I mostly had a day off today. Perhaps it was the conclusion of some previously unfinished business, hitting 100% on my monster Magento spreadsheet, the gorgeous September sunshine or my housemate being a few hundred miles away — whatever, today wasn’t a day for staring at code or fixing computers. I went out. And had fun. My regular reader may recall that I’ve found it incredibly hard to have fun in recent years. I am all about work, mostly because I see the transactional process as a form of personal validation, however misguided that might be, but also because it’s nice to pay the rent on time and have a roof over my head.
I went to Saltash today. Saltash is a town on the outskirts of Plymouth, which is in Devon. Saltash is about 50 minutes away from here in a car. Saltash is also the nearest Manheim vehicle auction to me. At 8:45am this morning I decided that I would fulfil a bucket list item and attend a live auction. By 9:00am I had scarfed down a toast-based breakfast and was on my way to Manheim Saltash. The aforementioned housemate is, by her own admission, sick of me talking about car auctions and today was as good a time as any to scratch the itch.
I had some thinking time on the way. What if I saw my ideal next car? Would I have the cojones to bid and buy? How would I get it back home? Hmm. I decided to watch and learn for the first time, and if all went to plan I’d be back for a return visit with a pile of cash. I figured that these twice-weekly auctions were full of professionals and regular buyers, and perhaps I’d have to identify myself as a newbie when I got there, with some special dispensation that I could be safely ignored as a non-buyer. Would I have to pay to get in if I wasn’t a buyer? So many questions.
I was thinking all this as a trio of warning lights lit up my VW Polo dash. My lambda sensor needs replacing, and I’ve let it slip because of work commitments. This has a knock-on effect with my diesel particulate filter, which in turn has sent the engine management system into a tailspin. Upshot: I’m using more fuel per mile than a car on a track day. Not good. I’m getting it sorted this week. Probably.
My thought process extended to cars in general. Down in the south west of the UK, certainly in the more rural parts, there’s much less status attached to car makes, models and marques. I will stop short of saying cars are disposable down here, but seeing a 10-year old car on the road is far more common than the south east of the UK. Saltash isn’t rural as such, but it serves an area of the UK which is rural.
I arrived shortly after 10am for a 10:30am start. There were 150+ cars parked under cover and a handful of valet dudes keeping them in a saleable condition. Before the auction started, I estimate 40 or people were milling around, chowing burgers from a truck and coffee from polystyrene cups. I didn’t need to register, I didn’t need to say hello to explain I was here to watch and learn, and no money changed hands — not even for a double bacon and cheese burger from the truck.
In the time betwixt arrival and auction commencement, I wandered around the neatly-arranged cars. It was like a big car sales lot minus the pushy dealers. The cars are, understandably, locked and secure in the pre-sale window. You can look around and gauge the condition, but not open the doors/boot/bonnet or get inside. Tyre kicking is, I assume, not looked on favourably; the valet team did a pretty good job of making them look smart for sale, which was good to see.
As the auction started promptly at 1030, the the auctioneer — Malcolm, I think — introduced himself and covered the ground rules. Fairly self-explanatory stuff: VAT is paid on commercial vehicles, some indemnity is available at a price, don’t bid if you can’t pay, that kind of thing. I sat down, kept quiet, and avoided eye contact with the auctioneer for the most part; not for any rude or impersonal reason, I just know that attracting attention was not my aim. I didn’t want an itchy nose to be mistaken for YES PLEASE I WILL BID EIGHT GRAND ON THAT MINI THANKS MATE. Armed with a compact printout of all the scheduled lots to be sold as of 9am, I found a seat on the bleachers and settled in, watched and listened intently.
What followed was 3+ hours of vehicles parading through, two auctioneers on their own public address systems alternating between the lots, a bunch of regular buyers/dealers poking and prodding cars as they proceeded down the catwalk, wandering round the cars and placing bids. Most people bought nothing, a few people bought upwards of 5 or so lots, one dealer bought more than ten vehicles. Internet bidders were also involved, with auction room screens indicating the in-room bids compared to the website.
Some of the vehicles went for seemingly very low prices. The cheapest overall was a ’96 Vauxhall Astra, which was snapped up for £90. The most expensive was a ’13 Toyota GT-86 for £14100. That’s a £25000 car brand new. A year and a bit later, it’s been resold at 40% off. Astonishing. A tidy ’02 Range Rover V8 Vogue with 112000 miles on the clock? £2700.
I made a decision that I’d log all the sale prices for reference so I could refer back to them for this post. Right now, I’m not buying, and frankly there came a point about an hour or so in where it became difficult to concentrate with the amount of noise and number of people milling around in the auction hall. I will also admit to feeling the pain of the drivers of the lots as they paraded through the hall. The hazards on, the windows down, they were asked to rev engines, had strangers unceremoniously poking their heads in to examine the dashboard.
The whole operation was a well-oiled machine and worked really well. Everyone knew what they were doing, and the process was efficient. Next time I go, I’ll know what I’m doing. I will be going again. I don’t know if there’ll be a stack of 20s in my back pocket, but I’ll certainly be heading to Saltash again.
Bucket list update: attend a live auction — done