The Truth About Cars » Hammer Time The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 15:25:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Hammer Time Hammer Time: The $700 Repo Sat, 28 Jun 2014 02:07:16 +0000 civic1

My brother-in-law’s 1997 Honda Civic took a vacation recently, and it only cost me about $700.

The customer who escorted the Civic to the humidity ridden swamps of Crystal Lakes, Florida, let’s call him, Mud, had already been financing a 2005 Ford Freestar from my dealership.


Some weeks he would pay on time. Other times, he would be late. The phone always worked though, and since the Freestar had been one of my unsellable cars of the past year, I was just happy to have the vehicle out there to what I hoped would be a good owner.

If only it were so.

One day, I got a call from Mud while his chain smoking soon-to-be pregnant ex-girlfriend was screaming at him in the background.


“Steve, I’m returning the Freestar today. Me and Wildflower are splitting  and…. shut up! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!!!”

“Aaahhh… that’s fine. Just call me back in a few.”

The few turned out to be a day.


“Hey Steve. That  Civic you have on the lot. Can I exchange that with the Freestar and just make the same payment?”

Normally I say no to these things because the math doesn’t work out and, even if it does, exchange customers often get into the habit of delaying maintenance on their vehicles. Right around oil change time, these customers will come back to the lot and ask for an upgrade. What I do instead is tell them of a place a mile down the road where they can get the oil changed for $20. The cheap price has a surprisingly nice halo effect on the affordability of the vehicle they drive, and then I never hear from them until I start having payment issues.


Mud wasn’t bad when it came to payments. But his ex-girlfriend’s smoking meant that the Freestar would need to have the interior detailed, and God knows what else.

“Bring the Freestar down and let me see what we can do.”

When I saw the platinum colored Freestar, I was both surprised and not surprised. The interior was still in decent shape. It had a faint smell of smoke, but not too bad. What did surprise me was a nice big dent on the driver’s door. That would cost some money to pop out along with the interior detail.

178,000 miles. When he had bought it from me it had all of 170,000. Or so I thought. This guy was driving close to 1,000 miles a week, and whatever I gave him, if I gave him anything, it needed to be able to handle that constant driving.

Thankfully, my brother-in-law’s Civic had more or less been overhauled before I got it. New belts, water pump, tensioner, plugs, wires, on and on. I did need to put four new tires on it, which turned out to cost only $233 thanks to my usual discount and a $100 gift card promo that the chain tire store was offering at the time.

I tried retailing the Civic for $3500, then $3300, and then $3000.

Nobody wanted it, and those that did just didn’t have the money. I had two kids in college and one older fellow tell me that they were going to get it in the next week, two weeks, when they got a settlement check, etc.

I didn’t care that much either way. Even though it was an unsellable car, I enjoyed driving thanks to my brother-in-law’s maintenance regimen. I knew it would eventually sell.

Then things started to get a bit, complicated. My sister-in-law mentioned to my wife, that my BIL hadn’t sold the vehicle for a lot of money, and that she thought it would get more than the $2000 I had paid for it.

When I hear things like this, I pretty much assume that this recent decision may not have been as smooth as I had initially thought.

I also couldn’t ask for nicer in-laws over the years. They have always been wonderful to me and my wife,  and I didn’t want anything that would cause hard feelings.  When their Camry’s engine blew up a couple years ago, I bought the vehicle for all of $500 with a very nice body and a perfect interior.   I replaced the engine with a JDM 2.0 four cylinder, financed it, had it voluntarily repoed in Denver (owner went out there and ran out of money). I then paid $750 for it to be delivered back to Atlanta, and sold it for $3000 cash which turned out to be my net profit.

I was thinking about selling the Freestar for cash, financing the Civic, and when I got my money back out of the Civic (about $2400), I would give my in-laws the profits. They had two young kids and I figured out this money, nine months from now, would be a perfect way to balance out their monthly daycare costs that I remember paying for back in my 30′s.

It was not meant to be. At least not when it came to Dirt, I mean, Mud. He was a pathological liar along with, what I would later found out, a serial impregnator. I should have taken the keys to the Freestar, shot him, and Jersey dumped his ass in Deliverance country.

Instead I took $305. $120 for what he owed on the Freestar, $120 as a payment cushion on the Civic, and $65 for the actual cost of the detail. I forgave the dent on the Freestar because, psychologically, if you do a nice favor for someone, they tend to be far less screwy with you in the future. However this isn’t always the case,  which is why I also asked him to give me the afternoon so that I can straighten it all out with my bank.

Well, the Bank of Steve has certain strict requirements. One of them is when you have a high-risk customer, you always put a GPS on that vehicle. Since I had initially planned on selling the Civic for cash, I had to take it to the mechanic shop so that we can put one in it. The cost of the unit is $129, and once we had three successful hits on the GPS, Mud got the keys.

Mud then took the car, went to Florida, and decided to play the BS game.

Instead of telling me the truth, that he had no job, he decided to tell me over the weeks, “I’ll get the money in on Tuesday.” Or, “I’ll be riding up to Georgia this weekend and I’ll get the money in and set up an automatic payment with Wells Fargo.” Every week was a new lie, a new excuse, and a new headache.

My policy with payments is relatively straight forward.

If you can’t pay me, then just tell me the truth.

If you can’t tell the truth, at least return my call.

If you can’t bother to return my calls over the course of three days, I’m going to get back my property.

And it is my property. Just because someone pays for the use of it, doesn’t mean they own it.

I get especially steamed when someone tells me, “It’s my car.” or “I already paid too much for it.” Hello? You don’t own my property. I am also not here to lecture you . My business is to provide for my wife and family and if you have some genuine catastrophic event that’s taken place, I’ll put the payments on a temporary hiatus. If you’re nice, I may even try to figure out a way to work off the balance with a side job related to your former work, so that you can become a long-term owner (and keeper) instead of a perpetual debtor.

Most of the time, I don’t want the car back. In the past I’ve had cleaning women do interior details. Small farmers pay me in chicken, eggs and tomatoes. I have even accepted lawnmower repairs, small generators, automotive repair work, assistance with transporting vehicles to and from the auctions, and  minor landscaping projects.

However in this case, I wanted the car back, big time. Last night the repo company scooped up the Civic that was suntanning in Lakeland, Florida. The old cost was $250 for the repo. $65 to transfer it to a nearby auction. $20 to mail the auction the keys so that it can be loaded onto a transport truck next Tuesday, and $275 to have it hauled back to my dealership.

I hope to see it on Thursday. From there it will likely need a $65 interior detail, and $42 to relist it on Autotrader and Craigslist.

So now I have another stickshift back on the lot. The Freestar sold for $3000 cash to a Latino family thanks to my posting the Craigslist ad in Spanish. By my calculations, this guy managed to do about 10,000 miles of driving for which I netted about $700. I got nailed by Mud, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wash myself of him and move forward to the next chapter in life.


]]> 105
Hammer Time: Craigslist English Thu, 26 Jun 2014 13:03:21 +0000 squidoo

If there is a hell, you will probably find it on Craigslist.

Also, if there is a Santa Claus, you will probably find him performing some advanced NSA style hacking that tracks all the emails and texts people like me have to endure.

I’m pretty sure that Saint Nick would also have an amazing Craigslist to English translator for that purpose.

“Wut” very roughly translate to what, of course…. unless “wut” happens to be a typo, in which case, start thinking of words that end with “ut.”

“Whass u got???” is, “Excuse my kind sir, but I have texted 33 people in the last 22 minutes. I can’t even remember why I texted you but… whass u got?”

I miss the good old days.

10 years ago, the average person you dealt with on Craigslist was a professional in many respects. They knew what they were buying. They knew that it would take a reasonable amount of cash money to buy it. And they knew that their free time shouldn’t have to become your time to the tune of 13 texts that could mostly be answered by just reading the ad.

These days I feel like I’m left with the far left hand side of the bell curve. Of course, there are a few stragglers that find a way of making it to the middle of that curve and beyond. But most times, I’m left to deal with folks with those 13 questions that are spelling catastrophes, and a budget that has mostly champagne on the mind and Schlitz in the wallet.

So, I may as well have fun with it. Here is a nice little cheat sheet that will help you translate those terrible texts with high annoyance, and low rates of sales success.
Text message: “What is your absolute lowest price?”Translation “Whatever you say, I’m going to try to knock it down another 50%. You’re welcome!”

Text: “R u farm? I have $$$!!!”

Translation: I am the doofus who hogs the computers at the public library playing Farmville. I have no $$$!!!.

Text: “What’s the lowest you’ll go?”

Translation: Because whatever you say, it will never be low enough.

Text: “Is it a diesel?”

Translation: I am confused. What does the word gas mean in the description? Also, is this 30 year old Mercedes cheap to own?

Text: “Is it a V8?”

Translation: I can only afford to look at pictures while goofing off in high school. You mentioning that it is a V8 in the title AND description has no bearing on my current reading level. 

Text: Can you send me pics?

Translation: Because 24 pictures of a 15 year old Ford Escort wagon is certainly not enough!

Text: “Can you come to my place?”

Translation: No, trust me. You don’t want to go anywhere near my place.

Text: Can I check it out? What is the VIN#? Any mechanical issues? What about maintenance? Did it pass emissions? Tires?
Translation: I am going to drive your car for an hour and a half. Then give you a checklist of all the things wrong with your car. Even the ashtray I’ll never use! I will do this on the nicest day of the year.  
Text: Kelly Blue Book says your car is only worth $2400.
Translation: Assuming your five year old Impala has 280,000 miles… is in poor condition… is a base model… and has a rebuilt title.
Text: Does it have leather seats?
Translation: I will lie to you and say I want cloth instead.
Text: Does it have a 5-speed?
Translation: I don’t know how to drive one. But can I practice on yours?
Text: Are you the original owner?
Translation: What does one owner mean?
Text: I have cash money!
Translation: But not enough to buy your car.
Text: My mom needs a car and I have $1200 in cash. Can we work out a deal?
Translation: My mom is really my father’s cousin’s former roommate from Hoboken, and he knows absolutely nothing about this.
Text: Would you mind if I combine the test drive with some local shopping? I have to get…
Translation: The keys are in my hand. The tank is full, and that back seat has my girlfriend’s name written all over it.
]]> 149
Hammer Time: Screw Zipcar, Just Share A Govcar Wed, 18 Jun 2014 11:00:08 +0000 govcar

There a few things I can’t wrap my mind around these days.

Take for example, Zipcar.  The car sharing firm that supposedly offers the Millenial vibe, is actually run by the old GM dumping ground for unpopular vehicles established rental company Avis.

That’s not a bad thing at all. Long story short, the opportunity for Zipcar to buy and manage vehicles at Avis procurement levels makes what was once a pipe dream, financially realistic. Avis gets to expand their fleet with minimal overhead costs (the two companies share the same vehicle fleet), and Zipcar gets to focus on expanding the idea of car sharing.

The problem for me is that the economics of car sharing under a corporate umbrella is still a bad idea for 99% of the folks out there.

You live in a university? Car sharing may make sense, but not when you deal with the strict asterisks and time-related gotchas that come with the corporate version of it.

There are times when you may want to go shopping, or to the movies, or to your favorite pharmacological distributor. Zipcar allows you to do that for about $10 an hour, plus an annual membership fee of about $15. If you are a student who doesn’t have the right to purchase a parking pass at your school, Zipcar gives you the sole out from those crowded university shuttles and long bike rides.


I’ll be blunt, Zipcar only works if you are denied a marketplace substitute, almost never drive, or once owned a rolling lemon money pit.

It’s also not a bad deal if you drive exactly twenty minutes, shop for exactly twenty minutes, and come back to where you live in 19 minutes and 59 seconds. Four students can gleefully share the ten dollar cost and a new deep seeded hatred for stop lights, slow drivers, and parking lots.


You can enjoy the infinite convenience of buying and sharing a car that you own.

You could have this. A 2009 Ford Crown Victoria.

The type of car that sparks fear in the eyes of a meandering motorist with just a few antennas on the roof, and a quick flashing of the headlights.

The price for a used one is still well short of $2500 with good mileage. Why so cheap? Because nothing is more unfashionable these days as a well-made, V8, rear-wheel drive car, bathed in government black and white, and incapable of getting more than 15 miles per gallon in the city.

Yet the economics of sharing this age old gas house, Animal House style, makes far more sense than supplementing the blogging income of cultural creatives and multi-national firms that see you as an easy target for their ecological phoniness.

That’s what ride sharing is about. They want your money. That’s it. If they cared a lick about you, the companies that foolishly overpaid acquired these operations wouldn’t have spent their resources de-contenting rental cars and removing important safety features that may impact your well-being should that terrible day come.

So, let’s say you decide that you want to own a car, but want to get some car sharing levels of help paying for it.

It’s not that hard if you are willing to hustle a bit. Yes there is Uber, and Lyft, and a few other firms that let you become the designated driver of the local university (invest in rubber floormats and keep the cop car). However, there are an awful lot of better ways to skin that cat.

So let’s say you decide to buy this car.

Definitely click on the link, because it’s not what you would expect. A 2004 Ford Taurus SE Wagon. Stop drooling.

Yes, this car is about as hip as a 35 year old frat boy. But that’s part of my point. It has 65,000 original miles. One owner, that being a local government, and all the maintenance has been done at the dealership according to the Carfax history.

New spark plugs. New tires. New starter. For $1175 plus a new battery and the bogus buyer premium, you’re still looking at less than $1500 out the door.

The price is right, and the hipness level is perfect as well. Why? Because you want to attract the types of people who are looking at the “transportation” end of the deal. People who are capable of doing math better than the average American.  In colleges and universities, these are usually grad students from overseas who have limited funds and a desire to travel. In the suburbs, or in your 20′s, it’s the young family that is trying to get established on one income. When you get to be in your 30′s and older, it will likely be the neighborhood where older folks and younger folks are already on good terms with each other.

You can have them all pay for part of the vehicle. Car insurance follows the car, not the driver, and that should be reimbursed as well along with a monthly charge for auto expenses. It is not against the law to allow a friend or relative drive your car under the permissive use policy. But, make extra sure that you are allowed to do this.  Every insurance company, and many states, have varying levels of coverage and liability when it comes to permissive use. This article is a good primer on it,

Even with that said, you always want to contact your insurance company. I have done this, twice, and both times, I contacted my insurance company to make sure that everything was kosher. This isn’t a big hurdle to climb, but some states simply say yes or no to the idea of permissive use.

The whole idea about making car sharing work is nothing new. It’s older than a Bluto Blutarski belch and as utilitarian as an old government mule. If you put even a minimal level of energy towards it, you won’t need a corporation to make it work.

Do you need faith in your fellow man? Meh. But if you pick your fellow man wisely, and don’t over-invest in the asset, you should be OK for years. A cheap government car that has been maintained right can offer a value proposition that is far better for most infrequent users than the ticking two-way time bomb that is trying to shop around town with a Zipcar.



]]> 44
NASCAR For The Novice (The Prequel) Fri, 13 Jun 2014 19:46:42 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

I am pacing back and forth in a 200 square foot wooden building that I had exchanged for a 1996 Volvo 850 sedan back in 2008.

“What the hell am I going to write about? I know nothing about racing! Zip!”

“Well Steve, maybe we can arrange for a few interviews.”

“Would they be racers?”

“Aaahhh, no.”

“Owners? Hookers? How about the guy who fires the gun?”

“What gun?”

The truth was that I didn’t want to go to any race. I had a long line of issues to deal with at the used car lot. Customers that needed help either finding cars, or paying for them.  The grass was growing back where the gravel was, and I hated to leave money on the table. If I left, either some deals would be lost, or I would have my cell phone surgically attached to my ear for the entire time.

It wouldn’t be fun. But that was the big problem for me at this point. Life wasn’t fun when it came to my daily work life. I rate every working day from a 1 to 10 scale for that key elusive ingredient known as, fun. For the past year my days have been 2′s and 3′s. They used to be 7′s and 8′s, back in the time when I had not built this beast of the business up to the point where I felt like was a subservient tail of a great big fire breathing dragon.

I was dealing with too many cars with weird problems, and amateur bullshitters who thought they could get one up on me. There were countless times over the past two weeks where I just thought about taking all my retail cars, wholesaling them, and taking time off from what had become a pressure cooker of human stupidity.

Instead, I went to my first race.

I started out driving out to Atlanta and entering a humongous underground parking deck that had at least 12 or 13 levels to it.


Turn right, drive. Turn right, drive. I realized that I was doing a 15 mph version of NASCAR with an opposite turn, and all the cars thankfully either gone or parked along the side out of pity.

Once I reached the bottom of the bottom,I realized something highly unusual right off the bat.

I was the only one there.

No cars. No noise. Nothing but me and my car… that happened to have nothing in the trunk. At least for now. Gulp!

As a native Jersey boy, I briefly thought about the ease of whacking someone and moving a body in this parking garage. My southern twang belies the fact that I grew up in Northern Jersey during the Reagan era. A time and place where houses mysteriously burned down, the mafia always handled your garbage, and John Gotti was considered a not-so-bad guy.

This theatrical idea was tempered by me driving  a seven-year old Corolla instead of the black 1980 Cadillac Seville I sold earlier that week. I missed that car. After about 10 minutes of quiet and no phone signal, I met my co-rider, and we quickly made our way back up to the same part of Northwest Georgia I had just left.


We would be spending our time in a 2014 Toyota Camry LE. The type of car that no supposed enthusiast or auto journalist wants to drive. Yet what did I recommend for my mom to buy back in 2012? A Camry. That is after she pretended to be open-minded and rejected everything else in the marketplace. The brutal truth of this business is that most folks have minimal needs to get from A to B, and reliability is still the #1 driver of sales in the new and used car markets.

As I exhume myself from this tomb of automotive storage, my mind wanders to the blandness of the American driving experience. Cruise at 70. Seats comfortable. Driving straight and uneventful. Talk on cell phones.  That’s what the American open road is like these days. The media driven garbage about cars representing the penultimate of freedom and sexiness is, at least in my mind, castrated by the salient fact that everyone plays the game “follow the leader” when it comes to daily driving, and detailing is already a pure misery for most car owners.

This is what I’m thinking about while going through six different lights on one of 30+ Peachtree Streets here in Atlanta.


I enjoy a winding one lane road as much as anyone in this business, but city driving sucks and the suburbs aren’t much better these days. Traffic is a constant pain because turn signals are optional, people play with their cell phones, and drivers often turn for the hell of it.

Cars are mostly a burden in most cities like Atlanta, and what joy can be had by revving your engine every now and then is often throttled back by a city police force whose only opportunity for pay raises is to issue more traffic tickets.

The racing world is a healthy rebellion from what has largely become a speed hating society.

The light turns green. I hit Interstate 85 and after about 30 minutes of driving, we finally become free of the monetary clutches of quick changing stoplights and legalized theft cartels. I and my co-driver are hitting 80 on our way up to northwest Georgia and beyond.


The scenery gets better. I like to tell folks that when you’re in Atlanta, you’re in Atlanta, and when you’re in Georgia, you’re in JAW-JA! Never the twain do meet.

Atlanta is a bit of a weird place. Very corporate, yet not quite conservative, and often times city officials are downright delusional about where their strengths lie. A few years ago these guys wanted to get the NASCAR Hall of Fame down here, which would have been kinda like asking the New York Yankees to move to Winnipeg.

I’m not a NASCAR enthusiast at all. But one thing I do know is that the cultures of “NASCAR Country” and “The ATL” are about as close to each other as Mercury is from Pluto.

The College Football Hall of Fame will be in Atlanta, right near Georgia Tech, which is a great fit for the culture and the community. The guy I’m riding with is pretty much a foot soldier for promoting these types of projects around Georgia, and as the scenery around us changes from commercial parks to pine trees, we start changing a bit.

Our accents become a bit more country. By seeing my neck of the woods, I begin to relax. The phone gets turned off.  The beauty of North Georgia becomes all encompassing, and I realize something at that very moment.

I needed this.


]]> 15
Hammer Time: Memories of Metros Fri, 30 May 2014 04:01:59 +0000 metro1

There it stood, right next to the Michael Jordan Wheaties display.

A brand-new 1992 yellow Geo Metro convertible.

Price Chopper, a local New York supermarket chain (think Pathmark or Albertson’s on crack) was opening up a brand new location in Saratoga Springs.

The Metro would be the perfect vehicle for upstate New York’s salty roads and wickedly cold weather for one irrefutable reason. It was free… after tax, tag and title.  The only thing I had to do was figure out how to win it.

So I got busy. 150 entries a day for 3 full months. 13,000 in all. The day came for the drawing, and I won!

25 pounds of free meat. To make matters worse, I was a vegetarian at the time.

So what did I do? I got a friend’s cooler. Put in 25 pounds of filet mignon, and took a three and a half hour drive home to impress my dad.

He was impressed. Sadly, it would take me another 10 years before another Geo Metro would enter my life.


The first was a burgundy 1997 four door automatic. I bought what was arguably the shittiest of all Metros for $2000 back in 2002, and sold it for $4000. Doubled my money. Even the paint flaking on the roof and the trunklid didn’t detract from the mythical promise of exceptional fuel economy.

Unbeknownst to the buyers of these loveless shitboxes, the automatic version of the Metro drained the MPG numbers by at least 7 mpg. The powertrain was like a rubber band that gave you more resistance as you tried to stretch it out. If you drove it around town and wanted to keep up with traffic, the four-door three speed automatic got only about 30 mpg combined.

I would later find out that a a Tercel could beat it in real world driving. A far heavier and better engineered Civic could match it. Even the almost as cheap Chevy Cavalier could keep up with the Metro in terms of real world fuel economy. Once I sold that Metro, I thanked the good Lord for separating me from this piece of mobile tupperware and proceeded to focus more on W124′s, rear-wheel drive Volvos, and anything made by Subaru.

I called those nicer models the “wanna-be’s”. As in folks who wanted a Lexus or a BMW, but couldn’t afford their price premium in the used car market, would wind up buying one of these three models instead. I bought plenty of other vehicles as well. But chances are, if there was a well-kept trade-in at the auction that matched one of these three models, I would buy it. New car dealers only cared about financing the new and late model vehicles back then. Older cars were a no-no nadir. So it was relatively easy to find good ones to resell.

As time went on, I began to see those Metros regularly hit the $500 to $1000 mark at the auctions. Quality sold, and the Metro wasn’t it. Nobody wanted them until very late 05′ when Hurricane Katrina hit.

Then things started to get a bit weird at the auctions. I would see Metros matching the prices of Volvos that were not much older and infinitely more deserving of a buyer’s attention. Contrary to the frequent eulogizing of cheap defunct cars, I had zero love for the Metro. It was a deathtrap that anyone who cared about their well-being would stay the hell away from.


Then I found a Metro with good seats. It was called the Suzuki Swift. A 5-speed hatchback with a 4 cylinder engine, the Swift was surprisingly fun and for $600, as cheap as the average repair for a newer Volvo. My wife loved it. My mom thought I was an irresponsible father, and after an interminable delay in market interest, I was finally able to unload it for $1500.

Why the hell did I like that thing? I had two kids and a stay at home mom to think about. Not some ancient tin can of a car.

Well, it got worse, because within three months, I would buy two more Metros.



The first was a 1996 3-cylinder hatchback. White. 90k miles.  $500 plus a $50 sale fee.

It was a steal of a deal. I eventually replaced the wheels and sold it for $2800. Then, I struck fool’s gold with a  first generation Geo Metro at an impound lot auction in South Atlanta.

Imagine 27 dents, 37 dings, and three shades of green.

Imagine 27 dents, 37 dings, and three shades of green.

It was a snot rag. Three shades of green and inexplicably worth my time. The driver seat had virtually disintegrated and yet, there was an immaculate one on top of the back seat along with a driver side mirror. It was a salvage vehicle that was wrecked way back when it was worth something.

188,000 miles. Rebuilt title from Alabama. I bought it, running, for $125. I figured why the hell not.

Well, no A/C in Georgia and a slim chance for profit for starters.  I wasn’t about to put it up at my retail lot. So I drove it around the neighborhood for a bit.

It ran fine. Perfect. After replacing the driver seat and tossing the old one in a nearby dumpster, I decided to sell it at the one place that could give me a price premium for unique crappy cars.


Old Peugeots at the auctions? Ebay.

A Volvo 780 bought for $90. A nine-year old Subaru Impreza with nothing but primer for paint that I bought for $76.25 out the door? Both ended up on Ebay.

Low-mileage Crown Vics, Colony Parks, Mark VIIIs and 1st gen Priuses with body damage. All I had to do was buy them, take 24 pictures, and write up a glorious soliloquy of pithy summations worthy of an Ebay audience. They brought strong money.

I would buy, sell, and meet the new owner at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport with a free Starbucks in my hand. I averaged about 150 deals a year during the mid-2000′s and about a third of them were on Ebay.

This car held onto my conscious thoughts like a fungus. One day, I decided to do a financial spreadsheet. Like a lot of former financial analysts, I suffered from this nasty little OCD-like tendency to put anything that required a long-term mathematical answer into a spread sheet.

This time, I pitted the Metro against a 2001 Yamaha XC125 and did the math to figure out which one would be cheaper in the long run if you maximized their passenger count. Long story short, the two trained monkeys riding a scooter wouldn’t match the five Pygmys that would be stuck in the Metro.

Now that I figured out the Fantasyland part of my life, I decided to sell the Metro. My first law back then, which I still abide by now, is to never fall in love with a car.

10 days later, the Metro sold for all of $700. This is where things got weird. The very next day, the buyer drove 6 hours from western Tennessee down to Atlanta to meet me. He was one tough looking, intimidating, son of a gun.

Sunglasses, tattoos, one of my friends remarked that he had the smell of shit and spit. I said one word, “Hi.”, and for the next hour, all I did was listen to a really nice guy tell me about every single Metro he has ever bought while staring at my reflection on his sunglasses. This guy was made for this car. I pocketed the $700 and decided that I had made a match in small car heaven.

All these memories came back to me this evening for one reason.



The new Mitsubishi Mirage. I have yet to drive it. But the Mirage is probably the first car whose parsimonious pedigree harkens back to that nearly forgotten world of basic cheap cars in the United States.

In today’s world, where a basic economy car comes with over 100 horsepower, 15 inch aluminum wheels, and 10 airbags, the Mirage strikes me as something that is worthy of the old Metro’s econobox heritage.

So count me in as one guy who is willing to cheer for a contender that is a pure pretender.  I look forward to buying them real cheap when 2020 comes around. Who knows? By then the Mitsubishi Mirage may replace the Geo Metro as the penurious used car of choice for the modern day tightwad.

]]> 43
Hammer Time: Are Shareholders Worth It? Wed, 28 May 2014 14:20:07 +0000 balancing act

Capitalism has no loyalties.

Everybody is replaceable.

Products. Employees. Employers. Services. Alliances. Joint Ventures. Financiers. Even the executives of multinational firms along with their board of directors are only as good as whatever quarterly numbers can be cooked up by their ‘independent’ auditing firm.

Capitalism is the ultimate “Let’s go!”, “Do it!” and “Screw you!” of economic systems. You name the angle or need in capitalism, and chances are that there is a market substitute that can immediately fill the gap. Even government regulations can be routinely challenged by trade organizations, international courts, and the all too common political handshake.

All this reality happens… on paper.

The truth is that capitalism is tempered by the culture where it’s practiced.

In the world we live in today, corporations and industry interests always pursue laws and relationships to protect their gotten gains. The ultimate goal of some companies isn’t progress. But to keep certain competitors and market substitutes far away from the hands of the free market.

Consumer first? Hell no! Earnings first? Hell yes! This brutal reality of corporate self-interest brings on a few tough questions when it comes to the American auto industry in particular.

Everyone has their own hierarchy of worthiness when it comes to an automaker’s success. Bonuses, dividends, stock options and pensions are all realigned to account for the rewards of good work.  So with that in mind, let me have you think about a question that has bugged me now for several years.

Are individual shareholders worth it?

As I look through the recent history of our industry, I am having trouble figuring out a single scenario where individual public shareholders made the difference. Ross Perot couldn’t kick Roger Smith’a ass into gear. Lee Iacocca and Kirk Kerkorian were the crown jesters of a pointless takeover exercise. As for Ford, wasn’t the fact that the Ford family held sway the major reason why an industry outsider like Alan Mulally was successful at restructuring the company? He didn’t need to worry about holding off on a strategy, or hiring some lackey to his management team,  just because some schmuck with a big block of stock thought he knew more.

Smaller shareholders are nothing more than gamblers. If something bad happens, they are the last to know and for good reason. They don’t know anything. Even if they did, their shares don’t enable them to help create that change. I can’t think of one solitary situation in the last 50 years where a small shareholder has been able to make a difference in any automobile company.

Who has offered the greatest stability and success in the long run? In our industry it may very well solely rest in the wiser and more patient hands of the family controlled business.

The most successful Japanese auto company is owned by the Toyoda family. The most successful European company, Volkswagen, is ruled by Porsche Automobil Holding. A German holding company owned by the Porsche families.

As for American manufacturers, only Ford, a company controlled by the Ford family for well over a century, was able to survive the 2008 meltdown without a direct bailout. The shareholders did nothing but lose all their money and offer many of us a golden opportunity to short their stocks. John Q Public and Cerberus were inevitably replaced by the unions, Fiat, and Uncle Sam.

Could individuals shareholders ever make a difference in this business? If not, do they simply make it easier for the family with limited resources to control the business?

Instead of offering a reflexive yes/no based on ideological allegiance, I want you to also think about the financial issues. We are in a heavily cyclical industry. White knights, along with new leaders, have helped save nearly every automaker from bankruptcy or a hostile takeover at one time or another.

But can this defense be better executed with a family that has their own name and reputation to defend? Instead of a bunch of shareholders who are in it simply for the stock price?

My answer is yes. I think small shareholders serve as nothing more than a money pool for those who are doing the real work. In a well-run organization they offer liquidity. In good times, they get dividends and stock appreciation. In bad times, they usually don’t have any means to change the running of a car business for the better.  This business has far too many influencers on too many levels for public shareholders to effect change.

Am I wrong?

Author’s Note: Even when Steve is wrong you can reach him at

]]> 65
Hammer Time: Not All Cheap Cars Are Beaters Mon, 26 May 2014 10:00:27 +0000 2001-honda-insight-rear

One dollar of depreciation in four years.

Fifty-five miles per gallon.

Forty-eight thousand miles.

I may have very well owned the cheapest car in America a few years ago. Back in 2009, I bought a 2001 Honda Insight with 145,000 miles for all of $4001 at an auction. After four years and with 193,000 miles, I sold it last year for exactly $4000.

That’s all well and good, but let’s face it folks. I’m in the car business. Plus, a first generation Honda Insight is pretty much a cheat when it comes to cheap cars. It was designed with stingy bastards like me in mind who use the edge of the technological envelope instead of individual ingenuity and improvisation.

That Insight was a cheap car… but definitely not a beater. Why? Too much money and too few stories about personal travels and other unique mayhem. To me, a beater is a concept that has far more to do with the owners than the actual car.

Three qualities define the beater.

Personalization: Murilee’s 1992 Honda Civic may outlast the Crown Vic dinosaurs that find their way to government auctions and taxicab companies.  But his 1965 Chevrolet Impala was a rolling embodiment of the glories that come from a beater that has true inner beauty. He made that car whole in every sense of the word.

Parsimony: Beaters must always remain cheap when it comes to cosmetics. A 1983 Lincoln Mark VI that drools out liquids on a daily basis and has duct tape on every seat and door is more of a beater than a Metro bought new and maintained with someone’s obsessive compulsive disorder.

Stories: Rolling sewing machines that spend their days droning around on traffic-laden roads are not what beaters are about. To me at least, I want the really out there stuff. The Volvo wagon whose ten foot headliner meticulously chronicled the unique exploits of two young female lovers who traveled the country. The other Volvo wagon that was bought cheap and proceeded to financially emasculate one of our writers. The other, other Volvo wagon that was rescued from the crusher and brought back to the loving hands of a brick enthusiast.

An ability to outlast other cars to the point where it contradicts all known levels of applied physics should be spiritually welded with the stories that inevitably come with a good personalized car.

So what about your story? Did you one day find a lonely old 1980′s Subaru wagon that was used as an official beer car for your local hash events?   Did an old family car help you more fully understand the pharmacological events that come with attending Grateful Dead concerts? Heck, did you take a Renault LeCar in the woods and chase wild animals with it?

We all have our moments of high weirdness with a beater. So feel free to share yours.


]]> 35
Hammer Time: PT Cruiser? Mon, 19 May 2014 21:45:06 +0000 pt1


That was the asking price for a 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser down at my local Chrysler dealer back in June 2008. Throw in a $1500 rebate or the “Refuel America” $2.99 per gallon guarantee into the equation, and you may have ended-up with a pre-tax, tag, title price right around $10,300.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Then again, was it? There are a lot of long-term factors to consider when approaching any of the less popular new cars that are in their last years of production. Not all will be a good deal.  But you may be surprised. Join me now as we journey down the PT-shaped rabbit hole.


If you’re not an enthusiast, and simply wanted a ‘keeper’ car, that $10k Cruiser may have been a great deal in 08′. Even with the abysmal gas mileage and the pointless towel rack in front of the passenger seat.


Folks who don’t drive very much… hmmm… Let’s say that folks who frankly don’t give a damn about cars at all were the target du jour for most Cruisers that went out the door. It was a styling statement in a cheap car world that ranged from plasticized SUV wanna-be (Dodge Caliber) to automotive androgyny (Toyota Yaris).

PT Cruisers of the time typically came in two packages. Blah boring basic and turbo/convertible kinda interesting. This is a nuance that shouldn’t be missed. Sometimes you can find a nugget of used car goodness within an ocean of a model generation’s ennui.


The right engine. The right trim package. The right seats. Pretty soon you are going from a strip model to a street hooner.

So what to buy?

As a long-term dealer and enthusiast let me cut one big choice out of your lineup.


The entry level model. You like driving? Forget it. Don’t even bother. When you see an old PT Cruiser that has a low number in bold, and think to yourself, “Hey, that looks like a good deal!”, pretend like you just ordered a sundae and all you got was the ice cream.

Look at that sad little melting scoop of ice cream. It’s store brand surplus without the real whipped cream, the sweet maraschino cherry, sprinkles, nuts, caramel and whatever other trimmings you long for.


Was it worth what you paid? Think about that. Most Sunday advertisements are selling you nothing more than cheap ice cream at a premium. Back in 2008, the real cost for the PT Cruiser came from getting that new car sweet tooth for a car that simply didn’t compare with a nice used Saturn Aura. Today, that same basic late model PT Cruiser car is a poor substitute for a 10 year old Nissan Altima.

Let’s also think about the old value quotient of hitting em’ where they ain’t. A Camry SE, an Accord coupe with a V6 and stick, and even the Malibu SS all have one thing in common.

They are usually too much money in the real world of buying cars. Most folks try to opt for the champagne popular car at the beer budget unpopular car price. In a perverse twist, many of these cars will handily outsell their less enthusiast oriented brothers and sisters.

You want value? Get the cheap wrapper with the nice stuff inside of it. The ‘old’ new car that was well-designed and given the great powertrain of a few years ago. The used car that you buy for the joy of driving instead of the brand or name that came with it.


If you consider that to be a PT Cruiser, well, all the power to you. They certainly sell cheap.



]]> 91
Hammer Time: The Weakness Sat, 17 May 2014 13:00:49 +0000  

I love old rear wheel drive Volvos.

The way they all start up with that trademark two to three cranks right before the engine begins the never-ending combustion dance. The smell and feel of that interior. Filled with every noxious petrochemical substance known to man between 1986 and 1995.

I even love the fact that they seem to be hopelessly underpowered in the eyes of some. Fools that they are!

Yet us brick enthusiasts, the enlightened ones, know damn well that they will endure in the only race that really matters. Time… and they’re damn good at towing too. And hauling. And seating the family, And sleeping in. And razing from the near-death of abusive prior owners.

To be blunt, I bid on nearly every one that I find at the auctions. Except these days I can’t seem to find them. The youngest of ye olde progeny is now a 1995 Volvo 940 which, at 17 years old, is legally able to drive itself.

The 960/S90/V90 comes with a white block engine that isn’t quite as authentic in the classic Volvo driving sense as the red block 240/740/940.  Yet when I see one come across the block, if it’s good, I’ll usually bid on it too.

It’s hard for me to say goodbye to an old Volvo. How about you? Is there an old model out there that makes you rubberneck a good ninety degrees or so if you see it for sale on the road somewhere? A W124 wagon perhaps? An old Celica?

What model tickles the nostalgia bone and tries to find any way into your wallet?

]]> 62
Hammer Time: Batter Up! Fri, 16 May 2014 11:00:23 +0000 pitch

The bases are loaded and the score is tied. Two outs in the bottom of ninth. 3 balls. 1 strike.

You know this pitcher better than you know your brother. The last pitch had almost cleared the left field pole, and the entire stadium. Your swing was as beautiful as Mickey Mantle in his prime. Just a few inches to the right and you would have been on your way to a private party with friends instead of another walk back to the batter’s box.

The catcher signals, and you catch one finger out of the very corner of your eye. Fastball. The pitch comes, right down the middle. It’s almost like a dream and yet, you can’t do anything about it.

The stomach pangs in stress and anguish as the rest of your body remains still. You watch it go past. The thud in the catcher’s mitt. The umpire bellowing, “Stttaaarrriiikkeee!!!” Your manager had told you not to swing and now, you have 50,000 fans booing as you curse under the breath and step away from the batters box.

Will you get a pitch that good again? The pitcher grins as he now knows, his mistake ended up giving him an advantage.

This is how I felt yesterday afternoon. That manager who I wanted to fire was a neighbor who I had bought a car for nearly eight years ago. A four year old Cadillac Seville with only 26,000 miles, a CPO warranty still in effect, and the exact color they wanted for all of $12,600. It was nearly $4000 less than what the nearby dealer had offered for the same type of vehicle. Except his was a year older and had 10k miles with no warranty at all.

For 8 years they had been happy with it being their retirement vehicle. A lot of long-distance trabeling and one of my mechanics ensured that the vehicle would stay in good running order. No Northstar engine issues. A couple of oil leaks around the 100k mark. but nothing out of the ordinary given what it was. They were happy, and I was happy for them.

Then a Solara driven by an idiot decided to make a turn going against traffic and…. bam!…. hospital visit and totaled car.

The good news was that the folks were okay. Bad news? All the airbags did their job and a 12 year old Seville wasn’t a prime candidate for the replacement of this safety equipment and the surrounding sheetmetal. The car was totaled. There was some soreness. An honest apology from the bad driver, and another page for everyone would be turned.

I get the call that evening, “Steve, someone just totaled out the car. We’re at the hospital”

“Is everyone OK?”

“Kinda. Our friends are about 80 and they were shaken up a bit. A little sore. But no broken bones. Can you come up to the hospital and pick us up?”

“Sure. I’ll be right there.” I palmed the keys to a nearby 2003 Camry and made my way against rush-hour traffic to the hospital.

It took a couple of hours to get discharged. Since there was no bleeding or dying, there would be a lot of waiting. I parked at a nearby church where my wife teaches Sunday school and made the long trudge to the hospital.

“Is everything OK with ya’ll?”

An older lady was resting on a bed and my neighbors, along with an elderly stranger, were waiting for their turn.

“We’ll be fine. But chances are Manda will need a couple of days of rest before heading back to Ohio.”

I became a good listener for the next half hour. Eventually the subject came to their next car.

“Can you help us find a Malibu?”

Sure, what are you looking for?

“We thought we would get another silver car with leather. Two years old. Maybe around $10,000.”

“I hate to say it, but you’ll be waiting for another two years to get that type of car, if you’re lucky.”

“So what do you think we should get?”

A tricky question, and I had to wait a moment to formulate the right response. These people were conservative in tastes, and I knew that I would be dealing with folks who wanted a showhorse car at the same workhorse price I got eight years ago. That deal was a lightning strike, and the auction market is a lot more competitive in 2014 than it was in 2006.

“Go ahead and when you feel able, just go to a dealership and test drive a few vehicles. See what you like and let me know.”

This turned out to be a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it shocked them back into the reality of modern day car prices. Everything cost a lot more these days. The curse came from them testing cars with cloth interiors they didn’t like, and leather interiors that they thought were the bee’s knees.

“Can you get us a 2010 Buick Lucerne or LaCrosse for around 10k?”

I sighed with my eyes, “Yes, but the reality is a one owner car that has been maintained at a dealership and has a perfect Carfax goes for a stiff premium at the auctions. If you want to buy a clean car, you have to pay a clean book price.”

I showed them the clean Manheim Market Report prices for those two vehicles.

“Well, we can handle a few dings here and there…”

Baloney! Folks who insist on leather for a late-model vehicle aren’t going to tolerate scratches and scuffs. They want the perfect car, and that’s perfectly fine. But there is a price for that.

It’s called the clean book value.

I decided to browse a bit as my neighbors were busy debating each other about the car when, I found it. The perfect car.


A 2007 Saturn Aura XE in the same color silver as their old Cadillac. It had half the miles of their totaled Seville (68k vs. 136k). The 07 Aura had also been reconditioned by two dealerships that I like to buy from because they don’t scrimp on getting their vehicles front-line ready.

One owner. No accidents. Extensive service history. This would very likely be the best car at the auction that day.

“Hmmm… well that’s interesting. Can you tell me about it?”


I showed them the Wikipedia listing. I explained to them that the 3.5 liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission were the same one used in my wife’s old Malibu Maxx that they had liked so much. I told them that Saturn was now an orphan brand, but any GM dealer can service these vehicles and that this vehicle would likely be at least a thousand or so cheaper than the Buick since Saturns are no longer bought by most of the major auto-finance dealerships.


Nobody shops around for a Saturn anymore.

“Yeah, but I’m not sure I want a Saturn.”

“Okay, well I’ll pull out the Carfax and let you read a few of the reviews from actual owners. I gotta eat with the family. Let me know what works.”

An hour later I got the news that I was anticipating…

“Barbara really wants to get the Buick. Just keep your eyes open, and if you find one, let us know.”

The next day the Saturn sold at the auction for $7500 plus a $200 auction fee. Throw in my $500 fee, and they could have bought the Saturn underneath the clean wholesale value. It would have been an easy slam dunk.


Instead, I wound up buying an 03 Volvo S80 in silver with 130k miles for just under $3000. A re-man transmission was put in it only 2,000 miles ago and the car just got the belt changed at 122k. The only reason why I was able to get it was because the alternator was weak, and only 1 of the other 108 dealers took the time to look at the history.


Most long-time dealers just assume these Volvos were traded-in for a bad transmission. Plus Volvos tend to be slow moving, but this one has the right color and recent maintenance history for a finance deal. I’ll take my chances.

I hated to see that Saturn go by though. It was the perfect car with the perfect everything else. Will I get another nice easy fastball down the middle? Eventually I will. Unfortunately, my chance to swing at it now depends on two managers who are probably still busy bickering with each other.


That Aura will now be showcased by a dealer in Alabama. So what about you though? Has there ever been a car that you knew would be the perfect fit? But someone, somewhere, decided otherwise?




]]> 86
Hammer Time : Saving An Old Cougar From Extinction Thu, 15 May 2014 12:10:52 +0000 cou2

An unsellable car comes in many forms.

The three-door minivan. The stickshift attached to a non-sporty wagon. The Daewoo. The conversion van with design graphics rooted in sexual fantasy.

Then there is this car. A car designed in the Reagan era with a cheap plastic grille, an even cheaper plasticized interior, and a luggage rack on the trunk that would do Lee Iacocca proud.

God I love this thing. What the hell is wrong with me?

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Well that is true. But when you throw in a kindly old man with a love for old cars, it can get infectious.

This past weekend, I met this old fellow who wanted to get some witches brew to keep the transmission on his Cougar in shiftable shape.

“How many miles?”

“Oh, about 400,000 miles.”

“You’re kiddin’!”

“No, no, no… I take a lot of long trips. I like the seats and all I have to do is get it to 80 and let time take care of itself.”

Mark was about 80 years old and his life seemed to be the ultimate exercise in triumph in hardship. Five great kids, but not a lot of grandkids. A public pension, but not enough to handle the debts that came with esophageal cancer. A long marriage, and a recent death of a lifelong loved one. His Cougar had been the one enduring constant in his life for the last 17 years, and he wanted to keep it roadworthy for as long as possible.

“Hey, let me ask you?” He told me in a raspy voice that reminded me of the old boxing coach from Rocky, “Do any of these things work?”

A lot of you would assume that everything on the auto parts shelf related to improving a transmission is garbage, and over time, you’re right. There is no snake oil that can reverse the process of transmission wear.

But some of the solvents in these products (and many auto-trans and power steering additives) will soften and swell the seals to get the transmission’s internal seals to seal and hold proper pressure and shift properly.

At least for a while.

I told the guy, “Look, transmissions on these vehicles are as cheap to replace as a bad toupee. Here’s a site I use to find auto parts.”

I showed him the site…. and it didn’t take. This guy was close to technology as we are to typewriters. So instead, I gave him three names and numbers to get a good used transmission. However, there was still a problem.

He didn’t have the money. Broke is broke, and at 80 years old, this guy simply didn’t have the means for those ends. I hate situations like this, but sometimes you just have to offer a temporary band-aid for a bleeding wound that will probably require further attention down the road.

“Let me buy this for you.” I pulled out some Trans-X. “If your mechanic tells you not to use it, then just return it.”

“No, no, no. I appreciate it. Really.” He gave me an aged smile and a pat just under my shoulder. “What you have already done is a mitzvah. Thank you…” and the rest of his words came out in a blur as I was too shocked to here a Yiddish word from an old man living in northwest Georgia.

I always like to kid about living somewhere between civilization and Deliverance. In truth, all my wife’s friends are smart. All my friends are experienced souls, and  my old life was one that I ran away from in much the same way as those with tough childhoods and troubled pasts move in the search for a better life.

Still I missed a lot. That line of thought is for another day, but sometimes the search for a perfect life can lead to imperfect consequences.

Later that evening, I saw that dealer queen at the auction.



A  swan song 1997 Mercury Cougar that would likely be the biggest creme puff of an old man’s car that I would see in the forseeable future. Five pictures rarely tell you the whole story.







After looking at the Carfax history (1 owner, no accidents, 12 service records) and the Autocheck (nothing weird with the title), I wrote the following on my Facebook page.

“Mr. Sajeev Mehta… I have just found the perfect car to compliment the Conti. 61,185 miles and yes, it is indeed an XR7.”

My timing was bad, and the car Sajeev bought was far, far worse. Thanks to a rare, almost incurable disorder known as, “The Lincoln Syndrome”, Sajeev had just decided to double his investment in one of the most heinous cars ever made in modern times. The 1994 Lincoln Continental. A car so bad that it needs two prestigious emblems to help you forget the fact that you got a gasket chewin’ 3.8 and a tranny slippin’ AXOD.


Then again, at $900 to buy, and a $900 double-down to bring everything back to day “fun”  condition, it was too good of a buying experience for Sanjeev to pass up. Yes, his brother is a stakeholder as well in this hopeless pastime.



“There’s only one MN-12 for me baby, and I already got it.”

So the next day, I look at the Cougar. It’s a showpiece. Whoever owned it beforehand had it detailed at least twice a year and rarely took it out of the garage.

Someone would buy it.

I went to the sale that morning, and there was just a ton of weird stuff. A 2014 Chevy Impala Limited, old style, with about 13k miles that ended up selling for $14,200 plus the seller fee. A 2010 Dodge Challenger SE in Blue with some substandard add-ons that went for $15,800. An 04 Viper SRT convertible with 22k that had arbitrated for a bad differential at the prior sale. That one went for $36,100.


After the 8th Volkswagen and 13th minivan crossed the block, the Cougar was up for bid.

I made a fist and mouthed the word, “Fifteen” so that he would be in at $1500. I was betting that the other dealers would sit on their heels or try to lowball it at a thousand. Sometimes this tactic works. Other times, you’re in for a dogfight.

It didn’t work. Someone in the corner hit sixteen, a friend of mine went seventeen. I was hoping for the King’s Rule at this point where you look out for the other guy, and the other guy looks out for you. But with nearly a hundred dealers looking at one vehicle at a time, the market is too competitive and the King’s Rule doesn’t apply.

The auctioneer went back to me. A guy that I have known for 15 years and worked with back when I was on the auction staff at five different auctions. I was thinking about doing a big bump and flashing two fingers for a two thousand dollar bid. Then something happened.

In those few seconds, I was looking at a car that, to be frank, I truly didn’t want. I had already got rid of four unsellable cars the week before, and already had one brown minivan that I took on trade that wasn’t going to sell for a while. At $2k plus the $155 fee, I would be one major repair away from playing around with a car that had no profit in it. Ebay prices were already at play, and I would more than likely be stuck with what I call an “Almost” car. A car that everyone says they want on paper until they try to find the vehicle they truly love.

I didn’t bid. I walked. The surprise was that there were no more bidders, but even at $1855 ($1700 plus the seller fee), I was just out of love for a car that I never truly liked in the first place.

As I walked away, I realized something. Two guys had loved two Cougars. One had driven the car to it’s very limits of usefulness. While the other had kept it in a time warp and will hopefully pay it forward to another ‘keeper’ among the enthusiasts brethren.

The car world had a strange balance to it.

As for me, I now need to start shifting my own gears before I get stuck in my own version of a 17 year old Cougar. There is a squalidness that comes with shucking old and new metal. Somehow, I need to get away from buying one car at a time and applying myself towards developing a better mousetrap that will have a more enduring impact.

Author’s note: There are a lot of click friendly links to this article that will help you better understand a few of the terms. It’s all click friendly. Feel free to reach me at .


]]> 56
Hammer Time : Pick Your Stick! Sat, 03 May 2014 18:00:31 +0000 stick1

5 cars – 5 sticks = 0 Customer Demand

I hate looking at that equation. But these days, it’s about as true for the car business as Georgia is hot. An older stickshift vehicle that isn’t an all out sports car will sit at a retail lot for months on end.

Nobody knows how to drive them except for those folks who are either too middle-aged, too arthritic, or too affluent to buy an older car with a manual transmission.

Don’t believe me? Well, here’s five vehicles that have become the equivalent of heavyweight paperweights at my humble abode. The funny thing is I like driving them all… I just wish I wasn’t two stickshifts away from driving a different handshaker every day of the week.

They are….


2007 Toyota Corolla CE – Wholesale 4k, Retail 5k

I gave this Corolla brand new tires, an interior detail, and a new antenna. It has returned the favor with 29 dealer records and… well… have I mentioned the fuel economy yet?

When you buy the premium vehicles in this business, you always get three options;  good, fast, and cheap.

You can pick any two of the three.



A car with good demand will sell fast, but you can’t buy it cheap.


A cheap car can sell fast, but you don’t always get a chance to buy them in good condition and chances are if it is, it’s not a popular car.

This Corolla has officially served as my decoy car. The one that everyone thinks they want to buy until they find something with more options (it’s a base CE), more miles (145k), or, inevitably, an automatic.

I don’t care. With all the in-town driving I do, and with the honor of having 4 police precints within a 5 mile radius of my workplace, I need a car that will keep me out of trouble while having at least some fun until the points on my license go down. This one does the job and yes, I would have rather sold it by now.


2002 Volkswagen Beetle TDI  Wholesale $2500, Retail $3500

Right engine. Right leather seats.

The wrong transmission for everyone’s teenage daughter.


I flipped a 2002 Jetta not too long ago. Ergonomically, the Jetta was about three parsecs ahead of this Beetle. The dashboard on this thing seems to go on forever, or at least three feet of forever. The interior is as cheap as it is kitschy and, well, parts of that interior are the same lime green as the outside.

I should have known better then to buy a lime green Bug. But about a year ago I struck gold with a zonker yellow Beetle. So I thought that a green one could be an acceptable weird color alternative.  It’s not!

Everything works (miracle!), but this one just sits and ponder that decades old VW question,  “To break? Or not to break?”


1999 Toyota Solara – Wholesale $2250, Retail $3000

Now this one hit all of my buttons for my highway travels. Plenty of space. Comfortable for long trips. A V6 / 5-speed combination that effortlessly cruises down the interstate at an 80 mph clip while barely breaking a sweat. It only has one itty-bitty problem. After I took it down to Florida to see family, and up to Detroit to see the auto show, someone hit it. Figures!

The good news was that this  beige on beige Solara wasn’t badly hurt  at all. A tow square from an SUV pierced the plasticized bumper at a red light. The driver had almost blown through the red in front of a cop, and then decided to back up without looking. An act of stupidity that was hopelessly compounded by the cell phone attached to his head.


It actually worked out to my benefit.  The old bumper had  already been scuffed up hard thanks to the errant parking escapades of the prior owner. 1990′s coupes always wind up with those scuff marks on the bumper because the paint was put on wafer thin back then  and never held up.

It’s also an SE model, which in 1990′s Toyota-speak means that it has a cassette player only… no roof… and plastic wheel covers. SE really meant “Subtraction Edition” back in the day.


1997 Honda Civic EX – Wholesale $2000, Retail $3000 130k.

One owner. Sunroof. These Civics were incredibly popular up to a few years ago.

These days they still are here in the ex-urbs of Atlanta, but only the automatic versions. This particular one has the usual cosmetic issues. Some paint wear on the hood, flaking,  and a crack on the front bumper.



It’s also owned by my brother-in-law. So if I tell you any more negatives, I’ll quickly find myself outside the “Circle Of Trust”. It’s a good car. Really! Oh, and the battery’s dead.


1994 Mazda Protege – 60k original miles  - bought for $775 two years ago.

This is a bad, bad car. A terrible car. It’s like an ancient venereal disease. A horrific ride of almost Roger Smith-ian proportions.


But I absolutely love it. Why? Because it was the cockroach of compacts.

I had financed it and got it back. Twice. After it came back to me in an almost Kevorkian state, I fixed it up again and retailed it.  I only had a thousand in it and got over $4500 after two years of tough owners. So naturally, I love this one the most.

But what about you? If you were to handshake your way into the penurious plenitude of older stickshift vehicles, which one would you chose?

Note: The Beetle and Protege sold earlier this week, and I have to confess that my only exposure for these vehicles has been drive-by traffic until recently. I wanted to finance them (well, all but the Protege), but thankfully, I am buying a lot more late model vehicles these days instead of older stuff. If this keeps up I’ll probably continue to chronicle these older rides, but I will be back to my old focus of retailing newer ones.)

]]> 134
Hammer Time: Trading Cards, Tradin’ Cars Thu, 01 May 2014 11:00:20 +0000 kids-collecting-cards

Rookies. All-stars. Hall of Famers.

Those were the only three types of baseball cards that I thought were worth the trade when I was a kid. I was eight years old, but that didn’t stop me from becoming diligently schooled by my three older brothers who knew the ropes of other similar hobbies such as comics, coins, and stamps.

The drill was simple. Every time someone wanted to trade cards with me, I would ask them one simple question.

“What’s your favorite team?” From there, I would bring out an album loaded with baseball cards. Every one in mint condition and encased in plastic sheets. “Pick your favorites!” They would gather their own, and I would go through their collection, find the fresher cards in mint condition, and gather mine.

Over 30 years later I do the exact same thing with cars. I sell based on interest and buy based on condition and long-term reliability. I’m still not loyal to any brand or model these days. For me, even after all these years, the opportunity to buy and sell any car comes down to three simple concepts I learned in my youth.

Condition, presentation, and price.

Every car has its price, and it’s the condition and presentation that determine the value.

Unpopular vehicles may be the cheapskate’s dream. But they’re a seller’s nightmare.

Three door minivans? Buy them low, sell them quick, and avoid them like a painful venereal disease. A cheap car with low demand always takes up space for too long. Base model non-sporty wagons from the Y2K era with 5-speeds? Same deal.

Low demand, low performance cars net low returns. Even if you are a stingy bastard. In baseball card terms, they are the common players that nobody wants. The Chicken Stanleys who are used as cardboard fodder for the Jeff Bagwells.

Camrys and Accords? You have to pay a premium for the good ones and unless you finance, you better get one without major accidents. What sells for cash at this “all-star” level is the mint condition version.

You can get away with selling a popular car with a rough history to those with bad credit. Whenever I see a person who is struggling with a fancy car, I think about the traders who could never keep their good cards for long. There was always something a bit more new and popular that would catch their eye, and it was my job to figure out what it would be.

Baseball cards and cars pretty much sell the same way. 

1) Always offer a history.

Folks are always purchasing three things when they buy a used car. The model they want. The prior owner they prefer, and the maintenance history they desire. Even if you offer a piece of miscellaneous nothing such as, “I bought it two years ago from an older guy who lives in Pawtucket.”, the potential buyer will usually appreciate the fact that there is one less uncertainty in the history of your vehicle.

2) Sell yourself.

If you come across as an honest guy and an expert (or at least knowledgeable), you’ll have a big leg up on the 90+% who are either too scared or too corrupt to do the same.

3) Don’t be afraid to say a car has an accident. Everything has defects. 

In fact, telling folks specifically what happened can be a great way to affirm #1 and #2. A VW Beetle TDI I recently sold had an accident on the driver’s side that required a repaint on the door and a replaced front quarter panel. By showing what was done, emailing the Carfax history beforehand, and specifying who did the repair, I was able to show the buyers that I had nothing to hide.

That candidness alone often gives you a price premium over those sellers who just glaze through everything. When I sold cards, I would mention the small defects and often times, it made the other guy feel like he wasn’t getting screwed.

4) Clean the damn thing! Please!

You ever go to a junkyard and see all the wonderful souvenirs that are left behind by the last owner? Well, the junkyard doesn’t have to worry about those endearing mementos.

But you must certainly do.

The next owner probably doesn’t want that Hello Kitty CD holder on the sun visor. All those crumply things in the glovebox? Remove them and reorganize what you have so that you can give them a maintenance history that they can physically hold. I would get the car washed, vacuumed, and invest in a basic spray on or quick wax along with an hour or so of time removing stains and marks.

A mint condition baseball card was always a better buy in the eyes of my customers when I was a kid, and a clean car is no different.

5) If the car doesn’t sell immediately, study the market.

Edmunds, Kelly Blue Book, NADA, and even dealer-focused price guides such as Black Book and the Manheim Market Report all have one thing in common.

They are rough approximations based on imperfect data… and much of the time, those imperfections are due to a seller’s inflated idea of their vehicle’s condition.

Everybody falls victim to this at one time or another. Even dealers. Even yours truly. Most sellers tend to price their vehicles in clean condition even though their vehicles are somewhere between average and God awful. If you see no action out there, forget about the price guides. Look at how the competition is pricing the same type of vehicle. The marketplace always tells you things that the price guides miss.

6) Pictures, pictures, and more pictures.

Take pictures of everything before you advertise…. and take multiples. I have often found that early mornings offer the best time when shadows and sun reflections have the least impact on my pictures. Overcast days are also great for this purpose. So make sure to take pictures of everything; especially those close-up areas that aren’t perfect.

If a seller is already comfortable with the price, showing them the cosmetic issues now will eliminate the desire for a lower price when they see those defects in person.

7) Organize The Sale: Bill of Sale, Money, Title, Plate and Keys

A lot of folks have trouble selling cars because it’s an organization game. You have to bring everything together and understand the sequence of events so that the flow of the deal is always in motion. Shake hands. Answer questions. Give them physical records of the car’s history. Let them have time with the car. Be patient. Leave them alone. Give them space.

When you are organized, you can afford to be laid back and observant. People like that because it means you’re paying attention to them and putting their needs first. When I was trading baseball cards, the eye candy alone was enough to keep me and the other person occupied. With cars there are more steps, but the same human elements of the transaction applies.

When you’re organized, in anything, it’s easier for both parties to enjoy the experience. It also keeps you honest because you don’t have to figure things out on the fly.

Am I wrong? Is the four-square method of customer manipulation more effective than being a mensch, putting your best foot forward, and keeping organized?

Let me know…

]]> 22
Hammer Time: What’s In Your Oil? Wed, 30 Apr 2014 11:00:37 +0000 moparmuscle

Two hundred thousand miles.

It’s a beautiful moment for many a car owner.

As for me? Well, I admit that I cheated when I saw that number flash by in my wife’s car back in March. Like many an enthusiast, I had bought it used and was planning on keeping her daily driver for the long haul.

The question for me was, “How long would the long haul be?”  Since I buy, fix and sell a lot of vehicles, and have deeply imbibed the fluids of wisdom at the Bob Is The Oil Guy web site, I decided to live my life on the wild side.

I performed an oil analysis.

What I got back was a smorgasbord of technical information, and one pithy summation that went like this.

“STEVE – 200,000 miles? Please! This engine’s still a spring chicken. Metals look great here, so assuming she’s still running well and you’re not having any problems, then there is nothing about this sample that seems troublesome at all. Averages are based on about 7,600 miles on the oil. You could run your oil a bit longer, for sure. The TBN is kind of getting low (it’s down to 1.4 and 1.0 or less is low), but the TBN tends to drop more slowly the more use an oil sees, so it might hang on at this level for a while. The viscosity was fine assuming you used a 5W/20. Try 9k miles.”

I loved the spring chicken part. Boy that made my day. However that whole TBN remark threw me for a loop.

And what in the heck was a TBN in the first place? The BAD number???

Well, that’s when my quest for knowledge became a great big time suck. I went here, and later here. It was that second “here” which truly opened my eyes to what that TBN comment actually meant, and why I probably don’t want to delve any deeper into the inner workings of motor oil.

My engine was great. Case closed.  Barring any unusual events, I was good to go for many more miles. I could extend my oil interval to 9,000 miles from 6,000 miles with a synthetic blend. Or maybe I could do a full 15k with a high performance full-synthetic engineered for longevity.

Mobil 1 EP? Amsoil? Deep Purple? Sorry.

The sad fact is that my wife drives a common-as-kudzu Prius with a light foot, and enough driving distance for the engine to always warm up. The local shop charges $20 for a synthetic blend and a quality filter. My net savings would be maybe $5 if I did it myself once a year with synthetic (her car holds a little less than 4 quarts.)

I spent $25 to figure all this out. So much ado about nothing. It was time to take the thermometer out of the motor oil, and worry about one less thing in my life.

My technical results are highlighted here.  In the world where enthusiasts have to deal with the economics of keeping a car for a long time, an oil analysis can help you answer the uncertainties of a valvetrain’s health. But chances are, if your oil is regularly changed and you use products that are API-certified, there are better ways to spend your money.

If your car quits, chances are it won’t be your oil’s fault.




]]> 64
QOTD: The Economics Of Ownership Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:27:30 +0000  


$150 a week.

For some folks, this is a mere pittance. A lunch for four at a fancy restaurant that can be easily charged off to Uncle Sam and his seventeen trillion dollar debit card.

For others, it’s the beginning of a barnacle that will likely outlast their ability to pay it.

They will flex their muscles and run while they can. Then once they trip, due to a lost job or a family emergency, they will pick up an even heavier barnacle, with four wheels on it, and keep running.

It’s a vicious cycle of poverty. Where the poor always stay poor. After witnessing this cycle of automotive indebtitude for years on end,  I’ve come to blame one solitary thing.


Our society encourages dependency under the guise of capitalism. Young teenagers and adults are not taught to maintain anything… other than a bank account.

We, as a society, do not promote the idea of saving money by learning how to maintain things. We do it by offering the “rah-rah” cheerleading of self-help psychology. The anointing of so-called money gurus and experts who bring out the extremes of human behavior so that we feel better about ourselves.

The marketplace is about saving money by spending it. The more expensive the good, and the higher the debt, the more economic growth we have as a civilization.

When it comes to cars, appliances and homes, we are sent from schools of higher learning to a treadmill of perpetual ignorance. We are taught to buy it; not fix it. Maintenance and upkeep is meant for the professionals. Your payments create jobs and keep these hamster wheels of human work spinning in motion. Thereby creating a stronger economy.

It’s a fraud of the nastiest of orders. The mass of humanity spends their days performing relatively mindless work to pay off debts and hoping for a small dose of personal freedom once it’s all over. To keep this cycle going, we inflate everything we can at every level.

All debts are inflated these days by third parties that essentially do nothing. Housing values are pushed up by government policies and funny money paid to banks. The two entities most responsible for the economic collapse are now given all the tools to rebuild the cycle of debt.

As for the savers? They get their savings accounts obliterated from a 3% to 5% interest level, to 0%… plus billions more in fees.

The common citizen earns it, but they don’t get to keep it. Cars are now kept under shrouds of plastic and sealed steel so that ‘lifetime fluids’ and the basic steps of maintaining a car are kept well out of reach.

The CVT will save you a couple of miles per gallon. But once it breaks, your cost is likely to outweigh the entire car because you can’t rebuild it. As for those lifetime fluids, once the warranty runs out, it’s your problem.

One of the by-products of spending over 15 years at the wholesale auctions, and developing a long-term reliability study that focuses beyond the scope of Consumer Reports and other first owner focused publications, is that I get to see firsthand what hasn’t worked in the automotive marketplace.

I get to see the Volvo XC90 with the bad transmission. The Saturn VUE with a transmission driven by a cheap belt that is now broken and financially unsalvageable. The Dodge Intrepid with the 2.7 liter engine, that not even the Salvation Army can get to run right for 10 years.

What I don’t get to see is the educated kid who isn’t taught how to maintain their vehicle. I don’t get to see the title pawns that charge their customers 25% a month interest because their customers are working 40, but keeping nothing. Even with my business which is about 50% self-financing, I don’t get the customers who are under the knife of the seven year note.

One lost job, and their equity position returns to zero. What’s worse is that they get to pay even more the next go round.

Everyone has an opinion about how to reduce consumer debt and dependency. Some believe in the free market. Others would legislate their way into a conscripted paradise. As for me, I like excavators, open containers, and easy access when it comes to cars.

As for housing, health care, education and work life, I think the answer is a bit more complicated. So let’s stick to cars for now. What would you recommend to help change the economics of ownership?

]]> 299
Hammer Time: Might As Well Go For A Soda Thu, 10 Apr 2014 14:56:11 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

“Steve, what car should I buy?”

“Well, if I give you the real answer, you’ll roll your eyes and buy what you want anyway.”

“No really. I’m open to new ideas.”

“Okay then! Buy a 2012 Malibu. Buy a Buick Park Avenue. Buy a Dodge Raider or buy a Suzuki Equator.”

“Ummm… are you sure about that?”

“Hell no! Now go buy me a soda and buy yourself a Camry!”

A lot of enthusiasts give grief to the mainstream publications in this business. Sometimes I kinda don’t get why because to be brutally blunt, the “best car”  is usually firmly planted in the third row of most folk’s priorities when it comes to buying their next car.

For all the manufacturers desires to offer power, performance and utility together in one great vehicle, most of the general public just doesn’t care.

They usually want a brand first. Looks second. Then there’s fuel economy, safety, perceived quality… and a long, long list of excuses to get away from the less popular alternatives.

The best new car is rarely the best selling car in this business. There are Mazdas that I love which have a snowballs chance in hell of taking on the Toyotas and Chevys. Even if they do a far better job of checking off most consumer’s real world priorities, it’s a moot point and an inevitable outcome.

If Volvo came out with a breakthrough product, I seriously doubt that most shoppers of prestige brands would even remotely consider it. Never mind that there are plenty of reputable sources out there that can help dispel those myths as to which models now offer the best bang for the buck. Volvo no longer ranks in the pantheons of marketplace leaders. Case closed.

Even when mainstream publication have the gall to endorse an Oldsmobile or a Suzuki over a Camry or an Accord, the result of that neighborly advice is that people just won’t take it.

Why? People are brand loyal, and they are bias loyal.

Click here to view the embedded video.

That Ford station wagon that killed Aunt Edna’s dog 35 years ago?  Well, that just means Detroit cars are pure crap. Never mind that carsurvey, TrueDelta, and even the long-term reliability index I am co-developing have disproved a lot of those myths.

Cadillac can’t ever match a Mercedes. Mercedes isn’t as good as a Lexus. Lexus isn’t as good as a BMW. On and on through the merry go round of biases and BS until you can’t help but SAAB at the futility of recommending a great car at a steal of a price.

Kizashi! What? Exactly. It’s a great car if you play around with a stickshift version. You say you’re an enthusiast… but then when I recommend a stick version, you look at me like I’m from Mars.

The truth is that enthusiast cars don’t sell. The best cars for pure driving enjoyment, don’t sell. The Miata has been shucked in the low 10k range of annual sales for a long time now. Mustangs? An ungodly sales decline. There are some who blame these types of things on demographics or the police state. But I have a third theory.

American tastes increasingly resemble the American interstate. There is a sameness and sadness to the menu which is dictating that the best cars are psychologically unaccessible. Nobody wants to get off the straight and dull road that leads to the Camcrods, the Cor-antr-ics and the American badged truck.

Are all those models good? Well, yeah. But good seldom equals love. You want love? Go tear down a bias and rediscover why a great car is worthy buying.

Don’t forget the radar detector.

P.S. :  Feel free to share your thoughts below on great cars that have missed that elusive mark of mainstream acceptance over the years. I am going to be spending most of today getting a bonded title for a 21 year old Cadillac limousine. I will need intensive comic relief thanks to the interminable tortures that come with taking care of that type of title issue at the DMV. So please, feel free to share your stories and insights. I can always be reached directly at .

]]> 132
Can Car Sharing Work In Suburbia? Sat, 05 Apr 2014 13:00:08 +0000 car-share-parking-photo111

20 lawnmowers.

20 internet connections

20 videos of The Lion King.

Oh, and 60+ vehicles on one street.

I recently delved deep into one of the more challenging ideas of the modern age: car sharing in suburbia. It’s an idea that many non-enthusiasts and city dwellers love. But is it a good idea for suburbanites and the rest of us?


If we’re talking about the traditional form of commercialized car sharing, such as Zipcar and RelayRides, then the answers for right now are,= “No! Nein! Nyet!”.

Most of these services cost anywhere from $30 To $100 a day, and at least $10 an hour. For most folks who have to take their vehicles to the supermarkets, restaurants, friend’s houses and all the other places that make up the modern day ‘to-do’ list of suburban life, these services are just not economically viable.

The financial equation can be even worse for rural folk, and for auto enthusiasts in particular who happen to live in suburbia. The thought of giving up our rolling treasures to the pirates of bad driving is a big-time no-no nadir.

But that doesn’t mean car sharing can’t work if you have the right long-term relationships in place, and the right types of vehicles that complement each other for occasional use. Let me offer a real world example.c4


My neighbors who live diagonally from me have a small truck: a 1996 Toyota Tacoma with over 250k. They are retirees, and most of their daily transportation involves no more than one or two people. When they have visitors, they also have a 10 year old Cadillac Seville.

However, that Caddy just doesn’t offer enough seats for grandkids, parents and gransparents. Nor do the midsized cars that arrive on their driveway.

So what do they do?


Well, I just happen to have a 2003 Chrysler Town & Country minivan these days. Seven seats. Dual sliding doors, and about 125,000 miles.  I have known my neighbors for a very long time, and we have both seen how we drive and maintain our vehicles. At the same time, even though I’m a car dealer, I can’t keep small trucks on my car lot. They are expensive to buy these days at the auctions, and the rare affordable one tends to sell quickly once it’s front-line ready.

As for minivans? They have become the modern day unsellable car in my world. So whenever he has a need for a minivan, which is about once every couple of months, I give him the keys to my ride. And whenever I need to move a lawnmower, a refrigerator, or just recently, a $20 bench press and weight set from the world famous Blue Chicken Auction, I borrow his small truck.


We’re not the only folks who do this in my neck of the woods. The neighbors who live down the street from me have a full-sized van with plenty of towing capacity for their irrigation business. They also have a trailer for their equipment and a tow dolly. What they don’t have is space to house everything without parking on the street and encouraging the local code enforcement dimwits to get on their case.

So I offer them free storage at the back of one of my shops, use the tow dolly or trailer if there is ever a need, and the local suburban Gestapo has one less target for their punitive fines and harassment.

The van, trailer and dolly are also used in that rare event when a neighbor needs to move a riding lawnmower, or when a car is laid down on the side of the road. We get the keys and move the heavy things to wherever they need to go. No need for AAA or a U-haul.


The goal of this light version of car sharing isn’t to share one vehicle 100% of the time. It is to satisfy that occasional 1% need. So that you don’t wind up wasting money on a one-size-fits-all, high-cost vehicle.


Is this a better idea for suburbanites? The article here summarizes a lot of the benefits and pitfalls. But as the old acronym goes, YMMV.

So what do you think? Can car sharing work in suburbia…and would you be willing to do it?

Note: You can reach Steve Lang directly at


]]> 83
New Or Used : To Fleet? Or Not To Fleet? Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:10:34 +0000
Hi Steve,

I really enjoy your articles.  Thank you.

I have a question about fleet cars.  I was driving to a meeting in one of the fleet cars my employer has.  Nothing special, a late model Ford Fusion .  And I was thinking is this a better deal to buy when they get rid of it than another used car?  Then I realized that people who use a car that doesn’t belong to them trash it. So I thought, “No way!”

Then I realized that the same people who don’t take care of it, aren’t the same people who maintain it.  So are fleet cars a better deal then non fleet on the market? After giving them a good cleaning does it not matter one way or the other all other things being the same?

There is an age old saying that applies here, “It’s not the horse. It’s the rider.”

If you have ever seen a horse trained, or experienced a long scenic horseback ride with someone who had never been a horse before, you’ll get the gist of this saying real quick. Folks who use natural horsemanship techniques to train their horses are usually able to give their horses a better life. As it relates to cars, just change two words and you’ll have the core of what differentiates a good life for a used car from a bad one.

It’s not the car. It’s the driver.

The daily driver is going to have a far greater impact on the long-term quality and longevity of a vehicle than the manufacturer. So let me cut to the chase and ask you the two salient questions that apply to your particular situation.

Do you know who drove this vehicle? Or how they drove it?

If you don’t know, then either try to find out or accept the fact that there is more risk to the long-term ownership equation. The deal may offset those possible expenses.

What has always shocked me over the years is that most consumers are willing to throw thousands of dollars into the wind without first taking a car to have it independently inspected. I look at everything before I buy, as did my grandfather who came from a long line of successful cattle traders. My advice is to get that vehicle looked at by someone who has wiser eyes when it comes to cars. A fleet vehicle may have a good maintenance regimen but that doesn’t mean it will be a sound purchase.


]]> 74
Auction Day : Pullin’ A 1080 Tue, 01 Apr 2014 11:00:21 +0000  


Auto enthusiasts often dream of taking an exotic car through some of the nicest stretches of winding roads the world can offer.

Hairpin turns… beautiful smooth roads…. nice scenery… and all the power and finesse one can summon in a car made for the perfection of that very moment.

Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, the list of great cars serving this unique purpose of vehicular bliss is as long as the opportunity is unique. Even the most frugal of gearheads want to experience this thrill sometime between now and their eventual nirvana.

But then again, I may be completely wrong on all of this. Actions speak louder than words in the enthusiast community, and what I find inside a lot of gearhead garages looks a bit like…

This 1999 Solara  vs. a 2002 BMW 525i Wagon. Same price at a car lot and same mileage. Guess which one sells quicker?

This 1999 Solara vs. a 2002 BMW 525i Wagon. Same price at a car lot and same mileage. Guess which one sells quicker?


Let’s face it. How often do car people proclaim their automotive passions, and wind up buying an old boring car?

Does the performance car represent the best of what enthusiasts want these days? Or is there something else?

My wager, after 15 years of buying and selling cars at the auctions, is something else. In fact, my hunch is that many enthusiasts are more enamored with the deal of buying a good cheap car, rather than the performance potential of their daily ride.

This shift has little do with our actual tastes. In a world where there is far greater traffic enforcement, higher insurance rates, and fewer opportunities to enjoy a long and winding drive without getting tagged by the revenuing activities of various government entities, the opportunity to cloak our rides seems like the best option.

Also, we are now in that unique point of automotive history where even plain-jane Camrys and Chrysler minivans can offer as much power as the Acura NSX. It’s hard to get as excited about horsepower and performance when Mom’s Accord can now go 0 to 60 in 6 seconds.

We want the deal… and often times we consider real world performance to come standard. Even though our opportunities to use it are often hindered by the local environment.

The core of automotive enthusiasm these days seems to come from getting the unsellable car at a steal of a price, and transforming it into a sleeping beauty that will endure far beyond the exotics and their commercialized fantasies.

So with that in mind, let’s look at one of the cars coming up to bid this week. A car that even in the most extreme of situations, won’t ever find itself making that long trip from my car lot to your own driveway.


A 2002 Hyundai Accent: Is this a hermit’s heaven? Or is this a transformer stuck in partial ‘transform!’ mode?

Well, let’s say you want a cheap-to-own vehicle with low mileage, minimal depreciation costs, that will serve as a rolling theft deterrent system in your daily travels?
If that is you, then it looks like I’ve found your next ride. A 2002 Hyundai Accent L, 5-speed, with 25,769 miles. It may have looked like it got into a fight and lost– however, if you want to have reliable transportation that will allow you to avoid transporting family and friends, this may indeed be the ultimate beater ride.
a4This car embodies what I call the “1080″ — a car that can be bought at 10% of the new price and still easily has about 80% of its life left.
In the case of this dead bone, basic and broke Accent, it’ll still probably sell for about $2000 plus the auction fee at the sale tomorrow. So maybe we’re looking at a 2085. Or a 1590.
Or maybe, this car will go for a far higher price than a lot of folks would assume.
The reason is unless these pictures deceive me, all those body panels can be replaced either at a junkyard or a catalog. Frame damage can be hard on panel gaps if a car is hit the wrong way.
This car looks like it needs two bumpers, a hatch, and some miscellaneous clips and brackets along with a $260 paint job and some minor body work. With about $1300 in reconditioning costs and extremely low mileage, this car could be financed for $500 down and $50 a week for as long as the customer can’t do the math.
36 months? 48 months? 60 months? The sad fact is that our society seems to relish and promote a long-term debtful existence.  If an Aston Martin can be financed by some poor soul for 144 months, then surely a cheap used Hyundai built with better quality control techniques can last at least 5 years.
Gas sippers are a very hard niche to buy on the cheap. Stickshifts do help lower the demand, but it’s often not enough to attain a true 1080. For that you need something in the lines of an unpopular trifecta… plus one.
An orphan brand. V8. Wrong wheel drive, and an association with owners who care as much about what’s popular these days as you or I do.
In a word, retirees.
On the other side of automotive apathy comes this Y2K MGM GS.
Why not say what it is in long form? Because when you drive one of these things, it doesn’t really matter now does it?
b5Colors are a blah, common as a cold, silver exterior, accompanied by an 80′s surplus, yawn-inducing, Metamucil inspired gray interior. This one can seat five adults and an ungrateful brat, and has 33,532 miles.
A “Shoneys Frequent Dining” sticker comes standard in the glovebox, along with empty blood pressure medicine bottles, and a “marching band music never gets old damn it!” cassette collection.
AAA decals along with AARP credentials must be shown in plain sight at all times. Only the 1st button on the radio is indexed to a talk radio station, while the cutting edge cassette to CD adapter will be sold separately.
It’ll probably sell tomorrow for $4000 and the auction fee. The Stevie Lang out the door price for non-state residents will be around $4500.
One other kicker. If you only drive a car sparingly and have a boat or jetskis you tow on the weekends, it’s not a bad deal.
Do you drive less than 7500 miles a year? The gas premium will likely be swallowed up by the insurance discount. Plus with the right aftermarket parts these cars are surprisingly fun to drive.
You may still have that plastic intake manifold  issue and those seats may require a leather upgrade. But once you’re over those humps, the only thing stopping this car from lasting another a decade is the potential redoubling of gas prices.
So… what about your world? Have you been able to merge these two divergent forces that are excitement and affordability into one great car? Or has the ultimate fun-to-drive, affordable car, been as rare for you as an Italian tractor.
Note: You can always reach Steve Lang directly at or at his Facebook page
]]> 70
Hammer Time: Portrait Of A Misdemeanor Thu, 27 Mar 2014 04:20:21 +0000 lot1

6:30 P.M. on a Sunday evening… and three more vehicles just pulled up to my car lot.

You may think that’s a good thing, and it would be if people didn’t park all over the place.

One person parks in one direction. The guy coming from the west parks right in front of that guy, and so forth. This happens in infinite combination until the process of getting people in an out becomes a personal pantomime of moving and motioning cars. At certain times of the day my work becomes comparable to the late Marcel Marceau.

I knew I had to do something about it. However, I didn’t expect that something to become the enabler of my 11 year old son’s criminal history.

The day started innocently enough. Every Sunday afternoon, my family and I will always do three things.

We eat plenty of samples while shopping for our groceries.

We take long walks with the dogs.

And finally, we do something semi-athletic.

It can be throwing around a frisbee. Shooting hoops. Or on this particular afternoon, playing around with a slightly deflated football which is easier for young kids to throw and hold.

This is the weekly low-cost version of our family’s very own preventative health care plan. This time we drove off in a 1983 Mercedes 300D, and headed to a nice parking spot in the periphery of Deliverance country. A small town. No nearby shops.

You would think that the place would only host a few local biking diehards and that rare Georgia family willing to do an outdoor activity.

Well, the park was completely packed to the gills. Everyone and their dog was out either walking or riding bikes. Just as the 70′s era brought out the fitness craze in the West Coast, the 70′s temperatures resulted in a turnout of outdoor enthusiasts that was more like California and less like… well… Georgia.

So we got out and I did the football thing with my son. A game of catch. Some basic football plays. I threw, he ran. He threw, I jogged. The world was sunny and beautiful.

After about 45 minutes of this we decided to take a break and get some water. This is when the world started to become complicated.

The first water fountain we went to was broken. No water. No chance. So we started walking down the trail to find another one.



Now when I say trail, I really mean a bicyclist’s paradise. The Silver Comet Trail is one of the few things done right in my neck of the woods. Smooth flat ground. Plenty of shade. Everyone follows the rules, and the scenery changes enough to make your car-free ride interesting whether you go north or south.

However if you’re a walker, like the two of us, every minute or so a small fleet of bikes is going to go right past you. After a while you start hearing, “On the left!” so much that you think everyone is trying to pinpoint your personal politics. So after a mile of walking and finding yet another water fountain that didn’t work, we decided to go on an actual dirt trail that was parallel to the Silver Comet.

This area turned out to be a local dumping ground. Every few hundred feet there were some old couches, a kid’s play set, and an endless onslaught of empty barrels.

Then we found this…


Now when we found this sign, it was encrusted in a nice sized mud hill with about a third of it submerged in the Georgia clay. Stop symbol. Arrow. No words. It resembled the perfect illiterate version of the words, “Please Stop Here!” So naturally, we kicked off the remaining mud, lifted it out, and put it in the back of the old Benz.

It fit perfectly. After finding finding a working water fountain near the fire station, we went off to the nearby Home Depot to straighten out that little bottom arrow portion.

We may as well have been pissing in the wind. If the nearby outdoor places were packed, the Home Depot was swarmed. After about 10 minutes of finding nobody, I took it upon myself to use a nearby clamp to get the bottom portion straightened out a bit. After a few Herculean tight turns, the sign was a bit more straight, but not much.

So the two of us went off to the lot and that’s where the proverbial dim bulb went off in my big head, “Why don’t you use the car to flatten that portion of the sign out?” So that’s what we did. My son kept his future Eagle Scout eyes glued to the lower portion of the sign as I positioned the rear right tire of the Mercedes just so on the flat ground. The first try was a little off. The second try… perfect.

I was planning on letting the thing set overnight and then coming back this afternoon when, lo and behold, a large Latino family came by wanting to test drive some minivans. Interest in minivans in north Georgia is about akin to interest in the New York Mets in the same locale. I had three of them sitting at my lot since late 2013. So naturally, I gave them all the time they needed.

15 minutes turned into 30 minutes, which eventually turned into an hour’s worth of combined testing on all three vehicles. They asked questions in English, I answered in Spanish, and pretty soon the combined Spanglish resulted in a nice late afternoon conversation. It turned out they had bought a minivan from me three years ago, and although I didn’t remember them, I did remember the vehicle because when it comes to used minivans these days, nobody willingly buys the damn things anymore.

My son came up to me and reminded me about the sign, and I asked them for a bit of help. So we used some leftover wire and hung the thing up.


No worries. All was good until I came home and shared my recent find on Facebook.

One Guy – “That’s government property!”

Me – “That’s abandoned government property…”

Some Guy Named Frank – “Let me tell you about the time when I used a traffic sign like that to hide some rust and a few joints in an old MG. I nearly got sentenced to five years in prison for said deeds!”

One Other Guy Not Named Frank – “Screw the sign… tell me about the 300D.”

Yet Another Guy – “Abandoned or not, it’s still government property. You don’t know who abandoned it. Basically, it could be possession of stolen property.”

Me – “Given that the government sells these things as scrap metal to the general public, I am not too concerned about it.”

Fellow Writer – “… and a mere 24 hours later, he found himself in Guantanamo Bay, rocking the electric waterboard.

“Where is our Steven?” asked the editors of TTAC, Yahoo and R&T, “for he owes us many a story”.

“There never was a Steven”, said the man from the Georgia Dept of Highway Signs and Counterterrorism, as he squared his mirrored Raybans and gestured toward the ceiling with his Glock. “Ya feel me?”


The ex-urbs of the Atlanta happened to have been neutron bombed during the sub-prime crisis. So to be blunt, a lot of signs, poles and concrete sewer fittings are still out there at this point. But did I make a mistake? Will recycling a piece of metal for a useful purpose land me into Georgia’s  version of Sing-Sing prison?

I would be willing to take the risk… if it weren’t for the fact that most of my customers are still ignoring the sign. My next plan is to buy up a line of deer heads and put them up on the fence with the words, “Park Here Deers!”

Any other ideas?


]]> 37
Hammer Time: Don’t Buy With Your Eyes! Wed, 26 Mar 2014 18:04:26 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

People buy with their eyes in this business. Always have and always will.

I don’t care if you are a pseudo-sophisticated Yuppie wanna-be who thinks that Subaru is a value brand, (It’s not. They cater to the Costco crowd.) Or an impoverished mother of five who is taking her $6000 tax check and blowing it on the Cadillac of minivans.

Image completely rules this business. New or used. As much as I would love to sell old sturdy wagons and functional minivans that will last for another seven years, my customers want the modern-day crossover. The SUV that hypothetically gets great mileage if you read the window sticker upside down. A compact with an impossible to find leather interior, and of course, the upscale ride with the nice big wheels.

The first test of whether a car sells in this business comes down to a simple question.

“How much is it worth?”

That question is not answered by the window sticker. It’s figured out by the eyes, the hands, the ears, and all the senses within your body when you touch, see, and even smell that vehicle.

New or old? Doesn’t matter.

The reason why the Mazda 2 and the Honda Insight haven’t sold a lick, while the Mazda 3 and the Honda Accord are still wildly popular, is because those first two cars have completely flunked that test for most of the buying public.

Doors, steering wheels, and dashboards. Most cars are psychologically sold within the first twenty seconds of sitting in a car, looking at your surroundings, taking it all in, and turning the key. Your facial expressions and implicit behaviors tell the whole story. If you sit in a vehicle that feels and looks cheap, it doesn’t sell. Not enough sound insulation? Buttons and knobs that have the tactile qualities of a dog’s rubber-bone chew toy? Those are the things that quickly submarine the sales potential of a car well before the dealer tries to four-square you into a higher price.


The same dynamics take place on the wholesale level. At the wholesale auto auctions, where your trade-in’s, off-lease and repossessed vehicles get sold to the highest bidder, it’s the look of a vehicle that creates the market demand.

You want a premium price at an auction? It has to look clean and front line ready. Interiors need to be cleaned out and deodorized. The wheels need to be shiny, and there is one more missing ingredient that 99% of my fellow dealers miss when they come to sell at the sales.

Click here to view the embedded video.

A well-paid auctioneer and ringman.

You want the premium price? Tip them well. The guy who uses  his powers of persuasion to buy with a microphone, and the guy on the floor with him, are no different than the salespeople on the showroom floor trying to shuck off leftover Cruzes and Silverados.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Incentives create sales. And unlike the commission based salesman at the new car stores, auctioneers and ringmen get paid a flat fee by the auction. Which means that when I come on the block and sell my inventory I always tip them.

Typically I give $20 to each one if it’s a smaller run of ten or fewer vehicles. Larger runs get $50 and a particularly successful one gets $100. As an auto auctioneer and ringman in my earlier days, I lived the importance of getting good tips and back in the late 90′s and early-2000′s, your tips often exceeded what the auctions paid you. These days tipping is scarce, which frankly gives me even more incentive to do it.

I had a small run of six cars two Tuesdays ago which was a rolling representation of how important clean cars and well-paid staff are to any organization.


A 1999 plain-jane beige Lincoln town Car with 211,000 miles was bought for all of $425 late last year from a title pawn. This was crusher money (the market price for junkyard bound vehicles) and with the interior driver’s door panel smashed to hell and five months of sitting around with dirt and debris, it wasn’t worth much of anything to the pawn company. The body was perfect. However long-term neglect can make even the nicest of vehicles looking like junkyard relics.

I took my Snap-On battery box, started it up, and bought it. From there I hired a detailer who works for Carmax $70 to do a good thorough clean-up on the Crown Vic, topped off the fluids, and had a driver take it to the auction for $25.

It sold for $1800 less the $125 auction fee. Two guys who never bothered to open the door on this thing got into a dogfight and the auction staff, composed of a World Champion ringman and a sharp competitive bid-caller, squeezed every single penny possible from that thing.

Most of my other vehicles fell into the same pattern. Even my mistakes from 2013. A 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP that was bought for $3200 and tripped a transmission code only after I had driven it for a week sold for $3800. A Kermit-the-frog green Rodeo with a knocking engine that blew up after the absent minded customer forgot to put the oil cap back on it went for $900. A Y2K red VW Golf four door with low miles, but a tranny that couldn’t stay in overdrive had been bought for $2155. Another mistake that does happen in the course of buying lots of vehicles where, in essence, you are sometimes playing the percentages between good cars and bad cars. I made a few hundred selling it that day. If I hadn’t tipped my auctioneer and ringman I have no doubt it would have sold for at least $500 less.


What didn’t sell? A 94′ Lexus LS400 that I had bought for $900 plus a $120 auction fee way back in late 2012. That one had been bought without a serpentine belt and to be frank, I got lucky on it. It has been financed twice and even though I did not want it back, the brief owners had employment issues. Not even four months of grace each time could keep this vehicle away from the lot. So I drive it to and fro these days, and since I rarely have time to clean it, I was expecting a low price at the sale.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I no-saled it with a bid price of $1450. Much less than the crappy Lincoln. Enough to break even on a pure purchase basis. But not enough to pay for the set of new tires I bought for it that usually go for $600 a pop, and the Lexus still has plenty of life left. A clean one at this time of year will usually sell wholesale for at least $2000.

That’s how the cookie crumbles in the car business. Homework and good work lead to the higher returns. But what about you? Has there been a vehicle you bought with your eyes instead of your head? How were you able to finally get out of that never-ending expense?

]]> 86
Hammer Time: The Mitsubishi Banana Mon, 24 Mar 2014 09:00:11 +0000 ec6

Otherwise known as the Mitsubishi Eclipse.

No car has better embodied the sad decline of a once competitive automaker.

Awkward styling. Poor interior space and wonky ergonomics. Plus, you got a double whammy if you decided to keep them in the arid parts of the country.

Thin flaky paint… and a weird flaw with the glues and vinyls used on the dashboard. The net effect of which is…



Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of other vehicles that suffer a similar fate — especially here in the heat enriched world that is Hotlanta.


The Ford Taurus dashes are legendary for their ability to serve as cubbyholders for your paperwork. If it’s late-90′s model that doesn’t get garaged, this storage space comes standard.


Kia products were even worse during the early 2000′s. Part of this was abated by the long warranties that Kia offered to compensate for the second-rate glues, foam paddings and adhesives. Even today though, the headliners and dash materials for their older used cars don’t seem to be holding up to Kia’s  aspirations for value and quality.


But the worst of them, the crème de la crème of substandard materials with nary a fix in sight, goes to Mitsubishi.


The good news is you can buy a 2006 Eclipse that has been well kept for all of $4000 these days at a wholesale auction and if you fix them up, they can be retailed for around $5000 to $6000. Not a bad price for a sporty vehicle that came from a manufacturer that offers surprising reliability on their four-cylinder models.

The hard part is fixing those peeling bananas on the dash. There seems to be no enduring fix for this cosmetic ailment because the foam rots from within..


So to make it an enduring fix, you have to replace it all.  Then you have the paint issues which were thankfully rectified in later model years. As for the earlier ones? Consider a basecoat/clearcoat paint job and a healthy level of waxing to keep it looking good.

It’s a shame because, at least in mind, no car has been more important to the successes of Mitsubishi than the first generation Eclipse. The image of that model as a class leader could have set the stage for a long, long list of Mitsubishis that were both sporty and practical.

Instead we ended up with this…




and this…


What’s your take? Is it worth it for Mitsubishi to invest in a recall for the last of these rolling dodos? Or does the sordid memory of a defunct model deserve to be buried and forgotten?


]]> 64
Hammer Time: The Third Set Wed, 19 Mar 2014 17:16:43 +0000 shoot1

“Gimme Carter!!! Gimme Carter!!!”

“You can have him!” My brother Lewis, a lifelong conservative was watching me, a hyperactive  six year old, pointing eagerly at our home’s only TV.

“I’m voting for Reagan.”

“Pa-tau!!1 Pa-tau! To a 1st grader’s ear, the word Reagan sounded just like “Ray gun”. And for all I knew, Carter and Reagan were locked in some Star Wars parallel universe fighting each other for control of the presidency.

Lord knows that 34 years later, I would need every single ounce of that youthful imagination to get through a day long movie shoot.

My wife and I always try to spend one day out of the month together. No kids. No work responsibilities. Just the privacy and solitude that comes with two people who are well-matched in what has become a picky, picky world.

She wants to get back into the film and video world, part-time, and so I took it upon myself to get two vehicles that would be a good fit for that elusive older car that looks neither brand new nor decrepit.


The 1980 Cadillac Seville that I mentioned last week was the optimal fit for this journey.  Black on black. Perfect leather seats. A little bit of wear. But not enough to make it look like anything more than a five year old car for the one to two seconds it would wind up on film.  After I put in a new master cylinder and properly bled out the brakes, it was good to go.

The second car was a more interesting case. I had sold a 1983 Mercedes 300D Turbodiesel to a fellow that I thought was a hardcore Mercedes enthusiast for all of $1700. I only made about $400 out of the deal. But I always take personal pride in making sure older cars are given to true enthusiasts. Instead of chucking it to someone looking to donate a car to the human hurricane within their family.


I got a great deal on that old Benz and in turn, left nothing to chance. New filters, fluids, brakes, two new tires. I spent about $300 prepping it for sale in parts and sold it to a guy who I thought would do a good job keeping it.

The good news is he didn’t abuse it. The bad news was that I couldn’t find out whether he took the lease amount of effort of changing the oil.

He said he did it recently. But a quart low already? The alignment is off? And that inner-tie rod end needs to be replaced? Mother of pearl!

A friend of mine who works for Porsches and Maseratis decided to give me the full-report on it while I handled the Cadillac.  The Cadillac was flawless. The Mercedes? Still tight. Just minor stuff…

“You’re getting picky-picky with this one Steve! Damn things old enough to be a Grandma in Alabama.”

“My wife wants to drive it out to a movie shoot. She hates big cars. So I’m gonna be drivin’ out the Caddy.”

“Get her an Impala or a Malibu instead Steve. I hate the smell of this diesel…$^^%$!!!”

My wife came by with her 1st gen Prius, and after I spent over ninety-five dollars filling the two vehicles up, we headed straight for Conyers, Georgia. A small town located somewhere between civilization and Deliverance.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The drive was the usual homicidal freakshow that is Atlanta traffic.  Folks don’t use their turn signals. Cell phones are surgically attached to most commuters, and two people driving 65 mph are justifiably banished to the right side of the freeway where they belong.


The Cadillac was just majestic. GM ‘s styling may have been a bit off the mark for this generation of Seville. But the 6.0 Liter Cadillac 368 engine was just perfectly matched to this particular generation, and it’s a shame that GM decided to off it after only one year for their diesel and 8/6/4 abominations. As for steering and handling,  you can do the same exact one finger cruising with this car that you can do for nearly any good Lincoln or Cadillac of days gone by… and it’s easier to drive than the Mercedes.


The Mercedes was meh. A 300D is expected to be infinitely higher in decibels than an old school Caddy and, even for the time, it wasn’t quite a luxury car.


I will admit that the material quality alone is easily a parallel universe beyond the Cadillac.  All the fake wood and cheaper vinyl of the Cadillac pales to the glory that is the W123′s design and engineering excellence.

That difference though is eliminated once you turn the key.

For the experience that is daily driving through a busy metropolitan area, I preferred the Cadillac. It has enough luxury to keep you isolated from the rampant vehicular stupidity that surrounds, you while allowing the driver to hear the smoothness of a big Detroit 6.0 Liter V8 over the 3.0 Liter clackety-clack-clack of the Mercedes. This noise difference is especially noticeable during the interminable traffic jams that happened on the ride back.

We didn’t hit anything other than air molecules for this first 35 miles journey. We arrived early. Just in time for the most important event for movie extras between the waiting and the shooting.


The eating. Lunch for a successful TV program is a true wonder to behold, and since there were only a few extras for this show which we’ll assume is called, “Go And Throw Ice At The Devil!”. Since there were only two of us at the time, we were spared of the usual culinary segregation and got to eat with the cast and crew.

I saw a familiar face as soon as I got out of the Seville. “Steve! I miss that old yellow pickup truck!”


“It’s down the street from me. The guy is using it for his lawnmower repair business.”

“He’s not restoring it? Damn! I wanted that thing.”

“I’ve been to his house. The family doesn’t believe in anything after 1984. He spent an hour going through the truck and it’s now the ugliest good running truck in town. ”

Brando and I caught up on life, and my wife caught up on crossword puzzles. At least until the opening shoot.


It was supposed to easy. The main character leaves his driveway in some Grizwold 1970′s woody wagon. My wife’s car goes straight past. The Caddy turns right, a Ford truck turns left, and a Triumph TR6 idles away at a stop sign.

Sounds easy enough? Not when you don’t have enough walky-talkies.

We did the shot 16 times. 16 TIMES! And every time I did the shoot, I got an unwelcome surprise.

The police officer blocking off the road I turned into decided to change his cruiser’s parking position after each shoot. Why? I have no idea. His vehicle wasn’t even in the camera shot. But sure enough, every single time I made that turn, I found myself performing another new and exciting three point turn with a 34 year old Cadillac.

“Ka-thunk! Ka-thunk!” Asthamtic sounding acceleration back to position. Then wait….


I also discovered something else. Black on black plus even a 70 degree time will equal about 90 degrees inside one of these things. The A/C worked, thanks to the prior owner who converted it into R134. Unfortunately the director wanted the vehicles to idle at all times. So we likely wasted about $30 worth of gas in the shooting process.

None of the cars broke down or even overheated. However the Triumph had more blue smoke than anything I had ever seen that didn’t already have a two stroke engine in it. I’m willing to bet that the thing was dirtier than any old scooter you can find… but it ran. That vehicle was a bit rough around the edges. But this gorgeous Riviera helped smooth out the line-up that day.


After the shoot, we had dinner and then… a holding cell. No joke. The extras had to stay four abreast in a 2 foot by 10 foot room with no nuttin’ for two hours.


Conversation, yes. Smartphone? Wonderful! A TV? Surely, you’re joking Mr. Feynman.

Once the clock struck exactly 8:48 P.M. we were out on parole. No overtime this time. Brando signed us out and we quickly made a 37 mile skedaddle towards the north Georgia woodlands we call home.

Will we do it again? Probably. However, Georgia weather is rather nasty and brutish during the summer time. A Malibu with light colored cloth and a snow white exterior may be the perfect match for the next set.


]]> 13
Hammer Time: Rediscovering My Inner Jersey Mon, 10 Mar 2014 11:00:34 +0000 sev1

114 car dealers. Every single last one of them looking for an impossibly good deal among the 150 vehicles at the auction on a near-Arctic Monday morning.

Even if it’s a seemingly bad deal. It doesn’t matter during this time of year.

This is officially tax season… which means that cars that couldn’t even get a $500 down payment during the post-Christmas drought will soon be picked up in earnest by the sub-prime, debt happy public. A $1200 down payment as their first financial tombstone of 2014 will be followed by a long line of bogus fees, and a note that will hopefully be flipped into funny money (now known as sub-prime asset backed securities) before the drowning debtor becomes financial roadkill.

Everything is high. But surprisingly not as high as in years past. Orphaned brands are mostly cheap. Minivans are cheap, and everything from older luxury coupes to younger hatchbacks can be had for decent money if they’re not sporty or popular.

Speaking of popular. Let me show you a little somethin’.


This 1980 Cadillac Seville is the King of Swing and the purveyor of all things cool.


I’m not even sure if I can give this vehicle justice by these pics. Like a lot of older cars that are unfashionable but well cared for, this Seville has “it”.


The paint is a perfect compliment to the design. Unlike the wretched vinyl tops, two tone medicine blues, and malaise era engines that made this car into a rolling joke, this Seville seems to be one of the few exceptions to the rule that was GM mediocrity.


For starters, it’s an 80′ model with no smoke. Which means it ended up with a decent engine. The 6.0 Liter Cadillac V8 which produces… well… let’s just say it’s the best of the worst.


The black interior and low seating position is designed for the future low riders of these models. You know. The ones who were busy listening to UTFO and the Breakin’ soundtrack instead of Snoopy and that Two-pack dude.


That’s all original. I’m still not sure if it’s real wood or fake wood. Let’s just call it Cadillac wood and move on.


Everything still works on this vehicle. The auto temp control. The radio. The instant mpg calculator which rarely goes above 25 mpg. It’s all there. Actually I was hitting around 28 mpg on that thing. But I’m not sure if that was due to the equipment getting some Imperial calculations between 1980 and today.


93,000 miles. Original. Well, it is a repaint and I have  to work on a few wires (cough! cough!). When I saw it, I knew I would never see anything quite like it ever again. Time marches on and the unpopular rides of yesteryear get dumped into the hardcore and borderline psychopathic of car owners. I know enough of my fellow compatriots to realize that come hell or high bidding, I was going to have to buy this thing.


So I did my usual trick. I hid in the back with my leather jacket and jeans against the cold cement wall. I saw my friend, the auctioneer, who knew me back when I was an auctioneer. He started at 3k. I made eye contact. Shucked two fingers onto my U2 leahter jacket. And quickly put them back in my pocket as my friend wailed, “Habadagive two grand! 21! I got money! 21! Habadagive 21!”

Except no one believed him. I had put in the bid within three seconds of his downward cadence from three grand, to two grand, to what was usually a grand opening bid. Most starting bids go down about $2000 to $3000 at the auctions before they head back up to where the sellable range is.


This particular time, there would be no uptick.  After about five seconds of low ball signs of one finger (for $1000) and the words $1500 mouthed out to the auctioneer… the hammer fell. I had bought one of the last of the pseudo-luxurious mohicans for $2000 plus a $155 auction fee.

Was it a steal? Hell no! I bought it because I want to enjoy the experience of owning it, and then later, sell it to someone who will love it a bit more than yours truly. One of the first rules of the car business is, “Never fall in love.” So I’m going to play around with it for a few weeks, and then let it go to an enthusiast who will make this baby Caddy endure.


Oh, one other thing. Cadillac may have screwed up their brand big-time throughout the 1980′s. From this Seville to the Allante, Cadillac was completely castrated during this time and I have no fondness for the bean counters and the Howdy Dowdy CEO who guided them during the Reagan Era.


However this Fisher Body Seville, with an engine solely (and soul-ly) given to the Cadillac division represents a high mark within the low mark.

This downsized Seville rides just like one of those older, floaty Cadillacs from the 1970′s. It’s an amazing ride. Easy to steer, and a beauty to behold in the flesh.

I plan on selling it for $2500.





]]> 92
Should You Sell Your Car At Carmax? Fri, 07 Mar 2014 10:00:14 +0000 carmax

100,000 miles?

200,000 miles?

300,000 miles?

Everyone has a certain point with their daily driver when they would rather see money back in their pocket, instead of seeing more money fall out of their pocket.

Time marches on. That old clunker loses it’s endearing qualities and then, what do you do?

Well, the answer depends a lot on what type of vehicle you’re trying to sell… which is why I’m introducing Carmax’s wholesale operations into this write-up.


A lot of us are already familiar with Carmax’s retail operation.

No-haggle pricing. No hard sells or bait-and-switch tactics. The foundation for what made Saturn such a successful new car brand back in the 1990′s has been refined, improved and eclipsed by Carmax.

Like em’ or hate em’, Carmax is now the official used car Goliath of the auto industry.


This article from Automotive News does a great job of highlighting the retail side of their success. Carmax is now twice the size of second-place Autonation, and larger than the third, fourth, and fifth place automotive retailers combined. If Carmax manages to stay on track with a forecasted 500,000 units sold for 2014, and maintains their $2,150 in net profit per unit, they will likely eclipse over a billion dollars in profits… just with their retail operations.

That first billion is the one everyone here is already familiar with. However it’s the other side of their business, the wholesale side, that’s proven to be the more consistent money-maker during good times and bad.

This is how it works.


You are tired of your car. More times than not, it has some type of problem that is either expensive or elusive. You have probably spent a fair penny trying to solve that issue, and even if you succeeded, you are weary of having to deal with yet another one down the road.

Enter Carmax. Have you ever noticed how much money Carmax spends on radio advertising? That little 30 second spiel about bringing your car in and getting treated right is more than just a hokey way of trying to get you in their door.

It’s arbitrage, with a churn that now numbers close to 7,000 vehicles.

Every… single.. week…


Carmax inspects your vehicle. Appraises it’s value. Successfully buys it (or at least plants the seed for further business), and then they does something that is unique to automotive retailers.

They have weekly auctions for all of these vehicles. Wholesale auctions frequented by dealers who sometimes travel long distances to buy the very same cars that you are tired of driving.


On average, a Carmax auction gets more eyeballs per vehicle basis anyone else. An auction with 100 vehicles will often have more than 100 dealers who are ready to bid up and buy all those vehicles.

It’s a free market, and because Carmax eliminates uncertainty by disclosing major defects to this dealer audience, they get a premium return for much of what they sell.

If the engine or transmission has mechanical issues. If there is frame damage or a salvage title, Carmax will disclose that issue in writing to all dealers before the sale.


Even if it’s a $500 vehicle, you can dispute the vehicle if there was a major defect that wasn’t disclosed. I’ve done it successfully in the past many times and so have thousands of dealers who attend their sales. No system is perfect. But Carmax’s selling policy is designed to eliminate those uncertainties and provide disclosure with both the high end car, and the beater car.

That’s where you, the public, comes into the mix. Because Carmax can get the premium return along with a seller fee of about $165 for each vehicle sold, Carmax can pay more for certain cars than other dealers.

What types? In my experiences, Carmax tends to offer a solid edge to consumers in three distinct areas.

1) The unpopular car with expensive mechanical issues.

2) The Craigslist nightmare car.

3) The “I need money right now!” car.


You may notice that these are the first two types are cars that few public individuals want to buy in the first place. That five year old Chevy Aveo with a bad automatic transmission, and a 25 year old Honda that looks like it got into a fight and lost, will have one thing in common.

They will both be lowballed by the general public. Once you put that Aveo online for $3000, someone will offer you $1500 over the phone and then not show up.


That 1990 Honda Accord which has been driven 356,168 miles? Someone’s kid or an aspiring scammer is going to light up your cell phone with a never-ending torrent of stupid pointless questions.

“Is your car a diesel?” says the guy who doesn’t understand that the letters g-a-s do not equate to d-i-e-s-e-l.

“Is there anything wrong with it?” “Is it an automatic?” “What’s the least you’ll take for it?” “Can you drive it to my place?” “Um… Give me your address!”

It’s this moron brigade that helps Carmax make hundreds of millions of dollars. By giving you the opportunity to not deal with them, and giving dealers the opportunity to capitalize on your automotive misery.


There’s also a more lucrative side for those dealers that visit these auctions. That Aveo I mentioned earlier? It can be bought for $2300. Then it will be fixed with a cheap tranny found through, and then financed at $500 down and $260 a month for 36 months.

The sub-prime side of the car market can help a dealer more than double his money over the course of a few years. Not risk-free mind you, but the Carmax auctions provide them with a golden opportunity to buy 20 or 30 low-priced vehicles a week that actually come with mechanical disclosures.

Once you know what you’re buying and have the means to it marketable,  your risk of failure goes down substantially. This, along with the push of immediate competition, motivates dealers to pay more money for your impaired vehicle.

Nobody else does this when it comes to cheap older cars.

The creation of a free market with thousands of used vehicles, and fair disclosures, will likely net Carmax well over $300 million in profits by the end of this fiscal year.


The average unit garners a little less than $900 in profit. Subtract Carmax’s seller fee of about $200, and you’re looking at only about a $700 spread on average between what Carmax will offer you, and what a large free market will pay for your vehicle.

Is that a better return than you will find on Craigslist, Autotrader, or a nearby car dealer? In some cases, without a doubt. The greater the uncertainty about the value of a product, the less an unknowledgeable person (or greedy person) will offer for it.

Personally, I would test out all of these avenues. If Carmax offers the best price, take it.

That is unless you live in northwest Georgia. In which case the address to my dealership is…


]]> 195