Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Car Auction

10 October 2006:

We were somewhat nervous when Tuesday came around, anticipating what the car auction would be like. I’m not sure exactly what we were nervous about, perhaps of doing something really stupid like paying more than we could afford for a really bad car, or maybe of our heads exploding from the pressure and weirdness.

Dave Mearns picked us up about 11am and we went off to the auction place, on the other side of the City Centre and a bit north. After making a couple of wrong turns and reparative U-turns because Dave kept thinking it was somewhere else, we reached the place, which was perched up on the top of a hill overlooking that part of Glasgow.

The cars were secured behind various fences and gates, but inside the compound there were lots of pretty new-looking cars with big numbers taped to the windscreens, and people looking them over. Dave had briefed us on the way there, amusing us with stories about the eccentric characters who frequent these auctions; mostly they were characterized by the tricks they used to discourage competitors from bidding against them, like squirting oil under the car to make it look like the car leaked oil.

Once there, Dave picked up a catalog from them, and we went into a large warehouse-type room almost wall-to-wall with cars. We began to check out the cars, looking for diesels that were not too big. There turned out to be a surprising number of diesel cars, which are more popular here than they ever were in the USA. There weren’t so many of the small ones, but there were enough for us to work with. (We decided on a small car as a way of dealing with the narrow roads here.)

The auction started while we were still looking at cars and trying to prioritize. The auctioneer was practically incomprehensible to us; he sounded more like a Dalek than anything else, talking rapidly in a monotone scots dialect. There were about 10 guys driving the cars over to the queue. The cars were driven in front of a viewing standing, with the auctioneer on the other side of the car from the stand. The large room filled up with exhaust fumes.

We ended up identifying 3 cars that looked promising: Two looked like they would sell for £6,000-7,000; the other for about £2,500. We looked them over a couple of times, discussing back and forth, with the auction going on in the background. One was unlocked so we could at least get into it to see how it felt. Then Dave had us decide on a maximum that we would be willing to pay for the first one that would come up. After some discussion, we decided that we would not go above £6200. We knew that this was a bit on the low side, from the information that we had (various price lists), but that was a way of expressing our ambivalence. We also set a price for the second car that would come up, the least expensive one, but this time a bit on the high side on the medium-condition price in the book, 2600. This car felt to us like it was a better trade off of value etc.

Dave then left us to go to the viewing stand, while we watched from the sidelines with a lot of other people. We could not seeing anyone making bids, but they were actually making small gestures to signal the auctioneer. Before we knew it, our first car had been bid up over 6300 and we were out of the loop; it ended up selling for about 6500. This was OK with us.

Now we set out sights on the second car; we had about 20 minutes to wait (they went through about 1 per minute). We watched the driver drive the car across the floor to the line, and were disturbed to see its left rear wheel lock up, before driver realized he’d forgotten to release the parking brake. This time, we could follow the action a bit better. The bids worked their way up, until Dave bid the 2600 maximum we’d agreed on. Then, someone bid 2625, and we thought, well, that’s it. We were both startled and worried, then, when Dave bid 2650. What’s going on here?, we wondered. But almost immediately the gavel fell; we had just bought ourselves an obscure British car that no one in America has heard of: a Vauxhall Corsa. This was to be our new car.

And of course we knew immediately that Dave was right to bid up the additional £50 over the maximum we’d agreed to; he had successfully psyched out the other buyer.

However, it was not exactly over at that point, because own winning bid was still below the owner’s reserve price, the minimum price that they had agree to sell it for. As Dave noted, this confirmed that the car was a good buy, but it also meant that we had to wait while the auction people phoned the owner (actually a car dealer who had gotten the car as a trade-in) to see if they were willing to sell it below the reserve price. We paid the £300 deposit (actually Dave did because my paycheck hadn’t cleared yet), and Dave drove us home to wait for the phone call.

About 15 minutes after Dave left us off at home, the auction people phoned to say that the owner had agreed to our price. There then followed a frenzied 2 hours during which we recontacted Dave, arranged car insurance over the phone, and got ourselves a snack. Dave then took us back to the auction place, where he paid them cash and we wrote him a check on my as-yet-uncleared paycheck. We walked out to the lot where they had parked the car. We thanked him profusely for efforts way beyond the call of duty, and he left.

We were now in the possession of a strange car in a dark parking lot, with little idea how to drive it. Fortunately, the owner’s manual was still in the glove compartment.

We arrived home a little after 7pm, totally exhausted from our car auction adventure, and didn’t drive the car again for two days.... but that’s a blog for another day.


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James020 said...

Sounds like you got a great deal i'm not a fan of auctions myself unless it is for salvage title vehicles. I got a nice Corsa for £1,200 plus an extra £500 on used Vauxhall car parts it was a bargain for £1,700.

When you buy your next car you may wish to buy one of these plus you know the damage the car has and you rarely get cought out on fakes.