Government Car Auctions - Advice needed for buying a used vehicle

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Hey FWF,

Wifey is looking to buy MIL a new car, because she is completely broke and her car is falling apart. I'm under the mindset of basically giving her a decently old clunker that does its job... transporting her. Nothing else necessary. Mother in law will want to pay us back on monthly payments, I don't count on it and imagine her forgetting at some point and stopping payments. That's fine, as long as it's a standard vehicle and one that lasts. The problem is I don't have much time for shopping for a vehicle, so I'm kind of letter the wife handle it. She is under a notion that government vehicle auctions would be a good route, since she has a friend that swears by it. 

Myself, on the other hand am not sure if it's a good idea or not...

My hesitations to this are:

  • Pricing. Is a government auction any better
  • American Cars. Sorry, but I stand by my notion that Japanese cars in general are superior. I would tend to take a Toyota/Honda or Lexus/Acura over a Ford/GM vehicle in general.
  • Usage: Since these were used in government, I'm not sure if these are used heavily or not much. I guess I can determine that by year produced and mileage.


However, I do see one benefit...

  • Government probably regulates that vehicles are checked, reviewed, and maintained on a regular basis. Comparing that to buying from any individual person, they could have treated it like shit, not done oil changes as often, didn't fix things until they were a large problem, etc...


What is FWF's thoughts? Any experiences? Good or bad idea?

For reference, the site that gives information on these auctions is https://autoauctions.gsa.gov/GSAAutoAuctions/
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A car thread where "Crown Vic" is a legitimate answer, who would have thought it?

justignoredem said:    I'm under the mindset of basically giving her a decently old clunker that does its job... transporting her. Nothing else necessary. 
  The GSA cars that government employees have driven are late models, certainly not old clunkers. They usually bring top dollar.  

The only problem with a real crown vic that was used by the cops is that they spend hours idling so while the mileage might not be high, the wear on the engine might be.

It's probably good for pros that can evaluate a car. You can't count on getting lucky if you don't know what you're doing. I'd skip it, lots of deals to be had the regular way.

atikovi said:   
justignoredem said:    I'm under the mindset of basically giving her a decently old clunker that does its job... transporting her. Nothing else necessary. 
  The GSA cars that government employees have driven are late models, certainly not old clunkers. They usually bring top dollar.  

  
We're seeing a good number of Ford Focus-ish type of vehicles. 

I don't actually mean a clunker that is falling apart, but just a simple vehicle that is ~5 years old, isn't known for speed, and is overall reliable... and ideally, requires less maintenance.

would definitely appreciate someone that has had experience with these government auctions. There is also somewhat of a sense of urgency. MIL is moving from her state to our local town, mostly for the purpose of helping us to take care of our child#1. As much as I'm not a fan of gifting people vehicles, the plan (as it stands right now) is for MIL to help babysit for Child #1. Given how much our daycare would cost, that's roughly a $1,000/month savings.... so it's obviously within our benefit to help her out here a bit if it saves us a lot in the long run.

In my state, government hold auto auction every month and almost all vehicles have an insane amount of miles on of but the price is super sweet. Is pickup an option? F150 can be had for below 2k.

It is probably cheaper to just fix her current car instead of buying a new one. For the japanese vs american cars it is hard to make generalizations. A chrysler 200 is going to be cheaper to repair and maintain than a honda civic for a a 2015. You can look at the cost of extended warranties for different models and at the manufacturer maintenance intervals. Generally though a chrysler/fiat/landrover is a poor car to buy from a reliability perspective. The rest of the cars are very close. The types of fleet vehicles that are sold at these auctions will be largely reliable models with plenty of cheap parts available.

First I would focus on getting the right size and type of car for what you need and coming up with a realistic budget. How many miles per year do you plan on driving? If it is very low you can save money buying a higher mileage car or an older car and it will still last a long time. What is your budget for a car? A larger truck or car will cost a lot more over the long run, and it sounds like you would be paying for it instead of your MIL. Is a subcompact a good choice, or a compact? Ford focus, toyota yaris, mazda 3, chevy cruze are all relatively cheap to maintain. Then I would look at past auction prices, look at what rental fleets are selling for as comparables, and look at what private party and dealers are charging. Often auctions are selling for more than private party, or about the same as what the big rental companies are selling cars for. It is not really easy to see what past GSA cars sold for but you can find it with a little digging. The best deals will be private party.

I bought a GSA Ford Focus a few years ago for my dad's totaled Corolla. I paid about KBB clean trade in price for the vehicle, so you are not going to get a smashing deal. The advantage is that in high tax states like California, you don't pay sales tax, saving a few hundred to more than a thousand dollars, although you will have to get the car smogged. Although my dad doesn't drive it much (maybe 7,000 miles a year) it has not caused him any trouble. The car was inspected after purchase and had no major issues other than scratches near the trunk from government employees who did a bad job loading. No mechanical issues at all, although my dad complains that the vehicle is underpowered, but that is a flaw of the vehicle model and not of the car bought. One issue is that you only get one key for the vehicle. Somehow it got programmed to the Ford MyKey and I can't figure out how to turn off the governor that restricts the car to a 80 mph speed. It dings at you when you try to pass other vehicles on the freeway. Remember to take advantage of the preview day by starting the vehicle, making sure the air conditioner blows cold, and the car shifts appropriately. Usually they are all parked several deep so it is impossible to test drive, but you can eliminate cars simply by revving the engine and seeing how it sounds like. 

justignoredem said:   

  • Government probably regulates that vehicles are checked, reviewed, and maintained on a regular basis. Comparing that to buying from any individual person, they could have treated it like shit, not done oil changes as often, didn't fix things until they were a large problem, etc...



 

  Not always the case, my issued car was not allowed to have the oil changed till  7500 miles had passed.
The motor pool would only fix what was obviously broken.

gnopgnip said:   It is probably cheaper to just fix her current car instead of buying a new one. For the japanese vs american cars it is hard to make generalizations. A chrysler 200 is going to be cheaper to repair and maintain than a honda civic for a a 2015. You can look at the cost of extended warranties for different models and at the manufacturer maintenance intervals. Generally though a chrysler/fiat/landrover is a poor car to buy from a reliability perspective. The rest of the cars are very close. The types of fleet vehicles that are sold at these auctions will be largely reliable models with plenty of cheap parts available.

First I would focus on getting the right size and type of car for what you need and coming up with a realistic budget. How many miles per year do you plan on driving? If it is very low you can save money buying a higher mileage car or an older car and it will still last a long time. What is your budget for a car? A larger truck or car will cost a lot more over the long run, and it sounds like you would be paying for it instead of your MIL. Is a subcompact a good choice, or a compact? Ford focus, toyota yaris, mazda 3, chevy cruze are all relatively cheap to maintain. Then I would look at past auction prices, look at what rental fleets are selling for as comparables, and look at what private party and dealers are charging. Often auctions are selling for more than private party, or about the same as what the big rental companies are selling cars for. It is not really easy to see what past GSA cars sold for but you can find it with a little digging. The best deals will be private party.

  
Wife is overall deadset on getting her a new car. I'm always under the impression of "Drive it till the wheels fall off". But at this point, it's not even an option. Since Mother in law is moving down to where we live, she sold the car where she previously lived and is essentially coming without a car.

Oh, did I mention she is afraid of any heights? That means any freeway overpass or bridge, she won't cross even in a vehicle. That's part of the reason why she sold it locally before leaving... so she didn't have to drive/transport it to our state. Yes, it's stupid - I know. No matter how much I try to talk reason to my wife about her issues, it's not my place.

That said, your comments on which models to get is reassuring. I have no problem settling with getting her ~5 year old chevy cruze or something similar. She doesn't need power. She doesn't need features. She just needs to get to work. She doesn't even go out at night, and buys her groceries from work after her shift. 

Another large part of the issue is that we are swamped. We don't have the time to deal with dealerships, arguing about price, test driving all over, etc... We're looking for a solid car for a decent price (I don't expect to walk away saying "WOW What a deal!"). So as of right now with the current situation (baby just arrived, working full time) convenience is a high priority.
delhel said:   
 

  
Nah, we're talking an old mother in law, the most she does is works ~30 hours/week by doing a small commute down a couple roads to the nearest Walmart. That's all it's needed for.

woowoo2 said:   
justignoredem said:   

  • Government probably regulates that vehicles are checked, reviewed, and maintained on a regular basis. Comparing that to buying from any individual person, they could have treated it like shit, not done oil changes as often, didn't fix things until they were a large problem, etc...



 

  Not always the case, my issued car was not allowed to have the oil changed till  7500 miles had passed.
The motor pool would only fix what was obviously broken.

  
Interesting... that was going to be my other question in regards to government auctions... Are we able to see the cars before the auction? Or is it just a live bid where you hope shit isn't broke and there aren't scratches/dents all over?

calwatch said:   
  
Are you sure about this? Typically how it works in my area (Texas), you pay Sales tax when you register the car at the county office.

Good to hear, I'll have to consider the Ford Focus as well then. Power is not an issue, we're talking old mother in law that drives to work a couple streets away and that's it. She doesn't take road trips (Scared of heights/bridges/overpass) and she doesn't go out clubbing and bar hoping  

calwatch said:   I bought a GSA Ford Focus a few years ago for my dad's totaled Corolla. I paid about KBB clean trade in price for the vehicle, so you are not going to get a smashing deal. The advantage is that in high tax states like California, you don't pay sales tax, saving a few hundred to more than a thousand dollars, 
  I find that hard to believe you wouldn't have to pay tax to any state that has sales tax, especially a cash strapped one like CA. Sure you don't mean a buyers fee at the auction?



atikovi;19901967 said:
calwatch said:   I bought a GSA Ford Focus a few years ago for my dad's totaled Corolla. I paid about KBB clean trade in price for the vehicle, so you are not going to get a smashing deal. The advantage is that in high tax states like California, you don't pay sales tax, saving a few hundred to more than a thousand dollars, 
  I find that hard to believe you wouldn't have to pay tax to any state that has sales tax, especially a cash strapped one like CA. Sure you don't mean a buyers fee at the auction?

  
He might actually be right (at least for my state). I never would have thought it... 
Excluded Private-Party Purchases
The SPV law applies to the sale of all types of used motor vehicles except:

• salvage or abandoned vehicles;
• vehicles sold through storage or mechanic’s liens, or by a governmental entity (includes 
governmental sales conducted by an auction
company).


http://comptroller.texas.gov/taxes/publications/96-254.pdf 

edit: Actually, I might be wrong here - I think it might be saying that government auctions are exempt from SPV (Standard presumptive value)? Not 100% sure.

States want every penny they can get from taxpayers. Car sales taxes are their big money makers. It shouldn't matter if you buy from the government, a dealer or private seller, they still want their revenue.

justignoredem said:   

  • American Cars. Sorry, but I stand by my notion that Japanese cars in general are superior. I would tend to take a Toyota/Honda or Lexus/Acura over a Ford/GM vehicle in general.


This isn't the 1980's anymore...this is a very antiquated view.

It all depends on brand, not what country the company is based out of. For example, Honda, Toyota, and Ford all have excellent reliability. Mitsubishi (Japanese), Nissan (Japanese), and Chrysler do not.

Take it from a car enthusiast.

See https://norwalkaa.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/227118147-Do-I-have-to-pay-taxes-on-GSA-Vehicles-?mobile_site=true - California state law ex mats sales to and from the federal government from sales tax.

If she's not planning on putting a ton of mileage on the vehicle, look into local dealerships that sell used rental vehicles (there are a ton in Texas). My daily commuter is a 2013 Hyundai Elantra that I got for $3,000-$4,000 below market due to it being used as a rental through Enterprise. Yes, the mileage was high for the year of the car (bought in 2015 and had 55,000 miles on it) and it may have been driven hard but all I need it to do 40 miles of freeway driving every day and not guzzle gas.

It's easy to work on, easy to maintain (oil, fluids, the occasional brake light), and cheap to insure.

OP did you try hertz car sales ? 

Beanholio said:   If she's not planning on putting a ton of mileage on the vehicle, look into local dealerships that sell used rental vehicles (there are a ton in Texas). My daily commuter is a 2013 Hyundai Elantra that I got for $3,000-$4,000 below market due to it being used as a rental through Enterprise. Yes, the mileage was high for the year of the car (bought in 2015 and had 55,000 miles on it) and it may have been driven hard but all I need it to do 40 miles of freeway driving every day and not guzzle gas.

It's easy to work on, easy to maintain (oil, fluids, the occasional brake light), and cheap to insure.

  
phatwalletguy said:   
  
Haven't looked into rental car resales - and that honestly scares me a bit knowing every rental car driver intentionally will drive more recklessly since it's not their actual car. I guess you could say the same for government cars, but one is a company car (and you could have potential liability for screwing it up) vs. a rental car that no one cares about.

Going to an auction if you never have been there before basically means you will get ripped off.

You said she has a 'friend' who swears by it. How many cars has that person purchased before? If they have bought lets say 3, then make them come with you. They can help you find the best car for the best price (or as best as they can get it)

If you go in 'blind', then expect to overpay for a car that no one wants.

If you can't get your friend to help, go to 3 or 4 of these auctions and stay all day (bring a book or music or your lunch). You need to 'absorb' the process, what cars sell for what, what cars have high competition (like a Honda would have high bidders) and what goes for low.

that's how you can save money at these auctions.

Did I miss it? What's the budget?

ArmchairArchitect said:   
justignoredem said:   

  • American Cars. Sorry, but I stand by my notion that Japanese cars in general are superior. I would tend to take a Toyota/Honda or Lexus/Acura over a Ford/GM vehicle in general.


This isn't the 1980's anymore...this is a very antiquated view.

It all depends on brand, not what country the company is based out of. For example, Honda, Toyota, and Ford all have excellent reliability. Mitsubishi (Japanese), Nissan (Japanese), and Chrysler do not.

Take it from a car enthusiast.

  
+1  Automation has narrowed the quality gap considerably. 

OP, based on your situation I'd just go with a new car.  This will make your wife and MIL happy and it sounds like you have enough on your plate.  Look at a Hyundai, Honda Fit, Corolla, or some other compact that you can get relatively cheap.  You said you're getting $1,000/mo in childcare savings, so paying $250/mo or whatever for a car, you're still way ahead.  Gov't auctions can be good for those who have the time an aptitude to assess a car as it's sold "as is."  

$750 childcare savings and a happy household sounds like a pretty good deal to me.  

If you are near the DC area, Capitol Auto Auction auctions off Virginia state and local vehicles, mainly police Crown Vics (and school buses!) that are usually in very good shape since the smaller cities around the DC area dump their Crown Vics around 70,000 miles and on some of them, the auction company provides a very very basic warranty for a few days so it can be checked out by a mechanic and returned if there is a problem. The local cars tend to be purchased by the city with a prepaid maintenance contract from the local Ford dealer so the oil was changed (and other stuff too) by the dealer like clockwork.

You can pick up a Crown Vic in good shape for around $2,000.

zapjb said:   Did I miss it? What's the budget?
  
Just asked DW. Her answer is, less than $10k, ideally 7-8k. 

Also prefers miles below 50,000.

Under 50k miles? You won't find that at a government auction.
Price? Well it depends on the car you find.

justignoredem said:   
zapjb said:   Did I miss it? What's the budget?
  
Just asked DW. Her answer is, less than $10k, ideally 7-8k. 

Also prefers miles below 50,000.

  
I thought she was insisting on a new car?

S197 said:   
justignoredem said:   
zapjb said:   Did I miss it? What's the budget?
  
Just asked DW. Her answer is, less than $10k, ideally 7-8k. 

Also prefers miles below 50,000.

  
I thought she was insisting on a new car?

  
Nope - not quite sure where you got that reference? Government auctions (the subject of the thread) are all used cars AFAIK

justignoredem said:   
zapjb said:   Did I miss it? What's the budget?
  
Just asked DW. Her answer is, less than $10k, ideally 7-8k. 

Also prefers miles below 50,000.

  Mazda 6 or Mazda 3. It fits your qualifications. Many other that fit are not Japanese. Full disclosure on my 3rd Honda.

 

justignoredem said:   
gnopgnip said:   It is probably cheaper to just fix her current car instead of buying a new one. For the japanese vs american cars it is hard to make generalizations. A chrysler 200 is going to be cheaper to repair and maintain than a honda civic for a a 2015. You can look at the cost of extended warranties for different models and at the manufacturer maintenance intervals. Generally though a chrysler/fiat/landrover is a poor car to buy from a reliability perspective. The rest of the cars are very close. The types of fleet vehicles that are sold at these auctions will be largely reliable models with plenty of cheap parts available.

First I would focus on getting the right size and type of car for what you need and coming up with a realistic budget. How many miles per year do you plan on driving? If it is very low you can save money buying a higher mileage car or an older car and it will still last a long time. What is your budget for a car? A larger truck or car will cost a lot more over the long run, and it sounds like you would be paying for it instead of your MIL. Is a subcompact a good choice, or a compact? Ford focus, toyota yaris, mazda 3, chevy cruze are all relatively cheap to maintain. Then I would look at past auction prices, look at what rental fleets are selling for as comparables, and look at what private party and dealers are charging. Often auctions are selling for more than private party, or about the same as what the big rental companies are selling cars for. It is not really easy to see what past GSA cars sold for but you can find it with a little digging. The best deals will be private party.

  
Wife is overall deadset on getting her a new car. I'm always under the impression of "Drive it till the wheels fall off". But at this point, it's not even an option. Since Mother in law is moving down to where we live, she sold the car where she previously lived and is essentially coming without a car.

Oh, did I mention she is afraid of any heights? That means any freeway overpass or bridge, she won't cross even in a vehicle. That's part of the reason why she sold it locally before leaving... so she didn't have to drive/transport it to our state. Yes, it's stupid - I know. No matter how much I try to talk reason to my wife about her issues, it's not my place.

That said, your comments on which models to get is reassuring. I have no problem settling with getting her ~5 year old chevy cruze or something similar. She doesn't need power. She doesn't need features. She just needs to get to work. She doesn't even go out at night, and buys her groceries from work after her shift. 

Another large part of the issue is that we are swamped. We don't have the time to deal with dealerships, arguing about price, test driving all over, etc... We're looking for a solid car for a decent price (I don't expect to walk away saying "WOW What a deal!"). So as of right now with the current situation (baby just arrived, working full time) convenience is a high priority.
delhel said:   
 

  
Nah, we're talking an old mother in law, the most she does is works ~30 hours/week by doing a small commute down a couple roads to the nearest Walmart. That's all it's needed for.

  
You said it right here. 

justignoredem said:   
S197 said:   
justignoredem said:   
zapjb said:   Did I miss it? What's the budget?
  
Just asked DW. Her answer is, less than $10k, ideally 7-8k. 

Also prefers miles below 50,000.

  
I thought she was insisting on a new car?

  
Nope - not quite sure where you got that reference? Government auctions (the subject of the thread) are all used cars AFAIK


Maybe in your very first sentence?
justignoredem said:   Hey FWF,

Wifey is looking to buy MIL a new car,

  
  

justignoredem said:   
zapjb said:   Did I miss it? What's the budget?
  
Just asked DW. Her answer is, less than $10k, ideally 7-8k. 

Also prefers miles below 50,000.

  
Japanese? Low miles? Four Digits?
Ask atikovi to find you a Leaf.

You can check that website for auctions too:
https://www.hertzcarsales.com 

Random offer:
2015 Toyota Yaris L 
No Haggle Price: $8,733
Mileage: 47K

taxmantoo said:   
justignoredem said:   
zapjb said:   Did I miss it? What's the budget?
  
Just asked DW. Her answer is, less than $10k, ideally 7-8k. 

Also prefers miles below 50,000.

  
Japanese? Low miles? Four Digits?
Ask atikovi to find you a Leaf.

  HAHA too late. 2016 with 8,000 miles sold Tuesday for $8,600. Only problem is it was a taxi and re-painted DC taxi red/silver.

OP hire Atikovi to come with you to the Manheim Car Auction

Hertz car sales have decent prices and have a warranty. I bought a Buick Regal through Rent2Buy but the tire lost air on the way home and I had a bad feeling about the car so I called roadside assistance to replace the flat with a spare and took it back the next day. I ended up buying a new Mazda 3 instead. 

devyanks90 said:   A car thread where "Crown Vic" is a legitimate answer, who would have thought it?

Not any longer it is now Tahoe PPV  

 

Government auctions are not all created equal. Neither are the service requirements (as someone noted.) I bought a highway department truck once, it was cheap and lasted 2-3 years with no issues until the engine literally croaked. (It had over 100K miles on it) I have seen vehicles in military auctions with almost no miles on them too. (pretty sure you are not in the market for a HMMWV though)

Given the restrictions I would suggest the same vehicle I bought for almost the same situation. Chevy HHRs. They are cheap, have a very decent cargo area, and since they were made for 6 years (discontinued in 2011 or 2012) there are a ton of parts in the system. I paid $3200 for one with around 80K miles a year or so ago. (it was a 2007) There were PLENTY in the $5-8K range with lower mileage. It is also narrow like a compact - so it is easy for, er, elders to park. My stepmother loves hers even more than the truck it replaced. (and that surprised BOTH of us)

Check titles though, there are a lot of salvaged ones out there -- because there are, as I said, a lot of parts out there.

There were leaf's going for 9500 in GA recently. Lease returns due to state tax incentives. Might check that out.



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