Mileage: 212,914 miles.
Running condition: Unknown
Exterior: Saturated with dust, dirt, and blurry as hell
Would you place a bid on it for $750?
I took the risk. Why? Because after looking at 10,000+ vehicles a year for well over a decade now, I saw dozens of little things that made this an easy decision.
Such as that front end (Steve’s Note: You can find larger pictures here). It’s not a 2003 model. Not even close. Sajeev and dozens of our best and brightest will point out the salient fact that 2003 was a big redesign for these portly Panthers. The design on this vehicle dated all the way back to the Y2K era.
Then there was the interior. Leather seats in surprisingly nice condition given that this was a government vehicle. Also we have no visible rips, no hanging wires, or gaping holes near the floor or dashboard. This almost qualifies as bizarre in the world of public service where all the expensive and portable gear is ripped out of one car and installed in another of the same type.
The lack of recent roughness on the inside meant two things. First, this was most definitely not a police interceptor. So the potential abuse factor wasn’t nearly as high with this particular Crown Vic. Then again, this vehicle still could have wound up neglected or abandoned due to a lingering issue.
Maybe the air suspension balloons were leaking? Or perhaps the official who once owned it got indicted and the car was left in some Siberian outpost of the government fleet? In most cases a government vehicle will be requisitioned for disposal once a new model is delivered to the fleet. This one stayed around. Why?
The fact that it had been sitting all that time may have been due to a lack of organization at the facility. Or it could be that there is a fatal flaw within the model.
The second unusual issue that piqued my interest is those leather seats. This unusual option for a government fleet vehicle is even more important given that the online seller of this car was the City of Atlanta.
Like most county and city governments in Georgia, only the top officials will typically receive a car with leather seats. Police officers ranked major and upwards, fire chiefs, county commissioners, and none of these guys are going to keep their vehicle for 212,000 miles.
A Carfax history was needed to figure out three big questions at this point.
1) What was the approximate mileage?
2) Did some accident take place that put it out of commission?
3) Did this vehicle have a problem that required it to be sent to a dealership or a repair facility?
According to Carfax, the last recorded mileage on this vehicle was not 212,940 miles…. but 121,940 miles. The anti-government brigade may want to put down their pitchforks for right now because I can tell you as a former remarketing manager that mileage screw-ups do happen even in the most organized fleet operations.
There was also no recorded accident, which is good until your realize that Carfax does not cover them all. But a lot of damage that is insurable will be recorded for posterity, and government vehicles are usually among those that are documented. Not always, but often.
Finally we have the big one in my world. Issues. Did an issue get solved before the car was removed from the fleet?
Government vehicles are the only ones that can have their issues solved at great expense and then, they are sold shortly thereafter. A truck can have a transmission overhauled and then, within a couple of months, it could be liquidated. The same is true for fleet vehicles with replaced engines, suspension components, tires and major service intervals.
The sunk costs do not matter. Once the new comes in, the old one goes off to the auction block.
One car I recently bought had been given new tires and a 120k maintenance service less than 300 miles before it was sold online. Another had virtually the entire front end suspension rebuilt. Sometimes you can call to find out this history if you are dealing with a small government with friendly folks. While at other times, you may need to show up in person and use your powers of persuasion to find out the true history.
In this particular case I didn’t have the time to show up and make that kind request for more information. Instead I shot a quick email to the fellow who put the vehicle online and explained to them that the vehicle was unlikely to be a 2003. Within a few hours, the already existing uncertainty of the vehicle’s running condition was compounded by an online addendum to those who put the listing on a watch, that the year model was also not as advertised.
How many people would bid now?
Uncertainty often serves as an outstanding excuse to sit on your heels when it comes to participating in any auction, and this is exactly what I like to see when I bid on cars. Especially in an online auction where these issues can not be easily figured out. The nirvana for most professional car buyers comes at the point where a large pool of buyers is eliminated leaving the few risktakers.
Or even the one.
I made my bid and within a day, the hammer fell. $750 plus a 10% auction fee. $825 in total. An official from the City of Atlanta called to verify what would either become blissful news or a cathartic clusterscrew.
My reality was blissful… until the damn car broke down.
(to be continued)