Hammer Time: Can A 1994 Dodge Viper Bite You In The Ass?

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time can a 1994 dodge viper bite you in the ass

Monday morning. Auction time. I have 116 vehicles in front of me and a 21-year-old supercar that’s making me think back to the days when truck engines in car bodies were still all the rage.

This 1994 Dodge Viper is a bit different than most of those you don’t see on the road these days. For starters, it has just over 65,000 miles and in the auction world that makes it relatively affordable. The paint is perfect. The convertible top and plasticized side windows are immaculate, and the interior is…

Pure crap. Way too many scratches, scuffs, and scrapes for the type of audience that likes to keep a Viper for their miniature car museums under home lock and key. There is no claim to fame with this one either. It’s in the third year of the Viper’s run and unless Bob Lutz had taken this thing and flipped it, the interest in this Clinton Era Viper isn’t going to be high. I frankly thought it would do $20,000 retail on the low side at the very best.

I ended up bidding $18,000 on it, and it sold to someone else for $18,600 plus a $400 fee. No harm, no loss. However, there were six other older vehicles this week that will likely have plenty of opportunity to bite me in the ass during the times to come, but I managed to buy ’em right and in this business that makes all the difference.

In the car selling game, even if what you’re buying is more befitting of an automotive thrift shop than a high end boutique, you can still land a great return if you do your homework.

Take this 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited with 128,000 miles, four-wheel drive, and a V-8. It came down the lane with a passenger side window that wouldn’t go up and also came late to the sale. I saw it being driven into the auction by a new car dealer out of Macon, Georgia who came about two hours away. Everyone was eating lunch at the time, so the dealers who were busy eating crappy tacos and going through their lists were oblivious to this one sneaking through at the last moment.

After checking it out mechanically and looking through the Carfax (I’m a sucker for a good Carfax history), I waited for it to come through the lane. The bid went down in a matter of seconds from $2,500 to only $350 since nobody was on the money.

When car dealers hear a car get money that low and haven’t looked it over already, they automatically assume that something major is wrong with it. That helped me shake off everyone except one guy who wouldn’t leave it alone.

I ended up holding my bid for a couple of seconds before raising it in an inconsistent matter.

Sometimes a quick $50 bid. Sometimes a slow hundred dollar pump that took the auctioneer a couple of seconds to get out of me. An inconsistent bidding tempo and amounts make a lot of inexperienced buyers nervous because they start doubting themselves.

I ended up buying the Jeep for $950. Throw in a $100 auction fee, $50 transport, and $125 for the window, and I’m now just over $1,200 on a vehicle I can probably retail for $3,500 — that is if I don’t get surprised by something major problem down the line.

The other low-end vehicle I bought that day was a 2004 Mazda MPV Sport that would regularly be pure poison on a retail lot except for one thing. The color.

A bright clean silver minivan attracts eyes about as good as any other van color in the market. Unlike the forest greens of the late ’80s and the gold of the ’90s, silver is still one of the prime colors that has holding power. Plus there were two surprises on the inside.

The first was a DVD player. Young families love these things to the point where they will often buy a lower-spec or unpopular minivan if it has this feature. I never understood why today’s consumers simply don’t pony up $80 and buy a portable one instead, but I’m not one to complain about it.

Besides the fact that Mazda sells vans about as well as Honda can sell hybrids, there was one other issue that makes a lot of buyers automatically cross it off their list.

A check engine light with an older minivan makes most dealers think of two words: automatic transmission. The ones on the MPV and the Villager/Quest are actually fairly durable units. I figured I had a shot and it turns out I did. I bought it for $1,300 and once I replaced the coil and paid the sale fee, I had about $1,500 in it.

There were four other neat surprises this week.

One was this 2008 Dodge Caliber with only 69k miles. It had major paint issues on the roof and rear tailgate like a lot of Calibers that spend time in the sun. Strangely enough, it was also a one owner vehicle that had been maintained by a new car dealership since day one. In my business, a one-owner, dealer-maintained vehicle that is popular can carry a stiff price premium. In the case of less popular vehicles like the Caliber, it means that I can finance the hell out of it.

The auctioneer who used to work with me when I was on that side of the world started the bid at $2,000.

I held it. A fist held towards my body means, “Hold that bid right there!” and the few other eyeballs showing interest were waiting for the bid to come down.

It never happened. The Caliber sold for $2,000. After a $250 paint touchup and the removal of a few roof and body dings, I’ll have about $2,500 in it.

This older 2004 PT Cruiser Platinum Edition was the same story. Hold the opening offer at $2,000 with a fist and wait for their your fellow dealers to get greedy and sit on their heels in anticipation of a lower price. Both these cars were owned by a bank, and most banks don’t even bother having one of their representatives come to the auction. If you happen to buy what is older inventory for them (a vehicle they have held for a long time, usually due to a bankruptcy issue), they usually just cut it loose for the highest price.

There were a lot of near misses that day. A 2012 Fiat 500 Pop that had 42k and 1 accident that I bid up to $6,800 went for $7,200. A low-mileage 2012 Suzuki Kizashi that I bid to $6,000 sold for $6,500. By the way, a last year Suzuki actually made by Suzuki is a fantastic bargain on the used car market thanks to their 7 year/100,000 mile warranty. Everyone considering a new or used Hyundai should buy one of these instead.

Finally, there was plenty of crack pipe out there. I saw an 11-year-old Grand Caravan with barely over 120k and no leather sell for $5,000 along with two rental-car-level Tauruses that sold at the $3,000 mark — one an ’03 and the other an ’04. At those prices, I could buy three from the City of Atlanta.

The low-end of the market was rounded off with a 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix with 140k that I bought for $1,600 (plus $220 auction fee), and a 2008 Audi A4 with 165k that I bought for $2,900 (same fee). That one required a sunroof repair, a tensioner pulley, and an accessory belt, so I now have $3,500 in it. Here’s a pic of the Audi A4 since I’m sure none of you want to look at a defunct Pontiac that looks like Bucky the Beaver. If you want to see the photographical damage of all my latest purchases, feel free to click on the gallery below.

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2 of 71 comments
  • TMA1 TMA1 on Sep 11, 2015

    Crank windows on that Caliber, someone here will pay a premium for that.

  • PandaBear PandaBear on Sep 23, 2015

    My dad just traded in his 01 Taurus SES (Vulcan) in excellent condition for a Mazda5. He bargained the dealer to pay $2500 for the trade in because the dealer refuse to lower the price, I guess he got a great deal on that.

  • Cha65697928 High earners should pay less for tickets because they provide the tax revenue that funds the police. 2-3 free speeding tix per year should be fair.
  • Art Vandelay So the likely way to determine one’s income would be via the tax return. You guys are going to be real disappointed when some of the richest folks pay no speeding fine the same way they minimize their taxes
  • Teddyc73 A resounding NO. This has "Democrat" "Socialism" "liberalism" "Progressivism" and "Communism" written all over it.
  • Jeffrey An all electric entry level vehicle is needed and as a second car I'm interested. Though I will wait for it to be manufactured in the states with US components eligible for the EV credit.
  • Bob65688581 Small by American standards, this car is just right for Europe, and probably China, although I don't really know, there. Upscale small cars don't exist in the US because Americans associate size and luxury, so it will have a tough time in the States... but again Europe is used to such cars. Audi has been making "small, upscale" since forever. As usual, Americans will miss an opportunity. I'll buy one, though!Contrary to your text, the EX30 has nothing whatsoever to do with the XC40 or C40, being built on a dedicated chassis.