I'm broke, but I want a car. I've heard that you can get good deals at towing company auctions. Do you know anything about this? I would be interested in hearing more. —Ruby S.
It's said that somewhere, in a land beyond time, there's a mystical realm where the rivers run with $600 cars, and a real man can jump-start a Honda Civic with his mind.
Call me Ishmael. Many moons ago, a Yaqui shaman initiated me into the mysteries of the Speed's Towing Auction. As a public service in these recessionary times, I'll tell you what I know—though it may go hard with me once this gets out.
The Speed's auction is essentially the Happy Hunting Ground for every abandoned vehicle, unclaimed tow and OPB donation in the city. It's held each Tuesday, and lies many days' march toward the rising sun, out 148th-and-NE-Sandy way.
And, yes, you can find drivable cars here for as little as $250, though not always without big transmission problems. You can see raw, uncaptioned photos on Speed's website (speedstowingauction.com) to whet your appetite before the big day.
Once at the auction, you'll find that, um, you can't really test-drive the cars. (Though they do start them up so you can listen for particularly egregious grinding noises.)
The offerings are divided into "doesn't run," "runs with problems" and "runs and drives," and, perhaps surprisingly, these designations tend to be accurate.
Some of the best deals can be had near the day's end, since a lot of folks have already bought their car and left. But beware of the creampuff with a preternaturally clean engine—likely, that's one a used-car dealer couldn't move.
Listen well to my teachings, young Jedi, for verily, I have bought five cars this way. Did they last? Meh—for $600, who cares?