Upon getting my first "real" job out of college that didn't involve a spatula and an apron, I decided to buy a new car. I didn't have a whole lot of money to spend, but I really didn't feel comfortable driving my '78 Monte Carlo to the office either. My mechanic friend suggested I go to the auto auction.
I was hesitant at first, thinking anything I got there would break down in a week or would have a stash of drugs in the back. But I called and spoke to the lady who explained to me how it worked. This particular auction was mostly for dealers but open to the public. There was a $325 fee, but if you didn't buy anything, you got $300 back. If you did buy a car, they put the $300 towards the cost. The auction was open three hours before they actually started the bidding so you could walk around and look at the cars. You could even drive one if the seller was there. I thought it sounded like a good deal, so I persuaded my mechanic friend to go with me. If you aren't fortunate enough to have a friend who works on cars, don't worry. Technically, I didn't need him. Common sense is your most valuable asset. If it is making funny noises, smoking out of the engine or the guy won't let you drive it, move on.
It was an amazing experience to say the least. They had about 200 cars on the lot. When the auction started, the dealers drove them into a garage that was open on both ends. The garage had two lanes so they could auction off two cars at the same time. Real live auctioneers rattled out numbers. This was my first experience at any auction, so I was quite taken aback at the speed and precision with which they handled the bids. It goes pretty fast so you have to stay on your toes. The auctioneer on the right started with a high bid and went low, while the one on the left started low and went high, which turned out to be the more economical system. I had written down a couple of cars that I was interested in. Each car has a number so you can find it again when it's up on the block. I stayed left but kept an eye for any of my choices on the right.
The cars that they auctioned off ranged anywhere from jalopy to mint condition. I was amazed at the prices some of them were selling for. A five year-old Ford Explorer went for $3,000. A ten year-old Toyota went for $1,500. Anywhere else, you would pay three times as much. These cars were in great shape and they just sat in a one half mile long line for 30 minutes and didn't overheat. I had $1000 to spend so I was pretty excited I might get something reliable. One of the cars I wrote down drove in. It was an older silver Honda Accord with 130,000 miles on it. Bidding started at $500. I put my hand up and was immediately countered. I kept in mind my spending limit because it's easy to get caught up in the moment and owe a couple grand. At $750, there was only one other bidder countering my bids. I went to $800. "Sold to the lady on the left," said the auctioneer. I bought a car for three times cheaper than I would at a dealership! I went and got my ticket from the auction booth and took it to another lady behind a counter. She gave me a bill of sale, which allowed me to drive within my particular state, and told me the dealer had 30 days to get me the title. I received it within a week. The interior of the car was in great condition and all the bells and whistles worked. I drove it home that night, ecstatic at my purchase and the fact that I didn't have a car payment. Of course, I knew that time would tell if I got a good deal. That was a year and a half ago. I've had to change the alternator and CV joint, but other than routine maintenance, that's it. It's still going strong.
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