By on February 8, 2011

We had to move 10 cars in 1 day. 75 miles each way. Five at the lot. Five at the auction. Atlanta was going through it’s 16th cold spell of this season and I had my wife, two seniors, and a Honda Insight enthusiast who came in all the way from Florida for a spare battery pack. Yes, I could have hired a hauler for this. But that would have cost me over $700 in the end. Doing it this way would cost less than $100 and with this being a Wednesday, it was worth the four hours. Or would it be eight?

We took off for the adventure soon enough. Five full grown but skinny adults in a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid. The Insight enthusiast had slept in his car the night before and my retired drivers were shocked to see me knock on the door of a blue 1st gen Insight before we left. A skinny guy in his 20’s popped out and I said, “OK folks we’re all here! Let’s go!”. In a thick Chicago accent one of my drivers (and next door neighbor) uttered, “Holy Cow! THAT I did not expect!”

Now before you think that I’m an inhospitable host, the Hondaphile had arrived at my place at 3:00 AM and decided to sleep in his car instead of bothering me in the middle of the night. I had arranged for Art to stay at my lot with a mattress and warm heat. Since like most young hardcore enthusiasts, he was perpetually broke. Art took me up on that offer during the week. But on that first day he came late, and came with blankets.

We headed to the lot and pulled out five vehicles. Why so many? Tax season. This is the period where prices at the auctions zoom into the nether-regions of near retail and beyond. The five heaps in questions were a 1997 Dodge Ram that I had a little less than $1400 in. A 1996 Honda Passport I had $700 in. A 1998 Ford Taurus, a voluntary repo, that I had already made about $2k on. A 1995 Jetta whose days of shifting in reverse were numbered. Finally a 1995 Dodge Stealth that I took back when the debtor got arrested. That one had 190k and I thought it would bring more at the auction than as a retail unit due to a great look but mediocre mechanicals. Noise at the auction helps cancel out strange engine sounds. The worst of one them by far was the Ram. It’s head was about to blow, and that’s what I drove myself.

It started out well enough. As the lead driver my job is to make sure the ‘snake’ stays intact. Traffic lights, aggressive drivers, and my own bad decisions can all easily work against us. If I go past a light and they lose sight of me, we’re either temporarily screwed or I immediately pull to the side so that we can regroup. Then you have your own drivers that can go too slow, ignore your signals, and generally stay in la-la land while playing with their phone or the radio. In a rural setting you don’t have to much to worry about. But in Atlanta one bad decision can quickly add another hour to your experience.

Thankfully the seniors are experienced and my wife and the Honda guy are attentive. It takes an hour and a half but we get there. I nurse the Ram through it’s rampant temperature fluctuations and the Passport ends up driving even better than it did off the lot. The Taurus, fine. The Stealth was an electric wonderland with dashboard lights, but made it. The Jetta? No engaging reverse so it was good for right now.

I pick up five vehicles. All older cars that I’m either going to retail quick on the low end or use as rentals. The 2000 Town & Country was my most expensive buy at $2150. A beautiful car that will definitely be financed. The 1992 Volvo 240 with the 5-speed had a brick’s worth of records in the glovebox. This one was $800 and looked incredibly nice. I love old Volvos. After an interior deal, this one will be an Ebay vehicle and will hopefully go to an enthusiast.

A 1999 Explorer 4WD with leather and 200k went for $1100. Like all Explorers I buy, this one is finance fodder along with a 1999 Grand Caravan bought for the same price . Finally I got a 1995 Plymouth Voyager with 165k on it for $700. About six months back I had bought the same year Caravan for the same price, but with only 55k on the odometer. That one I had already financed to a wonderful woman after a short stint in the rental fleet. This one would be a local rental since you can never run out of vans to rent out in this business.

Before we leave for the ride back, I always check four things on each vehicle. First you go through the motor oil, coolant, and tranny fluid along with the tire pressures. Always. Make sure they are all topped off and in good condition. Then drive each car through it’s paces nearby so that everything shifts and drives like it should. What can’t be driven now, can always be hauled later.

Finally… make sure the gas shows at least half a tank. A lot of older vehicles can have gas gauges that are more erratic than Christina Aguilera’s love life. I always bring a ‘care’ package of fluids, funnels, a Mityvac, an air comprerssor and a jump box that ensures everything is topped off with good fluids and in good running order.

One or two cars can be handled in about thirty minutes. Five cars? Let everyone go for lunch. Once I finalized everything and get the cars filled up, we are on our way.

There are always a couple of issues, and a couple of judgment calls. The Grand Caravan in this case is showing an oil light when at idle. This is a common malady for these minivans and it’s almost always the sending unit. The van also has the left window all the way down. Despite copious amounts of dielectric grease I can’t get the thing up. It had been up at the auction and I remembered testing all the windows out earlier that evening. But this one is a stubborn bastard and I know I’m losing this fight. The auction office provides a full sized trash bag for the window and I round everyone up for the ride back.

We all get in our new rides. I take the Grand and pretty soon, we’re on the highway. the noise of the flapping of the bag is killing me. Louder than heck. It must have been 150+ decibels and despite my cutting out a good hole in it, it just won’t stop. I pull over and put the thing in the back.

For the remainder of the journey I have the heat on full tilt. Surprisingly, it works extremely well. The other cars are remaining in formation as we go about 60 to 65 on the Interstate. Cars cut us off. Cars don’t signal. A few rice burners and hoopties go 90+ mph past everyone. It’s just another commuting day in Atlanta.

We park the cars at the lot. I drop everyone off. The two seniors get $25 each for the drive. Enough for a few nice dinners and my wife already has my wallet. Art is buying a battery pack from me for $500 along with a few other needed parts, and will help rebalance the battery pack on a 2004 Civic Hybrid I had bought the week before for $3500. That one has 84k and should retail for around $6000. This week was a success for moving cars. Who knows what will happen next week.

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14 Comments on “Hammer Time: Of Snakes and Charms...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Nice insider view of the business, again.  Thank you, Mr. Lang

  • avatar

     As a retired guy, I love doing those four, to five hour hour jobs with cash paid, at the end of the day. What I don’t like,is hanging around the auction when its cold.

  • avatar

    My friends, and I did this for a local used car dealer when we were in high school. I always got the six cylinder , powerglide, Chevy.

  • avatar

    I’ve not been on the auction side, but I worked a summer at a national used car chain running the inventory department. I used to sort out the going-to-auction cars and send them on the trucks to avoid any issues with them if they were sketchy to begin with.
    I reserved the better cars for the companies that would show up with a van full of people and then caravan back to the main lot. The nicest went to the owners of the outfits.
    Though one time I had a truly awful Acura Legend that had torn up leather seats, looks like a coke bottle bomb went off in side showering the interior in a sticky mess  and it was running on 3 cylinders and had no reverse. They had taken all my cars and I wasn;t going to let them take that mess of an Acura, but they drove it around the block and it made the 20 mile trip in DFW summer traffic without much of an issue. I felt bad about them taking it, but they didn’t complain.
    One group tried to hire me after my stint was over, but I was going to school too far away to make it worth my while.

  • avatar

    Now I’m going to have to watch ebay for that Volvo; wagon or sedan?

  • avatar

    Another great ‘day in the life.’ Nicely done.

  • avatar

    Thanks, Steven. You just reminded me of what I did between 8pm and 2am this morning.

    Its more fun when you have eight cars but just two legitimate dealer plates and the remaining are dealer’s plates.

    Its even MORE fun when something takes a crap on the way back.

    And the most fun is hearing, “So-and-so said that YOU were paying us tonight in cash…”

  • avatar

    I worked for a several dealerships during my adult years, and have had to be part of the snake myself. Not a lot of fun. But the best one was when we drove from Youngstown to Flint to pick up eight brand new Riviera convertibles in 1983(?). Whomever had the bright idea to get eight twenty-somethings to drive high-powered and high-value vehicles two states over should have been fired. But it was a great trip, though…

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, many of us saw the movie “Vanishing Point”, too, and we know how that ended! I’m waiting for Steve to post something exciting like that! But maybe that only happens in the movies. I did like Delaney & Bonnie for about 25 minutes back then. I was going to compliment Steve for this story, but, as usual, Educator Dan did it for me, always beating me to the punch! Good job!

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, many of us saw the movie “Vanishing Point”, too, and we know how that ended! 

      I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with that movie.  At least it was better than the mid 90s remake – that one was horrible.

  • avatar

    The only time I ever got in on something like that was when the local Chevy dealer moved to his new store next to the freeway from downtown. This was in about 1990…drove a 5-speed Camaro and a new loaded Suburban, thus finding out why people referred to these as tall Cadillacs.

  • avatar

    Ah, this brings back memories, Ten years ago I worked for a Ford dealer in Grayling, MI for a few months. Northern lower Michigan is rough on cars, so most of the trades were pretty rough looking. Usually only the worst of the worst were taken up above Gaylord to the little auction house. Nothing like traveling along in a convoy in an overheating Mercury Mystique, a smashed up in the back Pontiac 6000, or doing 106 in a high-mileage Cutlass Ciera! I would know, because those are what I was given to drive, along with a few Chrysler minivans, a VW Golf while I had the flu, and the occasional Explorer. The boss was always in a hurry to get there and back, so we always had to stick it to the floor and never let up. I wasn’t too crazy about that, but thankfully we made it safely there and back each time.

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