Hundreds of cars sit in Kansas City’s Municipal Tow Lot.
On the third Tuesday of every month, one of them could be yours for a song.
Every day, tow trucks bring more vehicles — wrecked and abandoned, illegally parked, seized by police in criminal investigations — to the city lot on East Front Street in the northeast section of the city by the Missouri River. Once a month, the city puts them up for auction. The $5 million a year the public auctions bring in cover the city tow lot’s costs.
Some of the cars aren’t driveable, their front ends smashed. Some have bullet holes in the windows or a bumper jammed through the windshield. One unpromising candidate for Tuesday’s sale (possibly a station wagon?) was burned beyond recognition.
“All of the cars have a story, and not all of them are good,” said John Baccala, a spokesman for the city’s Neighborhoods and Housing Services Department.
But a few cars are in great shape, needing little more than the turn of a wrench. That is the draw for regular folks who come out to mix with the salvage operators and used-car buyers who attend the auction every month. Of 481 vehicles on the lot for Tuesday’s auction, perhaps 25 or 30 could be called “premium” vehicles, Baccala said, meaning they would be ready to drive with very little work — and possibly had for a low price.
The junkers typically sell for about $100 and change, quickly dealt with by a fast-talking auctioneer riding from car to car in a small trailer pulled by a pickup truck.
“We have a lot of people come out to look for a diamond in the rough,” Baccala said. “It’s kind of cool when someone gets a car for very little money.”
On Tuesday, the belle of the ball appeared as a black 2014 Chevrolet Camaro with whitewall tires — clean paint job, no obvious damage. A crowd of prospective buyers gathered, including about a dozen experienced car dealers talking on Bluetooth headsets or chattering into cellphones.
Among this crowd, 18-year-old Shaylen Miller peered through the windows of the Camaro. It was her first time at a car auction, and her boyfriend, James, was planning to buy her a car for her birthday. Miller hovered close to the Camaro.
“I want it really bad,” she said.
Once the auctioneer arrived at the Camaro and started the bidding, the price quickly jumped higher and higher until a man claimed it for $8,000.
The buyer: Chane Harris, of Independence, who bought the car for his 18-year-old son just graduating from high school. The gift of the car will be a surprise, Harris said.
Harris has bought cars at the auction before, and knows the rewards and risks. Buyer beware: The city provides a bill of sale but not a title.
“Your can get a great deal sometimes,” Harris said. “Or you can buy the wrong car.”
He’s seen people spend thousands of dollars on a car only to find out the motor is blown.
The cars come with no guarantees, but often with surprises. Shoppers aren’t allowed to rummage through the vehicles before they buy. The vehicles still contain whatever items — change, tools, who knows what — were inside when they were towed.
Those items will belong to the buyer, Baccala said. That is part of the deal.
For more information about the vehicle auctions, visit kcmo.gov/neighborhoods/vehicles-2/vehicle-auctions-2.