IN MANY ways, a trip down to the car auction has lost some of its sense of adventure.
These days, the big auction houses all have processes in place to ensure that the majority of their stock is saleable, with guarantees in place for buyers.
This is great news for customer protection, and has led to an increase in private punters buying from auction with confidence. But for the likes of me, it has put the bigger auctions out of reach.
These days, I favour sourcing cars locally, buying privately for the right car, or occasionally bidding away on auction websites if the right car comes along at the right price.
But I do still, occasionally, pop down to my local independent auction. There are some real bargains there on the right day, and because the place still exists as the very gutter of the car sales industry, prices are normally rock bottom – often for a reason.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world, though, and this was brought home to me just the other week. I was top bidder on a Peugeot 206.
Not a car I’m a big fan of if I’m totally honest, but they’re generally pretty easy to sell and clean up quite nicely. For all their electrical faults and horrible driving position, these old Peugeots have great paint quality, and respond well to a bit of elbow grease and some tyre gloop, making them easy forecourt fodder for young drivers.
This example looked right. A bright metallic blue, GLX spec, with a fold-back canvas sunroof, it had all the hallmarks of becoming quite cool student wheels. There are a lot of universities round my way, and at £895 I could see it flying off the forecourt by the weekend, so when the hammer came down on my bid – the only bid – at £125, I thought I’d be in for a quick payday.
But it wasn’t to be. The mistake I’d made was to be an irregular auction goer, as I found out to my detriment when I went to the key office to collect my new steed. The problems became apparent as soon as I got in the car. It started first turn of the key, but none of the dashboard warning lights came on. Indeed, the instrument pack appeared to have been disconnected, as there was no rev counter, speedometer or fuel gauge reading, either.
Faint burning smell
I put the 206 into first gear, lifted the clutch and was greeted by a sound akin to someone rending metal.
There was a high-pitched metallic screech and a faint burning smell. This baffled me a little, as the 206 had driven into the hall without making any horrific noises. I’d have noticed that, surely?
I put the lever into second, and the 206 pulled forwards, obviously with little enthusiasm, but certainly in such a manner that it could have been driven slowly through the block. Third and fourth, though, greeted me with the same metallic clatter of self-destruction, while fifth gear didn’t appear to be there at all. The gearbox, I deduced (being a regular Sherlock Holmes) was beyond repair. And in a car at this price level, it really wasn’t worth the effort.
In desperation, then, I did the only thing possible in the circumstances. The Peugeot wasn’t going to drive me the 12 miles home, so I stuck it in second, drove it round the block and back in to the entry office, where I was greeted with a wry smile by the car jockey.
‘It’s back again, then,’ he observed, as I limped into the holding area and went to fill out the entry paperwork. I was, apparently, the fourth person to trundle round the block in the ailing Pug and stick it back through the block in the following week’s sale. With no fuel gauge, I surmised that this situation would remain the status quo until the 206 sipped its last few drops of fuel, leaving one unlucky punter with a recovery job on their hands as well.
Amazingly, that wasn’t the case, and the following week the car was sold to a fellow trader, who had seen it do the rounds before and had just taken a really shabby 206 with a working gearbox and instrument pack in part-exchange. In that context, and with the mechanical skills, it was probably a job worth doing, and I hope he turned a profit.
Alas, I didn’t.
This time round, it went for a paltry £100, and after my 15 per cent entry fee, I came out of the deal 40 quid down.
On the plus side, as I had no Peugeot to drive home in, I found a gem of a Fiat Panda for sale in a private driveway around the corner while walking to the bus stop, handed over £500 for it and sold it for £995 the following week. That’s the nature of this game – you win some, you lose some, and sometimes it’s the thrill of the chase that’s all the fun.
Who is Big Mike? Well, that would be telling. What we can say is that he has been in the trade for more than 30 years and has a fund of stories to tell.
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