Tales from the Oak Park Police Impound Auction
(Crystal A. Proxmire, June 9, 2019)
Oak Park, MI- A morning of auctioning off vehicles impounded by police is not what one might think.
There is not a fast-talking auctioneer, or a showcase of fancy cars confiscated from drug dealers. There are, however, sometimes deals to be found, and stories to be shared.
Oakland County Times attended the May 14 auction for Oak Park Public Safety held at Monaghan’s Towing on Fern Street in Oak Park.
Auctions are open to the public Bidders are encouraged to arrive early to check out the inventory. There is a list available online, but it keeps the descriptions very simple – make, model, year. There is no mention of mileage or condition. And the condition definitely varies.
Andre Davis of Detroit hits the car auctions to find vehicles to fix up for his family and friends. “You never know what you’re going to get,” Davis said. “Sometimes you can get a good-running car for $500-$600, but it might have bad brakes or the engine knocking. They don’t start ‘em up, so we don’t know if they even can start.”
Some vehicles could come with a criminal past, but most often they were towed there from an accident, or having been left too long on a roadway.
Among the cars that sold that day was a burned out shell of a car, the inside full of melted plastic, chunks of glass, and blackened metal bits like the shaft of the steering column and the springs from what’s left of the seats. This shell of a ride is still a treasure to someone making money off of scrap.
In fact, most of the bidders at the auction were scrappers and car parts buyers.
It’s these tireless shoppers who make sure that cars at the end of their life can help others whose vehicle needs repaired.
ECONOMICS OF SCRAPPING CARS
Tony Nastasi is a car buyer for Ryan’s Auto Parts and Highway Auto, which has locations in Ferndale, Detroit, and Roseville.
“We need to process 100 cars a day just to survive,” he said. He travels as far as Ann Arbor and Flint trying to scoop up as many clunkers as he can.
The cars in Oak Park ranged from $200-$500, which the buyers said was pretty average. One lucky buyer went home with a boat and a trailer that had never been claimed by the owners, paying only $300 for the set.
In addition to the sales price, each vehicle purchase has another $125 or so in cost because of fees, towing, and labor for those who break them down for parts. Some cars can be a goldmine, while others they take a loss, but either way, Nastasi said, “It keeps the money flowing.”
“Here’s what people don’t think about,” he said. “The whole process is good for the community. It gets dead cars off the streets, which keeps the neighborhoods looking clean. And, people don’t realize, these cars have critters living in them. Rats, squirrels, feral cats.
“We’ve got this coyote that lives in the yard and its giant. That thing is so well-fed because we get these cars and they’re just full of rats.
He went on to explain that one junk car can help dozens of people keep theirs going. He was also proud of the efforts made by his employer to recycle. It’s not just the obvious recycling of parts and metal; Ryan’s drains each vehicle of all coolant, oil, and gas to be properly recycled.
The process also creates jobs.
“We love to hire local drivers to tow the vehicles – a lot of independent guys and gals – running their own businesses,” Nastasi said.
Once at the yard, teams of workers armed with wrenches and ratchets, screwdrivers and saws, dive in to dissect each car. Data entry people catalogue the parts, and there are those who answer phones, those who fill orders.
DO THE POLICE PROFIT HERE?
Police Departments work closely with their impound yard of choice. Monagahn’s provides service to several cities including Pleasant Ridge, Ferndale, and Oak Park. According to Police Chief Steve Cooper, the City does not generally get money back from the auctions.
“The police department is entitled to recoup its administrative costs associated with the auction in the event that a vehicle “sells” for more than is owed for towing/storage. Any overage beyond that is sent to the State of Michigan Department of Treasury. This is a rather rare occurrence given the poor condition (crash vehicles, mechanical problems, vehicles no longer operational) of the vehicles being auctioned. Most of the vehicles at the auction have been unclaimed and abandoned by the owner(s) because they were not worth the cost of redemption,” he said.
If a person has their vehicle impounded for an arrest or impounded as “abandoned on public property” must first obtain a “release slip” from the Oak Park PS Department. The cost is $20.00 and is an administrative fee designed to help cover the department’s costs associated with impounding the vehicle and entering / removing the associated data from the police computer system. They are then responsible to pay the towing and storage fee of the impound yard.
Cooper added that “The private property parking lots that have posted the signage indicating that unauthorized vehicles will be towed at owner’s expense are serious! The vehicle will most likely be towed and the owner will incur a towing / storage fee to redeem the vehicle.” There is no fee to the police in that situation.
To avoid having a vehicle impounded, Cooper says to “Maintain your vehicle in an operable condition, currently registered, and move it at least every 48 hours if it is parked on the street, even in front of your own house. In the event that you do notice a 48 hour sticker placed on your vehicle, do not ignore it. We do not promptly return to check the vehicle’s status at the 49th hour, but if not moved, it will be eventually towed.”
Sometimes the vehicles hold more than the parts. Bidders take the cars as is, including what’s inside.
Among the prizes at the Oak Park auction were a silver chain left in a cupholder of an old Monte Carlo, a half-inflated basketball somehow wedged inside the engine compartment of a van, and a wizard and dragon shaped hooka pipe left between the seats of a dilapidated Grand Prix.
“Sometimes it’s sad,” Nastasi said. “We get cars where you know someone was living in them. People hooked on drugs and everything they own in a car, and they just disappear. Their cars sit here in the yard with all their possessions and memories.”
Sometimes they find things so sentimental they’ve felt compelled to track the owner down.
A wedding album they were not able to find the owner of still leaves a tinge in Nastasi’s heart, as does an urn of ashes that the owner did not returned.
“You try not to think of that stuff too much. You try to think of the good you’re doing,” he said.
BANTER AND BIDDING, AND WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
The camaraderie and the bidding makes the job fun. Buyers from multiple locations show up at the various auctions, and they aren’t shy with the trash talk during the bidding wars, with Monagahan’s proprietor Kimberly Monaghan sweetly reminding them to be nice.
The cheery insults do help punctuate the pace of the after-auction rush.
Buyers have until the end of business day to remove their purchase from the lot. The cars are parked in rows several deep. Some may start and move, but many don’t even have a key.
Plus there is paperwork to do.
Among the deals that day was a decent-looking Jeep Liberty, with a key, for $275 that could end up on the road again. Most were sold for parts though.
Davis did not find any deals that day, but he says he’ll keep looking. Police department auctions are announced by public notice in local print publications and usually on the city’s website as well.