A Day At The Auto Auction : Thousand Of Used Cars… And Three Good Ones

By on January 23, 2018

If it has four wheels and an engine chances are it will wind up here.

A wholesale auto auction. Millions of vehicles that are traded-in, leased, rented and repossessed will find their way to a free market that’s usually the size of about thirty football fields.

It’s capitalism incarnate. The highest bidder becomes the next owner in the hope that their automotive investment will eventually turn into a profit. Some do, many don’t. It’s not all rainbows and easy money for buyers who have to deal with reset check engine lights, pulled fuses, and auctioneers whose sole purpose is to maximize the selling price for whatever ends up on the auction block.

Money doesn’t always promote ambition though. Sometimes you’ll find that laziness rules above all else. In fact,  it’s amazing what cheap ass shortcuts you’ll find some sellers do on vehicles that once were worth all the money in the world.

Take this hauler for instance. This 2008 Dodge Ram QuadCab with a Cummins Diesel was worth well over $60,000 when new, and at 200,000 miles this one should have plenty of life left in it. It’s still worth about $13,000 wholesale in reasonably decent condition.

Unfortunately when certain dealerships become too big, their quality control on their trade-ins becomes as sloppy as a wore out mop.

Rather than stitching up the seat and putting in foam. the dealer of this particular unit decided that koozies could be the fabric of champions. I found six of them covering up that fist-sized hole on the driver’s seat.

The auto auctions also have to deal with thousands of vehicles and sometimes that results in mileage calculations that are a little bit off. This older-than-dirt 1987 GMC Rally STX van actually has 51,188 miles.  Many vehicles that were made during the Reagan Era had 5-digit odometers.

What looks like 511,882 is actually 51, 188.2 with the last digit showing the tenths of a mile. By the way, this sticker reads as Lane 45, Run Number 96, with that bar code offering easy access to the Carfax history. By the way, this one had no accident history and only spent 17 years in the rust belt.

Any auction vehicle that is 30 years old will have a unique… smell. Old sweat, mothballs, and milldew.  If you have ever smelled the inside of a car at a junkyard, you’ll be intimately familiar with the aroma. The fellow who owned this one already had a can of deodorizer on the ready.

I decided to call this one ‘Spotty’. It was part Malaise Era, part bondo, and the wheels alone would have been worth my $500 price limit.

Nothing says, “I don’t give a fuck!” quite like a full-sized van from the 1980s. The wood on the center console comes straight out of a high school woodworking shop, and then there is the true blue velour cloth icing on the eight mile per gallon cake.

You could sleep in here if you held your nose. Shove a couple of mesh coolers into those wooden storage cabinets and you could probably find a nice shaded area ‘down by the river’  where you could tune out all of life and enjoy the solitude.

The headliner was virtually brand new. Damn it! I really wanted this thing! Unfortunately somebody made off with the keys and I never got to bid on it. Two other cars were crossed off from my list for the exact same reason.

You also can get your share of weird 1980s flashbacks. This 3000GT had graphics that look like they came straight out of a vintage arcade.

It had less than 100,000 miles on it if you can believe it. It went through Lane 44 and was run number 51.

This was a rolling albatross. But if you peered inside you got an even bigger surprise.

To write “Will not start” on any car is effectively slashing its value in half. Thankfully this one sold for only $150 with a thick white cloud of smoke blanketing the auction as it was quickly ran through the block.

I ended up getting this car today. A 2007 Lexus GS350 with all-wheel-drive and just over 170,000 miles. I got it for $4100 plus a $165 auction fee.

If I were to drive around in one car for an entire year, or have someone drive me, this one would likely be it. The depreciation won’t be that bad. The seats are fantastic. The sound system is world class even by today’s standards and, it’s an old-school Lexus. Back when the brand was proud of its luxury car roots.

How can you not love that wood? As a 45-year-old, I just can’t get over how great slabs of burled walnut, maple, and mahogany have been largely replaced with vinyl, satin nickel, and plastics.

You can earn an awful lot of money in the car business by making a cheaper product resemble a better one. By the way, this one will probably list for $6995 within a week. Right after I replace the tires and the alternator. At that point I’ll probably have close to $5000 in it.



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