While it's clear that lots of folks have stopped buying new cars, the automakers are nevertheless still getting your money.

Tuesday, President Bush signed a bill into law that included $25 billion in low-interest loans for the big three Detroit-based car companies. Why not? Nearly everyone else is raising their palms skyward these days for a dose of the public's largesse.

The taxpayer loan to the Big Three is ostensibly being made to help them retool for the production of more fuel-efficient vehicles, including electric cars. But that's a difficult pill to swallow philosophically, given the steadily inept decision-making that's emanated from Michigan's largest city for years now.

Just one day after that bill was signed, the likes of Ford (NYSE:F), General Motors (NYSE:GM), and Toyota (NYSE:TM) reported the first month since January 1993 in which fewer than a million new cars were sold in the U.S.

When the September tally was in, Ford's sales had plummeted by 34%, Chrysler was only one percentage point better, and usually more stable Toyota slid by 32% in the month. At the same time, Honda (NYSE:HMC) was off 24%, while GM, which benefited from a special employee-rate sales incentive, was 16% lower than a year ago.

The major culprit, in addition to dwindling consumer confidence and higher gasoline prices, has been a tightening of lending requirements. Chrysler noted that many would-be buyers with credit scores that would have garnered loans last year are now being turned away.

In fact, the credit crunch that's now traveling down Main Street likely will make September's soft results for the automakers anything but an aberration. Both consumer and small business customers of banks such as JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) -- generally considered to be one of the nation's stronger lending institutions -- and San Antonio, Texas-based Cullen/Frost (NYSE:CFR) are having their borrowing ability reduced, or even withdrawn, with increasing frequency.  

Even in the face of their new funding, with fewer customers able to enter their showrooms and emerge with both a loan and a shiny new set of wheels, the car companies clearly are on a road that'll be both long and rough.

Of all the companies mentioned above, only Honda and Toyota have been adorned with four stars out of five by Motley Fool CAPS players. Do even those two deserve it? Head on over and let us know.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith owns a pair of Toyotas -- one of which he must share with his better half -- but doesn't have financial interests in any of the companies mentioned. JPMorgan is an Income Investor choice. He welcomes your comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.