My dad and I like to watch those car auctions on TV. Have you ever seen one?

There are a few companies that specialize in the high end auctions, like Mecum and Barrett-Jackson. On the show they roll the prized vehicles out one at a time. They’ve been on display for the potential buyers to look at and examine in the parking area beforehand, so for the people at the auction they have already been perused. The buyers have a chance to see the stats of the vehicle and get a close-up look at their dream car.

Then they go in to the auction hall and wait for their car to roll up. For the person watching on TV, what you are seeing is a parade of shiny cars of various types and makes roll across the bidding zone where they pause only long enough for the rapid paced bidding and then they are rolled off. And by rolled off, I mean literally hand-pushed out of the staging area by guys wearing gloves. These cars, old and new, are at the peak of condition and there are usually a lot of them, so for these type auctions they are all about quality and quantity as they get as many cars through the bidding chute as they can in a weekend.

Deal or no deal?

Sometimes a car will sell and sometimes it won’t. There might be a seller’s reserve on the car meaning that the seller has put a minimum amount that the bidding must reach before he’ll sell it. He may have put an $80,000 reserve on his car but the bidding only gets to $79,999 and so the car doesn’t sell. At other times there might be a reserve but the bidding gets close enough or high enough to the reserve that the seller thinks “Well, I’m not going to pass up a sale because of the $1 dollar difference in the offer price and my asking price." The auctioneers love when the reserve comes off because that means they will make a sale. This is good for them because they get a percentage fee from both the buyer and the seller. Plus they are going to be able to add the sale to their bragging rights of “We sold this many cars this weekend."

For the TV viewer it’s a seamless flow of pretty amazing cars and the front of the stage is full of flashing lights and bright signs and people running around. There are commentators spieling about the cars as they come through, describing the details and why this car is going to go for at least this much and who owned that car so the fame factor adds to value and how low the mileage is and how a certain car is one of only 10 in the world. All these things make for pretty exciting TV even if you’re not a car buff. Add to the that the times when several people are bidding on the same car and you’ve got the compelling goings on of a professional sporting event. Who is going to win the bidding on this car? How high will the purchase price climb? How long can these guys keep up the battle where their weapons of choice are certified checks?

When the bidding gets going good between several bidders the cameras swoop in on them to capture the real life drama. You can see the bidders concentrating on the interplay between how bad they want that car versus how much it’s going to cost. I’m sure some folks are so rich they don’t have to worry about the cost of that have-to-have car they’re going to go home with.

Other folks have watched and waited for that dream car and saved to see if they can nab it at auction. They have a set price that they can’t go over. If the car comes up and no one else is bidding they might go home with a real deal. On the other hand, the car they’ve got their heart set on might be part of a feeding frenzy and they watch the price skyrocket past their means with eyes misting over. The play-off between that car sitting right there and only a few more thousand dollars is car drama at its best. The bidder compares how he thinks he’s going to feel if the car gets away from him and he goes home to an empty garage versus any remorse he may feel for that extra $10,000 he’s got to come up with to close the sale.

How much is it worth to you?

At the end of the day, the value of the cars come down to what somebody will pay for it and what will someone accept. There are many factors that go into valuing these vehicles but in the end the market rules. There may be a car that “should” sell for $100,000 according to its statistics but only brings $20,000 because nobody is there that wants it. Another car turns out to be a dream car for two guys and they get to bidding and the price skyrockets $40,000 above what the experts thought it would go for. Maybe that car is a rare bird or maybe it’s just the same type of car that those two guys had as their very first car and they’ve always wanted that car again to bring back the memories. That kind of value you can’t always put a price on … but I’ll try.

As I pointed out, the value in many of these cars come from the fact that they were bought new back when and have sat untouched in a carport for decades, cherished to the point of obsession. They might have only eight miles on the odometer and have never been driven in the rain so the windshield wipers have never been turned on.

But when I survey the cars I’ve had, I beg to differ and think my cars should be worth a lot more because of all the experiences I’ve put them through. Those dings, scrapes and dents should add value I believe, because of what they’ve experienced. Isn’t a person that’s explored the world and has an interesting tale to tell about each of the scars they’ve got considered more interesting than a person who’s only sat in front of the TV their whole life watching reruns? So here’s why I think the cars and trucks I know from around here should be highly valued.

A few case studies

Let’s take my beat-up work truck. See that dent in the front fender. I think that should add value to resale price for one reason and one reason alone: that wreck wasn’t even my fault! That ought to be worth something. Now that other little indentation you can only see if you get the angle just right, the one just below the driver side window, that was from me parking in a patch of woods and someone had cut a tree down leaving a stump that was just below my eye line. I didn’t know what that noise was in side of the door but I knew it wasn’t good. And that other dent in the front right side of the fender, that was from me being in a hurry in the driveway and not paying attention to where my wife had parked the van. There’s a matching dent in the rear left fender of her auto and the less said about that the better, so no use bidding an extra $1,000 at auction for that dent.

But speaking of the van, there’s plenty of miles on it and in my book that proves it’s a car that works. Take that Ferrari that has only been driven eight miles in its lifetime. How do you know that it will even work? Our van is a proven workhorse and therefore should be worth more. Add to that the laughs we’ve had on the way to Disney World and you’ve got a set of wheels worth its weight in memories. Let the bidding begin!

I used to have an old blue pickup. Add to that the love people have for dogs and you’ve got a sure seller since I used to drive around with my dog in the back of the truck. She would stand for a bit behind the cab when I pulled out of the driveway and then lay down and get settled on the way to wherever. I’ve still got the dog and she’s not for auction but if I had that old truck with 200,000 miles on it and featured “loved by a dog” on the statistics sheet I think she should go for a bundle.

We had a friend back when I was a kid that had a Chrysler New Yorker. This was before the rise of SUVs so this is the vehicle we took camping. She got stuck up to the axles in a mud hole over past Ellijay. An experience like that ought to add thousands to a car that went where no car was meant to go.

My point is that I should be getting a lot more for my vehicles at trade-in time than the kind of response I’ve been getting, which is I’m being asked to pay someone to haul them off. In the high-stakes world of car auction values that just doesn’t seem right!

Mark Hannah, a Dalton native, works in video and film production.

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