Home » I Bought A $900 Audi S4 From Copart And Made It Road Legal, Here’s How I Did It

I Bought A $900 Audi S4 From Copart And Made It Road Legal, Here’s How I Did It

Audi S4 Junk Hunk
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It’s no secret that salvage auctions are a source of cheap project cars for the open-minded and adventurous home wrencher. It’s a concept that’s been well-covered on YouTube for some time, but luckily there’s still some good stuff out there, and my beloved 2002 Audi S4 is proof. Well, good is in the eye of the beholder.

But this doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a walk in the park. It’s a generally easy process to go about giving cars a second chance from salvage yard sources in the eyes of the law, it just takes time and knowing what the steps are. And, of course, fixing their issues along the way.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

My situation of buying and registering my 2002 Audi S4 might not apply to everyone, especially regarding California’s specific rules. But hopefully, it gives you a little insight about what to prepare for if you’re interested in doing the same. Let’s run through exactly what I did.

Porsche Cayman Copart
AutoBidMaster.com

The Setup and Search

This journey began as random perusing on AutoBidMaster.com for project potential. I heard about ABM through a variety of YouTube channels, and its main appeal is that it allows folks who don’t possess proper business licensing to buy auction vehicles.

ABM does this by acting as a broker for Copart auctions—it charges a fee to bid on and buy vehicles on your behalf. To start bidding you simply sign up, upload a photo of your license, connect a bank account, and put down a deposit that’s a certain ratio to your maximum bid amount. Since I was on the lookout for especially cheap, sub-$3,000 projects, I put down the minimum deposit amount. ABM also has strict rules about bidding, such as not following through on a winning bid results in a ban.

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What I found especially convenient was having a lot of transparency over how much you’ll have to pay after all applicable fees. Before the vehicle goes up for auction and the “Yuuuuup!” process begins, you can either place an early bid during the Future Sale period that will impact the starting live bid, or use it as a way to just do some math. Either method gives you a rundown of almost all fees. I’m not sure if fees are flat, based on a percentage, or a mix of both, but at least you can see what’s up ahead of time.

And let me tell you, the fees ain’t cheap. In fact, it quickly becomes apparent that if you indeed want to pick up something dirt cheap, you better win it for incredibly dirt cheap. After winning my Audi for $925, it ended up costing around $2,400 after all ABM, auction, and shipping fees, plus tax.

This brings me to my next point: properly transferring ownership in the eyes of The Law.

2002 B5 Audi S4
Peter Nelson

Revived Junk

It’s a mystery as to why my 2002 Audi S4 showed up at a dismantler’s lot and was put up for auction. Before I bid, I ran a CarFax report that showed no title brands, meaning its title was clean and free of any funny business, and besides “Normal Wear” listed as its primary damage, I couldn’t tell why it was there.

My top theory is that its previous owner either couldn’t (or didn’t want to) pay a mechanic’s bill so they gave it up and the mechanic sold it to the dismantler. Or, it was a donated vehicle, or some other circumstance besides incurring damage and then being sold by an insurance company. I’m erring on the side of an expensive mechanic’s bill because the initial fixes I did took a lot of labor hours, and not many people want to pay that kind of time for an old Audi with over 100,000 miles on the clock.

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But California is interesting, and I’m not sure if other states are like this. Because the S4 was sold at auction by a dismantler, it’s defined as Junk in the eyes of the California DMV—wow, I get it, it’s an old Audi, but harsh words. Thus, my repairing it and making it roadworthy is considered Revived Junk.

This means I had to do several things to make it a legal participant of our nation’s roadways, which involved two visits to my local DMV as well as a shop to confirm that its lights and braking system were in tip-top shape.

2002 B5 Audi S4
What a car to jump an old heap with – Peter Nelson

The Wheels Begin Turning

I received two documents in the mail about a month after the car showed up: the Reg 262 Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form, which acted as a bill of sale, and an invoice showing that I’d paid sales tax. The first doc stated that it was sold by X company for Y amount, to Peter Nelson, some dullard. The other was to tell the DMV that I’d already paid sales tax, which the DMV usually takes care of charging for private party transactions.

Since I had the car insured from day one—that’s right, my agent didn’t seem to care that it was an auction car—and it still had registration left, once it was roadworthy I took it in for a smog (emissions) inspection and it passed with flying colors.

I’d read somewhere that it’s a good idea to print out receipts of all the parts you bought and installed on the car, so I did that as well and made an appointment at the DMV. When the date and time arrived, I filled out an application for a new title (that’s right, you apply for a brand-new title), gave them my paperwork, and then a DMV employee inspected the car to ensure the VIN was legitimate. I’m not sure how thorough the latter bit was, but I knew well ahead of time that I’d be fine as the VIN matched in multiple places as well as on the CarFax. 

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2002 B5 Audi S4
Peter Nelson

There are probably creative ways to subvert this aspect, but whatever, I didn’t find any kilos of coke beneath the rocker panels left over from a previous owner. My proof of parts purchased and installed wasn’t needed, but this might just be applicable for a car that already possesses salvage status.

The only remaining step was to have a California DMV Brake and Lamp Inspection done. Lakewood Auto Care was the nearest shop to me with good reviews that performs this service. They examined the braking system for leaks, ensured the pads and rotors had a safe amount of material left, test-drove the car, as well as made sure all lights functioned. The process was easy, they were incredibly friendly, and charged reasonable fees to give me two certificates that stated my car was in safe shape.

I then went directly from there back to the DMV with all of my paperwork and the rest of the process was cake. I lucked out on getting in pretty quickly without an appointment, and within 40 minutes I had a receipt stating I’d paid the S4’s registration until next year, plus two shiny new license plates. My S4 was now all set and I could expect the fresh new title in the mail within a couple of weeks. 

It arrived just two weeks later and now the car possesses a salvage status since it’s revived junk. I don’t mind this at all, but it’s important to note that it will affect resale value down the road.

2002 B5 Audi S4 engine
Peter Nelson

It Was an Easy Process, It Just Took Time

Since this was my absolute-first time ever doing something like this, I was a little confused and worried at times during the process. For instance, the document I received from the dismantler wasn’t the exact same document that the California DMV’s website said it needs to have a new title granted. Though, when I arrived at the DMV, employees assured me that the signatures that the doc I possessed would work in lieu of having the dismantler’s signature on the application I filled out on the spot. I also didn’t need a junk receipt, though that might possibly be required in other circumstances.

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I think the biggest cheat code of the process, which doubles as a valuable life lesson in general, is to be very friendly and polite to DMV employees. I could tell that when I walked up to various desks throughout the process and greeted personnel with a smile, they seemed to perk up a bit, and every interaction I had was very pleasant.

Now that I’ve gone through all the motions and know what to expect, you better believe I’d buy more cars if I had the space. However, it’d probably be a good idea to obtain proper business licensing first, as that’d cut a significant amount of expense out of the equation. I could just bid, pay far less money by not using a broker, pick up the car, fix it up, smog it, get it inspected, and register it. And smell like old oil and expensive power steering fluid for the rest of my life.

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Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
1 month ago

So… does it start, run, and drive? Any major problems so far?

Ben
Ben
1 month ago

However, it’d probably be a good idea to obtain proper business licensing first

Or move to a state where you don’t need one to bid on Copart. It’s been a few years, but I believe in my state I can bid directly without a license. I never actually bought anything though because I’m not confident enough in my wrenching skills to think I can fix whatever not-so-little surprises crop up in a totalled vehicle.

Luxrage
Luxrage
1 month ago

You had a lot better luck than I did, I tried to save a friend’s 1999 B5 Passat and got as far as getting all of the cosmetic and interior work done before its past caught up with it. Turns out the previous owner (a family member) had never cleared the sunroof drains and repeatedly flooded it in the rain. Found the wiring harness to be totally rotted out where it connected to the control modules under the carpet.

Drove like a dream for a few good months though, and looked really slick after repainting the black plastic trim. Couldn’t believe I was able to get replacement little marker lights for a little over a dollar each.

Evan M
Evan M
1 month ago

What I found especially convenient was having a lot of transparency over how much you’ll have to pay after all applicable fees.

This is a excellent tip as trying to calculate the fees on Copart can be maddening, or at least it was the last time I looked. There is the bidding fee, which depends on title status and payment method, the heavy vehicle or “toy” fee if that applies, the gate fee, the virtual bid fee, the title fee, the environmental fee, any applicable storage fees, and probably a few others I’m forgetting… IIRC they also hit you with more fees if you pay over the internet rather than in person, for some reason. I can only imagine this process was made deliberately obtuse to discourage casual bidders?

No Kids, Just Bikes
No Kids, Just Bikes
1 month ago
Reply to  Evan M

I guess I can go to the bidmaster site to learn for myself, but I would really have liked more of a breakdown in the fees. That part has always been so convoluted that I talk myself out of any projects on CoPart.

Sklooner
Sklooner
1 month ago
Reply to  Evan M

And they don’t seem to be consistant, I bought a few cars from them and twice I was able to pull onto a trailer in their yard, one in between those two they insisted on having a tow truck take it out of their yard. I bought one from SGI in Saskatoon, went in started it up and drove it 700km home

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
1 month ago

B5 S4s…. . so many people know I have an UrS6 Avant, so they see cheap B5s and send them to me, asking if they should buy them. I tell them no, every time, most listen. The ones that don’t are in for a lot of pain, money, and time. And then it will break again.

They are brilliant cars…. but imho they do not stay together. They always break. Seems like half the UrS4/6 guys used to own B5s and came back to the C4 platform. Not as well handling, but 20v is way more reliable and easy to wrench on.

There is a common saying of 10lbs of crap in a 5lb bag, and the B5 S4 is the epitome of that statement.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 month ago

More California smog testing shennigans! The exhaust system in my ’80 VW Vanagon Westfalia was falling apart, so I needed to do something to pass inspection. This was a non-California bus. Just a new muffler was around $500 at the time. I found another ’80 Vanagon Westfalia that had a bad engine, but a good exhaust system, but it was a California engine. I dragged it home for $400. I swapped all the exhaust bits from the heads out to my bus. I had done my research on the CA smog laws and had marked-up hard copies handy when I went to the official CA inspection station, not just a regular smog shop. I had to do some explaining and convincing and showing of documents, but they accepted the mods and now it was officially a CA smog-equipped vehicle. I heard that they have since changed the rules so what I did can’t be done anymore. I sold the bad-engine bus for $400 to a father/son team as they wanted a project to do together.

B P
B P
1 month ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

One time I had a 87 Toyota Truck I had to take in for smog testing. I hadn’t looked underneath and seen that the exhaust pipe was full of rust holes. When they tested, they didn’t get enough exhaust coming out the tailpipe, so they ended up just putting the sensor through one of the rust holes. Somehow I passed!

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 month ago

When I bought my ’67 VW squareback it was from a VW dealer who wanted nothing to do with it and I spotted it hiding in the back. The heads were popping so they sold to me as junk in 1978. I drove it home, and installed a rebuilt engine. Since I had to go through an inspection, I made sure that everything worked well. Except it had reverse lights and I had no idea how they were engaged or even where the wiring went. So I removed them. This left holes in the bumper. I was at college in engineering and I had a shop class, so I welded a couple of Ts and bolted them in the holes. If the reverse lights are not there, they can’t be inspected! I passed. I still have the squareback and still haven’t installed the reverse lights. Since ’67 was the first year for reverse lights, it would not be out of character for the inspector to not find them during a transition.

Space
Space
1 month ago

Awesome article, my only complaint is we need more. More details and more authors buying more salvage cars.

Is Travis
Is Travis
1 month ago

So this is just part one of at least two right?

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
1 month ago

As another one of the many who is now perusing CoPart, who buys some of these?

$12k for this 911 GT2 that is completely stripped. No drivetrain, no interior, no doors/hood/trunk. What do you even do with it?

Jj
Jj
1 month ago
Reply to  Vic Vinegar

You transfer the VIN to the stolen 911 GT2 you’ve been hiding in a storage container.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 month ago

Dang it now I’m looking at Caymans on copart…

KennyB
KennyB
1 month ago

I’m curious what the fixes were, and what your costs/hours you put into it were, and how does that compare to just finding a good used example of the same car without the hoops to jump through?

Doug Kingham
Doug Kingham
1 month ago
Reply to  KennyB

I was about to post the same thing. That would have been a good addition to the article.

KennyB
KennyB
1 month ago
Reply to  Doug Kingham

A brief search revealed that if he spent under $10,000 of time/money after he was done he probably saved himself a bunch. Even at 22 years old with 150,000 miles or more these look to be over that amount of an asking price.

KennyB
KennyB
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Nelson

Sounds like a nice deal for sure!

Tad Rivenbark
Tad Rivenbark
1 month ago
Reply to  KennyB

The prices have finally started creeping up after having been low and stagnant for a loooong time. I dont plan on ever selling mine but it’s good to see the added value if needed.

Dan Manwich
Dan Manwich
1 month ago
Reply to  KennyB

I’m curious about that but I am also more than a little curious about how it came to be jumped by a Bentley.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Manwich

Bentley = Press Loaner

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
1 month ago
Reply to  KennyB

I’m curious as to the fees, particularly the shipping portion since that certainly will be different based on the distance it is shipped, whether it lot drives, rolls, or doesn’t roll at all.

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