Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Truth About Government Auctions

Yes, folks, it's a surplus auction. Uncle Sam has decided this pile of junk is wasted space and needs to go away. The government buys up billions of dollars of STUFF every year. Much of this stuff is bought to replace older stuff. Or in the case of motor vehicles, it's bought to keep the car companies in business. When is the last time you saw a Toyota Camry cop car? Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.

I have quite a bit of experience with these auctions and I know where to find the good deals online. And I'm not going to charge you for it, either. You want to buy a cheapass car for $125 from the Clinton administration era? Sure, got plenty of those. You want a 2 1/2 ton truck in running condition for under $1,000? Got those as well. Do you want to buy a Playstation for a buck sixty? Piece of cake. That's $1.60, not $160. I'm not kidding, either.

Here is a simple list of the websites I check every week or so. Some of them are pretty specific to Texas, but even those have stuff in Florida and California and New York every now and then.

My wife and I have bought pallets and pallets of shelf pulls, returns, and salvage merchandise from this site. One of our best buys was a set of four large metal cabinets. Retail price about $400 each. We got all four for $100. Each one was dented, three in the back, one on the side. You see, you kick it back from the inside, surprise, no more dents! You can find all sorts of goodies here. Want a GPS or an iPod? They got em. Want a truckload of Xbox equipment? It's right there. Want a lot of 18 household items ranging from a microwave and a wine cooler to a portable 12000 BTU air conditioner? Just sold for about $450 last week. They have warehouses all over the country including Dallas, Las Vegas, and Washington DC. You can find SOME cars on there, too, mostly from DC and Florida. Abandoneds and impounds, too. I came real close to buying a '95 Aerostar with a leaky power steering rack but I wasn't home when the auction ended and got outbid. $225 for a driveable van with ArmStrong steering!

You name it, they've got it. Military trucks, six figures of scrap metal, computers, heavy equipment, and more. From every government and military agency you can imagine. This is where I find 2 1/2 ton trucks, CUCV's, 5 ton trucks, semi tractors, utility trailers, buses, vans, and even regular old pickup trucks. Have you ever seen a 90's Dodge pickup with a Cummins diesel cut real short and used as an airplane tug? Well they sell them there every month. No, you can't buy a tank. But you can buy PARTS for them like tracks and axles and engines and such!

School districts and small towns and even larger towns love the quality auctioneering services by Rene Bates. All over Texas, online and in person, this guy and his crew liquidate all sorts of goodies to get money flowing back into the budget. They also serve a number of smaller towns and small and large towing services to dispose of abandoned and impounded cars. I purchased a 1989 Plymouth Voyager minivan from one of their auctions back in 2000. Cost me $275. I drove it for a few months until the tags ran out, and then the motor mounts broke and I scrapped it for the same $275! Free miles are always nice! and

Same thing as Rene Bates and they even branch out to the US Marshalls service to dispose of seized jewelery and such things. Lone Star Online does not require a deposit for most bidding. They also do the impound auctions for the cities of Dallas, Fort Worth, Irving, and Lewisville. Dallas is every Monday, Fort Worth is every other Tuesday, and the others are less often (think monthly). They even sold off the contents of Texas Stadium, seats, scoreboards, hot dog carts, and all!

Free registration here, too, and they have items from all over the country. Vehicles, computers, electronics, household items, clothing, jewelry, and much more! Their search function is very detailed and I can narrow it down to what I want to see. Want to buy a metro bus from Falls Church, Virginia? They got em. Want to get a pallet of Panasonic Toughbooks previously installed in Vegas cop cars? Right here! Do you want to buy ten identical 1999 Ford Taurus sedans in white? Look no further than!

This is Gaston & Sheehan's auction site for primarily the Austin and San Antonio markets. They do sell items nationwide but the best auctions they have are for some towing services in the Austin and San Antonio areas. If you sign up for their e-mail list, they will send you a link to the PDF file for everything that will be sold at the next auction. This includes VIN numbers. I Googled one VIN number once for a 2004 Dakota pickup and found police reports from a prior wreck, the impound auction it was previously sold at, and a car dealer's listing of the truck for sale initially. I also got to read the CarFax report from before the wreck and impound and subsequent sales. It was a lot of fun to check all that out!

This is a site where vehicles are donated to the Texas CAN! Academy. They go through a couple hundred vehicles a week and it is primarily an in-person auction in Arlington TX on Saturday mornings. They also sell non-running vehicles in Dallas on Wednesdays, sealed bid. It's a very nice setup they have and they do drive the running vehicles through the lanes like a car dealer auction! I haven't bought a car here yet but I was in attendance when I took a friend there to get something and he picked up a running '86 Pontiac for $200 plus TT&L and the buyer's fee. The buyer's fee on cars under $2000 is somewhere from $31 to $211 depending on the final bid price. They do collect tax, title, and license plate fees right there at the auction so you don't have to go to the tax office to do all that. It's like buying from a car dealer, really, but the negotiation is on the auction floor and you don't pay anything more than you're willing to. Someone else bids higher, they want it more than you. The auctioneer will mention major problems with the car and you'll be able to see it drive through anyway. If it won't start, they sell it as is where it sits and those go the cheapest! Most of the non-running vehicles sell for $300 or less!

I have purchased 11 different vehicles from eBay auctions since 1998. A Dodge Shadow for $100. A Toyota Tercel for $300. A Ford pickup for $406. A Dodge Durango for $1775. And my beloved Torino was a mere $355. Many more and excluding the Durango they were all $406 or less. Fees are higher these days and cars generally don't sell for much less than $300 anymore, but you can get some incredible deals (like our Durango and my Torino) if you know what to look for!

There are literally hundreds or thousands more across the country. Call up some wrecker services in your area. Call the police department. Call your local school districts. Ask them when they dispose of their vehicles or equipment and they'll likely give you a date and time, a website, or a phone number for an auctioneer and then you can go get whatever you want!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

"Hey, I bought a cheap ass car and it what?"

I'll assume you did your homework on this one. When you bought that car, you checked it over top to bottom for the important stuff. If the check engine light was on, you opened the hood to make sure the engine was still there. If it wouldn't go in reverse, you checked the angle of your leg and foot to the ground so you could Flintstone out of spots in Wal-Mart when you were too stupid to pull through. If the body was rusty you made sure you had enough duct tape to cover the rockers so your thighs wouldn't get wet when you splashed through foot-deep puddles at 45mph. You checked ALL that out.

But now your car is broken.

The good news, you paid a small amount of money for that car. You paid so little for it that the repair, if done at a mechanic shop, is going to cost more than the whole car did.

Which means you have a decision to make.

Emotion will play strongly into this. You might have developed an addiction to your cheap ass beater sled. Maybe it has oxidation on the roof in the same shape as that birthmark on Mikhail Gorbachev's forehead. Maybe you got laid in it. Either way, you might consider the car worth enough to have it fixed and fixed right. So do it.

But what if you have no emotional attachment to the car? Hey, it's an applicance, right? It gets you from point A to point B and if it can't do that you get another one, right? So do it. Take the skills you used to find your current cheap ass car and go find another one for dirt cheap. If you're REALLY smart you'll buy the same make and model or at least something that parts interchange on. Your '96 Grand Am may be toast if the tranny's out, but the '94 Skylark for sale for $500 at the other end of your apartment complex can exchange a lot of functional parts with it! And the '97 Acheiva with a blown head gasket but a REBUILT transmission for $200 on Craigslist? Hey, you can put that known good transmission in your Grand Am and be GOOD TO GO!!!

Then there's option D. Or C. Or 3. I don't know. It depends on how badly you want to tackle the problem. You blew the head gasket in your '95 Taurus wagon. It's the 3.8, they all do it sometime, right? So many of these cars have broken down that there is a science to fixing them. You can go on a Ford Taurus message board and find a how-to to change out that head gasket and suddenly you find it's not going to cost you $800-$1200 to fix it. No, heck no, even after machine shop fees on two heads and some coolant and oil and all the gaskets and other parts and even some tools you have to buy, you'll spend about $300 and be roadworthy again!

Fixing your beater is where you REALLY save money. You paid $500 for the '94 Intrepid. It's served you well for six months now and you LOVE not having a car payment. Liability insurance is cheap. Registration fees on a 15-year-old car are next to nothing. Why not fix that water pump and keep it going? Even if you only get another month or two out of it, you're WAY ahead of even buying another beater! Think $500 for the next beater, $100-$150 in tags and title, $50-$100 to get it cleaned up and the oil changed and all that so it's ready to go, you're up around $700ish now. $230 for a water pump looks cheap. Unless you can get $470 for the broken car (and you won't unless you find someone who needs, say, the transmission for their Intrepid), it's cheaper to fix what you got.