Your Cheapest Car Ever
By March 5, 2020on
Have you ever bought a car that was cheaper than dirt?
I’m not talking about this $500 Ford Taurus I bought because I have a thing for 1990s TV shows. I’m talking cheap. As in cheaper than a Vegas wedding with a fake Elvis and a free six-pack of wine coolers from the last couple that got hitched.
$200? $100? Free? Negative amounts? Nothing is better than cheap!
Unless it’s also good.
Back in 2002 I was working at a nearby public auto auction that should have been given a bright red neon sign that read, “End Of The Line!” It was where cars came to die.
The cars were as rough as a worn out mop, and the dealers bordered between the usurious and the felonious.
Every Thursday night we went through the’ inoperable’ vehicles before having the regular sale. Attendance was ‘VERY’ optional with these inops. No more than ten dealers would go look at these vehicles and everyone bidding already knew each other. Prices for an inop car back then were about as much as a good cell phone is now.
They weren’t buying all that much. Almost every one of these vehicles was worth more dead than alive and the final bid prices reflected it. $100 here. $200 there.
Some were parts cars that could help keep other beaters on the road. Others were ‘bankable’ crusher fodder.
I would do the bid calling. Sometimes work the ring… and then one day, I bought.
A nine-year old Subaru that was way uglier than this one. I had to look deep under the hood to find its inner beauty.
A nearby Chevy dealer had decided to get rid of a 1993 Subaru Impreza. 4-cylinder. 4-speed slushomatic. Oh, and the color of the paint? None! Nothing. No paint. Somebody had decided to remove all of the paint off the vehicle as well as the battery and trade it in.
The dealership had zero interest in putting any more money into it. Subarus in the South during the 1990s were about as popular as lollipops at a dental convention.
Thankfully the other dealers didn’t bid. $200 went to $100… then fifty… fifty… fifty. NO SALE! On to the next car.
After the last inop vehicle was sold I went to the owner of the auction whose brother happened to own the Chevy dealership, “Hey! Jack! Do you think I can buy that Subaru for $25?”
I was afraid to ask because I was the auctioneer. Even if it was junk. But without a moments hesitation he said ‘Sure!’, and the sale was written up. Price $25. Tax $1.25. Buy fee $50. Total $76.25.
The next day I came by with a new battery for $30 (now they’re over $150!). I checked the fluids. Started the vehicle.
“HOLY frijoles! It ran!””
The good news was that it ran fine. Not even a check engine light. The bad news was that the poor car wouldn’t go anywhere. No matter how hard I tugged that automatic shifter, I could not get that shift lever out of park.
A thousand stressful thoughts poured into my novice head. Was the transmission or shift linkage bad? Do I need to give this thing a Fonzi kick? Well, at least that engine made nice revving sounds.
I went to the Ultimate Subaru Message Board to divine an answer. Apparently the shift lock mechanism needed to be replaced according to the Subaru faithful. I went back the next day with part in hand. Fixed it. Drove it. Perfect car!
By this time in my life I already had ‘the auction bug’.
No matter what I bought at an auto auction, especially since it was $1000 or less, I knew that it would be sold. So I cleaned it up a bit. Put it on Ebay and watched a painfully slow bidding process. The price was only in the $600 range until the very last day.
An hour left? $900. I sweated it for a while. Took a nice long walk. Came home and…
$1576. To a guy from California!
Two weeks later I was greeted by a Rally Coordinator from Subaru who drove my $25 car all the way back to Southern California. A few years later I checked on the Carfax history and sure enough, 50,000 miles later, it was still on the road.
That was the cheapest car I ever bought. What’s yours?