I have never bought a car at auction up to this point, which strikes me as an oversight on any car enthusiast’s bucket list that should checked off sooner or later. I also had an empty garage, so when a friend gave me the heads up on an auction I was both eager and in a position to bid. Initially my plan was to snag myself both a daily driver and a project vehicle for over the winter. But importantly I did not want to win more than that, as I would not be popular at home winning too many vehicles. As these things often go, it did not completely go as planned, but let’s have a look at the contenders for my bargain seeking dollars.
The auction was actually in two different physical locations but held online. The first was a used car lot that had lost their space (top photo) and was liquidating their stock. This was actually the same car lot that my son had bought his Pontiac Fiero from a few months back. These were mostly running and driving vehicles that had a few small needs, with a couple project cars as well. The second location (above) was from the owner of the local self serve scrapyard. I suspect these were vehicles that he had saved from going into the yard over the years. These were mostly projects with a few potential drivers in the mix.
The auction process had bidding open on all vehicles for a couple of weeks online only. Inspection was possible in person, which certainly seemed like a good idea. The bidding really did not get much movement until the last few hours however, which made judging the final price tough.
On the potential daily driver side of equation, my first thought was this 2003 Acura RSX coupe. I had recently and somewhat reluctantly sold my 2004 Acura TSX so it seemed odd to be looking at another Acura that was only one letter different. Despite this, the RSX was smaller and perhaps a little sportier. Certainly it would be cheaper than what I sold the TSX for. The Acura had been sitting for quite a few years with an unrealistically high asking price and as a result the battery was dead, being unable to hold a charge. Additionally the winter tires on it had dry rotted out and would need replaced right away. So dry rotted, any drive at speed would be a white knuckle affair. It did, however, start up with a boost and appear to run, as well as shift into first and reverse well.
The driver’s seat had a split seam but the rest of the interior appeared solid but in need of a clean. Any previously smoked in cars were a deal breaker for me, but luckily this one had not suffered that fate. As a bonus it had a five speed manual gearbox, which would make it ideal for any ice racing and auto-x events that I managed to attend.
As a more out there pick I also really liked this 1995 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. I have never really piloted a big, boat-ish car on a daily basis (the 1961 Pontiac Laurentian was really only driven a few times) and gas is reasonably cheap during these COVID-19 times. While it did not have super low mileage, it was in fantastic condition and had obviously been well taken care of. The lot owner explained that he had obtained it from an estate sale along with a 1974 Ford Ranchero which was not included in the sale. Oddly it had cloth rather than leather seats, but could be daily driven with no additional work required. On the downside its value on the auto-x course would be limited to humor only.
Being a 1995 model it was equipped with the Corvette derived LT-1 V8 engine which ran extremely well.
I briefly considered this 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser, as it had low mileage and appeared to be in excellent condition. Unlike a lot of car enthusiasts, I do not understand the hate for the PT Cruiser. It is an interestingly styled vehicle based on common mechanical bits to make the running costs reasonable. In non-turbocharged form it has no real sporting intentions but not everything has to. I had previously owned a Chrysler Neon, which had been bulletproof so it was tempting from the perspective of a cheap daily driver that happened to be a convertible large enough for the family. Additionally our youngest son would soon be of age to obtain a learner’s permit and starting on an automatic transmission would certainly flatten that learning curve. On closer investigation we were advised not to attempt to lower the top as it had some aliment. Additionally three out of the four windows did not work either. Still if it went cheap enough, I could be interested.
This one probably blurs the line a bit between project and driver but I did find this 1992 Geo Storm at the other lot to be quite tempting. These, especially with the base engine, are not particularly quick, but are decent looking and not often seen these days. I seem to enjoy small, uncomplicated cars such as these.
The interior was complete and it did not look to be mucked with by a previously owner. On the plus side, it was very clean, but on the negative side it did have a cracked windshield which might prove challenging to replace.
Later I recalled I had seen a black Storm a few years ago and sure enough I had this single photo of it from 2016. This led me to wonder why had it ended up (presumably) being sent to the scrapyard. A snapped timing belt seemed to be a likely explanation given the lack of major body damage or other obvious issues. Being an interference engine design, this could make it a bigger repair than I wanted to enter into for a daily driver. I suspect they would frown on me popping off the cam cover so I reluctantly struck this one off the list.
I considered this 2007 Honda Civic coupe briefly as well due to its manual transmission. Very oddly a previous owner had painted the front bumper, making it look like a cheaply repaired accident victim, but the stock paint appeared to be intact underneath that black. It vaguely smelled smoked-in to me so it was crossed off the list. Apparently I did not even take a photo of it so this one from the auction house will have to suffice. There was also a 2004 Honda Civic sedan with a five speed manual and low mileage but it was too close in color and concept to our Great Beater Challenge Civic from a few years ago.
My priority of bidding in the driver category was as follows: 1995 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, 2003 Acura RSX coupe, 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser … then who knows. In the next installment we will take a look at the selection of projects under consideration.
CC Goes to the Auction: Part One – Daily Drive Fodder
CC Goes to the Auction: Part Two – Potential Projects
CC Goes to the Auction: Part Three – The Others
CC Goes to the Auction: Part Four – The Purchase
CC Goes to the Auction: Part Five – 1992 Ford Mustang LX Budget Makeover
All interesting choices. I knew a guy who had an RSX and liked it a lot. And the Cadillac – if not now, when? Finally, I have always harbored a secret yen for the Geo Storm. These always seemed like nicely little turned out sporty coupes, and the stick shift would push it over the edge for me. But you are right that a windshield is an expense that is best to avoid on a cheap car.
I will be sitting on the edge of my seat.
The three manual transmission 3-doors catch my eye. Obviously, the RSX is most appealing, price notwithstanding. The Geo is a nice little reminder of the past. Look at how simple and airy it is. Also note the condition of the driver seat compared to the Acura, despite being 12 years older. This is why I’d rather have cloth. I don’t think the smoke smell would dissuade me from the Civic if it was as minor as it sounds, but I do wonder about the care and judgment of any owner who paints a front bumper like that.
I wouldn’t scoff at a PT Cruiser 5-door, but the convertibles are irredeemably dorky to me. There’s a reason it was Michael Scott’s company car for several seasons on The Office, which just dog-piled upon the poor thing’s reputation.
My wife is super sensitive to smoke smells. Not that she every goes in my cars so not sure why I worry about it.
I’ve only ever bought 2 cars at auction, when I had my side gig parting out Volvo 240s. One was at an impound auction ($45!) and the other was at an estate auction ($100).
I keep going to the Clark County Municipal Auction, hoping for one of the fabled $2500 ex-cop Crown Vics, but every time I go, any Panther that isn’t a wreck sells for $5-7K!!
Holy crap Panther prices have been climbing but around here the best ones don’t even reach $5k. $2500 is about average around here though I remember when you could buy them all day long for $1500.
My oldest is soon to be 16 and I was shopping PT Cruisers. These Grandpa rides are getting dumped quickly and some of them look pretty good. The student parking lot has many and the high school kids don’t have the hate for the PT that their parents have. The PT to high school kids is just a weird looking car. I didn’t want to get a PT for my oldest and then discover that it was seen as a socially retarded thing to drive – but NO, they aren’t.
I just couldn’t find a PT that suggested that it was worth what it was being offered for.
The Japanese cars are all overpriced. They are high mileage vehicles, or they are Nissan cars with crappy transmissions. Or Mitsubishi cars that fell apart. I saw a few Scion cars that were obscenely priced. Japanese cars are just not a great value, in my opinion.
So, what are teens driving? Fusions. Lots of them. Hyundai. Lots of them. And Kia. Boys are driving Dodge Avengers. There is a plethora of cheap VWs; stripper Jettas and Passats. They all want pick ups, but can’t afford them. Moms are putting their daughters in road-worthy SUVs. In about a decade this generation is not going to want an SUV, having had grown up in them, and forced to drive them as first cars – that’s my prediction. There are a lot of crappy high mileage Toyotas in that high school parking lot too.
The worse part of a PT Cruiser to me is the very poor engine access.
My teenagers are probably not typical but they have a 1985 Pontiac Fiero and a higher mileage 2010 Mazda 3 hatchback.
I suspect you are correct on the SUV thing. They will be the minivan of the current 30-50 range who must want anything but.
Which means GM & Ford are about 10 years from cratering as they won’t be offering _anything_ the young and hopefully upwardly mobile will want. They will either rush a slapdash adaptation of a ‘sedan’ back from the CUV that was adapted from a sedan in 2019 into production or bring something from Europe and, as usual, they will be failures. Hell, I don’t see anything on the Ford lot I want new _now_ other than the Fusion, and they’ve stopped making them.
Toyota and Hyundai will be doing well in 2030, I suspect.
There are likely some very good reasons why I won’t be able to ever replicate my recent PT Cruiser post with anything that has a Toyota badge on it.
Those “crappy” high-mileage Toyotas didn’t get to be high-mileage by being crappy. And most of those Toyotas are likely made in the US which I believe is important to you. The PT isn’t and didn’t stop its maker from going bankrupt even after selling literally a million of them here.
The PT cruisers are not awful the 2.4 and auto transmission are fine, the issue is access. The timing belt is awful to change in these (locally indie shops charge 1000-1200 to change one do to access issues) that’s a death sentence for a cheap car. Many just get run until it breaks. There are also some electrical gremlins but usually not fatal.
An outdoor auction – that’s a novelty for me . In my auction buying days in the Eighties here in the UK they were always in dimly lit, exhaust smoke filled sheds packed with dour,tough looking men muttering into enormous mobile phones.A car would drive through every minute and you had to have your wits about you.
I ‘m told it’s a much more pleasant experience nowadays
I drove the absolute snot out of a similar Civic for well over a decade. It’s a great car to drive like you stole, while needing nearly nothing in return. Those little 1.8 motors are great and have a timing chain.
I believe it only died when the water pump impeller turned into a flat circle and I foolishly thought I could limp it home.
I’m hoping you brought home the Caddy, as was mentioned above if not now when?
I’ve bought several cars as auctions, both online and in person.
In person you can at least size up your opponents and if it is a periodic gov’t auction you can get to know who the dealers are and spot the first timers that will over pay. You also get to judge how popular the vehicle(s) you are interested in with the other buyers.
Online depends a lot on how it is run. My state has a continuous auction with auctions going live and ending every day. You can go and preview, start them up and put them in gear, which also gives you insight on what will be coming up soon.
Other places do the big lots which can get you a deal when there are a lot of the same vehicle, but it also a pain when there are a number of prospects that are equally interesting and they are all closing at the same time.
My pickups were purchased at auction, one from my state online and one live from an auction yard that does gov’t, new car dealer trade in and general consignment once per month, it was an ex-county truck.
My van was from my local county and I got out well before the hammer fell. It went to a dealer who sold it to the person I bought it from. She had tried to use it as a mobile dog grooming business and the amount of hair and dog smell allowed my to buy it for less than my highest bid at the auction the year before.
My only auto auction purchase was the ‘63 VW sedan I won on eBay for $600. It had showed up in a yard sale (!) just a few miles from our former farm and when I stopped and asked, they said they were selling it for the owner, who had lost interest in fixing it up, and who also had it listed online. Went home, found the listing and put in my lowball offer – and won. Towed it home with a rope and it’s now one of my retirement projects (as long-time readers are probably well aware).
I think the Cadillac would be lots of fun, but only initially. Especially if you have to parallel park or deal with crowded parking lots. My pick would probably be the Acura RSX, but then I’d have kept the TSX with its close-ratio six-speed.
I too bought my 63 VW on eBay but that’s it.
I may need also need another vehicle soon, if required by my son’s accounting co-op term. RSXs are great cars, but around here they are either rusty, expensive, heavily modded or all of the above.
Looking forward to seeing the project selection!
In terms of general durability/reliability and daily driver, you really cannot go wrong with the Cadillac. These things are dumb and largely made out of cast iron with cast iron durability. Whatever might be the matter with it is likely to be a simple, cheap fix especially if the engine runs well and it was cares for like you say. It sounds like if the top won’t go down and three windows don’t work the pt cruiser had a hard life and ended up dying from neglect, if not some expensive issue, and it could be annoying to fix every one of its semi minor issues and then you’d have a car which isn’t worth very much. The biggest problem for me with the pt cruiser was that it has a really cheap interior. An acura is likely to have been thrashed and where are you going to find parts for a likely equally thrashed geo storm?
The Cadillac is a great highway cruiser but not so good in the city. I have always been a small car guy, but I rented these a couple of times in the nineties. Both times 4 of us were going for a weekend about a 12 hour drive away, and none of us had a car that would carry all of us and our luggage. At that time you could rent a Cadillac with unlimited mileage at a reasonable price. The story was that the were mostly used for weddings, so they never accumulated many miles. Anyway, they were great on the highway and got good fuel economy, but as soon as you got into town you could almost see the gas gauge drop. As far as I know they have good reliability.
Very neat — I’m looking forward to reading the next installment. As I was reading this one, I found myself rooting for the Geo Storm — to bad that one couldn’t work out. I’ve always liked them; at least when they’re not yellow.
I have a suspicion that the Cadillac will sell for more than it’s really worth.
I really wanted the Storm as well. The potential down side would be having the scrap it. I can’t image an engine would easy to source locally.
I haven’t seen a Geo Storm in forever. Can’t say I’d be interested in it, but I know it’s a rebadged Isuzu, but I just can’t remember their model name for it. Having owned two Isuzu pickups, a ‘83 and a ‘95, I’ve got to say Isuzu did produce some dependable cars and trucks, even if they were kind of “tinny”, even by Japanese standards.
The Cadillac is my first choice. I don’t understand the aversion to large personal vehicles. I can whip a full-size pickup anywhere around town, even through parking lots and garages, even towing an eight foot wide tandem axle utility trailer. No problem’o.
Very fun! I used to attend a few auto auctions decades ago but never bought there. This one seems very low-key and relaxed. I hope you get something you like, there look to be several interesting options!
I’m a small-car guy too but the “if not now, when?” argument for the Caddy is winning me over. It’s the sort of car you can clean up a bit, drive as long as you want and then flip for a profit when you get bored of it.
Take the Caddy, leave the Impulse
Caddy is the top pick for me as well.