Have you ever bought a car that was cheaper than dirt?
I’m not talking about a $2000 Shoney’s special that was owned by an elder statesmen or grand-mama. I’m talking cheap. As in cheaper than a Vegas wedding with a fake Elvis and a bottle of leftover hooch from the last couple that got hitched.
$500. $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!” 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 the 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 much. Almost every one of these vehicles was worth more dead than alive and the final bid prices reflected it. $100 here. $200 there. Untold numbers of Lebarons, Celebritys and Caravans. The amounts were like a P2P lending enterprise except what the buyers invested in was ‘dead metal’ that couldn’t walk away with your money as easily.
Some were parts cars. Others were ‘bankable’ crusher fodder. Junkyards and recyclers would have acres upon acres used just to plant an old car and wait for metal prices to go the way of the Chinese economy.
I would do the bid calling. Sometimes work the ring… and then one day, I bought.
A nearby Chevy dealer had decided to get rid of a 1993 Subaru Impreza. 4-cylinder. 4-speed shlushomatic. Oh, and the color of the paint? None. Nothing. Somebody had decided to remove all of the paint off the vehicle as well as the battery.
It had been a repo from a nearby mechanic’s shop and thanks to GMAC’s liberal financing terms at the time, the dealership had zero interest in putting any more money into it.
Thankfully so did the other dealers that day. $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. Do you think I can buy that Subaru for $25?”
I was afraid to ask. 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 (remember those days!). I checked the fluids. Started the vehicle. “HOLY>>> it ran!”
The good news was that it ran. The bad news was that it wouldn’t go anywhere. No matter how hard I pushed the shifter, I could not put the thing out of park. A thousand stressful thought 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 the engine sounded good.
I went to the Ultimate Subaru Message Board to divine an answer. Apparently the shift lock mechanism needed to be replaecd 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 though I already had ‘the auction bug’. No matter what I bought, 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 proceeded to take my $25 car and drive it 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?