Looking for bargains at Philadelphia Parking Authority vehicle auctions

Auctioneer Jerry Aspite reels off information about the vehicles up for sale at the city impound lot. All cars are sold without prospective buyers getting so much as a test drive. AKIRA SUWA / Staff
Auctioneer Jerry Aspite reels off information about the vehicles up for sale at the city impound lot. All cars are sold without prospective buyers getting so much as a test drive. AKIRA SUWA / Staff (Auctioneer Jerry Aspite reels off information)
Posted: April 05, 2012

The cream puff at the Philadelphia Parking Authority's auto auction was the 2000 Volvo C70 convertible.

The cloth top looked nearly new, and, though the leather seats needed a scrub, the interior was otherwise remarkably fresh.

For prospective bidders, it showed far better than the tired Plymouth Neons and 1990s Crown Vics sharing the impound lot underneath I-95.

And it was proof you can find a drivable car among the thousands of vehicles the city seizes and auctions off each year. In the last 12 months, nearly 10,000 vehicles were sold.

"I bought a great '05 Chevy Suburban for $3,300," said Dorrence Adams, 41, a construction worker looking over the day's selection to find a car for his wife.

But there are also risks, and a novice may want to visit once to watch and become comfortable with the process.

For starters, auctioneer Jerry Aspite, standing in the bed of a pickup, reels off the bids through a portable speaker and talks really, really fast. It takes a practiced ear to figure out what he says.

Then there are these considerations:

Each car is sold "as is." What you see, or not, is what you get. And there are no keys, so there is no way to know how well a car runs. To minimize risk, the regulars know to look for cars seized through the Live Stop program, which means the vehicle was operable within the last 30 days.

You need to hire a tow truck to get the car off the lot by 8 p.m. on the day of the auction.

And, because it will take six to eight weeks to get title, you can't leave the vehicle parked on the street in most communities.

The majority of vehicles on sale Tuesday were seized through the Live Stop program. It authorizes police to impound any vehicle when the driver is not licensed and the vehicle is not registered and insured. Other vehicles were booted and towed because their owners ran up tickets or were grabbed from various tow zones (think rush hour on Broad Street.) A few are wrecks.

The cars auctioned off have been unclaimed by their legal owners.

Ryan Bogos, who runs Delaney's Auto Sales in Gloucester City, said springing a car from the Parking Authority can be expensive.

The owner has to pay any outstanding fines and penalties, show proof of insurance, and pay the city towing charge of $175 and $25 for each day of storage.

Sometimes people don't have the money, sometimes they decide a car is not worth the hassle and sometimes they are in jail.

Regulars at the lot speculate that is why the owner of a 2010 Porsche 911 seized under Live Stop earlier this year never claimed it. It was sold for $56,000 at auction last month, Bogos said.

Bogos was there with his general manager, Gregg Brodnick, looking for cars to buy, fix up, and sell at retail.

Most of the cars at the auction Tuesday were from the 1990s, and the winning bids were often $500, $600, or around $1,500.

Money from each sale is applied to the outstanding tow fees, storage fees, parking tickets, moving-violation fines, and Traffic Court administrative fees if the car was impounded through Live Stop, said Linda Miller, deputy executive director of the Parking Authority.

Over the last 11 months, 9,186 vehicles have been sold, about half from Live Stop. Net revenue was $7,652,915.

As for that Volvo, said to have 130,000 miles, Johan Andrade got it for $2,700, about $1,000 under the Kelley Blue Book value.

"It was a little better than I expected," said Andrade, 35, a bartender in Atlantic City. He acknowledged the risks, not being able to drive the car in advance. "It's kind of like playing craps."

The next auto auction is scheduled for Saturday at the Tioga Terminal Impoundment Lot at 3201 N. Delaware Ave.

For full auction rules - highly recommended required reading - go the auction site at http://www.ppa-auctions.com.

Nathan Gorenstein is a former staff writer.

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