Thursday, November 21, 2013

What's your bid?: My first car auction.

Friends can be the most dangerous people you know.  Without them, you probably would not have participated in nearly as many high-risk, impulse activities.  Of course without friends cajoling us into making potentially life (and body) altering decisions, life would be much more boring.  However, that boredom would be offset with high levels of steady-as-she-goes and easy-does-it.  Wait, offset was the wrong word.  Compounded!  That's what I was looking for...

So what's my point?  Well, I have recently been bated into doing something I would otherwise never have thought to do - go to a car auction.

I must admit that the blame cannot rest solely on the shoulders of my buddy.  After all, he's known me for a couple of years now and in that time I have made no attempt to hide my automotive obsession.  And I was well aware of the fact that his obsession with cars practically mirrors my own.  We should have been smart and kept our distance from each other.

But credit where credit is due - he was crafty in his approach.  It first started when we both worked at a prominent hotel in Woodstock Ontario.  He would mention things like "dealer's license", "no reserve" and "made $750".  How could I help but be intrigued?

Eventually I left the hotel for a co-op position in Toronto.  I thought I was finally rid of that awful temptation and I focused on my work and finishing my master's degree.  But the seed had been planted and my friend was just biding his time.

The next couple of years went by and he was careful to keep in touch, ensuring that the association in my subconscious between him and car auctions could never die.      

Eventually, as I'm sure he had carefully planned, I reached my boiling point.  I had to experience an auction for myself.  I contacted him and demanded that we go.  That son-of-a-bitch got me hook, line and sinker.

My buddy recommended which auction we should check out.  Then we set up a time to meet at my place from which we would head out to our destination.  I even got permission from my wife to go... and, miraculously, to buy a car (although she limited my budget to $100, so really I had no permission at all).

The auction house my friend brought me to was located in south east of London Ontario.  They have public auctions regularly, including a big repo auction the last Thursday of every month.

We pulled into parking lot about 15 minutes after the start of the auction.  There weren't many cars parked there, which meant the auction wouldn't be too exciting with lots of bidders trying to out-do each other.  But on the other hand, that meant I would be able to get a feel for the process before attending a "full throttle" event.

The bidding took place in a big garage at the back of the building.  There were two large bay doors at either end, through which the vehicles were driven two, three or four at a time.  Like an assembly line of fiscal irresponsibility, the car that was just on the block would exit and the one behind it would take its place.

As the cars came in, bidders present could go up to them and give them a quick once-over.  Most cars were ignored, but some bidders would show their interest by opening the doors, kicking tires and peeking under the hood.  All the while an auction house staffer would be at the wheel.  To be honest, it made me feel like a squeegee kid pestering a poor commuter at a long red light.  Of course this commuter was happy to talk up the lush quality of the torn leather seat he was sitting in.    

I found the best part of the night was waiting to see what would come though the door next.  There was a real mish-mash of vehicles.  Everything from compacts to cargo vans - if it was on four wheels, it probably drove past me yesterday.   

And these cars were as rough as they were various.  I guess these sorts of auctions are reserved for vehicles that don't really stand a chance in a retail market situation.  Almost every car that went by suffered some sort of aesthetic or mechanical issue.  The most common one was what my buddy called "speed holes".  Although he claimed they improved aerodynamics, I knew that what I was in fact looking at was just common rust.

The vast majority of the cars were also high milers, with many odometers showing well over 200,000kms.  I also learned about the acronym TMU - which stands for True Mileage Unknown.  Which means some of these chariots had likely clocked way more than what their already healthy odometers were showing.

Notwithstanding, that didn't deter me from wanting to bid on a number of interesting lots, including a 4.0L Oldsmobile Aurora, a Cadillac STS, a Buick Regal LS and a 2003 Subaru Outback (which legitimately looked like it was in good shape).

One thing I should recommend to anyone going to these is to not dress in your Sunday finest.  The cars are running constantly (even when the bay doors are shut), bombarding you with an endless shower of exhaust fumes.  These of course will leech into your clothing, hair and skin.  My wife noted a distinct gasoline smell on me when I got home and advised me that a shower should perhaps be high on a list of priorities in my life.
My overall experience was a good one.  I loved seeing all the different types of cars and my imagination was captured by the low prices some of these things were going for.  I mean, the scrap value alone could net you a profit.  I, however, had visions of field cars and winter beaters dancing in my head.  Most of all though, it was a good night spent immersed in cars with a good friend who is a true automophiliac.



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