By on November 19, 2012

The bidding kept going down and down at the inop auction. A sale where all cars are usually either dead or dying.

“$200! would-a-give-me $200! $100! $100! How about-a-hundred!”

Pretty soon the bidding went all the way down to $50. For a whole car! No takers. No sale. Until…

I was a member of the auction staff at this public sale. Unlike other junk public auctions which usually offer cleaned up basket cases from the impound lots, this one specifically sold dealer trade-in’s.

The vehicle in question was a 1993 Subaru Impreza.  Four speed automatic. 165k. Primer. The vehicle didn’t even have a lick of paint on the outside.

But it looked clean. Too clean to be used as crusher fodder at an auto recycler.

“Rick? Do you think the Chevy dealer would take $25 for that thing?”

It just so happened the owner of that dealership had a twin brother who also happened to hear me ask about the car.

“You want that junker Steve? It’s yours! Enjoy your new tinker toy!”

So for $25, plus a $50 fee, I had my own Subaru paperweight. That was until I replaced the battery and the shiftlock overdrive mechanism. It ran like a top. Two weeks later I bought a 1988 Toyota Mr2 at the same sale with about 110k for $225 that only needed a fuel pump.

Two cars for less than $500 altogether.

Eventually I sold both vehicles on Ebay for $1576 and $2712 respectively. A rally coordinator for Subaru flew in from California and kept the Impreza for another 50k miles before turning it into a race car. The MR2 went to a super nice guy in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where thin framed older cars have limited lives.

I’ve made more money with plenty of other cars over the years. But these two have always been close to my heart. What about you? What was your best deal? Feel free to throw in a parts story or two if you like.

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79 Comments on “Question Of The Day: What Was Your Best Automotive Deal…. Ever?...”

  • avatar

    Most likely the 1981 BMW 320i I bought at our local auction for $400…two fuel pumps installed, and I drove it for over a year with nothing else done to it. Sold it for a few bucks more than I had in it (sales price and fuel pumps included)…so basically a free car for a year. Sure, it wasn’t pretty, but I loved not having to worry about car payments…or door dings…or washing/waxing…

  • avatar

    This honor would have to be bestowed upon my recently departed ’82 Volvo 242DL. I purchased it for $500. For a life-long New England car, the body was in pretty good shape. I drove it for 3 years from about 212K miles to 229k miles.

    It needed brakes, a radiator, and the the wires to the shifter-mounted OD switch replaced. It came with brake and tune-up parts in the trunk!

    I met the previous, previous owner by chance on turbobricks, and he told me about how when he bought it a few years prior, it had been sitting for about 6 years under a tarp. He brought a new battery and a few other sundry parts, and it fired right up. He must’ve done a few other things to it as well, as it ran perfectly.

    It was the cheapest and most reliable car I’ve ever owned, and I mostly just did rust-related repairs to it.

    It got rear-ended, but not totaled about a month ago. I replaced it with a ’90 245, but I’m in the process of fixing the damage on it. Long live the 242!

    • 0 avatar

      Count me in the Volvo bunch, my one and ONLY good deal in my series of cars was a 1992 Volvo 240.

      It was $1000, but it only had 112k on the odometer and only needed a few cheap repairs (overdrive, odometer gear, a cigarette lighter). It had been driven by an old man in the city so it hadn’t gained much more miles. It had been converted to R-13 freon and all of the power windows still worked.

      I still drive it on an almost daily basis, despite being known for a few issues its held up better than a few newer Fords.

  • avatar

    It happened yesterday. I got a 2001 Honda RVT1000R plus a huge box of parts for $2500. If I build up the bike using the nicest parts in the box and sell the rest I think I’ll have a free motorcycle.

  • avatar

    78 or 79 corolla for $250. Supposedly it had a bad cylinder.
    I did a compression test and the cylinder was fine. Put new
    KYB shocks and struts all around. that car would take jeep roads
    like nobody’s business. Really good handling. Would have kept it
    if it were not so small.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Bought a Chevy truck at the Salvation Army auction for 150$. Paid the auction fee, called and got minimum insurance, drove to base, put a for sale sign on it, sold it on payday and made 100$. Too cheap not to buy and I knew some Sailor would buy for 300$.

  • avatar

    In 1969 I bought a 1964 Opel Kadett wagon for $35. I bought another just like it in a country junkyard for $25 with the deal that I could come take anything I wanted off it anytime I wanted. Believe me, there was no competition for parts from a dead Kadett (once named Car and Driver’s all-time worst car ever… an overly-harsh assessment in my opinion that more properly belongs to either Yugo or Le Car).

    I drove that Opel for perhaps 25,000 miles through 3 years of college. I rented it out weekends to guys who needed wheels for dates and made more in a weekend that it cost me. It finally gave up the ghost when I hit a pothole and the passenger seat broke through the floorboard, throwing sparks everywhere (my passenger was not impressed).

    What a marvelour hunk-a-junk… my siblings still reminisce about it all these years later.

  • avatar

    My best automotive deal? I’ll let you know when I score one! I always seem to get hosed on cars – it’s a skill I don’t possess. That’s why I try to buy new, might as well go all-in.

    Perhaps it’s because I’m very picky about what I want, as I get a car in my head and that’s what I go after, regardless of condition. For example, if I saw two cars, one a Ford and the other a Chevy, I’d most likely take the Chevy simply because I tend to be a Chevy guy.

    My problem is, too often I get emotionally involved in a car and I don’t drive beaters or fixer-uppers or bombs – well, at least as a mature (open to discussion!) adult.

    • 0 avatar

      The emotional attachment fades with the amount of cars that pass through your hands, with a few exceptions.

      I loved my first car, an ’87 Monte Carlo SS, and was heartbroken when it was side swiped by a dump truck, and then later had to sell it to pay for unrelated legal fees. But I’m over it now. Maybe one day I’ll get another just like it (I definitely don’t want THAT one back).

      Since then, I’ve had only a couple vehicles that I’m not keen on selling. My ’76 Charger because so much fun was had in it during College years (plus it ain’t worth a whole lot) and an ’87 F150 reg cab long box 300 I6 4 speed stick that my grandpa left me when he passed away.

  • avatar

    My best deal was when I traded my lemon 2005 Honda Odyssey after 20 months of ownership and received exactly what I owed on it, while paying a fair price for a different minivan at a used car lot. I felt like the dealer did me a favor – I hated that Honda.

  • avatar

    The 2000 Honda Civic Si that my friend gave me for $0. (er, I mean $1)

    It has cosmetic front-end damage, but runs and drives. It’s sitting in my garage right now.

  • avatar

    I have a similar story that came from a crappy dealer trade in auction, although very different ending.

    A really ugly tan colored ’98 Safari van went through the block. It drove in and wasn’t smoking or misfiring, but the CEL was on. ~130k miles on the clock IIRC. It had the ugly steel wheels that were all rusty, a rusted through fuel door and the lip of the flip up hatch (dutch doors!) was all rusted. This thing was ugly, but looked mechanically decent.

    Got it for $150 plus $50 because no one would even look at it. Since I was the only one even facing in this thing’s direction by the time the auctionner got down to $150, I bought it with a shrug.

    Turns out, the brakes, suspension, engine and trans were all fine. I drove it home with no issues. I figured at worst I scould scrap everything for $300.

    Turns out my uncle had an identically colored van with a bad rod knock that belonged to a customer of his sitting behind his repair shop. But this one had all the options, alloy wheels (with newer tires) CD stereo nicer seats and non rusty body panels. That one was bought for $200 as well.

    The CEL was resolved by swapping the EGR valve from the good van, and the cosmetic issues by swapping the body and interior bits over. So I had $400 in it by this point, but $100 net overall by the time I parted and scrapped the parts van within 2 weeks for about $300.

    So now I have a really solid family hauler for a $100 net investment and a day or 2 of work. I throw it up for sale. A guy stops by in a ’94 Topaz coupe with a 3.0L V6 and a 5 speed. It had a set of late model Focus SES euro wheels on it and looked decent. Says hes sick of driving his kids in a 2-door, needs a van and wants to work out a trade deal for the Paz.

    I look over the Topaz, decently clean, clear peeling in a couple corners, but clean oil, new belts, good tires and a receipt for a new clutch installation less than 3k miles before. $1200 plus the Topaz.

    Mind you, a Topaz is not a my typical kind of ride, but this thing was unique and quirky enough that I actually drove it a few times a week while I was waiting for it to sell. The 3.0L vulcan had way more torque than the poor true Mac strut front end of the Tempaz could handle, but it put the hurt on a Civic Si out “tooling” around. Not some fake Si, the last good Si the 1999. I think the Civic guy cried.

    Hilarious, anyway, I sold the Topaz to a teenage girl for $1600 as her first ride. She worked at a McDonald’s across town at the time, and I still see that emerald green sleeper parked there. 3L vulcan and a 5speed? Other than the Tempaz ownership yearly ball and joint-tie rod ritual, probably costs her next to nothing to operate it.

    So $2800 and the experience of having a hot rod Topaz for a month from horse trading a $100-investment rusty van.

  • avatar

    2000 Ford Contour. 82,000 miles and 8 years old. $250. No start due to dead battery.

    One of my friends had been pestering me to buy it off of him for a year or so and I’d balked at the price for a while as I just didn’t want the car. He finally started talking my language with price and I wrote him a check.

    New timing belt, a case of serious scrubbing, and new tires, fixed the drivers power window, new speakers and I had a nice newish economical car for about a year or so. I sold it when I took it in to a friends dealership to get a state inspection on it and the tech came out asking me if I was interested in selling it. I told him to name a price and he came up with one that I was more than satisfied with. It was about 10x what I paid for it originally.

    Next best deal was my ’77 Chevelle, but that’s a story for another day.

  • avatar

    In 2006 I purchased a clean 1997 Tercel for $1750. While only a modest bargain at the time, I sold the car 4 years later – having put nothing into it other than tires – for only slightly less than I had paid originally, or about $1700.

    • 0 avatar

      I love stories like this. I have observed that all cars eventually reach a point where depreciation levels out and if it simply runs, drives, and can pass state inspection and emissions (required where I live) it is automatically worth $1,500 to $2,000.

      I bought a ’95 Accord like this a few years ago. Paid $2,000. Drove it for about 2 years, put 35,000 miles on it, and traded it in for $1,500. I could have sold it in the classifieds for $2,000, but I just didn’t want to hassle with it.

  • avatar

    1988 Celebrity with the 2.8. Bought for $500 with 160k and gave it away to a friend at 246k. All the car cost me during that time (besides oil, brakes and a muffler) was a heater core that I was able to replace without removing the dash. She lost it to a tow company so as far as I know it is still on the road.

  • avatar

    I went to the local “lemon car auction”. It took a couple of weeks but, I found a ’88 Toyota Corolla. It was UGLY. Paint falling off and it was very dirty. I bought it for $250 and drove it home. It needed nothing…not even a battery or brakes. I took a lot of c**p about this car because it was so ugly but, it just rolled on day after day. With just liability insurance and 38 mpg,I drove it for a couple of years and sold it for $500.I sort of wish I had that car back but, really it was on borrowed time.

  • avatar

    toss-up between the ’77 Corolla I bought in ’85 with ’90k for $900 (inflation adjusted), drove for 70k over 8 years, sold for ~$300 (inflation adjusted) ,and spent a total of $10k (non-inflation-adjusted) for everything down to parking tickets…


    ’99 Accord LX 5speed, bought in ’04 with 67k for $5,500.

  • avatar

    1992 I bought a 1980 Chevvy Caprice with a SB V8 for 5000 USD. It was almost like new condition and had never seen snow or salt as it was imported to Sweden from California. It was the best car I have had. Comfy and easy to service and maintain, parts cheap also. I sold it three years later for 7150 USD.

  • avatar

    My dad bought a “clean” early 70’s MGB from the back lot of a local Chevy dealer for $100. Apparently it was a trade in and the tech that checked it in decided it had a seized engine. My dad got it before they sent it off to wholesale crusher heaven. Pushed it onto the back street, pulled the starter (which had a seized drive gear), push started it and drove it home. A year or so of pure hell dealing with all it’s normal “brit car” problems, but he still sold it for $1500 within the year.

  • avatar

    ’87 Diplomat (70k miles) bought in fall of ’94 for 2500. Not quite a steal, but the car was a peach. Well worth it.

  • avatar

    I picked up a 1990 Oldsmobile Cutlass about 8 years ago for 1600. It lasted me about 7 years and the only money I had to put into it was for a new alternator. I traded it in for 450 when I purchased a new car. When all is totaled up it only cost me 192 a year for that car over 7 years.

    Also, the deal I got on my 2012 Mazda3 i Sport was great too. The final price including taxes, tags, and everything came to 15800. You are lucky if you can get a subcompact for that price.

  • avatar

    1988 Volkswagen Scirocco GT 4 spd 1.8L carbed. Bought in Germany in 2000 from a German mechanic who had been the sole owner. Had 85,000 kilometers on the odo, making it just broken in. Car was Ferrari Red with black GT accents in good nic, huge GT whaletale on the back glass, cold air inducer and a sport exhaust. Two sets of wheels as is common in Deutschland; one slick looking pair of aluminum mag wheels with Z rated tires, the other winter tires packed on the original steel wheels. Paid 3800 DMs after haggling in bad German. Exchange rate to US$ was 2.5 to 1. Drove it for three years gaining an additional 100K kilos. Autobahn capable 100 mph (160K) for hours at 6600 rpms in fourth still getting an est. 30 mpgs, but what did I care, I had AAFES fuel coupons.

  • avatar

    I think I’ve shared this before, but my best automotive buy was at an auction when I was in high school. It must have been about 1999.
    1987 Volvo 740 Turbo sedan, 256,000 miles, $500. There were some grizzled veteran parts-guys there bidding too, but I think they let me have it when it was obvious that I was a teenager bidding for my own car. *on Dad’s ticket
    We jump-started it and drove it home, then replaced battery and fluids, and cleaned out the cheerios and crayons. Since this was high school my first real “improvement” was purchasing a used amp and 12″ sub to put in the trunk. I think the car needed an alternator belt, starter, and windshield over the next 30,000 miles, and then I sold it to a friend for $475 because I had my license revoked for taking it up to 100mph, and getting caught doing it. Oh, the idiocy of my youth.
    I now drive my 2000 Subaru Legacy GT Wagon (2nd vehicle purchase, curbstoned, subject of a piston slap) at or near the posted speed limits, and while it isn’t nearly as good a buy, or vehicle, as that Volvo, it’s also a very cheap TCO. For now.

  • avatar

    I bought an ’85 AE86 Corolla GTS hatchback for $500 in ’99. At the time it was just a used car. It even came with new BFG tires.

    • 0 avatar

      Ugh! Reminds me of the deal that I missed.

      I was just fresh out of high school and was working as a porter at a Toyota dealership (still there but I work in parts now) and for a 18 year old was making decent money (overtime? Hell yes!) so I had some disposable income.

      In my local junkyard was a Corolla SR-5 liftback with a bad 4AC engine. Didn’t matter as it was the RWD AE86 chassis (in reality it was an AE85, but technically the US didn’t get that model)though the engine was lunch, the body was straight and clean and the yard only was asking $300 for it. I was tempted by it as I was aware of Initial D and it’s star the AE86 Trueno GT-Apex, Hell I had a Trueno conversion dancing in my head, but passed on it because:

      A)I already had a ’97 Ranger as my DD.
      B)My dad still had the ’88 Maxima that I used in high school.
      C)My mom had a Chrysler Concorde for her and my dad also had a Silverado work truck so there was no space for the Haichi Roku…
      D)my dad probably would have murdered me for bringing a ‘junker’ home with a bad engine and no real place to keep it.

      I still kick myself for this missed one. I could have cheaply fixed the 4AC and have a gas sipper for my commute today and since I work for Toyota, parts and service wouldn’t be an issue. That or I could have built a fun little track slut and/or Initial D replica or flipped for a handsome sum when drifting caught on, this happened before that.

  • avatar

    Lets see. Two subarus I bought. Lets start with the first one. 83 DL for 300 bucks. Great engine, bad third gear and had been crinkled on the drivers rear quarter. Hatch and glass was all fine. Drove it up and down to work (Bishop to Mammoth Lakes) for a winter. Come summer I sold the engine for 500, used the windshield in my 85 BRAT along with the entire cross member, Rack and perfect set of snow tires that came with the car. Moms 83 BRAT got the rear end and drive line. Sold the rest of the glass to someone in town for 200 that needed it all because of a break up with the crazy he boinked. Scraped the shell for 200 more for steel. And still got a spare set of front axles out of the deal to boot.

    The next one was a 93 Legacy Sedan. 130K on the clock 500 bucks and had some rust. Drove it two years with out doing anything. Car had a full service history and was a one owner car to boot. Engine went into moms BRAT (EJ22 conversion for the win) wheels and tires (Had the fancy gold ABS wheels) went on moms Legacy wagon, Transmission went into moms Legacy wagon, interior got sold for 200 bucks to a friend who had a pit bull eat his interior. MANY MANY parts got sold. Even sold all the doors, hood and decklid (that were not rusted) for 300 bucks to a guy from LA. Got a full set of spare axles for the Legacy wagon, Got 200 for the stripped body from the scrap guys on that one too. I have allot of spare parts left over from it.

    But I think the number one has been my Pug 505. 110 dollar car bought in 2009, Had 160 something on it when I bought it, now has 450K on it. I totaled all the receipts a few weeks ago for it since I have owned it and well. 3,241.37 into the car including purchase, parts, and four years of insurance and registration. It still runs and drives but is getting pretty tired now.

  • avatar

    Where I live its almost impossible to get anything decent in the three digit range, let alone before 2 grand.

    In Missouri we have cheap gas, but the cheap cars are always scrapped into junkyards that won’t allow purchases of full cars.

    They’re usually scrapped thanks to people being super stingy around here, and others valuing their 196k miles 1984 Pontiac Sunbird a bit too high.

    • 0 avatar

      I dunno, when I lived in Kansas City I bought my Neon (The predecessor of the Pug) for 300 with a blown head gasket. A head gasket and a service latter I had a decent little car that lasted me four years. I got my friend a SL1 Saturn slush box for 300 just because it had high millage but there was nothing wrong with it besides a busted fuel gauge.

      Of course this was a few years ago. I remember the pick and pull selling complete clunkers that needed some work at the Truman location. They are out there just not as frequent it seems.

      Of course I left there in 08 so no telling now.

      • 0 avatar

        Scrapyards give between $200-500 for most cars now, so the days of crazy good deals are dwindling.

        The thing with $400-$750 cars is that usually they’ll need one thing fixed, once thats done something else will go. It doesn’t matter who made it either, I had a Toyota and a Plymouth in that were in the $800 area and they were both falling apart. You have to be careful in that range.

    • 0 avatar

      Not sure where you’re at, but both KC and STL Craig’s usually have at least 500 cars under $750 at any given time.

      Ugly or in need of some work, but they are available on either side of the state. But yeah, there are some real optimists around MO…

      • 0 avatar

        I found SE MO, SO IL, and West KY to be full of shockingly reasonably priced second-hand rides. And the winter’s aren’t bad, either. I know that’s probably where I’ll be heading for my next used car.

        Quick plug, but Western KY and TN have a Craigslist-alike called VCI Classifieds. 3/4 of the cars are dealer deals from hell, but the other 1/4 is almost entirely made up of really decent cars at good prices. I used to surf alot at work, even though I didn’t need a car.

        Best find was a running, almost all-original white/white ’60 Buick LeSabre sedan for $2500. It had the Wildcat V8, maybe a 401? Sweet looking car. Sold the first day, though (I called just to take a look at it). IIRC, it was basically a one-owner car being sold from some old guy’s estate by a child/grandchild.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    The ’72 Plymouth Valiant I picked up for $150 in the summer of ’84 served me well for 2 years of driving around pre-bypass upcountry Maui. I never addressed the cooling system problem, since leaving the radiator cap off ensured I could go for a couple of days before running the garden hose back under the hood for a refill. I eventually sold it for $500 to a newly arrived windsurfer. My heartiest laugh occurred the afternoon when I realized it was my turn to be the terrible slowpoke who was holding back the upcountry traffic.

  • avatar

    It’s a toss-up between my ’76 Accord, bought new for $3,995.00, and a ’63 chevy nova wagon, bought for $50.00.
    I sold the accord 3 yrs later for 3,900. to my sister, and sold the nova 2 yrs. later for $100.
    Both cars were my only vehicle at the time, with plenty of miles driven.

  • avatar

    I bought my buddy’s 1984 Plymouth Reliant (K-Car) for $269 in 1990. That’s what he owed me for the radiator we had to buy and get installed on the Friday of a long weekend when it failed on our way to someone’s cottage. He could never pay me back, so he eventually just gave me the car when my 1980 Toyota Tercel rusted out.

    That thing was a “special order” vehicle. Apparently there had been a Canadian advertisement for a base model, base price, manual transmission version that was never actually built. There was a complaint about not being able to buy the base model car, so they had to make a few. As a result, I ended up with a 4 speed manual, no tach, bench seat, 2.2L, just won’t quit K-Car.

    I drove it for about a year and “lent” it to my sister when I went backpacking around Europe. The instructions were “if it dies, we’ll never speak of it again, but if it runs when I get home, give it back.”

    I got it back and promptly hooked up a u-Haul to it and drove it from Toronto to Edmonton for school. Drove it back again that summer, back to Edmonton that fall, and then drove it around Edmonton, Calgary, British Columbia and the Rockies for a few years. I had no money. None. Had to park it the first year of school because I couldn’t afford the insurance!

    It didn’t like winter much – the automatic choke was busted. When it was cold (Edmonton goes to -40C) I used to start it, jam a winter brush between the gas pedal and the front seat, and go back inside until it went from chugging like a diesel to running almost normally. Junkyards were full of parts (although I never could get that choke working!) and I visited a lot of pick and pulls in those days.

    I eventually just took the plates off it and left it on a side street in Calgary.

    • 0 avatar

      My best buy was also a K, but a 87. At 77K I got it for $2000 because it was down on power after a T belt repair. I recognized the sluggishness of the belt out of time because I made the same error myself in the past. Rock solid reliable (MAP sensors the only exception) I was hit in the front by a woman who was found 100 percent at fault. After buying back the salvage rights to keep the car I got a check for $1999. I bought a same color car that was in good front end condition for $500, and used it to repair my car. I then stripped it of parts for future repairs, and donated the remains to charity. Got real writeoffs back then…When my car finally blew a head gasket at a quarter million miles I donated it to charity as well. I made money on that car…now to find a way to do that to a 330…

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t call it the best deal ever, but my last new-car buying experience was one that I’d say was the best buying experience ever.

    We were trying to buy a new mazda 3 for my wife. Initially we were dealing with a Mazda dealership with a horrible sales manager who was trying to sell us a new car and put an aftermarket sunroof, as he didn’t have any with the sunroof option in stock. Worse still, he wouldn’t budge on price. We left.

    The next day, I did research online into inventories, and found a different dealer 40 minutes away with the option package we wanted on several different colors, we just had to pick one. I called, made an offer over the phone for right around invoice. We were on our way to the second dealer 20 minutes later, and we were in and out of the dealership at my price in under 90 minutes.

    It was a good deal to me for a new car, but the best part was just how painless the whole proces was after dealing with the terrible first dealer.

    • 0 avatar

      My old 2004 Impala was bought off the lot very quickly – no haggling as I had a supplier discount, which was pretty hefty, along with 3K rebate. No muss, no fuss.

      Almost as smooth for my new 2012 Impala. Same deal.

      On the other hand, buying our 2002 CR-V was like pulling teeth. Internet price was only $500 off. The dealer would only go $250! Sure didn’t want to give us the $500, but we got it – still too high for me, but wifey likes it, so we’re keeping it ’til the wheels fall off…however, wifey likes the bells & whistles my Impala LTZ has and she’s jealous!

      • 0 avatar

        Parting with my 09 LTZ was painfull. However the deal I got trading it in on a new 2011 Camaro SS2,was too good to say no to.

        The dealer had a buyer waiting for the Impala, so they reached for it. The Camaro had a huge factory discount. Even though it had a 1000 KLMs on the clock, The car had never been registered. So I got my full GM retiree discount.

        The Camaro puts a smile on my face everytime I get behind the wheel.

        I came away from the deal,very happy. Can’t ask for more than that.

  • avatar

    I have two good stories from my auction car days.

    The first was a mid 90s Civic Del Sol with the 1.6L B16 VTEC engine. The trans was cracked when I bought it for $1500. At the time, VTEC wasn’t a household name especially near Detroit so almost everyone passed on the car. I swapped out the trans case and sold the car for $8000 to a guy that drove up from Maryland to get it.

    The second car was a late 80s BMW 535is. It had a busted hood, and headlights on one side. This is another case where most folks didn’t bother to look at the old BMW in the back long enough to realize that it was the 535is, which was one small step down from an M5 of that era. I swapped the few broken parts and sold if for something like $3000 profit.

    I have bought and sold many auction cars. Won on most, lost on a few. But these two are my most memorable.

  • avatar

    I bought my buddy’s 1984 Plymouth Reliant (K-Car) for $269 in 1990. That’s what he owed me for the radiator we had to buy and get installed on the Friday of a long weekend when it failed on our way to someone’s cottage. He could never pay me back, so he eventually just gave me the car when my 1980 Toyota Tercel rusted out.

    That thing was a “special order” vehicle. Apparently there had been a Canadian advertisement for a base model, base price, manual transmission version that was never actually built. There was a complaint about not being able to buy the base model car, so they had to make a few. As a result, I ended up with a 4 speed manual, no tach, bench seat, 2.2L, just won’t quit K-Car.

    I drove it for about a year and “lent” it to my sister when I went backpacking around Europe. The instructions were “if it dies, we’ll never speak of it again, but if it runs when I get home, give it back.”

    I got it back and promptly hooked up a u-Haul to it and drove it from Toronto to Edmonton for school. Damn thing wouldn’t break 100km/h pulling the u-Haul, but it got me there. I even picked up a hitchhiker in rural Michigan and took him to his destination in Edmonton. Luckiest ride of that guy’s life.

    Drove it back to Toronto that summer (where even a small engine fire in Detroit of leaking oil catching fire on the block wouldn’t kill that thing), back to Edmonton that fall, and then drove it around Edmonton, Calgary, British Columbia and around the Rockies for a few years. It took me camping in Lake Louise and Jasper almost every weekend. I had no money. None. Had to park it the first year of school because I couldn’t afford the insurance!

    It didn’t like winter much – the automatic choke was busted. When it was cold (Edmonton goes to -40C) I used to start it, jam a winter brush between the gas pedal and the front seat, and go back inside until it went from chugging like a diesel to running almost normally. Junkyards were full of parts (although I never could get that choke working!) and I visited a lot of pick and pulls in those days.

    I eventually just took the plates off it and left it on a side street in Calgary.

    Loved that piece of @#!$%

  • avatar

    I went to a car auction in 1992 looking for an AWD Turbo Diamondstar car (Eclipse/Talon/Laser). Instead I ended up buying a nearly mint 1989 BMW E30 2-door/5speed 325i in cirrus blue with the houndstooth cloth interior. The dealers present at the auction didn’t want it because it had 100K miles. Book said $14K, I got it for $7300 with the intent of flipping it when the title arrived. Instead, I fell in love. Turns out that all of those 100K miles were highway, put on by a sprinkler system sales rep for his job – I found his marketing materials and card under the trunk carpet. I sold it still running/driving with 250K miles on it 8 years later for $1500. The best gift of all though was a healthy love for the E30 chassis. Years later, I built a swap car (1991 with E36 M52/S52 cams and an E46 6MT)!

  • avatar

    My best deal ever was buying my new 2008 Tundra 5.7 v8 double cab.

    I had wanted a truck for a long time, but money and circumstances had prevented me from getting one.

    Finally, I was ready to get one. Under consideration were the Tundra, Silverado and F150. This was in July, 2008. The economy was tanking and I was in buy mode. No Chevy or Ford dealer was being even close to reasonable. I started applying my legendary hagging skills on several Toyota dealers. I had to get it for less than $26500, because my boss had just bought one with my indentical specs for that amount.

    Mind you, I wanted a truck. I didn’t NEED one. So, this was optional and allowed me to be in the favorable position of just saying no.

    Finally, I had a deal for $26K at a dealer about 30 miles away. This was about $5K off the sticker of $30,840. (My local dealer wasn’t even close. Never is.) I had spec’d this via email, including the Toyota color Magnetic Grey Metallic. I drive through rush hour traffic to finalize the deal.

    The jackass salesmen had, of course, lied. Didn’t have the color I wanted, and there were a few other discrepancies.

    OK. I surrender. I didn’t need the vehicle. Maybe this was a sign from God to just drop it.

    Next day, taking a break from yardwork, I checked with a dealer about 50 miles away. Everyone sit down for this: He had my vehicle in the color I wanted for …………$20,840, an even $10K of the sticker.

    Naturally I didn’t really believe him. I cautioned him that I would be driving 50 miles to buy this truck. He should make sure he had MY truck. He said he did.

    I head down to Temecula. about 15 miles out, I called him again, just to make confirm. He assured me he had my truck at the stated price.

    I get to the dealership. Guy is really informal. He tosses me the key, says it’s just outside, take for a spin. I did. (Hard to type…tears of joy welling up.)

    THIS IS MY TRUCK FOR AN UNBELIEVABLE PRICE. Had to wait about 15 minutes to see the finance guy. Made it clear I was just buying the truck, and not the junk they wanted to sell. No problem. I was out of there within an hour.

    The fabulous price was the result of the perfect storm of very high gas prices (regular had just hit $4.70/gallon, but no problem for me – after over 4 years I’ve only got 37K miles on it) and Toyota had just ramped up production for the Tundra – they had a lot to sell.

    So….I got my beautiful new truck at a fantastic price. Best of all, I didn’t merely beat my boss’s price…I clobbered it.


  • avatar

    im still driving my 1994 civic dx hatch. bone stock manual (no factory ac or radio). bought it for a dollar at 135000 miles in 2008. still gets 40mpg and ive driven it across the country a few times. havent even blown a head gasket yet (although chicago streets incur some serious wear and tear on wheels and suspension parts).

  • avatar

    Current daily, 83 Toyota pickup, absolute base model. Acquaintance at work stuffed it thru a fence one night. Showed up the next morning driving my other POS 83 Toyota to find it setting at the scene of the crime. Offered him a $100, he came back with $200 and they dropped it off at my house. All the front sheet metal was smashed but no frame damage. Found a free cab off C-list for the core support, grill etc. Then a set of $20 front fender, and a new $120 radiator. Total? $340 and nothing but basic maintenance in the 20k miles since then. Best deal ever, no rust and only 170k well maintained miles. It just looks rather strange with 3 different colored body panels.

  • avatar

    Almost certainly the car that started my love affair with BMW’s. A college buddy of mine sold me a non-running ’88 325is for $1. I then proceeded to find $1.06 in change buried in various places throughout the interior. A new fuel pump and a couple replaced injectors later, and I had a nicely-running BMW for about $150. No A/C, but that was a great little car. Especially in the wet with semi-bald tires. :D

  • avatar

    My best deal was a motorcycle, 1982 Seca 550 with just a couple thousand miles on it for $350. Looked like new, except for a small piece of wood wedged between the frame and the engine. The seller said it had to be there to keep a bolt in place, so I left it alone and didn’t worry about it for a year or two.

    Pulled it out finally, I was working on the bike and couldn’t see any reason to leave that wood there, and removing it didn’t seem to effect anything. Riding home late that night, was on PCH in Malibu when I noticed the bike seemed to be losing power, then I smelled burning brakes. Managed to pull into a gas station before it died, trailing a cloud of smoke from the rear wheel.

    Turns out the previous owner had managed to break off the threaded end of the 1/2-inch thick bolt that supported the engine in the frame. The wedged block of wood prevented the bolt from backing out, after an hour or so of riding the bolt had moved out a couple inches…right into the path of the rear brake lever, pressing it down and causing the brake to drag. Brakes got so hot the rear drum welded itself to the hub after I stopped.

    Fortunately a young lady whose father rode saw my predicament and took me home…my home not hers. Replacing the broken bolt cost me a couple bucks at the hardware store. Replacing the wheel, brakes, and clutch cost a lot more. Funny what some people will do to save a buck.

  • avatar

    2008 PT Cruiser- 2009-2018. $7,900. Current car.

    1984 Volvo 245- 2008-2009. Spare car– $400 paid, $350 received.

    1979 Mercedes-Benz 240D- 2005-2008. Spare car– $1,750 paid, $2,700 received.

    Every car I buy is my best automotive deal :) I don’t pay full price.

  • avatar

    I recently became the inheritor of a Saturn L100. In a way the car was “free” except that it needs repairs. So far that’s included:

    Re-applying RTV: however much that stuff cost- I forget
    New Wiper Transmission: $65 total
    Rear Main Seal: $260 total (I didn’t do this job.)

    Will need:
    Passenger mirror- about $30
    Front bushings- still pricing
    Headlight assembly- about $40
    Some minor body work- still investigating

    Overall its been about $400 so far for a 10 year old car with 70K. I wish the previous owner took better care of it, but since I personally know the person was just plain scatterbrained period, it honestly could be a LOT worse. It’ll serve me well enough through college.

  • avatar

    1986 Ford Sierra. Bought as a non running for £250, fixed the throttle cable to the throttle body with superglue, drove it like a total tool (hey, I was 22 and it’s RWD) for 15,000 miles and then sold it to someone who was building a kit car for £350.

  • avatar

    Entertaining reads, all!

    Mine starts with a tale of woe. I had a 2002 Mitsubishi Diamante that had its engine destroyed by a shop, so I was without a car, the $1500 in new parts on the car, $800 in tires, and around $3k for rental cars for the 7 months I went without a car.

    So, I went Craigslisting. I found a peach of a ’95 Infiniti G20 for sale locally and went to check it out. A bit rusty, but EVERYTHING worked perfectly on it. The guy selling had bought it brand new in VA and owned it its whole life. He had every freaking oil change dating back to when the car was on the dealer lot. And he had been trying to sell for 6 months (though I saw no prior listings), and he wanted it gone. Asking $1500, I bought for $1300 out the door. It was a base model – still had power windows, locks, cruise, CD player, A/C, alloys and disc brakes, but no power seats or leather (’90s Japanese leather wouldn’t look good at 200,231 mi anyway). And an automatic. Which I spent nights up worrying about. But that thing never let me down. I put new engine mounts, brakes, air intake (the original one had cracked, I found an Infiniti OEM part on liquidation for $15 on eBay!), water pump, and belts on. It drove fantastically for what it was. 22 months after buying, a lady I knew needed a car in a jam, and I sold it to her for $800. She shipped it California, and last I heard, a year after selling, it was getting her to/from work in San Fran every day.

    So, seeing as how I was selling my car, I needed a replacement. A friend had just graduated law school, and her parents bought her a brand new, loaded Toyota Venza V6 AWD with all the bells and whistles. Her previous car was a ’97 RAV4 with around 130k. Her dad – the frugal guy he is – had been driving a ’95 Avalon since originally buying it for her and discovering it was too fast for her to handle at 16. He decided he’d take the lower-mile RAV and “sold” me the Avalon for $0. I just had to show up to pick it up. I have been driving that for 19 months now, and it has needed exactly one battery, one tail light bulb, and gas. Oh, and two oil changes. It looks pretty crappy, but it has plenty of power and features (it’s an XLS model), gets me around very well, and there isn’t a power accessory on the thing that doesn’t work, except for the power antenna mast (replaced, just like the G20’s had been, with a $5 whip from Advance). It doesn’t get great fuel economy, but man is it a good deal. I’m not planning on trading out anytime soon. 209,100 and counting as of this morning’s commute to work. If I wanted to, I could easily sell for $2000 (loaded ’90s Japanese cars fly out of your hands in NE PA, even if they’re beat up). Which means, for the last 40 months, I have driven for free, not counting gas and liability coverage. Actually, if I got $2k for the Avalon, a portion of even those would be refunded to me. Not bad. But, like I said, I’m not selling the Avalon anytime soon.

    Go lease a car for $0/mo and tell me what a good deal it is!

  • avatar

    1964 Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier panel van… bought for $50, sold for $300
    1976 AM General postal jeep… bought for $50, sold for $400
    1966 VW Beetle… bought for $300, sold for $600

    These deals were all made before I was 16; I inherited the vehicle trading gene from my dad. Most folks don’t know that you can have a title in your name even if you’re 9 years old. Just can’t license it.

    Recently, 1992 Miata with bad engine… bought for $500, new engine purchased for $650. Now I just have to finish putting it back together, and I can park it next to my ’93 that cost $2800.

  • avatar

    I have been given 3 Hondas for free all running. A Accord a Prelude and a CRX. I sold the CRX a couple of years ago when gas first hit $4 for $1700. I sold the Prelude for $800 and the Accord was stolen and I got $1100 in insurance.

    But the best deal I got was $100 for a 76 Cadillac with 80k on it back in 94. A friend of my dad sold it to my, his dad was the original owner. It had some cosmetic issues but was one of the most reliable cars I ever had, I loved that 8 liter engine too. I moved to the SF area and had no where to keep the car so I traded it for a Yamaha that was a total piece of crap. I still miss that car. Sky blue leather nice sounding 8-track player, cruise, power seats, and 8 ash trays.

  • avatar

    1983 Olds Cutlass Supreme bro-ham. Had early 70s 350 Rocket in it. Got the car for $700. :Hauled ass.

  • avatar

    How about a One-That-Got-Away story?
    My dad always had a company truck, a personal work truck and a family sedan. I learned to drive on one of those work trucks, a ’53 GMC. The next one in line was a ’58 Apache. He kept that about 4 years then replaced it with a new ’72 Ford F-100.

    I hated the Apache because it was miserably underpowered (235 6 cyl)and it reminded me of misspent youth… nearly every summer weekend from 14-17 yrs. of age I was an indentured servant in the Holy Task of remodeling our riverside cottage on the Tippecanoe. From a fishing shack we turned it into a richly appointed small house. And every trip down there involved filling the bed with all the broken-up concrete and large rocks it could hold for shoring up our perpetually crumbling river bank on the outside of a bend in the Tippy.

    Consequently I never had the least desire to buy it off Dad when he was tired of it. But except for the scratched-up bed the body was clean and tight. What a great project starter that would have been. Who knew?

  • avatar

    In 2002 I bought a 96 Caravan for $600. It ain’t pretty, but runs well and hasn’t needed anything expensive since I chased away the tire goblins. (7 in 6 months. ) Still running and driven almost daily.
    Best deal I’ve ever personally seen was in 1985, when I drove a friend to a county auction. Wanting something cheap, he picked up a Chevette for $285. When he tried to go sign the paperwork he discovered he’d bought a lot of 4 cars. Kept the best one for himself. Sold the others for $400- $500 each.

  • avatar

    A first-year Mercedes W124 for free. It wouldn’t start and the owners gave it to me for the price of pulling it out of their garage. I was moving from the southern to the mid-Atlantic, but rolled the cost of hauling it up to the new home into my relocation costs. Turns out all she needed was a new cold start valve.

  • avatar

    2003 SVT Ford Focus with under 60k bought in 2010 for $4900 from a friend. Sold it a few months ago for $6000. Wish I didn’t sell it. Really fun little car and surprised everyone who I took for a ride.

  • avatar

    Though the $1050 ebay Volvo 244 may be the cheapest inital purchase, I’ve dropped at least 3 times that into the damn thing just to keep it legal and running steady.
    I think the best I’ve done so far is my $3500 945 Turbo Wagon. Chugs along with not so much as a hiccup, and I’ve only had to purchase consumables, like exhaust parts and tires.

  • avatar

    Bought a late 80s Nissan mini truck with 180,000 miles on it for $400 in 1999. Was told by the seller the truck was old and tired, and only to use it for local trips. I spent $100 on a working stereo, then sold the truck a few years later for $500. It had over 240,000 miles on it by then.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    A 1965 Malibu sedan with the 283 , rear-ended and rusty with 250k miles , bought in the late seventies for $ 50 . Needed a new radiator , which I had rebuilt and drove it for about 3 years , putting over 30k miles on it. Used to love racing all the slow ” sporty ” cars of that era , like Porsche 924s and leaving them in the dust .Didn’t leak any oil either . Sold it in the early eighties for $ 175 to a crazy old lady with an itinerant used car business she ran out of her backyard .

  • avatar
    Mark in Maine

    My best deal was thirty years ago – bought a ’67 Pontiac Bonneville convertible from a friend’s boss, sight unseen – for $50.00. I trusted the guy’s description of his car, and off Dad and I went with the 4×4, and a long chain – flat-towed that monster home. The car was in good original condition, white, with blue top and interior. I christened him “Moby”, for obvious reasons – and one fresh battery, a motor mount and a water pump later, the large ‘vert was ready for action. I moved to college in the car one fall, and it was a hit with my friends at school – I could get a lot of them inside at a time. Drove the car summers and stored it winters for a few years, and ended up selling it to a guy who collected convertibles, for $2500.00 – not a bad return on a small investment in a huge car that was a lot of fun.

  • avatar

    I traded a Pentium II class IBM Thinkpad (it cost me $25) for a 1985 Cadillac Coupe de Ville with 90K on the clock in 2004. The Cadillac ran for about a year then broke the camshaft and wasn’t worth fixing (4100). The Thinkpad ran for long after the car did.

    EDIT: Also, I had to put new leather seats in the car, it was originally purchased for its beautiful white leather seats to be swapped into a restored car (hence the sweet deal). I found a black 87 Fleetwood FWD in a nearby yard and swapped its jet black seats in for $10 and half a pack of smokes. The black seats with the white/black interior really looked nice.

  • avatar

    The best margin I’ve ever managed is 1000%. When I was 16 a guy down the street had a trashed 1990 Geo Metro languishing in his driveway. One day I asked him about it, and he told me it had electrical issues and didn’t run right. He said for $50 I could have it.

    I took it home and gave it quick once-over. I realized that somebody, at some point, had installed an ignition bypass switch…a sort of homemade theft protection. I flipped it on, and the thing roared to life.

    I stuck it on the street with a neon poster board under the windshield advertising a $500 sale price. Sold it in 2 days.

  • avatar

    1995 Taurus SHO. $200 and $15 for Lucas transmission treatment. Lasted 3 years and 35k miles.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    in 1975,. I got a 69 Bug for $500.00 and it was great, basic transportation.

  • avatar

    I have had several great automotive deals:
    1. In 1984. My first car. ’73 Mercury Capri $85. Needed valve job, but I drove it during senior year high school. Sold for $325 after 6 months, still needing a valve job.
    2. In 1985. ’73 Dodge Polara 92K $100. Needed timing chain. Fixed it and drove it through 5 years of college. Sold for $225 in 1990 with 150K, purring like a kitten.
    3. In 1990. ’74 Dodge Dart 77K $200. Drove for 1 year. Sold for $800 with 91K.
    4. And my best automotive deal: In 1998, bought a ’95 Mercury Mystique V6 with 39K for $9900. Still have it today with 341K, with engine never touched and transmission only needing clutch at 250K. Wish I could find another one.

  • avatar

    Not me, but my parents managed to get a brand-spanking-new ’98 Mazda MPV with ALL the options for FREE. That’s $0, zero, nada, zilch, NOT EVEN PAYING TAXES.

    My dad cut a check for about $32K from his HELOC to pay for the car. One month, then two, then three months passed, and he had not yet received the monthly statement that reflected the car purchase, therefore, he had nothing to pay. He called the bank: they had no record of the purchase. He called the dealership: they say that they had already been paid.

    He contacted both again a month later, only to get the same responses. He then let it be, and was worried for a while that things would catch up with him and he would owe a huge amount at once. He finally relaxed about it after the first three years had passed. Three years ago, he ended up selling it to my cousin for about $4K. So, in the end, he MADE money!

  • avatar

    Once bought a 1995 Geo Prism (GM Corolla).
    Had 105k miles; paid only $1500.
    Drove it for 2 years and sold it for $2000.
    Other than oil changes, replaced starter $135.

  • avatar

    1983 T-bird Turbocoupe I bought from the city abandoned vehicle auction for $120 in 2005. Required replacement wheels and tires right away(TRXs and completely bald), and cat/muffler a couple years ago. It puked the heater core this year; I’m not looking forward to that job. It’s bypassed and the car is still on the road until the weather turns colder.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    One of my classmates got a 626 Mazda coupe turbo for free, with even a full year of rego. He had to fix an easy overheating problem and regas the A/C.

    My first Isuzu Impulse was kind of a deal, but I had to assemble quite a bit (and bring parts from the US and Canada) to get it running again.

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