One day a couple of years ago a late ’90’s Audi A6 Quattro appeared in my neighbor’s driveway. It intrigued me, having been an Audi fan from way back. Then a few weeks later, it was joined by another one. Hmm. And a few weeks after that, yet another one! Suddenly it was like 1999 again at an Audi dealer, what was going on over there?
So the next time their garage was open and I was mowing my lawn I decided to pop on over and introduce myself and find out. It turns out that my neighbor’s two kids, one in high school, and the other just starting college, had decided to spend about $600 on a 1999 Audi A6 that had a few issues and warning lights illuminated, but it drove fine in general. That was the blue one. Then they stumbled across another one and bought that one as well, but it was a little different, being a 2.7l V6 twin turbo model. That was the gold one. And then the third, again a normally aspirated V6 like the blue one, was pearl white and joined the party too.
These two young men started to do some research online, figured out what was ailing the cars, and slowly started fixing them. Some needed more “fixing” than others, but they started by cleaning them thoroughly, including removing the seats, steam cleaning the carpets, and getting every nook and cranny inside spotless. They ordered some parts on ebay to replace broken plastic parts, and found other and larger items at Denver-area junkyards.
This gold one had an electrical issue that would sound the alarm at random times but only for a minute or so, however it would also lower all the windows at the same time. That’s about as anti-theft as a Rottweiler rolling over and wanting you to pat its belly and hardly desired during our afternoon storm season. But, eventually, they figured it out. I’m not sure how they fixed it exactly but it did stop being so alarming.
The pearl white one had a badly dented door among other maladies, so they found another one in the correct color and swapped them out. Obviously this was far cheaper than using a body shop. On every car they went through the whole thing and replaced brake pads as needed, tires, fluids, and solved whatever codes were being thrown.
And, most important to me and the rest of the neighbors, they never once left a car outside overnight that was on stands or disassembled or with parts strewn about. Anything that required a longer repair than could be done in one day was done in the garage while the other cars were neatly parked. Every now and then they’d pop over and ask if I had a tool that they could borrow and always returned it promptly. My jack stands stayed over there for a while after I saw them working with mainly floor jacks. They’ve since invested in their own stands and recently even a two-post lift!
Anyway, then they started to sell them just by parking them with For Sale signs and advertising on Craigslist. After a few more weeks, they had sold them all for several thousand each and went looking for more patients.
Since then, just off the top of my head they’ve turned over a VW Beetle Turbo, a couple of Subaru Outbacks (2006 and 2010), an early Audi Q7 3.6, a 2005 Audi S4, and several others of various manufacturers. Subaru, Audi, and VW are pretty popular around here so they “specialize” in those but started to go a little more upmarket as their cash pile grew.
However, their most recent find is a 2012 Honda Accord as they realized that not as many people will quickly buy a used German car in the high four or low five figures. This one came back from New York, a one-owner car with over 120,000 miles on it that has a few needs and was very underpriced compared to what they could find here.
For some of the last few cars they have been deciding to fly to distant locales such as Florida, New York and California to search out a good prospect. Once found, they would drive it back Cannonball-style without stops and just switching off every few hours. When you’re young and have minimal bills and overhead and are very motivated, this works. They younger one getting his driver’s license helped a lot too. He’s probably driven far more miles now than anyone else in his class.
Basically they identify prospects on the internet, ideally more than one in a location, then find a dirt-cheap plane ticket and Uber to wherever the car is; it helps when it’s near where relatives live to stay with for a couple of days if/as needed. Sometimes it works out immediately, sometimes the car is worse than they figured and they regroup and find something else to come home in and work on.
Since Colorado limits the number of cars you can sell as a private individual per year (as do many if not most states), they are now looking into getting their dealer’s licenses and searching for a small shop and repair space for as cheap as possible. But for all those people that say no young people are into cars anymore, well, these two guys would prove that wrong. They live, breathe, and eat cars and know everything about them, as well as working on cars that are as often as old if not older than them and tech-laden cars at that. And what they don’t know, they figure out, the laptop is as important and useful a tool as a 10mm wrench.
I’m sure they’ll be successful at this in the long run if they want to keep at it as they are being careful about not getting in too deep, and so far seem to be buying right (i.e. being very picky about what to buy for very little money) as well as not skimping on the tedious but important things such as cleaning the interiors very thoroughly. I mean I’ve “cleaned” my cars but I have never removed the seats to do so, that’s just part of their procedure. I still drive by there every once in a while since we moved and when they’re outside with an unfamiliar car, stop to chat. Who knows, one day I may even be in the market for something they’re selling, I could do (and have done) a lot worse!
I do salute these enterprising young men. I’ve often wondered where all those young guys went. It’s a good point that they keep the drive way clear of long term projects, that will contribute to the goodwill of the neighbors.
Good for them! And if they can figure out how to cure some mysterious electrical malady like the alarm issue, they’re already doing better than a good chunk of mechanics out there.
“Laptop as useful as a 10mm wrench”. Hah! And harder to misplace (slightly incorrect reference to ubiquitous memes about 10mm sockets).
Local ordnances may prohibit opening a used car dealer, or may require rezoning. Also, local used car dealers may file a protest if its too close to their lots.
Most states limit private sales to 5/year. With the three guys, that would be 15/year. Might not be worth pursing a dealer license.
Yeah there are of course laws against doing such a thing in a residential zone in most areas. Heck many municipalities have limits on how many vehicles you can park outside of buildings in residential areas.
In my state, the last I checked it was 4 per year. Then to get the dealer’s license there is bonding, minimum display lot sizes, office hour requirements in addition to the general business licensing requirements.
We have a 7 car limit per annum selling cars without a dealers licence, there are ways around it though, I havent sold any cars in the last 12 months it appears I’m now rehabilitated and while getting mail from the box last week I saw the Sentra I sold drive past still running fine, another happy buyer.
I do see Audis for sale cheap with problems noted, BMWs are another upscale brand with little value when the problems start, Citroens too sell for little with problems and when mine does die I’ll get another with less mileage fix it and just drive it. Warning lights scare people off its great as these young guys have found nothing is unfixable, google is your friend..
Young capitalists – great!
I hope they can defy busy-body neighbors and intrusive government by finding a smart way to discreetly carry on their enterprise.
The story and comments present an interesting contrast between the hope of creative entrepreneurs and the discouraging impediment of government regulation and taxation.
All those rules wouldn’t be necessary if everyone had courtesy for others and/or some class.
Unincorporated Calumet Township (Indiana) where I grew up, is between Gary and Griffith. It’s sort of an in-between where you can mostly do whatever you want.
If there are rules, they aren’t enforced and no one cares.
This is appealing in a lot of ways. You can burn your own leaves, do whatever you want with your property, that kind of stuff. A house where an acquaintance grew up is now occupied by only his elderly mother.
The neighbors/people across the street, about 6-12 people who may or may not be related, have spent the last ten years personalizing their property.
They have 4 cars, some on blocks, in the front and back yards. Plus several more than may run. Or not. They have a horse. Lives in a lien-to in the front yard. The front yard is just mud. They have several kinds of sports nets, a few portable basketball hoops, a lot of working and non-working Power Wheels cars for the many shirtless kids who hang out there and play in the mud.
They bought the property across the street, because they could. They took their customization skills to that area too. They set up some sort of a big stand out of plywood, and have parties there all the time with acquantances who share similar interests such as mud, beer, shirtless kids in pullups, petting the horse, mud, beer, loudness, prison tats, mud, loudness and a proud expression of their general badassery. They are proud enthusiasts of loudness, especially when celebrating a sports event or if there was no sports events that day. Or if the mud is extra gooey. Or not. They are happy people enjoying their regulation-free lifestyle.
They fly various flags, including the US flag and a flag that people shooting at the people carrying the US flag carried. It’s nice they are so open-minded about those issues I guess.
Sometimes they customize parts of my acquaintance’s mom’s fence as part of their celebratory experiences. They use their cars as their tools of expression. Its nice that they share their alcohol/other based artistic impressions with the fence. Sometimes a big rain comes, and it looks like Woodstock-y without the need for musicians and porta potties. I haven’t been there for a few years, so by now they may have a porta potty set up for the kids who have outgrown their pullups.
These people are enjoying their freedom unencumbered by unnecessary rules and regulations and nothing stops them from their liberty-based intellectual pursuits.
I should drive down there and check out the old ‘hood. But it’s on a dead end street and I just washed the car.
This post is amazing.
My only contact with that part of the country is a friend of mine who moved from Chicago to Griffith, and I’ve visited him… seems like some of the best parts of small town America, nice houses that aren’t ostentatious or McMansiony, decent neighbors, nice place for him to raise his daughter.
I also know some folks from Miller Beach and that seems like a pretty nice area as well.
Amazing the contrast not that far away.
Griffith is nice. I’m technically in Gary but literally across the street from Griffith. Even Gary has some very nice quiet sections that people aren’t aware of. More like the Northside neighborhoods of Chicago. I was surprised when I found these areas by accident when zig-zagging on side streets, around trains and highway traffic when coming home once.
The crazy place I described does actually exist and I really didn’t even exagerrate it, but it is an extreme example and certainly not the norm.
I once asked the man whose mother lives there in that “Children Of The Corn” style place why she doesn’t move, or why he doesn’t take her out of there. Apparently she is extremely frugal and has a half-million dollars in the bank from a lifetime of saving and working. And no one is brave enough to approach the scary people about not bumping into her fence. But I imagine her house is worth nothing because of what she’s surrounded by, which is too bad, because it wasn’t like that when I was a kid. I mean, it was a little rough but not like is now.
That area is covered by both the Lake County police and Gary police. I’ve seen both agencies responding to something or other there over the years. Neither department wants to do it, but they’re kind of stuck doing it.
Gary has bigger problems and not enough cops, so if no one’s being murdered they really don’t bother doing much there.
Griffith recently got themselves out of some deal with Gary and Merrillville regarding their taxes going to that unincorporated area I described. I can’t blame them. They’ve been paying into Calumet Township for decades and getting nothing out of it.
My whole point of the story was to explain why some rules and regulations are necessary for the protection of all. I get nervous when people want to get rid of too many laws, and why some government interference is necessary (if inconvenient) or a few people can turn your neighborhood into a living hell.
My original comment was going to be complimenting those guys on flipping the Audis. I like when people do that kind of thing. I wish I had the skills to do it myself. Audis in particular are, to me, some of the prettiest cars on the road. They’re making more good ones available for people to buy and making a good profit from it. Wins for everybody.
As my comment morphed into whatever it became, I had to edit out the other stuff because it became too long. Which it did anyways. That was one that I was really hoping wouldn’t get lost upon saving it!
TheMann, I appreciate the comments quite a bit- I agree there should be some regulations lest you get basically the next season of Cops next door. I’ll have to ask my buddy about the Griffith tax situation.
My mother is kind of in the opposite situation- the area was a little rough but actually has been on a bit of an upswing. She’s not going to cash out when they put a Starbucks on the corner or anything, but at least it’s a decent area.
Anyway, I’ll raise my glass to my neighbor to the east. 🙂
It’s better for everyone in the long run to fix them instead of scrapping them.
A hearty midwestern salute to these guys! Who may be the only people ever to find a way to economically own an older Audi. 🙂
Seriously, I admire guys like this who can find a car that someone just wants rid of, fixes its flaws and makes it something that someone else would want. Which is the opposite of the way most people own a car (start with something people want, don’t fix its flaws, and eventually want to be rid of it.)
Very nice, these two guys are on the right track. And they must have good neighbors as well.
One of my co-workers sons had an Audi AllRoad passed down to him, there was a lot of laptop work required to set it right. He even had to buy a new ECU computer and send it to some guy to be reprogrammed for his car.
Cheers to hard working, considerate and ambitious young men!!
At a slower clip, I did a similar thing over the last 3 years before we had our kiddo. Initially sold my practical commuter 2012 Civic that was simply boring me to tears. Then scooped up a 2000 Maxima that needed some new struts and some body work and paint, drove for a while then sold for a minor profit. I learned to be more discerning in my beater purchases after this one. Next was a 1996 Lexus ES300, long term owned car in mostly good shape, threw some camry steelies out of the junkyard and cheap Firestone snow tires, invested in a t-belt job at my brothers which frankly wiped out any margin on this car, but I drove it every day for 6 months and it was a fantastic commuter and winter beater. Sold the following spring during tax return season for more than asking. Following that was a ’97 Ranger, this one I used a lot for landscaping projects and built a brick patio with it. Also was deep in the red on this one as I outsourced a bunch of repairs to my brother, about $1k down overall, but hey I used the hell out of it and drove it every day to work. Next was a ’03 Pilot for $500 by way of a coworker. Was an immaculate one owner car, except for a spot of structural rust by the rear subframe that spooked him into selling it. No Honda dealer would touch a repair like that. Found a welder on craigslist who did an incredible job for $500. Replaced the struts and brakes and a control arm, drove it through the winter, sold for $5000. Then came another Ranger for gardening season, a ’94 in much better mechanical shape and a much less rusty frame than the ’97, but worse cosmetically. I had a hell of a time selling it due to the plethora of dents and dings, but still managed to turn a minor profit. Finally there was a ’01 Audi A4 Quattro 2.8. Black, stick shift, rebuilt somewhat shoddily by Russian Baptists some years ago after a good front end hit. Drove it all summer and fall into the winter, mostly did some minimal-cost but effective detailing and cosmetic touch-ups. I did spent about $300 to get some used OEM alloy wheels and a new set of snow tires (on fire-sale at Pep boys), so that wiped out most of my already thin margin, but it was an incredible tank in the snow and utterly confident as a all-weather winter commuter. Waited until a really big snow storm and listed it on craigslist, sold it for my asking price of $2700 with a rebuilt title, not bad!
These guys I’m sure do better on their profits, I was buying cars to drive and use, and my goal was mostly to “drive for free” than to make a windfall profit, although I did quite well on that Pilot.
I’m considering writing these up as COALs sometime if there is interest.
“I’m considering writing these up as COALs sometime if there is interest.”
There is interest! Let me know if I can help.
Yes, bring on the COALs!
I love your comments, gtem. Please keep the content coming!