By on April 8, 2010

Everyone wants a showhorse car at a workhorse price. When folks find out about my work,they automatically assume that the auction lanes are paved in pure gold. A late-model Honda that’s high in demand? They think I can get one for $5000 under retail when the truth the few I can actually get are already selling at retail. The finance game changes the cost of popular late model cars dramatically as do tax refunds. An unpopular car or one with a minor accident history? Now that’s a different story.

Today I saw two late model vehicles go off to the great beyond and both were great deals. A 2009 Ford Focus S. A base model in black (two strikes in the Hotlanta market) also had a smashed front bumper and a missing rear quarter window. Drove fine. Looked ugly as sin with 20k on the odometer. That one got sold for $5400 plus a $200 fee. Throw in transport, parts and labor and my friend will probably be looking at the $6300 level. Still a great price. But right after that there was an immaculate Cadillac Deville DHS with 78k that went for $5000… which was still far better than the 2001 Altima automatic with no luxury at all that also sold for $5000. Both of those cars pretty much sold right at retail.

On the more enthusiast oriented side of the equation there was a 2008 Inifiniti G35 with 20,000 miles and some rear bumper damage. Not bad, but enough to bring the price down a bit. The first time it went through the block it was offered at 30k, 29k.. 28k… 22k… no-saled at $21k. No bids. Second time the first bid came in at $19k and two rural dealers fought it out at $19,700. Even when you throw in the transport to another state and another $700 in body work, the dealer will come out ahead. But between now and then he’ll have to hold it and G35’s are no longer the popular cars of the mid-2000’s. Everything is cheap (or expensive) for a reason.

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20 Comments on “Hammer Time: Late Model Dings...”

  • avatar

    So the oldest story in car buying is true, everything sells at it’s fair market price? (Naturally with the exception of something like an ex-wife selling a Porsche for $1 to get back at her ex-husband or a grandfather giving an old Buick to a grandson.)

  • avatar

    Steve, I’m really interested in this side of the business, the scratch and dent side. It seems all of the eBay sellers with the best prices specialize in buying cars with previous damage–just not enough to affect the title–and then fixing them up and reselling them at an attractive retail price. I bought one of these off of eBay over two years ago…a 2004 Mercury Mountaineer, 27,500 miles, leather AWD for $12k. At the time, that was an incredible deal, about $3k under similar Mountaineers on eBay. I called the guy first and asked him about the accident history (Carfax showed a “minor accident”), and he told me he wasn’t sure of the actual accident history, but he inspected the car and didn’t notice anything. I flew to Cleveland, inspected the car and noticed the panel gaps on the left side of the dashboard were huge. Then I noticed some splotchy paint applied on the b-pillar. But the car drove fine. I pointed out these issues and the guy took another $1k off the price to make me happy. That did it for me, as it was still a hell of a deal.

    Two years later, it’s nice to have a car paid off at 73k miles, but the way the doors on the driver’s side “clunk” shut, the way the weatherstripping easily falls out of it’s groove, the chipping paint on the b-pillar, and the dashboard panel gap so big that I hear whistling coming through it during winter are enough to remind me every day why we paid so little.

    And then the failing transmission at 65k (likely just an Explorer/Mountaineer issue, rather than anything to do with this particular car’s history) again reminded me that spending extra money up front for a quality automobile may actually be worth it after all.

    • 0 avatar

      I think I know the dealership you are talking about. For some reason, here in Cleveland, we have a few dealerships that deal with luxury makes that had some damage to them. They are mostly all eastern European people running them.

      They offer good deals, but most of the time people don’t know that they have been in some kind of accident. They are usually the lowest priced cars on ebay.

    • 0 avatar


      yep, that’s them. I distinctly remember the languages, and the bathroom sign that was written in multiple alphabets (which made me realize it just wasn’t one language). I asked George, who was my salesman, and he told me the guys were Ukrainian, Greek and I believe Serbian also.

    • 0 avatar

      NN – I have a friend who lost a Mountaineer transmission at the same mileage. About the same age too…

  • avatar

    Having bought lots of used cars over the years for personal use, I never been really taken and never really found a steal. What I have observed, is that cars of a particular make/model/year within a market will pretty much cost the same as each other. The trick is to find the one that is better than the rest, and that takes research and time. But if you can pull it off, you will get more car the the same money.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with Findude. New cars are a commodity item and you can drive competing dealers crazy trying to get the lowest price. One new car is identical to the same make model. Used cars are a completely different paradigm. The price is secondary to the condition. Nothing I’ve ever had has ever turned out to be as easy or as cheap to repair as I originally thought. Pay a fair price for quality. You’ll save the price many times over in less aggravation.

  • avatar

    Ah, fond memories of taking advantage of Audi-phobia to get my 4000Q. I don’t remember the price but it was a steal….

  • avatar

    Mr Lang,

    Always enjoy your stories, a look into a way of buying and selling cars that few have a view.

    Haha, front clip doesn’t look too hot.. thought these things has adaptive cruise control.. or cameras to control when ya get too close to the hitch up front, haha.

    Sucks that it was sold, traded, junked based on that, assuming its a 35g car.

    What Id like to know is..

    How much would the damage be to repair this if:
    At a same luxo branded dealership
    At a pvt shop

    Then having you or your wholesale friends to get it repaired?

    • 0 avatar

      See that’s the thing. If you know someone in for example the body shop industry, you can get a good deal. When my sister needed some wheels in college (1998-2002) my dad found an Oldsmobile Achieva, well equipped V6, about 50,000 miles on it that had been hit in the front. His cousin owns a body shop and when it was all said and done dad had dropped about $6,000 on it and she drove it till about 150,000 miles. If I still lived back in that part of the country, I might do something similar with my next ride.

    • 0 avatar

      Accazdatch – depends on how badly the shop tries to stick it to you. Got a very expensive estimate once (~$2K) that I fixed for $15 (used tailight). Claims of frame damage by three shops were entirely a lie. Bumper needed to be rensapped into place. Piece of trim needed to be straightened which I did with a ballpeen hammer. You could not tell the car was damaged – the hit was that minor.

  • avatar

    Man, you posters are cheap!

    (Then again, tightwads are the only people that actually have any money…)

  • avatar

    We’re cheap because we know that “cash is king.”

    • 0 avatar

      Cheap? I prefer thrifty.

      When I bought Mrs. Monty’s Focus, I looked for a slightly used ’04 or ’05, and found one, an ’05. I ended up negotiating it down to $14,600.00 for a car that had been in service for less than ten months, with just over 12,000 miles (21,000 kilometers) with every available option save automatic transmission. Same car brand new on the dealer’s lot was listing for almost $26,000.00, and even taking cash off of the hood made it still around $22,500.00.

      I saved over $8000.00 because I was A) willing to buy used B) willing to wait until I found the exact car she specified C) was able to buy the car half a continent away because I had the cash in hand, and was able to secure a hold via my Visa Card

      So cheap? No, I think thrifty, as we’ve driven the car debt free for so long, and am now saving towards replacing my truck in a year or two, or replacing the Focus with a brand new Fiesta. I will pay with cash, and won’t end up paying for the vehicle twice, if you include interest.

      I could easily afford to run out a buy a $80,000 Beemer, but why? I prefer to have a retirement in the style I’m used to living now.

    • 0 avatar

      A $26K Focus? Didn’t know such a thing existed. Congrats.

      I agree though on your sentiment. Would rather be frugal and have money in my pocket than flashy and broke. Living well frugally with nice things suits me fine.

      Saved about $150 on a 60 gallon air compressor this past week. Yay.

    • 0 avatar


      I live in Canada, where vehicle prices are 25% more than in the U.S., and our Focus, which is a ZX5 SES, loaded (literally, because the only factory option not ticked on the order form was the automatic transmission) had a sticker price of $25,879.00.

      To give you an idea of how much more expensive it is here in Canada, I just priced a Ford Escape Limited, and with ticking off all of the available factory options, it prices out to $43,499.00! Pricing the exact same vehicle on the U.S. site gave me a price of $34,240.00, a difference of 27%.

      A Honda Element EX 4WD Auto:

      Canada – $37,858.80

      U.S. – $23,345.00


  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    “They’ll be able to buff this out no problem.” – Planes, Trains and Automobiles, John Candy, Steve Martin

  • avatar

    Good article Steve, if only most of my customers would read it.

    No matter the number of dents, dings, scratches, bald tires, past accident history, etc, almost every customer thinks they are entitled to a trade in value equal to the ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’ value on KBB.

    I recently lost a sale because a gentleman trading in his ’04 Mercedes with four different tires all showing different amounts of wear, broken trim pieces inside, and plenty of scratches would not budge from his demand for invoice pricing on our car and KBB ‘Good’ codition on his, despite his car being a solid black book rough. The sad thing is that he will go down to the next place, and maybe even another after that, get told the same thing, and finally accept reality, but be too proud to come back to us with his tail between his legs, so someone else gets the benefit of us giving him the truth.

    It’s also amazing how many people forget their cars have been in accidents when they are asked, and then are profoundly surprised that we run a carfax on them before we give them a value. The best have probably been a 350Z that ran incredibly rough, and then just wouldn’t start when the guy wasn’t happy with the money offered and had to be towed away, the Audi that had paint work done via the ‘similar colored can of spray paint’ method, and the Lexus whose front bumper fell off during the appraisal drive.

    Oh, the BMW which had obviously either been in a flood, or left out for a week in the rain with the windows and sunroof open, had a stench so bad that you had to hold your head outside of the window to breath while driving it, and had plantlife of some sort growing on the back floormats, but whose owner swore was in excellent condition also deserves an honorable mention…

  • avatar

    I think that it is worth mentioning that once a title gets stamped “salvage” you can enter the crazy bureaucratic wonderland of the DMV and insurance offices of the world. As you may know, a “salvage” designation is put on any car’s title by the insurance company whenever they determine that the cost of repairs is more than the value of the automobile. Most often this designation is giving to smoking wrecks that are clearly totalled, however sometimes it is put on lightly damaged cars that for one reason or another the insurance company does not want to repair.

    Years ago I was moving from Vermont to upstate New York and I needed a car for the family that would haul a lot of stuff and be repairable in a rural environment. As it happened the son of a neighbor was a used car dealer who specialized in “lightly damaged” insurance write-offs. He had a 1992 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser (the big Caprice-based wagon) that had been rear ended in an accident that had ruined the tailgate. Because the car had 95k miles and the parts were expensive, the car was “totaled.” The fix was mostly bolting on a few new parts and a respray of the entire car (he documented the entire process in pictures). It looked good to me and the price was right so I bought it.

    Once I got to NY State it was an absolute nightmare to register and insure the car. The clerks at the DMV office looked at me like I was trying to pass off stolen goods and the insurance people wouldn’t consider putting a policy on the car until the state had finished it’s paperwork. I finally was given a “special number” at the title bureau in Albany to call to see how I could get the car registered. The person there told me that the Olds was subject to a title search and “special inspection” that I had to pay $150 for. When I asked why it cost so much I was informed that the State of New York took the safety of their citizens very seriously and this car’s safety systems, including air bags, safety restraints, and frame could be compromised and they need to thoroughly inspect the car to make sure it was safe to drive.

    It turned out that the inspections were only given at certain times and places by roving inspectors, so I took the next appointment available, and arranged to have the car towed to a highway department garage two counties away for the inspection. On the set day I showed up with the car and the inspector waived me into the bay. He checked the VIN and two or three components serial numbers and then signed my form. I noticed that he was wearing a holster with what looked to be a 9mm Glock pistol so I asked him why he needed to have a gun while inspecting the car. He told me that his job was to find stolen parts on cars and he went in and out of a lot of chop shops in Brooklyn and the Bronx so it came in handy at those times.

    So the upshot of the whole thing was that there was no “safety inspection”, the car could have been welded together from two or three different wrecks from all the inspector saw. My $150 was simply to pay for the law enforcement arm of the DMV. I wouldn’t have been nearly so angry if they had been honest about all of that and hadn’t snowed me with the “safety inspection” BS.

    By the way, the Olds was a great car. It died with about 160k on the clock because of an oil leak. Other than that it was totally reliable and very practical.

    • 0 avatar

      My dad bought a 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme in about 1995 or so that was a rebuilt title from the body shop that repaired it. Great car and no problems (he gave it to me as a college graduation present in 1999) till I moved to MI from OH and the vehicle was stolen. It had been in the family for about 5 years at that point and I had forgotten that it was even a rebuilt till it came time for the insurance to pay out. I had a thousand dollar deductible (young guy high insurance rates, no money) and the insurance company said the car was worth $2500, oh wait its a rebuilt title so it’s only with $2000 – your deductible = here’s a check for $1000 bucks kid.

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