By on October 21, 2012

Every once in a very blue moon, I’ll go to a mini-warehouse auction.

The realities of this low-down clearance process is completely unlike the miracles and glories that come with episodes of Storage Wars.  You want junky third world quality furniture? Or memoirs of the 1980’s and 1990’s left behind by your neighbors from their very last estate sale before they finally moved to a condominium? The local storage auctions are the place to go. 80% to 90% pure junk.

This is where I recently found this wrecked 2002 Toyota Solara SE with 140k miles. For $375, it was all mine.

Should I…

Rebuild: The rebuilding business is a huge enterprise in this country. Thousands of vehicles in this country are purchased with the sole goal of rebuilding the body and putting it back on the road.

This particular Solara has three very strong pluses going for it:

1) The engine and transmission are still in good shape.

2) The title was not changed to salvage or rebuilt since the owner only had liability insurance at the time of the accident. Instead of reporting it to the insurance company, she simply had it towed to a storage facility. Probably right after she got cited for having a junk car on her driveway.

3) Toyotas are pretty much the gold standard of automobiles in most of the developing world. If you take our used car market for Toyotas in the United States, which already carry a strong premium and multiply it by anywhere between 2 to 3, that’s the price of a high-content used Toyota overseas.

This route is a non-starter for me since I don’t own a body shop.

However if you have friends or family members that wreck a late model vehicle and have inadequate insurance, they may likely get more money from a body man than they will from a junkyard. A nearby one offered me $1500 instead of the $1000 from the low-ball subsisting salvage yard.

But there is a better avenue…

Part Out: In order to do this right you need three things.

1) Space

2) Patience

3) Time to post online

A surprising number of vehicles can be picked to a vulture like level of skeletal remains thanks to a long list of factors. The popularity of the model in the used car market. Uniqueness of body parts. The price dealers/manufacturers charge for the same part. Interchangeability. The wear out factor of certain used parts. Not to mention the demand from those who export.

I would expect this vehicle to provide a return somewhere in the $3500 range if I had it picked clean. But that would take a few years.

Is it worth the wait?

Export: Forget about going to the guys down the street who have a used tire store and a treasure trove of old junkers behind their building. If you want to get the best immediate return for your vehicle, take it to a salvage auction.

The competition is fierce. In-state buyers compete with out-of-state buyers, who compete with buyers from outside the United States. Mexico, Central America, Bolivia, Colombia, the UAE, Nigeria, Ghana, Malaysia… the help centers for the two largest salvage auctions offer over a dozen languages for conversation and even go so far as to advertise their services on local radio stations, online publications, and wherever else they can get an audience.

I happen to have one nearby that offers a special low rate for towing and selling a wreck. I have to wait for a court order title. But once that goes through, I can bring it there and have a feeding frenzy of bidding from all the folks mentioned above.

One thing you do have to be careful of is making sure that the vehicle is listed accurately online. Make sure the buyers know that the vehicle runs and that the requisite six to ten pictures actually belong to your vehicle. I have pulled and relisted vehicles due to these errors.

The return for the 2002 Solara would likely be right around the low $2000 range. A clean title and a powertrain that runs fine will certainly help build a wider audience for this model than usual. But the fact that I’m selling as a dealer instead of an insurance company will hurt it a bit. Since dealers wind up getting numbers at the waning moments of the auction and the competition is sometimes not as strong.

If worse comes to worse, I can always say no to the final bid price.

So what should I do?

Find someone to rebuild the vehicle? Part it out and become ever more familiar with Solaras? Bring it it to a salvage auction and watch it begin a new life outside our borders? Or maybe use it for the 24 hours of LeMons?  Who knows? Maybe I can call it Eiji’s Ennui?

What says you?



Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

39 Comments on “Rebuild, Part Out, Export, or Race Out: 2002 Toyota Camry...”

  • avatar

    Part it out…

    • 0 avatar

      if he wanted to part it out, he should first do a decent economic analysis. he should:

      1. consider the max amount he would get from parting it out
      2. the max he would get doing the next best thing
      3. take the difference, and divide it by the number of hours it would take to take it apart, post online, etc.

      If the dollars/hour make it worth his time, he should do it, but i personally think that it wont be worth his time…. He wont make that much more and it will take a lot of time.

    • 0 avatar

      Somehow I doubt it’s going to bring $3500. This is not a popular enthusiast car. Sports/ enthusiast cars are the best candidates for part-outs. A sleepy retiree’s car like this one will really take years to part out. Who has time to post sht on Craigslist week after week, and deal with cheap skates and losers and flakes?

  • avatar

    This looks like an easy fix to me.

    No frame damage. Airbags are good. You need a right fender, hood, headlight, bumper cover, and some miscellaneous parts like the fender inner skirt etc.

    You can find the parts, in color, on They aren’t expensive. Your biggest hurdle is finding parts for a Solara instead of a regular Camry sedan.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually the part that is all jacked up under the headlamp is part of the unibody. So you will have to put the car on a frame puller to straqighten it out. I am going to guess that the front right wheel has been shoved in.

  • avatar

    Easier to make a fast nickel then a slow dime, auction and be done with it

  • avatar

    In my position – a young guy needing reliable transportation and not caring much for appearances – I’d probably replace the headlights and drive it in its present post-apocalyptic state. In your situation, I’d either auction it off or sell it to someone who’ll rebuild it.

  • avatar

    Resell it as is on eBay you could triple your investment. There is a reason some hasn’t already refurb it being is early 2000 green color or no desire for a coupe.

  • avatar

    I have an ’03 Camry SE sedan with the same engine. Toyota’s are reliable cars.

    Since the Camry is a very popular car, their are many used ones for sale and others found in junk yards, so parts will be easy to find.

    If you have time, patience and money then go ahead and repair it, if not sale to someone who can

  • avatar

    If you have a local cash offer of $1,500 from a rebuilder, I think you should take the money and run.

  • avatar

    I agree with those who say turn the quick buck. If a rebuilder will give you $1,500, that’s a nice profit.

  • avatar

    “The title was not changed to salvage or rebuilt since the owner only had liability insurance at the time of the accident.”

    Something to keep in mind next time I check carfax.

    • 0 avatar

      I had the exact same thought. For some reason it didn’t occur to me that a car that would have been a total loss if it had full coverage, would just be wrecked in the absence of full coverage.

  • avatar
    George B

    If there is an online community for people who customize Solaras, I’d try to sell it there first. The interior is in good shape. The car could look good if someone put on a more aggressive front fascia and body kit, painted it black, and installed larger wheels. The restored car would have the operating cost of a 4 cylinder Camry while being more interesting to look at than your basic family car.

    • 0 avatar

      I would def fix it but its hard to tell from the images just how damaged it is. For a case of mid-level beer, see if you can get a bodyman to come by and give two rough estimates of: (1) what needs fixed in order to be tip top and (2) what to fix in order to just pass inspection. If the first estimate outweighs the value of the car to you, fix it well enough for inspection and put $2999 on it in Craigslist.

  • avatar
    Angus McClure

    I really don’t think you are in the business of fixing or parting out. If you were you would have folks working for you that did that (or a favorite contractor) and we would have heard of it. You are in the selling business and I would sell via whichever avenue provides the quickest reasonable return.

    At any rate when I was in business I didn’t like having my money tied up in inventory. Seems that the car represents inventory, in whatever shape, until you turn it. Now personally, I wish it were in my driveway instead of yours. I would keep it but I don’t sell cars and tend to keep them for a long time.

  • avatar

    Graft a Bentley Continental GT or Mercedes CL to the front end. Donk out the wheels. Take the back seat out and put in 15″ subs. Sell it for $10k. Be sure to help the purchaser out with finance, because he (and it’s always a man) has no credit.

    On second thoughts, take the $1500.

  • avatar

    The biggest guns in the consumer lawyer field are the trial lawyers who specialize in auto fraud cases. The cases these lawyers like to get most are the (undisclosed) rebuilt wreck cases. When a jury believes that the seller put the buyer’s family’s lives at stake (and the public’s) to dodge title branding requirements to make a quick buck, juries tend to award the kind of punitive damages that drive the lawyer-hating folks crazy. Cross a dealer with deep pockets with an undisclosed rebuilt wreck, and it’s a recipe for a one week jury trial. (By the way, I’m a lawyer, but I don’t do auto fraud cases.)

  • avatar

    Take the 1500 no harm no foul be on your way and let nature take it’s course and it will end up half way around the world.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Salvage auction or sell it to a panel beater shop. You will easily get a nice return on it without much of the hassle.

    Going by the pictures you got there 2 fenders, bonnet, headlamps (LH might be saved), grille, some brackets/clips/retainers and some wiring. Then it’s time to straighten the radiator support (I doubt this car has one of the modern bolt in front panel) and pray that either the radiator or the condenser are unscathed. One of the shops you mentioned must have a good wreckers network, so parts parts should come cheap and easy.

    I don’t think it will fly in the 3rd world since it’s a 2dr coupe… and with a 4 banger it won’t be fast. At least in YV, 2dr = sports car.

    What would be the price of the fixed car in the street?

  • avatar

    Take a $1,500 and avoid a hustle with towing it to a salvage auction, unless you’re sure to be compensated for time put in plus same $1,500.

    EDIT: You know that tax season not that far away, if you have time and patience, it might be worth to rebuild it and sell it during tax season.

  • avatar

    Take the $1,500, walk away and dont look back. It will cost you a few thousand to fix this car and at that point you will be lucky to make much more than $1,500 anyways.

  • avatar

    I would call some body shops that work on Toyotas, and see if they’re interested in buying it. The mileage is on the high side, but the interior looks clean and the body generally straight aside from the collision damage, so somebody might pay a slight premium for it.

    Otherwise, I’d sell it at auction. Parting it out yourself would be a waste of your time and keeps cash tied up unnecessarily.

    • 0 avatar


      “I would call some body shops that work on Toyotas, and see if they’re interested in buying it. The mileage is on the high side, but the interior looks clean and the body generally straight aside from the collision damage, so somebody might pay a slight premium for it.”

      That’s not a bad idea in theory, but body shops mostly need the front pieces. Say one Camry rear ends another older Camry at a good clip. The one that does the ‘rear ending’ gets totaled and the one hit in the rear drives away needing little more than minor paint and the trunk floor popped out.

      A 2002 Solara with moderate rear end damage is an instant ‘total’ so legit body shops will never see it.

      I’d put the tail lights on ebay and dump the car.

      • 0 avatar

        There are body and repair shops that sell used cars as a sideline. The shops that he should contact are the ones that would fix it and sell it.

      • 0 avatar

        “There are body and repair shops that sell used cars as a sideline. The shops that he should contact are the ones that would fix it and sell it.”

        Yeah true, but at that point, you’re dealing with shady or shadetree operations and they would be more interested in whole cars to hack in half to weld on to another half’d cars bound for 3rd world destinations.

        Cars that old really aren’t worth anyone’s time or repair dollars even in the fringes of the industry. Even the hack operations concentrate on newer or luxury, major damaged cars to repair/flip.

      • 0 avatar

        It doesn’t have to be a body shop. I’d say a Toyota repair shop that wants the mechanical pieces would probably take it in a heartbeat.

  • avatar

    If you can get $1500 for it at a Yard take it and run like it’s filled with White Lightning and on fire.

  • avatar

    Option 4! This thing would dominate at LeMons! A 2002 Camry with 140k on the clock could run an endurance race without breaking a sweat. Put some gas in now and than, maybe a new set of tires, and just watch the laps tally.

    Those of you who are more familiar with LeMons history can correct me if I’m wrong. Any precedent of 2000’s Camrys? Maybe it would just get the people’s curse right off the bat.

    My more practical side would say rebuild and sell. It looks super clean inside.

  • avatar

    Race it! You seem to deal with enough crap cars. Have some fun with this one. Plus you can put a bunch of the interior on Ebay and recoup some of it.

  • avatar

    If the body and paint were fixed, it’d be worth about $3600 retail. It’s hard to tell from the photos; all of the sheet metal forward of the windshield is junk, but what’s behind that mess may or may not be OK. If body panel hard mount points or the cradle are tweaked it’s scrap.

    Get it inspected by a body shop to find out what it’ll need and how much it’ll cost just to paint the replaced panels. Sure, you might find the sheet metal used and in the right color – but unless you’ve got the right experience you’ll never be able to make it fit right. Matching faded metallic paint can be a real problem, too.

    If you’ve got good contacts in the body / paint area, you just might be able to repair it and make a profit when you sell it. Best bet is to just sell it on for $1200 or more; you’d have trouble making that much if you repaired it and this would save a lot of time and hassles.

    And ponder your purchasing habits a bit – 10 year old cars with major body damage are usually not a good buy at any price.

    • 0 avatar

      “And ponder your purchasing habits a bit – 10 year old cars with major body damage are usually not a good buy at any price.”


      He paid $375. The crusher’ll probably give him more than that. And he can probably sell it for a lot more at a salvage auction.

      I should have such purchasing habits.

  • avatar

    Seems like an easy $1500 to flip it at a salvage auction. That this would be low end salvage gold if it’s a good runner and isn’t branded.

    Otherwise fix it yourself if you can gather the means.

  • avatar

    To me it looks like the only way someone could make money “restoring” it and reselling is if they were using their own “free” labor. Just too much risk for a small payout if you had to pay someone to do that work, and everything has to break your way.

    Parting out would likely yield more, but you’d earn every penny of it. Also, those cars aren’t “hot” items where enthusiasts will descend and pay big bucks.

    Whenever I try to squeeze every penny out of an investment, that’s usually when I get burned. If you can triple your money with no headaches, it’s a no brainer in my experience. Sell it to the body shop.

  • avatar

    Hi, Sorry not trying to hijack thread, but I’m new here and and looking to get in touch with the Steven Lang that used to own a 1989 Cobb county Sheriff ‘s SSP Mustang. I bought one a while back and am looking for some info concerning this SSP.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • dukeisduke: Not nearly as attractive as the Bugatti 16C Galibier. Bugatti_16C_Galibier...
  • brn: I admit that I didn’t read the entire article, but the chart caught my eye and I read that section twice....
  • el scotto: No, just effing no! Ettore Bugatti was an artist. Never, ever in a buh-zillion years would he (or any of...
  • ToolGuy: Corey, thank you for the reminder* that tomorrow is Egg Delivery Day. (Looks around, realizes suddenly that...
  • ToolGuy: My current daily driver had a sculptural headliner – until I glued it back in place. Dear BMW, please...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber