Cars sold at impromptu lot

For Sale: People hoping to sell their cars have been hanging "For Sale" signs on them and positioning them near an entrance to U.S. 29 northbound in Columbia.

October 07, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

When Guy Shannon wanted to sell his old Volvo, he didn't try the newspapers or the Internet. He turned first to the side of the road.

Shannon put a "For Sale" sign in the window of his 1987 Volvo 240 DL and parked it with a group of others for sale close to the corner of Seneca and Shaker drives near a northbound entrance to U.S. 29 in Columbia. It's a destination that locals are finding offers a quick sale. The side-of-the-road strip is becoming a de facto used-car lot, known by sellers and buyers.

Possibly fueled by the boom in the new-car market, people looking to sell their old cars are setting up on the strip hoping their cars will get a profitable look by passers-by.

"I figured I'd give it a shot," Shannon said. "A friend of mine sold their car [there] like a year ago. I thought, if that's bringing in the people, it's not going to hurt to put your car there."

Dealer incentives such as zero-percent financing and generous rebates have helped the new-car market to a strong year thus far, and the National Automobile Dealers Association in August increased its sales projection for the year from 16.3 million vehicles to 16.8 million. New-car sales have helped pick up the slack in the national economy, according to Paul Taylor, chief economist with NADA.

In Maryland, car sales have also been strong and are closely watched as a barometer of the state's economy. During the first six months of this year, new-vehicle sales in the state totaled 203,010, up from 198,122 in the corresponding period of 2001.

This year's strong sales, coupled with other very strong years for the car market, have created a better market for used cars, Taylor said.

"It's not only that these are the four best years in [sales] history, but they're back to back, and that puts a lot of used product in the market," he said. "Strong depreciation creates value for used-car customers."

There are all sorts of vehicles for sale near Seneca and Shaker, where there's room for about a dozen vehicles, including an antique 1968 Ford F-100 pickup truck and a sporty '91 Mazda Miata, which the owner suggested would be good for student commuting. There were even older vehicles, such as Shannon's Volvo, as well as practically brand new ones, such as a 2000 Honda Passport that carried a dealer-style sticker in the window, detailing the truck's features.

And although sellers' reasons for selling their vehicles seemed to vary, their reasons for choosing the roadside were the same: high traffic, visibility and the fact that the little gathering of vehicles has become a draw for potential customers.

"I know that people drop cars there constantly," said Columbia resident Dan Hemerlein, owner of a Ford F-350 XLT that he's trying to sell for $21,500.

"I moved it around a little in the city, but I thought I'd bring it to Howard County," he said. "I think anybody in the neighborhood that's looking for a used car goes there."

Not everyone is in favor of the roadside vehicle market.

J. Peter Kitzmiller, president of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association in Annapolis, warned that what seems an innocent collection of local residents' vehicles could be the work of illegal car dealers "curbstoning" -- selling vehicles for which they do not hold title, that cannot be titled or are sometimes stolen or duds. The practice is illegal, and Anne Arundel County battled a problem with the practice in 1999.

"The problem is the [sellers] don't have a [dealer's] license, and if you have a problem [with the vehicle] you don't have a recourse," Kitzmiller said. "The other thing is, a lot of these cars aren't inspected. It's an outlet for a lot of cars that may ... have been stolen or had their odometers rolled back."

And Don Calp, whose home is adjacent to the strip that has become a market, said his neighbors are not happy about the lot that has been in constant use since about Thanksgiving.

"I think it's disgusting. There's cars from Virginia with expired license plates, and I think it's unbecoming of a residential neighborhood," he said.

But Cpl. Lisa Myers, a spokeswoman for the Howard County Police Department, said as long as the cars are parked legally, the car mart probably can continue. "There's nothing that can be done about them having `For Sale' signs in the window," she said.

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