Auction Day: The Tax Season Cometh

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
auction day the tax season cometh

I want you! To spend our national debt on a beater car!

145 vehicles. 100+ dealers. If there ever was a recipe for prices leaving the stratosphere and entering the ionosphere, it was Monday morning at Carmax.

On average Carmax makes $929 on every used car that they take in and sell to another dealer. If you take the latest quarterly profit they get from their wholesale auction operations alone ($78 million) and multiply it by four, you get over $300 million in earnings. That’s an amazing profit for what amounts to minimal reconditioning (if any) and a ‘quick flip’.

Then again, the car dealers who came to the sale were looking for the exact same thing.

Some of them found it. A good friend of mine, who I wish wasn’t such a friendly guy at that moment, bought a 1996 Chrysler New Yorker with 30,415 original miles for only $750.

What was wrong with it? The transmission ‘may’ need to be replaced (transmission needs service was announced) and the title was registered with more miles than the vehicle was showing on the odometer. However a quick look at Carfax and Autocheck revealed that the miles were indeed original.

In the end what he’ll do is have the title transacted to reflect ‘miles exempt’. This is what the Georgia DMV records as mileage for vehicles that are 10 years are older.

Then it will either be sold at a nearby dealer auction or he’ll get the transmission fixed for a retail deal. Given that the trannies are cheap ($300) and the labor cost will be around $300, I’m sure he’ll tote the note’ or perhaps sell it on Ebay.

Overall I did okay at this sale. Not great. But not terrible. My purchases were…

2000 Saab 9-5 (108k miles, Leather, $2325)

2001 Honda Insight (124k miles, automatic, $3330)

2002 Chevy Cavalier (131k miles, ‘engine needs service’ announcement, $1515)

1994 Acura Legend L (169k miles, garage kept, $1515)

The Saab I got a good price. But they tend to sit for a while. A low price always helps but retailing Saabs always seems to be a race to the bottom. I may just flip it at $2995 for a quick sale.

The Insight was low because the Check Engine and Maintenance Lights were on. The maintenance light is just the Honda dummy light that goes off for scheduled maintenance. The Check Engine light looked to be nothing more than a code P1166 (Manufacturing Control: Air Fuel Metering) which requires nothing more than a new 02 Sensor.

But then I got it on the road and within a half mile, the IMA light popped on. Nine times out of ten this is due to a bad battery module and sure enough, that’s exactly what it was. The vehicle was arbitrated and I got my money back.

The Cavalier was a purely speculative buy. I knew the radiator fan was not coming on, and I hoped that the engine was still in good shape. All the fluids and tailpipe emissions reflected a good working engine. But you never really know until the problems are fixed and the car is driven.

I put in coolant after picking it up. Within a few miles I also saw that it was slowly leaking from the lower radiator house. An easy fix so long as everything else is okay. Worst case scenario, I run it through a dealer auction and make my money back.

The Legend was a rare find. For some reason I’ve purchased a slew of first generation Legends over the years. But never the second generation. The fact that it went through near the end of the sale (140 out of 145) may have helped lower the purchase price. Dealers tend to either leave the sale or stand in line to pay for their purchases during the waning moments of an auto auction.

It’s easy to brag about sale prices. However most vehicles that go through an auction will require a little bit of something. In fact, these days you can usually bet that they will need a ‘lot’ of something. The majority of folks who trade-in cars these days either have a seemingly expensive maintenance issue, or in the case of Georgia, are behind their payments on a title pawn.

Time will tell whether these buys will bank out. As for the other 141, here were a few of the more interesting buys.

2005 Jaguar XJ8 L: 111k, scuffs on two of the doors, front and rear bumpers: $9300

1997 Jaguar XJ8: 175k, ‘frame damage announcement’, clean exterior & interior, 30+ dealer records $3100

1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited: 119k, sunroof, leather, clean condition, $4100

1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited: 148k, 4WD, no roof, no leather, average condition, $2400

2002 Honda Accord LX: 156k, green, average, blah… $4200

2002 Honda Accord EX: 139k, ‘engine needs service’, ‘transmission needs service’ But hey! Leather seats! $3300

1996 Nissan Maxima GLE: 102k, leather, sunroof, good condition $2600 (I was outbid by $100)

2000 Nissan Maxima GLE: 182k, same options, ‘below average condition’ ‘not actual miles’ $2600

and finally for those dreaming of someday owning a Corvette… this sale offered four of them.

2008 Corvette hardtop: ‘Frame Damage’, 43k miles, blue: $21,200

2000 Corvette hardtop: 55k miles, clean condition, $13,800

1998 Corvette Convertible: 46k miles, clean condition, $15,500

1986 Corvette convertible: Clean condition, 86k miles, $4500

Wondering about a given model? Feel free to name it and I’ll let you know if it sold and for how much. Just an FYI, no dead brands sold at this sale… except for 1 Oldsmobile, 2 Mercurys, 3 Saturns, my unloved Saab, and a baby blue Plymouth van with a Mitsubishi engine that finally blew its last ring.

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2 of 28 comments
  • NormSV650 NormSV650 on Dec 21, 2011

    Pickup similar 9-5 for $700 less on eBay with carfax style printout. And no auction fees, just had to drive 6 hours to get it.

  • J3studio J3studio on Dec 22, 2011

    Steven, With the Corvettes, does hardtop mean fixed roof or hatchback?