Coffee. Old magazines. Quiet murmurs of conversations. I am stuck in an old office with two dozen other people who are awaiting instructions from a young tattooed lady with a clipboard and a shrill nasal voice.
“Follow me!”, I hear six inches from my ear. It seems like the perfect moment to have a rendezvous with the doctor, the dentist, or the job interview. Or at least someone who doesn’t instantly give me an instant flashback to my New Jersey upbringing.
Not this time. I’m in…
“I wouldn’t buy a car at an auction. They’re all junk!”
Bad transmissions. Blown engines. Cars that smoke, drink and hang out with the bad boys thanks to all different types of leaks and spewage. This is the general stereotype that most uninformed consumers have of those cars at an auction.
Most folks look at auction cars as vehicles that are worth more dead than alive. Every malady and defect is assigned to these ‘red light’ vehicles that are sold as/is with no warranty.
But do you know what is the #1 issue of those auctioned off trade-ins here in the Atlanta area?
Good, Fast and Cheap.
Feel free to pick any two when it comes to all things cars. Consumer. Retailer. Rebuilder. Doesn’t matter. You always get a choice of two out of the three.
Don’t believe me?
Good. Cynicism is always a solid first step in buying any used vehicle. Whether you are kicking the tires at a lot as the end consumer. Or listening to the urgent chant of an auto auctioneer trying to sell the mediocre remnants of a rental fleet at a wholesale dealer auction. Everyone pretends to offer you a great deal.
But truth and reality in this business, at all levels of this business, are two very separate things.
Let’s take all those great deals I get from the auctions… good, fast and cheap. Sure. I do get them all. Just almost never in the same car.
A lot of folks may look at their early teenage years with fleeting moments of fondness.
Friends, birthday parties, fun and games. Not to mention a healthy variety of mischievous activities to help keep life interesting between the endless classroom lectures and local social drama.
I don’t remember 99.9% of it… which is no doubt a good thing since my life was pretty much in a counterclockwise hormone ridden tailspin by the time I hit the big 1 3.
But I do vaguely recall one unfortunate thing I never could avoid.
Late night conversation with Kreindler, “Hey Steve! Do you know what one of our top articles of all-time is?”
“The one where Bertel put a sex toy on the front of the page?”
“Hah! No, the one about changing your oil.”
“Really?! Well if Yahoo (recent!) and Jalopnik (recent!) want to feature my work, I guess I should throw my old stomping grounds a bone.”
I live in a nice quaint small town called Powder Springs, Georgia.
The sidewalks are paved downtown and even partially bricked for artistic value. Thanks to a generous donation by the taxpayers. The streetlamps are ornate and well lit thanks to the same contributors.
The old closed down ACE hardware store is now the new police station. The old city hall has been replaced by the new city hall. Even the vehicles that get too old to keep get replaced with shiny new ones thanks to American taxpayers far and wide.
How many miles do you think would it take to replace a car owned by the local city government?
Local propaganda almost always serves to screw the little guy. With rare exception, it never fails to do so.
“We need a new stadium!”, cries the billionaire whose team already got one just two decades go. “Please pay for it John Q Public!”
“Hey! What about me?”, screams the local electric company CEO. “We really need to double the monthly service charge for our local residents to manage our costs. But let’s also throw in a double digit rate reduction for those who use a lot of energy. Like the billionaire and his businesses. After all, they create the jobs out here!”
And the story drones on. The trash company that owns a multitude of companies that have virtually nothing to do with trash, wants to hike your bill. Because they need to hit their numbers. Just like everybody else. The insurance company. The gas company. The local government. The state government. Heck, every local monopolist and oligopoly is thrusting their well oiled lobbyist machines right at your shrinking wallet.
Guess who else is doing it now? The auto parts stores.
I must have been a kibbutznik
in a past life. Whenever I buy something of value, I never have the urge to keep it for myself.
Perhaps it’s due to too many bouts of suburbia. A neighborhood with twenty lawnmowers. Thirty The Lion King videos, and fifty to seventy vehicles. All this redundancy seems to be a bit much for a guy who hates to see things unused by my family 98+% of the time.
Yeah. I know that most folks aren’t willing to share their ride. Some won’t even loan you Simba. But if I lived in a place where we all put a smaller chunk of our change into a ride, I wouldn’t go cheap . . . except for possibly an old Volvo wagon.
These would be my top picks. All used of course!
100 Cars are lined up for next week’s sale. Every single one of them is a repo from a very successful title pawn company… and every one has a story to tell.
The histories on many repos really begin with the license plates. Disabled Veteran… Educator… it’s amazing how many cars and trucks were once owned by folks who really made a difference in this world.
It doesn’t matter though. After 25 percent monthly interest rates and numerous attempts to get their clients to borrow even more money… their car is now forfeit. And so is their freedom.
“Aaahh Steve? My rig caught on fire.”
At first I thought about oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico engulfed in an endless torch of black smoke and molten metal.
Then I realized that the repo driver was talking about his own truck. In all my years of dealing with repo companies, I had never known an auto recovery company, big or small, that was neglectful enough to turn their money maker into an ashen shell.
Before noon I would be awakened by another surprise.
Morning phone rings at the car lot…
Random Stranger: Hi there, like, I have this friend you know and he told me that you finance vehicles, and his name is Emmanuel and aahhh, like I was wondering, well, uh, do you have any Toyotas and like, do you, ummm… finance vehicles you know?
Me: I’m sorry. Who is this?
I have very little love for nostalgia because, to be frank, the auto auctions I visit every week are overflowing with it.
As the Rivethead, Ben Hamper, was fond of saying, “The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence until you start cutting that shit down.”
For me that fecal threshing consists of repairs, recon work, and getting a car from yesteryear in the hands of someone who loves it far more than yours truly.
But I do have one tender spot in my heart when it comes to true automotive works of art. Especially when they’re loaded with old school kitsch and delusional fantasies.
My pants still fit me from college.
Well, they are sweatpants after all.
They were given to me by a friend of mine who is known as a “Datsunaholic”. He keeps a few old cars. A few of those models have been written up by Paul Niedermeyer who now keeps a lot of houses along with his new web site. He invariably finds ‘keeper folk’ from all walks of life. But most of the people he finds are not car enthusiasts at all.
Why do they keep these cars then? Are they perhaps hoarders? Do they suffer the afflictions of the wantless?
Or is this just another write-up inspired by Kevin Bacon?
In the olden days known as the late 20th century, an ancient artifact called a “newspaper” would be dropped by your front door.
Inside this mostly unrecycled piece of pulp was an automotive ”Classified” section. In better times, this magical list of thousands of vehicles would have offered car buyers an incurably acute case of acronymitis. “1994 Camry, ps, pw, a/c, auto, abs, 1 ownr! $5500 Ph#…”. A short three line list of minimalist communicado would have cost the seller about $50.00 and given them a secondary presence in a newspaper section that made millions for major publishers.
There was only one saving grace if you wanted to find cars for sale that offered big print, big pictures and big discounts. The new car advertising section… and there were two reasons for that.
Saturn? Civic? Neon? A diesel owned by this long-time TTAC commeter?
For the longest time I’ve been trying to figure out what penny pinching prodigy earns the most keep. I’ve spent years pondering this question.
Well, more like a few dull moments at the auctions.