Hammer Time: The Real Rock Stars

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

“Steve, whatever you like! It’s yours!”

I was standing inside one of the most notorious strip clubs in the French Quarter. Women everywhere who collectively had less clothing on than I had on my right foot. There was a side area where I could enjoy the newfound festivities without the prying and amused eyes of my host. I was young, 30, wife and two kids. Thankfully, that area also had an exit.

The chance of me doing something was about the same as the Kia Rio becoming the official car of the Royals. It wasn’t gonna happen. But there was a LOT that did happen, from that first day on through the next two years.

A free education. Well, at least an 80% free education. My corporate captors had offered me an almost free MBA from Duke in exchange for my services. I was in charge of inspecting, appraising, and liquidating over 10,000 vehicles a year for them. It was not very hard work. But it did give me one hell of an education that far eclipsed the textbooks, lectures, and group projects of my glorified Yuppie union card at Duke.

Every day was cars incarnate. I would fly into a city by myself and inspect vehicles and ponder the great issues of the day.

Would this one give a better return if we put new rubber on it? Why the hell does every Kia misfire? Do people really think that fake bullet holes complement the looks of a two year Taurus station wagon? This and hundreds of other ‘Jack Handey’ car questions would go through my head as I inspected each one of the vehicles.

My goal was simple. Make as much money as possible at the auction so that the poor fellow who lost his car would have as small of a balance to pay as possible.

My job wasn’t a hard one. Walk the cars. Recommend upgrades and make sure the vehicles get properly detailed before the sale (a huge issue at auto auctions). This would often take no more than 30 to 45 minutes.

Then I would be taken out anywhere I liked for as long as I liked.

You would usually go for a nice dinner. Then it was ‘play time’. From nightclubs to hunting lodges to go kart racing. Heck, you could get plastered if the mood struck you. Most everyone did.

The next morning you would do a final walk to make sure all your ‘requests’ were fulfilled. If one wasn’t done correctly, you pulled it. No exceptions. I pulled everything from Dominique Wilkins’ repoed Mercedes (somehow his wheels went missing), to a Corvette that was put in the inop sale cause it couldn’t get into 3rd gear, “Is it going to need 3rd gear when it’s going through the auction lane? Do you guys expect me to be that damn fast on the block?” I remember that vehicle ended up bringing well over a $5000 premium from it’s prior bid in the junk sale.

After going through the final walk I would go on the block, sell off most of the cars (70% to 100% depending on the market and time of year) and then do about an hour’s worth of paperwork. That was it. I had no homework to take with me. No responsibilities. Not even anyone to look over my shoulder. It was great. Oh, and a free lunch.

But the perks paled in comparison to the education available to you. Many of the successful dealers and wholesalers would tag along for the dinners and the days out. They picked your head. You picked their head. Pretty soon you both learned something.

This was only the beginning of ‘the education’. If you were really smart you would spend time at the detail shop, the mechanic’s shop, even with the salvage buyers. Everyone had an angle and an insight at these auctions. Since I represented ‘the cars’ and not their competition, I learned an awful lot.

Pretty soon I had the perfect weekly routine. Buy cars Monday morning at a nearby Carmax auction. Fly out from Atlanta to do my work at the auctions while my purchased vehicles were given their needed repair and detail work. Come back to Atlanta Thursday evening, pickup those cars, and buy a few more cars at another auction. Put all the cars up on Ebay, Craigslist, or Autotrader on Friday depending on what sales channel provided the best price. Then sell.

I also would do impound sales on the weekends. There I would sell some of the cleaned up low-end stuff I bought for cheap while buying a few of the nicer vehicles at these sales since they had less competition.

The fact that I was also doing the bid calling at these sales was fine as far as the owners were concerned since I always invoked what I call ‘the seven second rule’.

Every final bid gets seven seconds of exposure. No one bids? It belongs to the final bidder. Everyone can bid. Even me. Even the Latinos since I could also do my bid calling in Spanish.

Within a few months I was making more money selling cars on the side than I was working on my day job. The day I fulfilled my tuition reimbursement requirement I quit my day job (but gave them four months advance notice so that someone could be trained) and became a full-time dealer.

If you ever wonder why I have an almost Rainman level of knowledge about cars, sun up to sundown for two straight years can get you ready for anything.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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3 of 7 comments
  • Ajla Ajla on Sep 02, 2011
    The chance of me doing something was about the same as the Kia Rio becoming the official car of the Royals. David Glass really hates the Kia brand that much?
  • Mfgreen40 Mfgreen40 on Sep 02, 2011

    Cant get this stuff anyplace else. That would be my dream job if I had the talent.

    • NulloModo NulloModo on Sep 02, 2011

      I'll second that. I like working in car sales, but I would love to experience Steve's side of the business. I've always wanted to have a job that involves constant travel from one place to the next, doing business in Miami one day, Atlanta the next, and maybe Houston the day after that. I'm sure it could get old after a while, but there's something appealing about being a road warrior.

  • Rando [h2]Coincidentally, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is more than $41k as well -.-[/h2]
  • Ajla "Gee, wonder why car (as well as home) insurance rates are much higher in places like Florida..." Severe weather is on the list but even if a benevolent genie reverted the climate to circa 1724 I think FL would still have high cost. Our home insurance rates have increased 102% since 2021 and I don't think weather models account for that much of a change in that period. Florida's insurance assignment of benefit regulation meant that it had ~80% of the country's of the insurance lawsuits on ~12% of the nation's claims and litigated claims can be expensive to insurance companies. The state altered some regulations and is having some success on getting more companies back, even with the severe weather risks, through relatively bipartisan efforts. With car insurance just beyond the basic "Florida" stuff, the population increase of the past few years is overwhelming the roads. But, I think the biggest thing is we have very low mandated car insurance levels. Only $10K personal injury and $10K property damage. No injury liability needed. And 20% of the state has no insurance. So people that actually want insurance pay out the nose. Like I commented above my under/uninsured coverage alone is 2.5x my comprehensive & collision.
  • Juan Let's do an 1000 mile drive and see who gets there first.
  • Eliyahu CVT needed for MPG. Outback is indeed the legacy of, err, the Legacy.
  • Gayneu I can comment on these. My wife always thought the Minis were "cute" so I bought her a used 2005 (non-S, 5 speed) for one of her "special" birthdays. She loved it and I kinda did too. Somehow a hole developed in the transmission case and the fluid drained out, ruining the car (too expensive to fix). A local mechanic bought it for $800.We then bought a used 2015 S (6 speed) which we still have today (80k miles). Her sister just bought a used S as well (also manual). It has been a dependable car but BMW-priced maintenance and premium gas hurts for sure. I think the earlier generation (like in the article) were better looking with cleaner lines. The 2015 S rides too stiff for me (Chicago roads) but is a hoot on smooth ones. It does seem to shift weird - its hard to describe but it shifts differently from every other manual I have driven. No matter how hard I try, so won't let go of her Mini.