We hope you enjoy reading her twenty-two year old article and then look for our editorial comments about automotive consignment at the end.
BOB MOSS bought a new vehicle this year, a 1997 Ford Explorer. But to sell his old one, a 1993 Ford Bronco with more than 70,000 miles on it, Mr. Moss took an unconventional and widely overlooked route.
A Ford dealer had offered him a trade-in price of $8,500, ''which was ridiculous,'' he said. Although Mr. Moss, who lives in Lake Hiawatha, N.J., felt he could do much better on his own, he couldn't summon the enthusiasm or time to sell the vehicle himself. Instead, he took it to a used-car dealer who agreed to take it on consignment.
Within three weeks, the dealer had lined up a customer willing to pay $10,800 -- of which $800 would go to the dealer. Mr. Moss happily accepted the offer, delivered the title and pocketed $10,000, or $1,500 more than his trade-in offer -- without even placing an ad in the local paper.
''It was better than painless,'' said Mr. Moss, an office manager for a drug rehabilitation center. ''I didn't have to worry about anything.''
The dealer, Jim DiOrio of Thrift Auto Sales, is also pleased, even though he could have made a bigger profit on a traditional used-car sale. In consignment sales, he benefits from having good-looking vehicles like Mr. Moss's on his lot, attracting new customers without investing his own money.
Mr. DiOrio keeps about 20 percent of his lot in Morristown, N.J., filled with consignment cars. ''I make a little less and they get their price,'' he said. ''One way or another we work it out if we're not too far apart on the figure.''
Most people who want to sell a vehicle take more-traveled path -- either advertising in local papers to sell it themselves, or trading it in for a new car. And most people who are in the market for a used car are not even aware of the consignment option.
But the method can have advantages -- for sellers, dealers and buyers.
The seller, for example, doesn't have to worry about a barrage of phone calls and visits from strangers, as he might if he tried to sell the car himself.
And dealers say consignment autos are often single-owner cars, and can thus be better buys. They may have lower mileage or a more complete repair history than those bought from wholesalers or at auction.
While a consignment car may cost more than one bought directly from a seller, the buyer may get a warranty -- and financing, if necessary -- and will know the car has no liens against it.
Over all, the dealers and customers say, consignment cars can be a good compromise for busy buyers and sellers.
''The pros are that you don't have to deal with any of the aggravation, having strangers come to your house, not knowing about the business,'' said George Dolente, the owner of A-1 American Auto Sales in Upper Darby, Pa., who sells a handful of consignment cars each year. ''The cons are that you don't know how long it's going to take to sell your car. It could sit there a week; it could sit there a year. You don't know. Also, you don't know what's going to happen to your car'' on the lot.
For that reason, sellers should be aware of the terms of the consignment sale and maintain their insurance until the title is transferred to the new owner.
Shortly after Evans Zografakis, the owner of Adelphia Auto and Truck Center in Springfield, Pa., accepted a Jaguar on consignment, the hood ornament was stolen.
Mr. Zografakis said the owner was distraught about the vandalism: Under a written agreement, the owner, not the dealership, was responsible for the damage, Mr. Zografakis said. ''It became a real big stink,'' he said, ''and I'd rather not be in it.''
But that problem has not discouraged him from accepting other consignment cars, as long as they are not Jaguars. ''The way I see it is, it's going to be free inventory,'' he said. ''It looks like I've got another $100,000 in inventory and it doesn't cost me.''
John Bruno, who started Cars R Us 11 years ago with an investment of a ''couple thousand dollars,'' says about 20 percent of the cars on his lot in Rockaway, N.J., are consignment autos. They often sell for $8,000 to $12,000, he said, far above the $1,000 to $5,000 he gets for other cars.
Finding consignment dealers, however, may not be as easy as opening the yellow pages. There is no industry association for consignment dealers, and most dealers do not advertise consignment sales.
But a few telephone calls to smaller, independent used-car dealers may yield at least one that sells on consignment, said Monty Hoyt, president and founder of Carsearch of America, a car-shopping service for consumers. ''There is no science to it,'' Mr. Hoyt said. ''We just call and ask.''
And many dealers have not recognized the untapped market for consignment sales, said Ron Chenier, president and founder of a consignment consulting firm in Cornwall, Ontario. Because almost 80 percent of used-car transactions are between individuals, he said, it makes sense for dealers to look to them to bolster business.
He suggests that consumers negotiate a sales agreement with the dealer, specifying how the money will be shared. The agreement may give a percentage of the sale price to the dealer -- he says 3 to 10 percent is typical -- or, as is more often the case, it guarantees a flat sum to the seller, with the dealer keeping anything above that amount.
For Mr. Moss, the owner of the new Explorer, consignment sales is the option of choice. ''I would definitely do it again,'' he said, remarking that his 1995 Chevy Tahoe was gathering dust in his driveway. ''As a matter of fact, I'm planning to within the next couple of months.''
Out of Your Hands
If you want to sell your used car through a consignment dealer, here is some advice from Ron Chenier, president of a consignment consulting firm in Cornwall, Ontario.
* Check that the dealer is licensed and has experience in consignment selling consignment cars. Call the state department of motor vehicles to determine if or how consignment sales are regulated. (Regulations in some states, like Kentucky and Ohio, prohibit consignment sales.)
* Ask the dealer for three to five references from previous buyers and sellers. Ask the references if the dealer was courteous and up front about costs.
* Obtain a written consignment agreement that explains the roles of both parties, insurance coverage and, most important, the terms of payment at time of sale.
If we had a Retail My Ride Hall of Fame (not a bad idea), we would make Sarah our first honorary inductee for being on the "leading edge" and capturing the finer points of automotive consignment way back in 1997. Here are our favorite highlights of what she discovered twenty-two years ago and what we passionately believe now to be, "the smart way to sell your car, RV, or motorcycle."