Pennsylvania puts 520 used cars on public auction block

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GRANTVILLE, Pa. -- Jeff Koors walked past row after row of used cars with 100,000 miles or more on them at the Manheim Auto Auction's storage lot, the size of three football fields.

Many of the older vehicles were white Ford Crown Victoria sedans that state police had retired. Others had been used for official duty by state officials based in Harrisburg.

Mr. Koors and a friend, David Howard, who both run taxi businesses in Baltimore, came here last week looking for serviceable sedans to add to their fleets.

Mr. Howard lifted the hood on one car to check the transmission fluid level and listen to the engine. Vehicle histories were listed for potential bidders.

Older Crown Vics, in particular, "are ideal for use as taxis," Mr. Koors said. "They have durability, beefed-up suspensions and better engines. Everything on them is heavy duty."

Most of the vehicles had bargain prices of $500 to $5,000, depending on their condition, the year they were made and their mileage, which for some was 150,000 or more.

The chance of getting a relatively good car cheap brought out hundreds of potential buyers who carefully studied the 520 vehicles on sale. Most had already done online homework on the vehicles.

The state Department of General Services holds such public auctions six times a year to help finance new cars for state troopers and other officials, spokesman Troy Thompson said.

Besides used state vehicles, last week's auction included 120 cars that PennDOT had bought from a car dealership it acquired as part of a road-widening project.

"This is one of our largest-ever vehicle auctions," DGS Secretary Sheri Phillips said. The department had opened the huge auction lot to the public for four days prior to the auction so people could "preview the selection and do the necessary research and preparation for a positive bidding experience," she said.

All the cars have clean titles and have passed state inspection. Besides Fords, Dodges and Jeeps, manufacturers included Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Toyota and Honda.

"These vehicles present a great opportunity for a bidder to purchase a road-ready vehicle at a fair price," Ms. Phillips said.

The huge Auto Auction parking lot lies right beside noisy Interstate 81 in Grantville, a small town in Dauphin County about 20 miles east of Harrisburg.

Buyers came from New Jersey, Maryland, Philadelphia and many other places in the southeastern part of the state, along with others from Central and northern Pennsylvania.

Michael Dowd of Lancaster, who works on foreclosed houses, said he needed a van or truck to carry equipment in, "something I can go back and forth with."

James Bynum of Philadelphia came here with his son, Troy, a college sophomore.

"My son goes to Penn State-Harrisburg, and he needs something to drive in around Harrisburg," said Mr. Bynum, who was looking for something smaller than a Crown Vic -- perhaps a Dodge Stratus or Jeep Wrangler -- at no more than $4,000.

Brian and Nicole Reed, who live near State College, were looking for a car for their 17-year-old son. "He wrecked his first car," Mrs. Reed said. Their top price was $2,500.

Albert Zarbetski of South Orange, N.J., said he was "looking for something to buy cheap enough that I can resell" at a profit. His top price was $5,000.

The auction is held inside a large warehouse, where two lanes were created for cars to be driven through, each lane with an auctioneer who talks so loud and so fast that he's barely understandable.

It's a deafening cacophony of shouting, revving of car engines and rat-a-tat calls from the two auctioneers, who point at each bidder with a stick.

At the end of the day, all but 10 of the 520 used cars were sold, bringing in nearly $1.7 million to DGS coffers, Mr. Thompson said. The unsold cars were held over for the next auction, Oct. 15.

"Any time we are able to take surplus property off state rolls, it's a benefit to the state and the taxpayers," he said.

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Tom Barnes: or 1-717-623-1238.


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