It’s all of 18 months old and already has 2 owners, 5 accidents, and not a single straight body panel anywhere in sight.

You can simply call it by its new name, “Lucky!”

Lucky went for all of $25,400 plus a $500 buyer fee at a dealer auction here in Atlanta, Georgia . This isn’t too bad of a price for a 2015 Lexus NX 200t that already has 40,000 miles on it.


It went cheap. Pretty much rough book, which it rightfully deserved given that it has been in far too many fights, and lost.

But it wasn’t the deal of the day this past Monday. Not even close. We all have an inner cheapskate that makes us dream of what will hopefully be our next best car. But in the world of auto auctions cars aren’t just transportation - they’re investments.


The beauties in this business are surprisingly tough to find on the cheap. But if you serve a certain unique market, you can always find that one type of car that is best suited for your everyday customers and more importantly, your willingness to take on risk.

This 2012 Chrysler Town & Country is definitely in the running if you’re searching for the automotive equivalent of a junk bond. It had all the miles in the world. 163,500 to be exact.

But in the buy-here pay-here world where a late model minivan with leather and a modern day entertainment system can be financed for over $16,600 ($1,000 down, $100 a week for 3 years), a purchase price of $5500 plus about $300 in fees seems like quite a deal,

But it’s not and here’s why. The NADA value on this vehicle is at $10,500 which means that if you want to finance it… it’s pretty much your financial ass that’s completely on the line. A couple of years ago there were finance companies that were willing to go for 125% of NADA values and buy late model vehicles with over 150,000 miles. But in this day and age, it ain’t gonna happen.

After doing the needed repairs and recon work, the dealer on this one is going to need to hold the note for a bit over a year to break even on it. By that time the minivan will probably have around 180k. The high bidder on this 2012 model was a friend of mine who self-finances to the local Latino clientele. One of the few niches where minivans still have a healthy demand.

Would you be willing to bet that much and that long on a stranger? That’s pretty much what it comes down to with a high-mileage minivan like this Town & Country.

Then again, if you’re in the world where cash is king, there’s always something like this.

Take an unpopular orphan car, throw in low-mileage (107k) and a check engine light that’s emissions related which eliminates all those pesky competing dealers who sell in a big city, and you end up with my first buy of the day - a blueberry blue 2002 Saturn SL2.

At $1200 plus a $130 auction fee I’m looking at $1330 for a car that can sell in an area where emissions don’t matter for around $2300. Or, if I self-financed it, I could offer it at $500 down and $50 a week for 24 months. That’s not a misprint.

Are you surprised? Well you shouldn’t be. The chances of default or destruction of your property is quite high in the low-end of the subprime world where folks often have times already cost their borrowers tens of thousands of dollars.

The risk is far greater than you would imagine. If it weren’t, every automaker would do it. The truth is the low end of the sub-prime market is incredibly hard to manage because you have to be the equivalent of an Israeli airport screener to figure out who you want to finance and who is going to be a non-stop headache.

Some folks don’t pay. Others won’t tell you the truth, and about a third won’t return your calls after they have defaulted on the payments. If I were to finance this Saturn instead of selling it outright, I would need about six months of continuous payments to break even. That six months worth of payments usually requires a lot of phone calls and about eight months of time.

It’s a very risky proposition, and since this Saturn doesn’t have that certain something special that most of my customers want (leather seats,a coveted brand name, any degree of sport or luxury) I’ll be selling this one for cash.

This is a base hit if it doesn’t need any serious repairs. But it’s also a basic Saturn which means it may take a long while for it to sell. If you’re looking to measure your buying power by the miles and look at cars as a rolling spreadsheet, an unpopular low-mileage orphan car like this is going to be your happy place.

But what if you don’t want to smell all those cheap plastics during your evening commute? Well you can always go for a really nice cash car.

Volvo, Lincoln, and SAAB are the ‘wanna-bes’ of the near-luxury market. They are automotive leprosy for everyone but those enlightened folks who are looking for that elusive alternative between a Lexus, Mercedes, and Audi, and a loaded up Camry or Accord.

This 2009 Volvo S80 is less expensive than the same year Honda Accord EX-L. In fact, in my experiences it’s even cheaper than a loaded up Toyota Corolla of the same year. I bought this dealer maintained model for $5400 plus the $260 auction fee. Another $210 for windshield replacement, and I’m looking at a bit less than $5900 for an incredibly well kept P3 Volvo S80 with only 110,000 miles.

Every buyer and seller of cars has some type of favored brand, and mine is Volvo.. It started when I first became an auto auctioneer and watched the Clinton Era Volvos that were coveted up North go for near bupkis down here in the South. Subaru also went through the same asymmetric market valuations until it became popular.

I bought a lot of Subarus and Volvos when I first worked the Atlanta auction circuit. In fact, I even did an impound auction where I was presented with a 13 year old Volvo as payment for a job well done.

Volvo pretty much went down the toilet by the late-1990s and now they’re very cheap used car fodder. So long as you’re willing to endure the slings and arrows of constant check engine lights and expensive parts, a Volvo with just over 100,000 miles represents a depreciation sweet spot. They don’t break if the fluids are replaced. They’re just kinda buggy and those check engine lights are a frequent occurrence.

Since Atlanta is a market that requires annual emissions test, we see an awful lot of Volvos traded-in along with quite a few Volkswagens and Audis. SAABs and Suzukis almost always have the check engine light come on when they’re at the auctions. We like to say that with all these brands, the check engine light comes standard.

So why buy this one? First, dealer maintenance. Second, a transmission fluid change around the 60k to 90k mark which often separates the good Volvos from the potentially expensive ones. Finally, at $5900 it was cheaper than a loaded up Corolla from the same year.

That’s the beauty of hitting em’ where they ain’t. Now I just have to find that one local customer who wants a brown Volvo S80 with 112,000 miles on it.

The car business is never easy.