Most other programs pay for major repairs, though not for two years, as West Virginia Wheels promised.
In Maryland, Vehicles for Change provides a six-month warranty on cars it sells. New Hampshire's program provides much newer cars — some still have the manufacturer's warranty.
Also, low-income car program leaders were surprised by West Virginia's repossession rate. About one of every four Wheels participants had their car taken away, usually for missing payments.
By contrast, about one of 10 Vehicles for Change clients have their cars repossessed. Only 4 percent of New Hampshire Wheels participants default on car loans. No one has defaulted on the Seattle program's loans.
The out-of-state programs keep participants in cars through careful screening and financial management training.
The programs also tend to be much smaller than West Virginia's. One of the smallest, New Hampshire's program, gives away 25 cars a year. One of the largest, Vehicles for Change, provides about 400 cars annually.
Adams said it would be hard to operate any car program as big as West Virginia's.
"You're giving away cars to people who can't handle it," Adams said. "You're just looking at getting rid of the cars, not helping people."
Three years ago, the welfare rolls in West Virginia were cut dramatically, mostly because of tougher requirements.
As a result, state officials were sitting on a huge surplus of federal welfare money. If they didn't spend it quickly, they would have to return it.
West Virginia's welfare program tripled in size, almost overnight. State officials increased benefits and started new programs like Wheels-to-Work.
If welfare car programs are drawn up too quickly, it's a recipe for problems, Crane said.
Crane's group spent two years designing their program. The planning included two public hearings, meetings with employment, education and welfare experts, and a study of different Wheels-to-Work programs nationwide.
West Virginia officials quietly decided to scrap the Wheels-to-Work program last summer and replace it with a scaled-down donated car program.
Human Resources Development Foundation won the $1 million grant, despite its history with the failed lease program.
Now, two months into the new program, Foundation officials say bad publicity is keeping them from getting the car donations they need. As of last week, the agency hadn't distributed any of the 60 cars it promised by the end of December, according to a Foundation Director Homer Kincaid.
Schwartz said if state officials continue having trouble, they should call him.
"For $1 million, I'll do 500 cars for them," he said.
To contact staff writers Scott Finn and Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 357-4323.