Ever wonder what happens to your car after you sell it or trade it in?
There’s a good chance it will make a trip to 47th South and I-135, at least briefly.
That is the location of 135 Auto Auction, the place where dealers from all over the area buy and sell used cars.
On an average Thursday 550 to 600 cars are sold over the course of few hours, two or three per minute. Let’s just say it’s a hopping place.
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135 Auto Auction is relatively new to the market. A year ago it bought Mid-America Auto Auction, which had been in Wichita since about the 1940s, and then invested $2.7 million renovating the property.
It now looks like a new car dealership, clean, with high ceilings, lots of space, lots of windows and new paint. It turned the old auto detail shop into a lounge providing free coffee and food for bidders.
135 is owned by Bryan Hunt, son of the late trucking magnate J.B. Hunt. His Hunt Automotive Group, based in Springdale, Ark., includes several dealerships and 71B Auto Auction and is in talks to open more.
New general manager Mark Gathright, who came on three months ago, has big plans for increasing volume. The business makes its money from the fees charged on each car sold in the auction. On a $5,000 car, it makes $425 – and that cost is split between buyer and seller.
Gathright has pushed his salespeople to get more cars from Wichita and well beyond flowing through the business.
In the first quarter, Gathright said he expects to enable dealers to participate in the Thursday auction online. In the second quarter, he hopes to introduce a monthly specialty auction, for dealers only, for heavy trucks, heavy equipment, recreational vehicles, boats and all-terrain vehicles.
Although he is creating an online auction platform, he doesn’t think that will cut into his face-to-face business.
“A lot of these dealers are old school,” he said. “They like seeing the cars, seeing the people, catching up with their buddies.”
There must be something to that because even on a very cold Thursday last week, there was a large crowd milling around.
The auction-goers, chatted, wandered about, joshed each other. They consulted on the phone, sipped coffee, watched the action, even spit chewing tobacco juice in a bottle.
But, mostly those who come to the auction critically eye the cars as they pull in, get auctioned and pull out. These guys are pros at estimating the value of a car, what it would cost to get it ready and its chances of selling. They generally have a list already made out of what they are interested in. They checked out the weekly sales list and may have stopped by the night before to look them over and test drive them.
There is a wide range among the dealers, from the Davis-Moores of the world down to the tiniest mom-and-pop on South Broadway. Most of the cars tend to come from the big new car dealers and most of the cars tend to be bought by smaller independent used car dealers, Gathright said. However, used car dealers big and small come to the auction to freshen up their inventory.
The auction works like this:
The sellers bring their cars to the enormous parking lot at 135 Auto Auction earlier in the week, typically on Wednesdays. Each car is numbered, cleaned, a data sheet is compiled, and the cars are grouped by seller. Buyers have time to check out the cars.
Early on Thursday morning, a crew of perhaps 60 drivers line the cars up and, when the auction starts at 9 a.m., drive them slowly to and through the building where the buyers and sellers await. There is room for five lines of cars to move simultaneously.
In Dallas, Gathright said, the auto auction will have 3,200 cars moving through 16 lanes simultaneously on auction day.
The auctioneers sit in a booth overlooking the lane they are working. A large crowd clusters around the lanes, looking, talking, occasionally opening a door to look inside. The seller will often stand near the auctioneer to supply key information about the car, such as a new engine, or to agree to a sale price. The auction has staff to capture such critical information, which becomes part of the sale contract.
By mid-morning last week just two lines were still going, but there was still plenty of activity, and the cars just kept coming.
“Uh, an ’09 Pontiac Vibe,” said the auctioneer as the car rolled into place and the monitors flashed the details. Then he launched into his patter, “$6,000 … $6,000 … Who will give $6,000? … I thought somebody was actually going to bid there ... $5,700 ... $5,700 ...”
“Hup,” called the ringman as he spotted a half-raised hand among the milling crowd.
“… $5,800 … $5,800? … sold,” cried the auctioneer.
The whole thing took less than a minute.
This is actually the end of the slow season for the car auction. The number of cars rolling through will start picking up about midmonth.
And everybody in the used car business is waiting for tax-refund season, when many in the market for a used car can assemble the cash needed to buy.
Since the morning was so cold, many bidders gravitated to the warmer confines of the lounge for coffee and breakfast.
Brian Neill, owner of Old Town Motor Sports at Broadway and MacArthur, was drinking coffee with his associate Dameron Shore. Neill was there to bid on a used Mercedes and BMW. He had put in bids on the two, but was waiting to see whether the owner would accept them.
Neill and Shore rejected the notion that dealers get stupendous bargains at the auction and then turn around and charge high prices.
“It’s not as much as people think,” Shore said, of the dealer price for used cars.
First, the sellers are trying to extract as much money as they can. And, then, the buyers are bidding against each other. Bargains may happen occasionally, but they’d have to outguess the seller and the other dealers to get them.
And, Neill said, most of the cars that go through the auction tend to require some kind of work to make them salable. He said he has to spend an average of $500 in materials to get a car ready.
The new car dealers tend to keep the really good trade-ins for their own used car lots rather than sending them to auction.
“It’s stuff the dealers don’t want to mess with,” he said.