By on July 12, 2012

The volume at the last sale I went to yesterday was down be nearly a third. Apparently, the powers that be wanted to move some of their vehicles to another location and see whether that market would yield higher returns.

They could have saved themselves the tow fees and the hassle of it all. When I liquidated vehicles, it seemed like almost every major seller would try to do a ‘test’ of sorts. Chasing money. Chasing the wind, and chasing their own tail.

“Hey! Maybe an SUV with a leather interior would sell better in New Jersey than Charlotte?” The seller would be subjected to a few buyers who, at a unique moment in the prior sale, would create a pop in the prices. All it would genuinely take are two dealers who are short on inventory and long on cash reserves.

Enough coincidences of this unique sort, and the seller would think that this behavior represented a stronger market.

So off 20 or so of those vehicles would go. The auction would advertise a greater number of vehicles for that upcoming sale. A slightly larger audience would attend and….

It sometimes worked. At least for that sale. Then some other consignor would be highlighted in the next sale. Demand would normalize over the long run, and the tow fees would eat up the net proceeds.

This was more common back in the pre-Katrina days. Since late 2005 I haven’t seen that much of it. Transport costs have gone up and online bidding has served to improve the results for the unique and high demand vehicles.

I only bought one vehicle at yesterday’s sale. Nothing special. The 1999 Blazer pictured above with 150k miles and 4WD for $1915 (including the $115 fee).

There was a two year old base 2010 Scion xB with 28k, steel wheels and a stickshift, a repo in blue, that went for $10,000 even.

While a pretty looking 2005 Chrysler Crossfire, well kept, with about 80k miles went for $9500. Pretty usually beats out ugly, regardless of the brand. While a high traffic area like Atlanta values stickshifts about as much as Hollywood values a double chin.

There was also an amazing case of deja vu all over the again. Two 1993 Mercedes 600SL models went through two different sales from the same auction company. The first one was in red, with the removable hardtop, and had only 52k original miles. Gorgeous vehicle in exceptional condition. It went for about $8300 if you include the auction fee. The unloved sister, same car but with a typical retractable convertible top and 97k miles went for only $6100. Apparently someone had labeled the title ‘mileage exceeds mechanical limits’ way back around 1994 so maybe, perhaps, it had around twice the mileage of the scarlet red sister.

Finally, for the low mileage lovers, we had two of the most unloved cars of the prior decade sell for ‘all the money in the world’. The highly coveted 2005 Chevy Malibu Classic, with a scuff on the rear passenger door but only 38k miles went for $5200 (plus auction fee).

While a gold 2002 Mazda 626 with the 2.5 Liter V6 and 33k original miles went for $4800 (plus auction fee). As a tribute to the potential bang for the buck that the next buyer may will get if this Mazda gets driven until the wheels fall off, a 1997 Mazda 626 LX with nearly 297,000 miles and an automatic (probably the third or fourth one), went for all of $500.

That’s all for now. Oh, and if you are in the market for a car in the low to mid 2’s, the vehicles below were six of the first ten that got sold in the sale. Note that the prices don’t include the auction fee, transport, defects and recon costs.

2003 Honda Civic Hybrid, 191k, $2300 (worn IMA battery)

2000 Toyota Corolla CE, 156k, $2400 (front clip was replaced and a different shade of blue)

1999 Ford Explorer XLT, 152k, $2200 (paint fade and interior cosmetic issues)

2004 Chevy Impala, Base, 147k, Fleet Car, $2300 (scuffed, trashed and below average)

2002 PT Cruiser, 108k, branded title $2100 (just as bad as the Impala, but worse smell)

1998 Honda CR-V, 186k, frame damage $2300 (Christmas tree dash)

For all of you who want a cheap beater, I have three recommendations for you. Minivans, stickshifts and good friends. Find a deal that offers all three? Email me at steve . lang @ the truth about cars . com , all one word.

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38 Comments on “Auction Day: Trying To Catch A Wave...”

  • avatar

    Jesus. I think I’m going to drive my Protege5 down to Atlanta when it’s time to sell. Probably cover a hotel and the flight home with the extra money.

  • avatar

    “While a high traffic area like Atlanta values stickshifts about as much as Hollywood values a double chin”

    That’s gold.

  • avatar

    Yeah, I don’t think you can find a lot of minivans nowadays available with manual transmission. In fact, the only one I can think of is Mazda5.

    It’s rather interesting that people will buy American cars in such condition in Atlanta. Around here (Boston area) American cars are quite rare except for pickups and large SUVs.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s a Scion XB in the pic, not a TC, no? Hard to believe the stuff that dealers will pay $2K for – gag. But $8300 for a low-milage, pristine, V12(!) Mercedes roadster?!? I’d hit it for that price! Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

  • avatar

    Man the price on that Crossfire is usually the “Buy It Now” price on eBay for one with those stats. Those cars were impossible to sell when new also.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. I recall when the world was ending in the winter of 2008/9, dealers with these left on the lots were literally advertising them for 50% off. My family almost picked one up, brand new, for $18,5 simply because it was so cheap. We figured we could probably put a few thousand fair weather miles on it over a couple years and then sell it on for as much or more.

      • 0 avatar

        You may not have made money on the proposition, but I don’t think you would have lost much… esp when 80K examples are doing 10K a few years later. I wish I had the finances (and garage) to have picked up one of these new half-priced and toyed around with it for a few years. The only thing which would have worried me besides being an out-of-warranty Benz derived time bomb, would have been a lack of parts availability down the line… but if you get it cheap enough and say at 50K I’m just dumping it before stuff starts breaking, would be a nice purchase.

  • avatar

    Didn’t Mercedes have six digit odometers in 1993?

  • avatar

    “For all of you who want a cheap beater, I have three recommendations for you. Minivans, stickshifts and good friends.”

    Sound advice.

    While most of those (esp the Malibu Classic) prices are so high they are in the nosebleed section in the Superbowl, my favorite is the Crossfire. So an eight year old (built in 04 most likely) unpopular half Mercedes frankenstein’d roadster, with 80K no less, does almost 10K. I had a friend just last year trying unload his gunmetal grey 06 with less than 40K for 12… but an older oddball blue one with double the miles does almost 10. Love the auction.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    I wonder what the plain jane Malibu Classic and 626 will retail for. ~$5000 is a deal, but once a dealer marks them up, not so much.

    Your low-mid $2k list scares me, each and every one. The stink, the dents, the damaged title and the questionable ownership histories. I really hope I don’t have to ever shop at that price range.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      More than likely they will be financed.

      The low end is getting pretty atrocious these days. Where I would often see over a dozen candidates in a typical one hundred vehicle line-up back in 2008 and 2009, these days it’s usually only about two or three.

    • 0 avatar

      The Mazda didn’t surprise me as much as the Malibu. I could see the Malibu at $5999 and get 55 at retail but the wholesale was way too high for an ex-rental penalty box, miles aside… maybe at 35 or 4 tops given what it is. I suppose you’d have to list them both at least $6999, maybe the Mazda at $7999, and see if anyone bites.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    How do dead-brand cars fare? Pontiac, Olds, Suzuki . . . (Just kidding on Suzuki)

  • avatar

    A 186k mile 98 CRV with a tweaked frame & christmas tree sold for $2300? What are they smoking?

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Help me out here….Christmas tree?

  • avatar

    I knew an ambulance chaser that leased one of the first 600SLs. It was a six-figure car back when those were rare, and he paid plenty to have it sit in his garage under a cover while he drove a sedan that had room for his golf clubs and buddies. I thought it was nvts for him to pay for depreciation while the car sat, but apparently there was no smart way to own such a car. I suppose the point would have been to be seen in an expensive car that lost a few grand in value every month, but I never visited their house when it wasn’t in the garage and he wasn’t out in his other car. $8,300 for a good one? Did they have biodegradable wiring harnesses in 1993?

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Yep, that’s about the time the wire harness became a wear item.

    • 0 avatar

      The R129 SL will actually accomodate two sets of golf clubs with the top down, which is more than you can say for its successor.

      The wiring harnesses were biodegradable from 93-95. It costs about $1.2k to replace, though most have been done by now.

  • avatar

    I love your auction editorials. Love to see what auction prices are for real cars.

  • avatar

    Your articles are always informative,humorous, and very enjoyable. They normally also make me pleased that I am done with burning up cars at 1,000 miles per week. I think that old job would have to jack up the pay for me to be able to afford making that much money. I took a pay cut to work closer to home and wound up getting a raise from the move. It would be even more pronounced today with $3+/gal gas and the price of cars.

    Btw the last beater I had was Station wagon, 350/350, and daughter that wanted something new. 77 Impala and turned out to be a tough, long lasting, and gas guzzling jewel. Since I didn’t mind ugly very much it worked well. Plus it parted Houston traffic like moses parting the red sea. The other people on the road cared a lot more about their car’s appearance than I did.

  • avatar

    The problem with the 600SL is that you pay a lot more (to buy it, gas it, and service it) for 67 more ponies and a 0-60 time that bests the V8 by 0.3 seconds.

    It’s a lovely car, and short of a Bentley it’s hard to beat a V12 Mercedes for status appeal, but one you have to REALLY want that extra four cylinders to make it worthwhile.

  • avatar

    Steve – your columns are always enjoyable and your insight into the business is revealing. Regarding the 1999 Chevy Blazer: tie a chain around the frame and use it as a boat anchor. I’ve driven Chevy’s my entire life and the 1997 Blazer I had almost made me swear off the brand.

  • avatar

    …For all of you who want a cheap beater, I have three recommendations for you. Minivans…

    Yup. My last three weather beaters have all been GM U-Body minivans. You can pick them up cheap cheap cheap. The Gen II versions aren’t the death traps made famous by the IIHS and the 3.5L may be utterly gutless and buzzy, but it is reliable, extra points if you can find a stripper that doesn’t have air suspension and power sliding doors, as they fail all the time anyway. You can buy clean SWB Gen 1.5 versions (death trap version) all day long via Craig’s List for $2K and under if you want to roll the failed head gasket dice.

    Oh I know – they suck – but we’re talking BEATER not a take the clan cross country in style. I don’t think many people take the AWD Sienna and toss in 20 bags of mulch from Home Depot in it without thinking, and the automatic trannys in beater grade Dodges from the same era aren’t much better. I’d add the Kia and Hyundai minivans as good, cheap “disposable” unloved beater finds.

    • 0 avatar

      You can throw GM W bodies on that list, too. Also the venerable Taurus as well.

      • 0 avatar

        One big difference on the GM W-body. Once you got to Gen III version (2004+) every possible kink was worked out. Fine, the intermediate steering shaft can go klunk at low speed manuevers, $110 grease job makes that go away. Outside of that, they are pretty bullet proof. They have interiors by PlaySkool, and 200 HP under the right foot is nothing to brag about but you can’t kill them. And they depreciate to awesome bargain levels.

      • 0 avatar

        Just make sure you change those brake lines that rot out and cause catastrophic loss of stopping power…

  • avatar

    I’ve been selling cars for 31 years and I have never seen such a collection of junk roll in to be traded, northern New York, and the wholesalers are cry’n the blues and when something shows up that is actually sellable without thousands in repair, tires, rust, dents we step up and grab it. Did an analysis of Manheim Albany the last 2 weeks and 60% of cars across the block drew $5000 or less and only 10% drew moore than $10,000 so that pretty much tells you whats going on.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t speak for NY, but if this is the case in the Northeast and beyond then that explains alot of the crazy pricing I see on complete junk in Buy Here Pay Here lots in these parts, and some of Steve Lang’s auction results.

  • avatar

    There are many suckers for low mileage ‘cream puffs’ like the Malibu or 626. BHPH lots will use the old saying ‘driven by old lady’ and ‘it’s like new’ to get someone to pay 26% APR on them.

    But, after real driving, rubber parts will fail and leak fluids. I know from experience. Go low mile 97 ALtima, and after adding many miles in a year, oil was leaking into cylinders.

  • avatar

    For the record the xB is not blue. It’s “Hypnotic Teal” as my ’08 is the same exact color. Right now trade-in on mine is hovering around 11K so one two years newer is probably close to 13. After financing it’s not a bad deal and once they list it as near the price of a soul it’ll be eaten up. The soul is proving that the hamster/toaster design works fine but it has to be at the right price point.

  • avatar

    This series is the reason I come back to TTAC. Keep ’em comin Steve!

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