By on November 15, 2011
There are vehicles at the auctions that are supposedly worth more dead than alive. Inop vehicles. Cars and trucks that are not running and a mere bid away from the crusher. It’s the hardest area of all to find a decent vehicle… and also the most fun.

The first question you always have to ask when looking at these vehicles is, “Who is selling it?” Independent used car dealers tend to only throw away the very worst of their problem children. A bad tranny, blown engine, electrical issues, and the scourge of tinworm will all result in a vehicle being ‘recycled’ to some other soul who can make use of it. As a rule, I tend to avoid these cars like the plague.

But then are there are those who sellers simply don’t have the time or interest to fix a car. Title pawn companies and banks are notorious for not getting keys or needed repairs for their vehicles if the cost of replacement is too high.

Newer model Saabs, Volvos, Cadillacs, Jaguars, and Land Rovers tend to have high key replacement costs.  Throw in a two way tow to the dealer and the auction, and removing an employee from one of your businesses for half the day (only owners and lienholders can get copies of keys these days), and the cost for one key could hit surprisingly close to the four figures.

Title pawns in particular are noted for liquidating a vehicle ASAP so that they have access to working capital. Repairs, replacing a battery, even just putting gas in the car can be a non-starter for certain title lenders that simply have no one in charge of all their repossessions.

I’ll give you a recent example. Recently I bought the following vehicles at the inop sales.

2002 Saturn SL2, 104k, Automatic:       $900
1998 Ford Explorer XLT, 140k, V6:        $575
1993 Lexus LS400, 180k, Clean:           $725
1997 Ford Ranger XLT, V6 Stick 119k: $675
1987  Volvo 240 Wagon, Stick, Mint:     $525

The first three were bought a little less than 2 weeks ago. The Saturn just needed to have the ignition switch repaired and a radio. I sold it last weekend for $2300. The Explorer had a good engine but a crappy transmission. I had it running through the sale the following week and broke even. The Lexus only has an exhaust leak… but a bad body. I’ll be saving it for another Lexus with a good body.
The Ranger was perhaps the best find. I purchased it last week and started up the engine this afternoon after charging the battery. It runs fine. Keys were $45, the tow to my repair place was $65, and the car wash after getting it started was $5. I’m going to put it online for $2500 for a quick sale.

As for the Volvo (soon to be pictured)… that  was the most interesting purchase by far. Most vehicles at the inop sale I attend have a set bid of $475. The cost of steel scrap and other commodities within cars makes nearly every vehicle worth more than $500 these days.

However relationships do help in this world. I let the largest purchaser know that I was on the Volvo well ahead of the game. Due to it being the end of the sale, he had to wrap things up anyhow. So I flashed three fingers to the auctioneer who was busy trying to find a ‘new low’ to start the bidding. Someone else bid $350, I bid $400, and a few seconds later the old Volvo was mine.

Who needs an old Volvo? Well, I guess I’m about to find out. You can always crush em’ these days if you don’t like em’.

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23 Comments on “Hammer Time: Escaping The Crusher...”

  • avatar
    Andy D

    The Ranger is a deal. I paid 600$ for my 94 with basically the same equip. However, it needed a battery and exhaust work. It also needs a clutch and a U-joint.

  • avatar

    Eeek! For the love of God, please do NOT crush the Volvo. I bet there are a ton of buyers for such a beast out there if it really is in mint condition…

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. Hell, if it runs and has buttcheeks/rocker panels it’s at least a $750 car here in New Hampshire – even solid automatic sedans command anywhere from there to two grand these days. 740s and 940s are where the cheaper deals are to be had – I picked up a running ’92 745T for $200 last autumn, figuring if nothing else I could part it for a reasonable profit, and have daily-driven it for the past several months with only a good cleaning, a new turbo, two tires, a fuel filter and injectors, and some brake work.

  • avatar

    What do you want for the volvo? Station wagon with stick? Oh you can get a premium for that!!

  • avatar

    Nothing wrong with a fixer-upper.
    One man’s junk is another’s gold. Definitely a niche if your reselling as bottom feeder cars like repo are difficult to cross shop for the consumer.

  • avatar

    I’ll wager you can easily sell the Volvo to someone who isn’t enthused by today’s new cars. For us curmudgeons, a few thousand dollars is pocket change. First stop after purchase will be the shop, for all new belts, hoses, fluids, battery, and four tires.

  • avatar

    As a Ranger owner and “en-thoo-zee-asst,” as the Top Gear UK guys say, let me just tell you, you flat out stole that Ranger. Great job. It’s a sound deal for your $2,500 asking price, given that it’s only about halfway through its expected lifespan before major repairs are likely to be needed. Bonus that it’s a stick shift.

  • avatar
    Vance Torino

    Amen to the Volvo love.
    Play it like that old VW Diesel you sold to the soldier:
    A listing on Volvo enthusiast sites or Ebay will have one-way ticket holders flying to your door.

    God I love those old bricks.

  • avatar

    The last two vehicles I drove were saved from the crusher, and the Subaru I bought with a leaky headgasket(s) that I fixed is still running strong a few years later.

    I really like not having a car payment, but I am growing weary of driving cars that resemble what I see in the salvage yard.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m selling my 1999 protege that I bought with a botched downtown clutch job, that I had to rectify…I’m thinking of upgrading to an Acura CL, e36, e46 or e39 BMW…It will be a big step up from my current junker.

  • avatar

    I just bought a 1977 Celica at a police auction for 190 bucks. I put gas in it and runs great.

    Here is the pic

    • 0 avatar

      Where are the gaping rust holes? Does it have some 20R engine variant in it?

      • 0 avatar

        I bought it for the body because I already had a rusty one in front of my house. I pulled all the parts I needed off the rusty one and made most my money back getting it turned into rebar.

        I did not need any of the spare parts because it started right up. I did have to switch out all the locks. It has a 20R in it. The engine is super clean with a new starter and alternator. I think it has 112000 original miles on it. It runs awesome. The interior was trashed but I just swapped it out for my black interior.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Sand it down and give it a $250 paint job. It will be as good as new.

    • 0 avatar

      Love the look of those Japanese Mustangs, if only they had put a better engine then a 20R they might have taken off. The R series has many great attributes, but performance is not included.

  • avatar

    Brickwagon with stick? In not-a-pile-of-rust condition? Let’s see…678 area code means Atlanta…one way flight from New York…will airport security give me grief over a set of Allen wrenches?

  • avatar

    I enjoy these posts, although I cant relate. I generally buy new, and then keep for 8-10 years, repeat.

    Sometimes I am struck by how many posters seem to relish driving the lowest cost car they can find.

    I like a bargain as much as the next guy, but for me, driving old POS gets old after you leave your mid 20s, and is a non starter when you have a demanding job, wife, kids etc.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      baggins, nice handle!

      Feel free to look at either of the two pictures in the article.

      Neither of these vehicles are POS. I hear part of what you say since I bought new before I got into this business. Kept a 1994 Camry for 12 years and 236k. It was a great car and is still on the road.

      But I have driven a LOT of cars since then that were bought for cheap that also happened to be well made.

      When you buy a car… you buy a ‘transport module’. You buy the quality, care, and abuse that was levied by the prior owner(s).

      A lot of cheap cars… are cheap in name only. Now if you’re talking about abused or low quality vehicles I’m right there with you. But that has more to do with the owners in most cases than the type of car that it is.

      • 0 avatar

        i hear you – that some cars are old and well kept. But I believe, contrary to some on this site, that cars are generally getting better every year. I had a 1994 Camry also, and it was very well designed and screwed together, no doubt. Far, far ahead of its competition **at the time**. But I’ll take my 2011 Accord. Skid Control, side curtains, an extra 65 horses, oil changes every 8K miles. It might not have quite the assembly quality as my 94 camry, but that car is 17 years old now, and for me, that’s enough to disqualify it vs a new car of similar market position.

  • avatar

    Peruse article then posts, ponder, replace “cat/truck/auto/etc” words/terms with female and a shocking amount of the useful info within is still applicable.

  • avatar

    You’re going to have no problem selling the Volvo if it runs.

    Though it does raise the eternal question: Why are all of the cheap, cool cars always located around Atlanta?

    I’d go with no rust being the answer, but in that case, why doesn’t Arizona have the same amount of nice old iron floating around?

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