Rebuild, Part Out, Export, or Race Out: 2002 Toyota Camry

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

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?

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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  • Jacob_coulter Jacob_coulter on Oct 22, 2012

    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.

  • Kapracing01 Kapracing01 on Oct 24, 2012

    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.

  • Aja8888 As I type this, my 4 months old Equinox's Onstar module that controls the phone is broken. Yep, 4 months (never worked right from day one). Replacement will be a REFURBISHED unit since no new ones can be obtained (from China?). I really don't miss the phone via Bluetooth. And I have a great Garmin that I have used for years for trips which has free lifetime maps and traffic.
  • Bd2 There's a reason why talented American execs have been leaving Stellantis in droves.Tavares seems intent in following "Le Cost Cutter" Ghosn into driving his company into the dirt, whilst "justifying" his ever expanding compensation.
  • Bd2 Too bad gm didn't make the C8 better looking to begin with...
  • GregLocock Not interested at all. Apparently I've got Apple car play but I've never used it in 3 years. The built in nav is ok.
  • Corey Lewis Probably worth about what they're asking, given its condition. The color combo isn't a desirable one, they look sharper in non-beige shades. Like two-tone green, maroon, navy, or gray. The end of the time when MB built its cars properly. No shame in turning up in a clean W126, they'll always command respect.
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