Hammer Time: Tricking a Birddog

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time tricking a birddog

Every few months I get an unwanted creature in my life. It smiles. It makes nice conversation, and for as long as I’m at the auction it almost never leaves me alone. “What did you think about that car Steve?”, “How’s business going Steve?” “Are you going to bid on that car Steve?” Rarely do I get sick of hearing my own name. But when it’s said for the sake of a one sided relationship, my mind wanders to deviant thoughts.

A typical birddog at the sales will eye you as you’re looking at a vehicle. “Hmmm… he likes that vehicle! Oh yes, I’m going to snap this losing streak and outbid him. Some retail buyer will definitely pay more for it!” The trick when it comes to any birddog is to get them to buy rancid crap.

Stare at the rolling turds. Spend time with them. Before the auction begins, go through every little crevice of the interior and spend copious times underneath the hood as el señor birddog pretends to like you. When you walk away from the car, keep looking at it. Longingly. The bigger the turd. The longer the look. Then make a few scribbles on your run list and head to the ‘auction barn’

If the birddog is still on you. Strike up a quick conversation with a friend as he gleefully listens to meaningless pleasantries. Snap a quick wink to your friend, and then tell the birddog, “I’ll be right back.” Walk away out of sight, get an extra copy of the run list, and then make a sharp turn back to your pre-auction inspections. You are now thankfully free from the birddog for a limited time.

Now it’s time to enjoy yourself. On one run list make your usual notes on good cars. On the second run list, make notes of the shitty cars with bid prices that are high enough to keep the birddog out of the auctions for a long time. It’s important not to ever personally insult the birddog because he will try to outbid you out of pure greed and spite until his last line of credit has been shut. Always be nice. Always make sure the ‘bad’ list is within easy sight of the birddog’s eyes.

While you pretend to pay attention to the bidding at the auction, the birddog will note of your turd list at some point. If the fellow is particularly hoversome, you may need to also be extra discrete with your bidding. Some may give the good run list to a dealer friend. But I’ve always found it better to just walk away from the birddog when you need to bid on the good cars, and just give a quick glance and wink to the auctioneer while not missing a beat in your walk. A quick but casual use of your fingers or fist will also give most auctioneers the sign that you need to be extra discreet in your bidding.

Choosing an odd number instead of the usual 100, 500 and 1000 increments also helps. Especially if the auctioneer has a reputation for running up the price. When the auctioneer goes down in price to an amount that has a 600, 800, 1100 in it, many dealers will think that he is trying to bump up the bid… and see if he’ll go lower. For instance out of the four cars I bought today, two were started off at 600 and 1100 instead of 500 and 1000. They were older vehicles. A 1996 Honda Passport and a 1998 Saturn LS1. I didn’t receive a single competing bid and they both ended up being good cars. As for the birddog….

I waited until another Saturn came through the lane. Salvage title. Frame damage aplenty. Enough peeling paint and rust spots to make it part of native Detroit’s architecture. In fact here was the announcement.

“Announcements: clamp marks, frame damage, miles exempt, rebuilt history, salvage history”

I stared longingly at my favorite turd while the birddog asked me, “Are you going to bid on this?” My answer was, “I don’t know.”. I looked at the car dropped into a crowd where making out my bid would be difficult, and smiled at the auctioneer so that he would look in my direction.

The first bids came in and the dance began. I was lucky enough to have a bidder on my left so it looked like I was bidding. But I wasn’t. I made eye contact with the auctioneer and then looked at the birddog with a shrug and grin to auctioneer that implied, “You have a live one over there.” The birddog obliged and soon he bid the poor Frankenstein into the nether-regions of amateur ignorance.

Afterwards the birddog came directly to me while I was picking up my buy sheets, “Did you bid on that Saturn Steve?” I played dumb, “Yeah… but I got outbid. It’s hard to buy cars these days, huh!”

Do I feel guilty? Hell no! I will have one less competitor in my life come next Monday.

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3 of 20 comments
  • Obbop Obbop on Dec 21, 2010

    For general "what the heck" purposes at one time within the trucking world (and I doubt if a new term has emerged) a "bird dog" was a slang term for a radar detector. Not earth-shattering news but perhaps enlightening for some especially since the demise of the bustling days of the CB radio in the 1970s among the general motoring public up tp today where even many of the truckers have reduced their "ratchet-jawing."

  • Gardiner Westbound Gardiner Westbound on Dec 21, 2010

    I had a dealer bid on used car for me. He got a generous finder's fee. I got an excellent car at the low end of fair market value. At the last minute he put the move on me to buy an $1,800 extended warranty. He apparently assumed insanity would strike and I would go for it. Told him I would take the car at the agreed price, but not the warranty. We're not buddies anymore. Looking back, notwithstanding I got a good car at the agreed price, it wasn't worth the hassle. Now I just shop for cars like everybody else. I would rather deal with a businessman or private seller. If I don't like him what he's got I can just walk.

    • Dastanley Dastanley on Dec 22, 2010

      For the most part, the buyer has the advantage of just walking anytime the deal takes a turn for the worse. The buyer can (theoretically) buy from anyone or anywhere, whereas the seller is stuck with that/those cars. But I know what you mean, I don't like to haggle. My last 2 new cars (over a 15 year period) I bought through USAA and they haggled directly with the dealership owner on behalf of me, the buyer. Once USAA had the dealers' final price, I had the option of taking or leaving it. My last used car I bought through CarMax, the no haggle store. So I've taken the easy way out, although at CarMax I paid more than if I did in fact haggle with a traditional dealer/seller.

  • MaintenanceCosts "roughly the same external footprint as a two-row VW Atlas Cross Sport but with - per a VW rep - more interior capacity than the three-row Atlas."And this is why I'm kind of intrigued by this little van, even though for me it's in spite of, not because of, the retro styling and Type 2 nostalgia.
  • Ajla From what I can see in the NHTSA data nontire part failures make up about .5% of reported crashes and aren't listed as a cause in the fatal accident reports. While we've all seen hoopties rolling around I'm guessing they don't go far or fast enough for many negative outcomes to occur from their operation.While I wouldn't want to be in that .5% I'd also want to avoid a "Bear Patrol" situation. When it comes to road safety nontire part failures are more like animal attacks while aggressive or impaired driving are heart disease and cancer.
  • Art Vandelay On the right spec truck, that is a screaming bargain for the price. And you can buy it safe knowing that as it is a Ford you'll never have your vehicle's good name sullied by seeing EBFlex and Tassos puffing each other's peters in one...a nice bonus to the horsepower!
  • Art Vandelay Too small for Tassos and EBFlex to puff each other's peters in.
  • Spookiness I can see revising requirements for newer vehicles, like 3 years, but not for older. I live in a state with safety inspections next to a state without, within a common metro-area commute "shed." Besides the fact that the non-inspection state has a lot of criminals to begin with, they're poorer, less educated, have a lot of paper-tag shady dealers, very lax law enforcement of any kind, and not much of a culture of car maintenance. It's all of their janky hoopties dead or burning on the side of the road every mile that farks up the commute for the rest of us. Having a car inspected just once a year is a minimal price of civilization, and at least is some basic defense against some of the brake-less, rusted-out heaps that show up on YouTubes "Just Rolled In."