“Aaahh Steve? My rig caught on fire.”
At first I thought about oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico engulfed in an endless torch of black smoke and molten metal.
Then I realized that the repo driver was talking about his own truck. In all my years of dealing with repo companies, I had never known an auto recovery company, big or small, that was neglectful enough to turn their money maker into an ashen shell.
Before noon I would be awakened by another surprise.
Morning phone rings…
“Steve, I just went up to the guys door and knocked on it. He didn’t answer.”
“The guy on Richmond Road.”
My face faded into a whiter shade of pale. “Are you still there?”
“Look Frank, this guy’s name may be Mr. Rogers. But he sure as hell ain’t gonna open the door and welcome you to a $30,000 Cadillac. You know those signs that say trespassers will be shot on sight? This guy could have a gun, a dog.”
“He did have a dog in the garage, I guess the car is there too.”
Sigh… I had been suckered into a good presentation at the lot a few weeks back and gave the guy a chance… now the opportunity was all too regrettable. The putz could have been maimed!
“Frank, please do yourself a favor. If a dealer asks you to get a vehicle, it’s usually because they are either too busy or too chickenshit to get it themselves. Don’t worry about getting this one. Let me call you back in a bit.”
A minute later I called up the Godfather. Otherwise known as Dave Monico at Godfather’s Asset Recovery.
“Hey Steve! Whacha got!”
“A big pain in my ass.”
“Still eating at Waffle House?”
“Hell no. I’ve got an 01 Cadillac Deville in a garage. GPS is good.”
“Let’s locate it then.”
I put a GPS in all our more expensive vehicles. You have to these days because if your customer falls in love with the car and loses their job, you may just never get a chance to get it out of that garage unless you can zap it.
“I’m gonna ping the thing every half an hour until I see the guy move. I’ve got two guys in the area so we may be able to get it today.”
A half hour later I got a call back from Dave…
“Do you know anything about S-Class Benzes?”
It just so happened that I did, thanks to the Barnacle Bitch (good click) I wrote about not too long ago.
“We can’t get this thing opened. You wanna come by?”
I walk into his new office. It’s in North Georgia so the eatery next door is a BBQ joint instead of a delicatessen, and the cussin’ ain’t as strong since this is the Bible Belt. Everybody there is in front of a computer directing the repo drivers at the cars that are out and about, and running their skips during some of the slower moments.
“Steve, the battery in that Benz repo is dead and all the airbags are down. The little title pawn in Lithia Springs gave $5000 for it.”
“Then they will be lucky to get two.” I spotted the 2002 Mercedes S430 at the impound lot next door. Peeling paint all over. Flat tires. Airbag suspension on the floor.
“You know what, Steve?. I think we’re in the wrong business. I need to repo seven to eight vehicles just to net out that $1250 monthly payment the title pawn company got for this one vehicle. All they needed was someone stupid and desperate to walk in the door.”
“Did they get paid?”
“No. But they may get that Benz… and my beautiful repo and storage fees.”
“Then you’re in the right business. You get the check. They get the junk. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence until you have to start mowing all that shit down.”
“Am I gonna have to replace all those airbags? I’m thinking about keeping it for myself.”
“Maybe… got the key?”
“No, I just have the fob.”
“Give me the fob.”
Every Mercedes S-class key fob from 10 years ago has a laser key tucked away inside of it. Just push a small button and out it pops.
“Now you have a key. I see you have a new guy out here. Does he like crappy old Benzes?”
Handshakes… “Let’s get a jump box Jeff and have ourselves some fun.”
We walk to the impound lot and I thank God that Dave doesn’t keep a dog there. I hate the smell of dog shit and every single impound lot that keeps a canine is riddled with that scent along some unique tinge of mutt musk. Dogs don’t sweat. But they pant, shit and mark their territory quite well.
Yes, I have a dog. An indoor dog. It doesn’t shed.
“Jeff, you know where the battery is?”
“No. Shouldn’t it be under the hood?”
“These Benzes and first generation Priuses have only one thing in common. They keep their batteries in the trunk. Now take that key and see that indent in the center of the trunk where the handle appears to be? Feel the center and you’ll find the perfect place to take that laser key and turn it 90 degrees counter-clockwise. Then push the button up. ”
Jeff tries, fails. Tries again, fails. “Nothing.”
“Let me see.”
I try to do the same thing. Nothing. I check the trunk to see it’s fully closed and immediately realize that the trunk is an aftermarket unit. The paint is all flaked out. The gaps between the panels feel coarse, and the key is struggling to go in all the way.
“Looks like Dave will be visiting the locksmith. There is nothing else to do until then. I’ll check on the fluids since we’re here.”
This Benz has good fluids if nothing else. The coolant is from the dealer. The oil is dirty, but not gritty or tar black. The transmission fluid has a slight burnt smell. But not bad given that this thing came from a title pawn.
I scratch my head, “The title pawn paid out five grand for this thing?”
“That’s what Dave told me.”
“Is Dave charging them for storage?”
“$15 a day.”
“Tell Dave to find out when the Benz is going to be charged off. When it gets close to that day, he should call them and offer $2000 with no storage or repo fees. Let them know that the trunk can’t be opened and the car won’t start without it because the battery is tucked in there. Also have them know that all the airbags on the suspension are down and all four tires need to be replaced. They will counter at $2500 to $3000 at most.”
Most title pawns know as much about cars as my young friend Jeff knows about Sandy Koufax. Title pawns are far more interested in how well their customers pay on a $500 loan at 25% monthly interest than they ever will be about the mechanical quality of the vehicle that gets the title lien.
The $10 an hour service rep will almost always go outside. Listen to the vehicle. Make sure it doesn’t sound like a bucket of bolts, and then try to figure out the customer.
Title pawns are in the paper business, not the car business. As a consequence the smart ones will either bring their vehicles to a large auto auction with plenty of low end buyers, or partner with an outfit that retails vehicles.
The dumb ones rely on the dealer down the street and the recovery agents.
“Jeff if you ever want to own a Mercedes, a Land Rover and a Lexus, become very good friends with a nearby title pawn.”
That was not a tall tale. One recovery agent I knew who recently devolved into the world of meth had at one time owned an LS400, a Discovery, and a late-90’s S-Class. All were less than 10 years old and all of them cost him less than $5000 altogether. The only thing he had to do was become the new best friend of an ex-military lady whose main job was to lend money.
Cars were only a 3% footnote in her store’s quarterly figures. She could really have cared less about those cars…. which is what Dave is now hoping for with this Merc.
“Hey Steve. Wanna watch some Pac-Man? Looks like your guy is on the move. What do you think of the Merc?”
“Jeff will tell you. I gotta take off. Just give me a call if you pick it up and I’ll meet your driver at the auto repair shop with the check.”
“Sounds like a plan…”
It was a plan. But not the only one.
(to be continued)