Was the state surplus car auction a deal?

nys surplus toyota prius

The final bid for this car: $11,505

The Cuomo admin announced today that state pulled in a little more than $1.6 million in final bids for the eBay auction of surplus 454 state vehicles. (It closed this morning.)

We stopped by the lot on the Harriman office campus earlier this week to check out the inventory. We were especially interested in the 2008 Priuses (Prii?) that were available because even though they had a lot of miles, they seemed like they were in pretty good shape. Of course, if you were to buy one, you'd have to do it "as is" -- without driving it.

So, what sort of discount might people expect for buying under that situation? And did they score a deal?

To get some sense of that we compared the final bids for the group of 2008 Priuses against the Kelley Blue Book value for the vehicles.

You know what that means -- bring on the table...

We rounded some of the mileage and price numbers. We used the "good" condition private sale value from KBB. (*We were told by an OGS guy at the lot that this vehicle's check engine light was on.)

Somewhat surprising to us, the lower mileage vehicles turned out to be better deals -- or, at least, they had the biggest spread between the Blue Book value and the final bid price. And that last vehicle -- with 116,000 miles -- actually sold for more than book value.

If you look around online (one example), pretty much all the used Prii are listed for higher prices, though also with lower miles. (That is, if you can find one -- apparently they're very in demand now). We're still not sure if the discount is enough to balance taking the car without a test drive.

And, of course, this was a very small sample. The results might be different for other types of cars -- especially models that aren't in such high demand.

Just something to keep in mind if the state does this again.

By the way: Casey Seiler had the best name for this vehicle auction: "Uncle Andly's Used Car Lot"

photo: NYS OGS


Color me skeptical as to KBB's accuracy with regards to hybrids. The additional expense comes from batteries, which are slowly but surely used up and left utterly useless.

When that happens, you can't just go spend 50 bucks on an oil change, or a new set of spark plugs to get it back to mechanically functional. You need to replace it, and it costs a lot.

This is also the reason why electric vehicles are absolutely terrible purchases, and too many people don't understand why. Whereas an ordinary car may retain a significant value after 7 or 8 years, a purely electric car with a 100% dead battery may in fact be worth less than zero. Imagine a scenario where a used gas car in decent condition is worth 8,000 dollars, switch to that same used electric car in decent condition and it may take a new $10,000 battery to get it moving again. Even if that's an exaggeration, the resale market for pure electrics is bound to be awful.

Because Hybrids also rely on a battery, albeit smaller and less vital to operation, i'm inclined to believe that their resale is similarly negatively affected (or at least should be to an educated consumer).

I'm not sure what info you're basing this on Ike.

I have admittedly not done a lot of research, but 7-8 years is not a realistic lifetime for the battery packs in electric/hybrid cars. To begin with, they are warranted for longer than that. I'm not aware of any manufacturer warranting their batteries for less than 10 yeas, but I may have missed something.

Secondly, the batteries are overengineered for the job for exactly these reasons. There isn't a lot of data about replacement battery costs because there just isn't a lot of data -- not many are being replaced. Meanwhile, they are running perfectly for 150,000, 200,000, and more miles. The batteries are designed to exceed the functional life of the vehicle. Yes, after 200,000 miles if the battery dies, the vehicle will probably be parted out or scrapped -- but so would a traditional vehicle with engine or transmission trouble, and during those 200,000 miles the hybrid/electric vehicle consumed significantly less gasoline.

Actual replacement costs vary, but current estimates seem to be around $2000 - $3000. Larger vehicles have more expensive batteries. Note that the third generation Prius' battery costs $2300 itself, and battery "replacement" often means refurbishment, and as more cars with batteries hit the road, more will also hit junkyards and low-mileage "scrap" batteries will be more easily available. If anyone has data from a dealer about what exactly battery replacement entails and what the costs are, I'd love to hear it.

We probably all know someone who was faced with the decision to put $3000 into a traditional vehicle that was barely worth that much. This is not a very different situation. But if you can find all of these hybrids that have dead batteries after 8 years which cost $10,000 to replace, I'd appreciate the info.

I just know that they were auctioning a 1968 ford pickup that I fell in love with ... but could not close the deal on..

I'll miss you 40 year old truck from my dreams...

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