As always, I have a ton of ideas and posts lined up but so little time to do so. This matter, however, is quite urgent as I start to shift my focus a bit to local issues such as safest neighborhoods, good eats, best deals, and miscellaneous points of interest. We all know that buying a car can be the best investment one can ever make. Some of us have learned the hard way that owning a car can also spell unending debt (automobile money pit, anyone?) if you’re not careful. Avoid buying lemon cars by reading this quick guide!
Now, I live in the CSRA (Central Savannah Rivera Area) on the Georgia side. I know a lot of my main readers are back on the West coast or Northeast but you may want to read on anyway, especially if you’re searching for a car now or in the near future. This blog entry is about the crooks that want your money and how to read between the lines when making buying decisions.
I’m going to as brief as possible here so let me cut straight to the point: Augusta Auto Auction is dealership dumping grounds. If you’re looking for a good buy, look elsewhere. Like most auctions, the cars at Augusta Auto Auction (formerly Hilltop Auto Auction, purchased by ACACIA in 2007) are project cars, at best. Pretty much all of them have been manipulated in some shape or form to seem like great buys. A little detailing here, replace fluids there, disconnect some wires, dial back the mileage, and do a little detailing – VIOLA – now you got a vehicle that is ready to be sold to the next sucker!
What makes ACACIA Augusta Auto Auction particularly suspect is that they offer one of the most bogus guarantees I’ve ever seen. For example, If you buy a “Green Light” vehicle, you can get your money back but only if you have it inspected within two hours of purchasing it.. and the issue has to be with the drivetrain.. and you have to have a legitimate mechanic look at it for you.
Well, that may seem like a good bit of assurance but, in reality, most issues won’t rear their ugly heads until the band-aid fixes finally go bust. Let’s not forget that the Augusta Auto Auction usually wraps up well after normal business hours so, unless you have a mechanic on retainer or have some REALLY good friends, good luck on taking advantage of that small window of opportunity! Basically, assume that any purchase at this Augusta Auto Auction is final, even if foul play is afoot.
Private buyers and dealerships will appreciate the Augusta Auto Auction, and public auctions like it, more. For them, it’s probably the only way to get rid of overstock and vehicles that would not sell otherwise. For the rest of us, there’s only the 6:30PM public auction every Friday. With gates opening at 4:00PM, you hypothetically have the time to register, pay your dues, and check out vehicles beforehand but it’s just another empty promise. You see, they’ll gladly let you walk around the lot and play with the vehicles but, to do anything truly useful, you’d have to leave the lot, which they won’t allow, supervised or not.
I’ve heard enough horror stories to disgust me with this place. Augusta Auto Auction codes vehicles into “lights”. In a few words, Red Light means “you may need to tow this out”, Blue Light means “it’s a toss-up”, and Green Light means “we offer our crappy guarantee on this one”. It’s been a while since I’ve gone with friends to even check out what they had for sale but the system is broken and worthless, for the most part. As I mentioned before, the Green Light only serves the purpose of selling you false promises. Green Light vehicles, for the most part, have the most reliable drivetrain/powertrain systems so they are safer to buy, yes, but don’t let that fool you. When you see the green light go up, that means the vehicle being discussed over the PA system is supposed to have all core systems in-tact (engine, drivetrain, etc). This may sound all-encompassing, depending on how you define powertrain-versus-drivetrain but it is not.
Some of the announcers speak so fast that they are almost completely incoherent. The colored lights are strategically placed where it’ll be hard for you to notice them on the crowded floor. According to reports, people have placed bids on vehicles they thought were Green Lights only to find out they were lemons. Just to push a sale, the folks that put together the final paperwork after you “win” the bid will tell you anything you want to hear so, if you didn’t notice something, you’re on your own, buddy!
I’ve noticed that a lot of the same people come to the Public Auction on Fridays. It seems all too convenient that these folks bid on a wide range of vehicles. It reminds me of people having friends bid on their auctions on eBay, just to raise the asking price. I suppose this is one of those moral and legal gray areas (how convenient) but it’s something to watch out for.
Back to horror stories, plenty of people I’ve met have said that sellers will do all sorts of nifty tricks to sell vehicles. Here are some of their tricks:
- Replacing fluids so that systems look like they’re running clean.
- Draining water so you can’t notice steam coming out from overheating of systems.
- Dialing back mileage or manipulating/damaging gauges in some other manner.
- Swapping out parts on the body so that VINs point to vehicles with a cleaner vehicle report.
- Towing in a vehicle when nobody is around so that no one can notice that the transmission is on the brink of blowing up.
- Performing extensive detailing work to make the car look as clean and new as possible.
- Having fake buyers come in to pad the asking price and show misleading excitement.
- Paying auction staff to recommend their vehicles over others.
- Scratching off tickets that identify maintenance schedules, original owners, and the like.
The list of tricks goes on and on. Some of the sellers at these types of predatory public auto auctions will help out buyers by showing them what to look for but take it all with a grain of salt. Do your homework, ask trusted friends, and leverage the power of the Internet. This link (http://www.samarins.com/check/simplecheck.html) alone should put you in the right mindset for buying and inspecting used cars. Buying a used car you are truly happy with, not just stuck with, is all in the simple things most people skip for the sake of speeding things up.
If you ask me, you’re better going to repo and police auctions than your normal, run-of-the-mill public auction. You have a better chance of getting lucky and getting an actual deal. If you insist on going to a public auto auction, here is what you want to do:
- Prepare a list of target vehicles, price ranges, and the like.
- Set aside money for anticipated maintenance, auction fees, and vehicle purchase – budgeting is imperative!
- Bring a mechanic or friends that know more about cars with you, at the very least.
- Set a maximum price for buying and do not go above this limit, even if you feel it’s a rare buy (they’ll be another).
- Contact trusted mechanic(s) and get estimates on common used car repairs.
- Make multiple visits to the auction before buying so you can get a feel for how things work.
- Pay attention to the folks that come back to the auction the most.
- Never buy a car on a rainy day, as it makes detection of leaks rather difficult.
- Read the fine print at home, where you can scrutinize it better, BEFORE you buy.
- Ask other buyers like yourself if they have bought at the auction before and what their experience has been like.
- Inspect potential vehicles in the lot, before the auction actually starts, and test drive at all possible speeds/gears, noting any fluctuations in your gauges, signs of straining/loss of power, shaking and engine misses, etc.
- If at all possible, ask for a list of the vehicles along with who is selling it. For privacy reasons, they may not disclose the owners but you cannot be denied a vehicle report or at least a general statement regarding recent ownership (privately-owned, dealer-owned, etc.).
- Note the VIN for each of your favorite vehicles and pull up vehicle reports at your leisure (services like CarFax offer subscriptions with unlimited vehicle reports, which will be more than worth it if you’re waiting for that perfect vehicle).
- Look for the effects of weathering in all key areas: undercarriage, dashboard, mirrors, rubber lining, etc. Generally speaking, vehicles owned “up North” go through more strain due to inclement weather so, if they were not properly cared for, such vehicles may not be worth buying unless you get it cheap enough to offset critical repairs.
- Whenever possible, place only a deposit on a vehicle rather than the entire amount and see if you can drive away with the vehicle with such a deposit so you can properly test it.
- Look up fair market values (Kelley Blue Book is good but check local trade-in values too) to get a feel for what your max bids will be.
- Check out what third-party validation has to say about the seller or seller agents. BBB is a good start but, unfortunately, the results can be skewed, especially if the business has been around for as long as ACACIA. Try using multiple search strings when using the web.
You can prepare for a public auto auction in many ways but these are a few things to keep in mind. The key thing is to not get caught up in the excitement and lies. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of your body language as it may be taken as a bidding motion. Auctions can be quite scary. If you feel you may get the itch to make a knee-jerk bid, walk away!
The better public auctions will provide members with year-long passes so don’t feel hard-pressed to buy right away. In fact, you should make multiple visits before you buy. You’d be surprised which vehicles keep returning or are never sold to begin with. I reckon public auto auctions make most of their money from people stuck with lemons as, more often than not, people will resell them through the same auction just to be done with it.
In a few words, businesses like ACACIA Augusta Auto Auction tread the thin line between ethical and unethical business practices. They fail at managing customer expectations and their credibility is next to none. Their hands-off approach to customer service basically boils down all issue resolution to “I’m sorry but the seller already received their money so it is out of our hands”. That being said, if they do anything to make things right at all, they’ll write it off as a “courtesy” by emphasizing the fact that they did not need to do anything. Such arrogance and lack of customer appreciation makes me feel the need to spread the word. Please link to this article and spread the word, especially if you know anyone in the Augusta/Central Georgia/Aiken area – we must unite and protect each other from scammers!
If you are buying a car in the CSRA, I’d recommend trying IWANTA first and avoiding dealers. As always, exercise caution, especially if the deal seems TOO good to pass up! Always ask why they are selling and dig deeper… Good luck!!