A lot of folks think that auto auctions are the equivalent of a motorized candy store.
There are all these new, recent and popular models that are supposedly easy pickings for those with a dealer license. Pristine Wranglers. Accords and Camrys that you can simply spec and buy to your heart’s desire. And of course Lexus/BMW/Mercedes vehicles aplenty, all the luxury and sport you would ever desire for several thousand less than retail.
The truth is that the best rarely make it up to the auction line.
Franchised dealerships always have the first choice on the popular trade-ins and off-lease vehicles. These vehicles are liquidated online and at ‘closed’ sales where only those chosen new car dealers who sell that specific brand have the opportunity to bid and buy.
When they get finished buying up their inventory, everybody else can join in on what remains. This is where large independent dealer networks like Carmax and CarSmart step in to buy their inventory. They get the same shot as all the other independent dealers like yours truly, and although they have far deeper pockets like me, the access and opportunity is all the same.
This gets me around to the auction this morning. It was a fairly small deal, and I managed to get three vehicles at a sale that I usually buy in ones and twos.
The sale started off with a 2005 Ford Focus SE. 92,000 miles, automatic, white and clean. This was an inoperable vehicle because the dealer selling it had used it as a showroom floor model for nearly six years and now couldn’t get it to start.
Judging by the Carfax and Autocheck history, it looked like the vehicle had a good chance of running fine. So I bid it up to $2900 since vehicles like this represent a sweet spot for financing those who want a 30+ mpg gas sipper and an automatic. The majority of folks who come to the lot see this as an optimal combination. So I bid harder than usual, but got outbid at $3k.
The same outcome took place on a 2003 BMW 330i with 120k and an automatic. It had a blown head gasket, but the exterior and interior were kept in great shape.
However this one had been a ‘hot potato’ for nearly five years (several owners kept it for less than a year), and I was inclined to think that I would have to put in around $1500 to $2000 in order to get it front line ready. I bid $1900… a lady bid $2000… and I had officially clocked two ‘seconds’ with the first two vehicles sold.
My bidding did get a bit better in due time. The fourth vehicle out of the barn, a 1996 Nissan Sentra with 138k, in good shape, autonmatic, and power windows, was bought for $1600 (plus the auction fee). It was a cloudy day today, but silver compacts like this Sentra are easy vehicles to sell.
This was followed by a 1998 Toyota Corolla VE that had an ‘Engine Needs Service’ announcement. That one had some paint fade, but the engine was fine. Someone had mixed the Toyota red coolant with the generic green antifreeze and the result was a deceptive brown emulsion inside the radiator. I got that for $1200.
From this point forward I was either a ‘second’ or a spectator.
There was a 2004 Nissan 350Z Convertible that needed a new transmission. 87k, some scuffs here and there. That went for about $8000 if you include the auction fee.
A 1999 Chrysler Town & Country with leather, but manual doors, was showing 31,725 original miles and had a branded title. In Georgia, everything from a court order to a salvage vehicle requires a branded title. However salvage is always announced on the auction block no matter what. This one sold for $4000. A good price if you are able to self-finance older vehicles. Since minivans are the automotive version of leprosy these days, I tend to stay away from them.
One of the more interesting vehicles that came across the block was a 2011 BMW 128i Convertible with 114,902 miles.
That’s not a misprint. Someone apparently drove the wheels off of this car, although with an automatic and leather seats, it still got more than a few eyes. The 1-Series sold for close to $12,500 altogether.
A 2003 BMW M3 with nearly the same miles (107,600) sold for $12,600, about $500 more.
And on the opposite side of the desirability ledger, there was a 2000 Lincoln Town Car in an ugly shade of brown, dents and scuffs all over, a landau roof, and 121,365 miles. My camera decided to lose the battery charge at the exact moment I was going to take the picture, and that was only fitting. Since these days I can’t sell an old man’s V8 luxobarge to save my hide.
A few weeks ago I finally sold another, far better looking Y2k model Town Car Signature in burgundy that had been dealer maintained since day one. It took nearly five months to get that vehicle down the road, and it was as clean as a pin. This one was a rolling atrocity in comparison. It sold for a bit over $1200 and yes, all of what I told you still didn’t stop yours truly from becoming the second highest bidder for this car.
Finally, I struck gold in the form of a 1996 Mazda MX-5 Miata Raodster Eunos with a long, long list of modifications with the name Aizawa on them. The convertible top is brand new. The interior is immaculate and I’m inclined to keep it for at least a little while.
Everything checks out for now, and no, this will definitely be a cash sale. Nothing can test the Gods more than self-financing a heavily modified roadster; especially one that shows 113,000 miles I bought it for $3000 and will likely sell it for around $5000.
Anything can happen between the auction and the retail purchase. Research and a good eye for examining issues helps me even on the block, but I don’t get to drive these things and only get a day to arbitrate them for major powertrain issues. So, hopefully luck will be with me this time as well.