Due to what can only be characterized as a horrible mistake, I’ve been granted permission to add content to this fine website. I thought I’d start by sharing my experience at the world locally not famous City and County of Denver abandoned and confiscated vehicle auction.

Similar to many folks who read this car-related blog, I enjoy cars. I enjoy them to the degree that I’ll spend a weekday morning at the local car pound seeing what deals are to be had. This morning was such a morning.

Excited citizens exercise their freedom to trade money for other people’s abandoned crap

The Homework

Every two weeks, Denver holds an auction for the vehicles they’ve impounded or seized, which owners or leinholders haven’t reclaimed. Being such a large metro area, there’s generally 100 or more fresh cars up for auction biweekly. Many auto auctions are for licensed dealers only, but this one has the distinction of being open to any ol’ jamoke who has a couple hundred bucks to throw around and an open block of time on a Wednesday morning (me).

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The process begins the day after the auction. The city publishes a list (including VIN numbers) of the cars that will be offered for sale during the next auction, though the owners/leinholders/car fairies have the option to reclaim their vehicle up until the morning of the auction. So, you’ve got a list, but it’s a list of mystery. The car you may be most interested in may not actually make the day-of list.

Being something of a nerd, I try to maximize my auction experience by using the VIN list to plan my attack. As you observant folks may have noticed from my username, I’m fond of the BMWs. Thanks to a variety of sites, BMW VINs can reveal the factory details of the car, down to the individual options and exact date of production. Combine this with the NICB’s VIN check tool, and you’ve compiled a good deal of information on a car for $0. This prep helps to narrow down the “cars of interest” list, so potential duds can be ruled out before wasting preview time at the auction.

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The Preview

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People flock from miles around to have the chance to own one or more of Denver’s least-loved motor vehicles

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In Denver, there’s a special bullpen at the car pound for the auction. The reasoning for this immediately became apparent, as the second people were allowed in to the bullpen, they began stealing stuff out of the cars. Seriously. Some of the confiscated cars have people’s possessions in them, and some of the less scrupulous folks among us seized the moment to get some free stuff. The 528i I was interested in had a laptop in the back seat which disappeared post-haste. I suppose it’s a bit weird to me that folks are so eager to steal stuff inside a barbed-wire fence at a facility run by the county sheriff, but that’s just one man’s opinion.

For those of us who weren’t there simply for the grift, we each provided a $100 good-faith deposit in exchange for a bidding number. While I was working on that, my buddy was checking out the cars.

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This pristine 1995 F-150 comes with added value in the form of high-quality scrap aluminum

We scoped out the cars I had interest in most intently - a 1989 Montero LS with bouncy seat and a limited-slip in the back, and a 1998 528i with a really bad aftermarket HID setup, but in otherwise manageable condition.

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The Montero was filled with knee-deep trash, and I was thankful I bring mechanic’s gloves and long sleeves to these events. It was missing a battery and ignition system (distributor and wires) for some reason, and had no air in the driver’s front and spare tires. I’m not sure if the previous owner was gross, or if the vehicle was someone’s house for a while. Either way, the condition, which included very bad rust on the passenger’s side, ruled it out for me.

The 528i was another story. It was a seizure rather than an abandoned car, so the interior was in fair shape. The exterior featured some paint in dire need of a detail, and a malfunctioning hood latch, which I was able to pop with a screwdriver through the kidney grille. It was an early ‘98, so it featured the single-VANOS M52 (rather than the double-VANOS M52TU which replaced it). As expected, it needed a valve cover gasket, and the low coolant level indicated a potential slow leak somewhere in the failure-prone cooling system. The power steering cap also needed a new gasket, a dreadful 2-minute repair that includes $2.31 of parts. The worst part of the car was the eBay “HID” setup, which featured HID bulbs in standard halogen reflectors, and loose ballasts that the installer didn’t even bother to zip-tie onto something. A+ install. So, this became my sole target at this week’s auction.

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Brunch

Since the car I was most interested in was Lot 132 or so, we decided to take in some of the local flavor.

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Marisela makes a mean quesadilla, despite her $2.50 price point. Ambiance was limited, as prevailing winds bring in the fragrances from a nearby Purina factory

Marisela isn’t speedy, but she sure can cook ‘em.

The Auction

Hey, you’ve read like 10,000 words in a story about an auto auction, and now we’re actually talking about the auction! Achievement Unlocked.

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Two men shout garbled nonsense into microphones inside a tiny box in the back of an F-350 with a bullet hole in the passenger fender

The auctioneer at today’s event moved quick, but his team was surprisingly forgiving. I think we had some folks who’d never attended an auction of any kind, because we had people “accidentally” bidding, we had partners bidding against each other and we had unregistered bidders throwing their hats in the ring. All such bids were disregarded and bidding reset, which surprised me. I figured they’d just make you leave with a $500 15-year-old Oldsmobile, but I appreciated their leniency.

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The early lots were mostly abandoned cars, and went for pretty low prices. Most averaged around $500. Some were good buys, others not so much. One of the more interesting was a $350 1982 Porsche 928. It looked as though some wildlife had taken refuge in the engine bay, there was a basketball sized indentation on the driver’s rear quarter and the hatch was full of old motorcycle parts. The new owner’s wife will assuredly be thrilled when she returns home to find it in the driveway.

A symbol of West German engineering superiority, in ideal condition

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We worked our way down the line, with a few more interesting buys - a $4700 Honda Accord, a $4800 ‘06 Cooper S Convertible and a $250 retired city bus, most recently used as a house. There are a few too many questions about the history of these vehicles for me to spend nearly $5k on one of them (especially when book value for a retail purchase is only about $1k more), but I’m sure the new owners will be satisfied with their purchases.

Finally it came time for the 528i to hit the block - and the first bid was more than I was willing to pay for a car with unknown mileage and a crappy electrical mod. The new owner ended up paying more than $2000. Personally, I think that’s way overbought for a vehicle that needs work and can be had for not much more on the used market, but perhaps there was a sack of cash in the trunk.

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The End

So, I didn’t buy anything today. I’ll certainly be back as soon as more vehicles appear that pique my interest. A consideration about this event is that it’s up to the new owner to get a title - the city gives you a bill of sale and a few other docs, and you have to wrangle with your county to get a legit title. If you’re just looking for a parts car that’s not really a concern, but I live in the burbs - I need something I can drive.

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I hope you enjoyed this jaunt through northern Denver’s finest Wednesday-morning entertainment destination. I’ll certainly provide an update if I ever successfully purchase a vehicle/mobile trashbag from the auction, as well as the processes of establishing ownership and getting a title.

Keep it real, Oppo.