Diary of a Used Car Salesman: Is It A Keeper?

600 to 1500 miles a week. Some of you may consider this travel excessive, or, perhaps, bordering on the psychotic. In the auto remarketing business it’s a way of life. Wholesalers, auctioneers, ringmen, and managers of varying stripes all have to spend their time on the road. Auctions are often separated by several hours and states. Not to mention that the folks in the Great White North often have to travel to different provinces, upwards of 2000 miles a week, to get where they’re going. That’s a lot of time with a seat, a dashboard and a radio. You may think that a Camcord or some type of hyper-efficient vehicle would be the car of choice for so much travel . . . but you would be dead wrong.

The domestics completely dominate this unique niche of this business. It’s not even close. Why? Because when it comes to large cars, SUVs and pickups that are inexpensive to maintain, Ford and GM (not Chrysler) still rule the kingdom. A lot of travel time equates to a greater need to stretch out and avoid the fatigue of the road. A reasonably quiet interior. Power when you need it. Room to kick the psychosis of claustrophobia. All of this plays into the hand of the road warrior.

The most frequent road warrior for ‘keepers’? It’s not a Crown Vic although they’re among the brethren. It’s not a Town Car although that’s sometimes chosen if the price is right. Suburbans and Silverados also make their presence known as do Avalons. The most frequent vehicle I see is a full-sized GM midsized sedan with the 3.8L V6. Why? Power is plentiful with anywhere between 200 to 240 horses. Fuel economy can hit at or close to 30 mpg which is far better than the real world performance of old V8s. Maintenance is cheap. Depreciation is steep, and despite Buickman’s pontifications, Pontiacs and Buicks have not been embraced by the fashionable media elite.

Bonnevilles, LeSabres, Park Avenues, and Impalas may not be the cars that lubricate the dreams of the gearhead, but they are an exceptional deal for those folks that buy their cars with anywhere between 50k to 100k miles and keep them on the highway until they hit 200k to 250k. Once the intake manifold gasket is replaced (an absolute must), the powertrain that propels these vehicles is among the best in the business.

The ‘traders’ in our business fall into three unique categories. There are those who prefer a certain range of vehicles. Before I became a keeper, I changed cars on a weekly basis. More often than not what I drove was a variant of the Volvo 850/S70 or a Subaru Legacy. I knew a lot about them and sold them by the dozens over the  years. These two models were predominantly bought by folks who brought their cars to the dealer and were willing to pay a premium for diligent maintenance. In the case of the Volvos, most of the buyers drove their cars conservatively which is a huge plus in an auto auction world that has more than its share of cars that are more worn out than an old mop.

The other two categories are the large wholesaler and the independent dealer. The former drive whatever vehicle strikes their fancy. The same can ring true for the large independent dealer. A surprising number of them will actually keep a Mercedes or Lexus if they’re within a metropolitan area. Several independent dealers will drive cars with niggling problems, title issues, or what we call ‘selling issues’. Most dealers have to deal with diagnostic issues that can be more tricky than a politician at a town hall meeting. Others can throw too much money into the rabbit hole of repair and ultimately surmise that it’s better to just drive the thing since it’s been practically rebuilt.

Finally you have those cars that have cosmetic issues and were bought on the cheap, and those that have title issues that require a bonded or court order title to resell. In certain instances the cars can be driven another 100k with $0 depreciation to show for it.  Obviously, the best cars to drive are those that ‘make’ you money; but once you’ve polished a car with too many personal greenbacks or setbacks, it can often become a companion instead of a commodity. In our business we call it ‘getting married’.

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One Response to Diary of a Used Car Salesman: Is It A Keeper?

  1. Scott Kelley says:

    In the world of used car/truck parts we, also, used the term “keeper cars.”

    We did differentiate, however, between vehicles kept either in storage in entirety or partially dismantled with the unsaleable pieces/parts hauled off for their scrap-weight value.

    Late model vehicles of an age still likely covered by collision insurance were kept to sate the need of body shops or the few owners attempting their own collision repairs.

    Some “keeper cars” were keepers due to their popularity or having parts that tended to break.

    Certain makes and models had “weak” engines or transmissions and other components, too many to mention here.

    Our computerized inventory and demand as indicated by the HUGE info traffic between dismantling yards across the country kept us easily and quickly informed of what vehicles and the parts upon/in them to grab, tear apart and quickly sell those parts.

    It was easy to determine the price to pay for those wrecked cars by the assured amount to be received for parts we KNEW would sell with other stored parts from them “gravy” upon the parts known to be assured sellers.

    Some vehicles were bought and parts saved due to possessing “rare” components such as high-end vehicles with loads of options that tended to break.

    Many other details that made a vehicle a keeper.

    We even kept some interiors and door panels for certain cars know that few were ever bought due to option pricing when new but that those paying high prices from the get-go might be more apt to refurbish a worn-out interior, etc.

    If saved component parts sat too long we could always toss them into a hulk departing foe the scrap-laden ship destined for oriental ports.

    It was part science, part art with assistance from the computer database and input from across the USA.

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