ran out. Given the hit of the U.S. government's plan, which was designed to help the struggling auto industry, that money was guzzled up way before the fall time frame.
With the number of dealers participating, if each completed just a dozen "Cash for Clunkers" deals, the $1 billion would be spent. And some dealers have initiated more like 250 "Cash for Clunkers" deals -- 20 times what the government was expecting.
"It was the right idea, but it was the cart before the horse," Scott Addison of Fitzgerald Auto Mall in Gaithersburg, Md., told ABC News' Elisabeth Leamy. Addison's sales staff was rushing to process "Cash for Clunkers" transactions before the government slammed the brakes on the program.
On Thursday evening, the Department of Transportation told lawmakers it was suspending the "Cash for Clunkers" program at the stroke of midnight. But then later the White House said it was still working to find other options.
"We are working tonight to assess the situation facing what is obviously an incredibly popular program," Gibbs said of what officially is called the Car Allowance Rebate System. "Auto dealers and consumers should have confidence that all valid car transactions that have taken place to date will be honored."
The official Web site http://www.cars.gov showed there was still $779 million left -- clearly not the case. Even "Cash for Clunkers" commercials are still running for a number of automakers.
Part of the problem? The government Web site dealers must use to enter clunker deals is a clunker itself, sputtering and stalling.
The computer crashes have caused a backlog: as many as 25,000 transactions that dealers have made but the government hasn't yet officially approved.
"They think they've given out this much, but there's a line this long trying to get in the door," said Addison.
"It was too good of a deal to pass up," said Greg Burge, one of the estimated 250,000 consumers trying to take advantage of the program, which gives as much as $4,500 dollars for trading in a gas guzzler for a more efficient brand new vehicle.
"I was sort of afraid that all of the money would be gone before then, so when they called and said that it came in early I was really happy," said Greg's wife Lori Burge.
Here's how the "Cash for Clunkers" program works:
People who owned a car made in 1984 or later that got 18 miles to the gallon or less could qualify.
The car had to have been registered and insured over the past year, and it must have been able to start.
If applicants to the program traded their clunker for a car that got four more miles per gallon, the government gave them $3,500.
If the new car got 10 miles more per gallon, the person got $4,500.
People trading an SUV, minivan or small pickup only had to improve their mileage by 2 to 5 miles per gallon.