American Morning

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July 21st, 2009
12:26 PM ET

Deals to be found at government garage sales

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Cartons and shelves of surplus goods up for sale at government auctions online."]

By Hannah Yi

We drove past a heavily fortified prison and psychiatric ward while heading to our destination – New Jersey's Distribution Center located in the capital of Trenton.

It's the hub from where supplies (like boxes of printer paper) are shipped across the state. Long tractor trailers move in and out of the large warehouse on a daily basis.

But once a month, that warehouse becomes a money making hot spot for the state – the Government Vehicle Auction. You can bid on anything from former police cars to seized vehicles, Chevy Suburbans to Dodge Stratuses.

Jacob Olearchik, who runs the vehicle sale lot, said the state is putting more items on the auction block, and people are coming to find deals.

“This car right here,” said Olearchik as he pointed to a green Ford Escort, “if you go to a used car lot, they'll put a $4,000 price tag on that car, maybe a $3,500 price tag on that car. Right now you can buy that car here tomorrow for $1,800 or maybe less.”

The economic downturn has been a boon for government auctions in all 50 states, which are also online and sell items like laptops, jewelry and furniture. New Jersey last year raked in $2.4 million in sales. We were there for the preview the day before Saturday's auction. Potential buyers on lunch break walked up and down the aisle of vehicles parked bumper-to-bumper. Some were regulars.

"I think new cars are a rip off," said Gary Nickerson, "you can get a deal [at the auction] for not a lot of money."

Nickerson was one of many who stopped at vehicles they liked to rev the engines, got on their knees and checked the tires, even wiped and sniffed the oil sticks. Defects and mileage are scrawled on the car windows, and buyers take the car “as is” but Olearchik and his mechanics make sure the car is safe.

“Before we park the vehicle, we'll test drive it,” said Olearchik,”like the breaks definitely work.”

Others were new to the experience, like mother and son duo Tenshia and Dyamond Ruffin. She said she was looking for an expendable yet affordable first car for her teenager.

"I would not begin to go out and try to purchase a brand new car the way things are going," Mrs. Ruffin said about the recession. "With the auction, if you have the funds you can buy it, get your title, and you're done."

It's a quick win-win deal for both buyer and dealer. Citizens save money; government make money. New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine stopped by Friday's preview to give his best sales pitch.

"You're getting a good value for your money," said Gov. Corzine about how you score more for paying less. "So people are taking the opportunity to save money in a tough environment."

On Saturday’s auction day in the span of six hours, 119 vehicles were auctioned off and 163 bidders went home happy.

"I've been coming here for 25 years," said one bidder, "so I've been doing a lot of helping with the economy."

He ended up with a 2001 Chevy Malibu, and the state with an additional $1,700 in its coffers.

Filed under: Economy
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