Home » Somehow I Bought A Beautiful Acura MDX For $1000 And Sold It For Five Times That

Somehow I Bought A Beautiful Acura MDX For $1000 And Sold It For Five Times That

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Sometimes you nail the bullseye. The perfect car. The perfect price. The perfect everything. And then you do something really stupid. You aim again. This time at the wrong target. And that stray bullet of used car buying ricochets right back at you and blows your financial brains out. This 2001 Acura MDX is a rolling Y2K-era piece of perfection. A piece of perfection that apparently did a number on the prior owner, financially. But for me, that meant opportunity.

The Carfax history was amazing. A new transmission less than 8,000 miles ago. All the maintenance done at an Acura dealer where the price of everything triples compared to an indy shop. Thirty-nine service records. No accidents. Nearly everything maintained by the dealer since day one. This was a good seed at a charity auction where most vehicles are worth more torn apart at a junkyard than kept together for a future owner. 

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When I saw it online with about a year’s worth of pollen covering the outside, I knew I had to visit the Georgia mud pit where the auction had buried it. 

[Ed Note: Meet Steve Lang, who has written for Car and Driver, among other publications. His Car and Driver bio reads: “Steve Lang has been an auto auctioneer, car dealer, and part owner of an auto auction for nearly two decades.” This is a man who knows used cars. -DT]. 

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I grabbed two jumpboxes, a thermos filled to the brim with coffee, and my best pair of boots. An hour later I opened the door to this MDX and found..

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Those seats were magic to me. Clean. No tears. Nothing that would reflect a car with over 190,000 miles on it. 

In fact they took my mind away to an idea I had when I first saw these SUVs 20 years ago. The idea of a “forever car” —  a vehicle you can keep for decades instead of years. From college, to marriage, to the time when your next generation drives. 

MDX’s can offer Mileage Impossible levels of longevity. This first-gen Acura MDX had most of the bones and internals needed to make that a reality. It’s not perfect. Not even if it’s a Honda in disguise. You have to change the transmission fluid every 30k and add a transmission cooler if you’re doing severe driving. And you have to “invest” in quality parts.

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But it can be a keeper. If you keep the looks up, these Acuras can absolutely glow.

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My job as a dealer is to never fall in love with anything I ever buy. No exceptions. Every car you purchase is an investment. If you’re self-disciplined, operating a successful dealership is a lot like owning a good restaurant. You always get to sample beforehand. But then you let your customers enjoy that new tasty dish. Your goal with everything you buy is to put food on the table. For your family and for your customers. If you’re really good at whipping up a unique recipe, you eventually work with other businesses who buy several vehicles. Wholesalers. Courier businesses, and others who need fleets of vehicles instead of a single one.

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This generation of the MDX became my first “fleet” purchase.

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One guy who wrenched Hondas out in the West Coast, and became one of my regular customers, even turned these MDX’s into a corporate/hotel transport business until Uber and Lyft became universal. So I knew I was probably going to buy it. The recipe was too tempting. The question was how. For that I had a system that dated way back to when I was an auto auctioneer and observed the most successful buyers in my business. The smartest knew how to hide or “hold” the bid at the right time…

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At the auto auctions the prices start higher than the reserve and then go lower and lower until someone bids. Once the auctioneer gets that live bid, the price rockets up until the car is at or above the sellable range. 

Between the sky high reserve and the opening bid there is a gap where many dealers will sit on their heels. For example, if a vehicle has a $2000 reserve, buyers may not typically get on board and bid it up until it hits $1000. Or even $500. It all depends on the car and the type of inventory that’s sold at that auction. 

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Since this was an inop (i.e. it hasn’t been registered for a while) and charity sale (low opening prices), with a high mileage vehicle known for transmission issues (like most Y2K Hondas with the 5-speed automatic), I thought the first live bid would be around $500. 

I would aim to “hold” the bid at $1000.

So I took a space to the side where the online and live bidders couldn’t easily see me (but the auctioneer could). When he went down from $2000 to $1000, I stared at the auctioneer, made a fist with my right hand that means “I’m in” and then folded my arms to make it seem like I was making a natural motion with my body to those at the sale who may see the movement out of the corner of their eye. 

Seven seconds later, that MDX was mine. $1000 plus an (oof!) $300 buy fee, and $75 to transport it to a mechanic for two problems I found: the rear seat-back cable and the broken 20+ year old dash information display, which is made out of cheap Y2K era developing-world plastics and Ebay-only unobtainium. This was going to be someone’s workhorse instead of a showhorse. 

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So after replacing the cable, we just added a quality radio unit that an audiophile friend of mine had available. We then put a phone holder where the patchy screen of doom was, detailed it with a solid six-hour job, and added a nice set of floormats that matched the interior. 

I put it online on Facebook and Craigslist for $5000. It was 2022. Today this would be a $4000 SUV. 

On the Facebook listing I first submitted it as “$5995.” Then I edited it and changed the price to $5000. Over the years, I have found that by giving any car a substantial initial markdown it sells that much faster. Posting it on sites that have similar “For Sale” interests also helps.

For Craigslist I advertised in three different markets. I’m in Northwest Georgia. Three different cities (Atlanta, Birmingham, and Chattanooga) are within two hours from me. Although Craigslist is losing its luster, those three cities now encompass about 10 million customers. If you live near other major metros, it’s always worth advertising in multiple markets. 

Unless your older car is rare or has super-low miles, I find Facebook and Craigslist to be the only good places to sell a 15+ year old vehicle. 

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Lowballers texted me. Scammers PM’d me. Finally, I had a guy come from Atlanta. He drove it a half-mile and made a low-ball offer. I told him to pull over and I’m driving it back. He quickly changed face; apologized, and the deal was done thirty seconds later. I always tell folks everything about the car, don’t charge bogus fees, and don’t haggle or play games. Most people enjoy this no-nonsense approach. A few don’t, and those few who consistently bother me end up paying more for the aggravation. 

Sometimes I wish I could fall in love and keep a vehicle. These Acuras are becoming light on the ground, and I have done enough work with them to make one my own for a long time.  But if you have even the smallest hint of OCD in your blood, you just have to kill that urge. Otherwise you end up with a warehouse of crap.

This MDX had gone from crusher fodder to road warrior. It was a beautiful victory, but not everything I buy has a happy ending!

 

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JAM Man
JAM Man
19 days ago

Steven Lang! I recognize that name!

I have spotted a great many of your for sale vehicles in the North Metro Atlanta area.

You are the only one I’ve come across to private party sale a Chevy Spark EV in the state of Georgia! I watched a listing of yours for a while, a baby blue Spark EV that the previous owner had installed the Korean based taillights with Amber turn signals and a bespoke aftermarket sunroof!

Great article, look forward to more.

Curious, how many sales can you churn a month?

MiniDave
MiniDave
19 days ago

I’m surprised the seats were that good, almost all the high mile Acura’s I’ve seen from this era had the thinnest leather ever stripped off a cow, and were cracked, torn, missing chunks etc.

David Claycomb
David Claycomb
19 days ago

Some info about the transmission issues. Just changed the fluid on my step daughters 2005 Odyssey. These too need to have the fluid changed every 30,000. There is no filter that is customer nor dealer replaceable. You just drain the fluid (about 4 quarts comes out) and fill it back up. You’re not even getting most of the fluid out when you do this. I had a 2001 CRV that was similar. On that one you did a drain and fill three times with driving in between each drain/fill. My old 2005 Element had a transmission filter in they front by radiator that looks like a fuel filter. That process was actually a lot easier as you never had to drop the pan. Honda transmissions are weird.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
20 days ago

“My job as a dealer is to never fall in love with anything I ever buy. No exceptions.”
More power to you…you are very strong…There is ABSOLUTELY no way in hell I could ever do your job…it’s so easy for me to fall in love w/ a car…I’ll take as many as I can get…I’d want to buy half the cars at an auction at once…eventually want my own junkyard or field full of hundreds of rusty gold classics!

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
19 days ago
Reply to  Steven Lang

Thanks for the perspective! I’m basically somewhat similar in certain aspects outside of the cars obsession. I’ve always been cheap but in a way that makes sense. I also enjoy finding coupons and getting deals- was just recently using paper coupons and ones through apps- might as well, and depending on what it is, some of them can save a lot and it all adds up. I don’t fall for the “Oh, here’s a bunch of coupons, so let’s go spend a bunch of $ to save a little bit” either- only use them on only what I need and am getting anyway. I know someone who refuses to use coupons and it boggles my mind. My Dad taught me all of this/learned it in school along w/ numerous life skills. It takes balance too since my cheapest car was $100 total (running and driving) and used it for 6 months then got $25 for it from the junkyard. Have had numerous cheap cars for a long time but have purposely gotten the most out of each one. Now I have a decent one, somewhat newer than all the other ones (2014- that’s considered basically new to me) it’s been paid off for a while (only car loan ever and paid off quick-all other cars cash)
And have just kept up w/ basic maintenance and it’s needed nothing and has tons of life left in it- I plan on keeping it a long time. Same w/ my wife’s car.
Yeah, the whole thing about hundreds of rusty cars is a daydream/fantasy- I wouldn’t mind eventually but realistically, I want to start w/ a handful of my favorites which include certain ones from the 80’s/90’s along w/ certain classics older than that. Yeah, those they’re all “classics” now but I differentiate the real ones as 79 and older due to design/body style.
Also, yeah I still like museum pieces but only certain ones really belong there. Most of them should be driven and even if I had a car worth millions, I’d still daily drive it (Well, would probably sell it to get a ton of cars that I like) I also used to collect baseball and basketball cards from a card shop called “Thunder Road” (which way later knew someone w/ a Dodge Ram edition with that name) and was surprised/not surprised at the same time when the values went down. Also, yeah my Dad has had his own business for basically 40 years and is about to retire but still have income from it along w/ having done a lot of other work before that.
Well, enough about me and thanks again for listening and for a great, interesting article
Also, looked up a few of yours cars and they are awesome! Too bad I’m many states away

Jdoubledub
Jdoubledub
20 days ago

As someone whose Subaru CVT has 100k on the original fluid and seems to have zero issues, I’d love more discussion on how frequently people are actually replacing trans fluid.

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
20 days ago

Lucky it had a replacement trans, then you can change the trans fluid every 30l. my mom got this exact model an the trans blew on it under 100k miles, wouldn’t shift into 5th and was clunky in first, also had electrical gremlins that caused a parasitic drag on the battery. total lemon this car was, Nice find on this one tho, look forward to the next story!

Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman
20 days ago
Reply to  Nycbjr

Seems like the MDXs have a transmission curse- my mom’s 2018 occasionally bucks and shifts hard. Apparently it’s some stupid tech problem that they “fixed” a couple months ago only for it to come back. It has 76000 miles on it… disappointing Acura.

Oh did I mention that there’s a recall on it for connecting rod issues that can basically cause the engine to explode? Anyways…

Jeffrey Antman
Jeffrey Antman
20 days ago

I owned a printer repair business years ago and had customers who didn’t want to pay if the repair happened too quickly. People who never made anything work don’t understand.

TDI in PNW
TDI in PNW
20 days ago
Reply to  Jeffrey Antman

When I was in HVAC trade school my instructor told us that we get paid for what we know, not what we do; sometimes the job seems so incredibly easy (and HVAC work isn’t cheap per/hour) but the customer has no idea how/where to start fixing it.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
20 days ago
Reply to  TDI in PNW

“sometimes the job seems so incredibly easy (and HVAC work isn’t cheap per/hour) but the customer has no idea how/where to start fixing it..”

In my experience it starts by watching youtube videos and goes something like this:

A/C:
Step 1: Find correct start/run capacitor part #.
Step 2: Order new start/run capacitor for about $17.
Step 3: Install new start/run capacitor with a box wrench and screwdriver.

Bask in the satisfaction of having fixed the A/C for about $17 and maybe 20 minutes of work.

Heater (gas):

Step 1: Check pilot light. If it’s out and won’t stay lit move to step 2
Step 2: Find correct pilot assembly part #.
Step 3: Order correct pilot assembly for about $17.
Step 4: Install correct pilot assembly with a box wrench and screwdriver.

Bask in the satisfaction of having fixed the heater for about $17 and maybe 30 minutes of work.

Phil Layshio
Phil Layshio
19 days ago
Reply to  TDI in PNW

I’m in plumbing and it’s the same deal. We flat rate everything. Yeah I can get your water heater changed out in an hour. Took me years to learn how to do that though and you’re going to pay for it.

Ben
Ben
19 days ago
Reply to  Jeffrey Antman

I heard a joke about this once, maybe on Car Talk? Basically the customer brings their car in, explains what is happening, the mechanic grabs some small part and replaces it in about 30 seconds, then says, “That’ll be $100”. The customer balks and says, “But it’s a 50 cent part!”. The mechanic answers, “It’s 50 cents for the part, $99.50 for knowing where to put it.”

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
20 days ago

Good article Steven. Yeah lowballers and other idiots are a fact of life. I had my share when selling my mom’s low mileage/rust free 2009 Toyota Yaris during the pandemic car shortage.

My asking price was CAD$8000 certified… which was a couple of thousand less than some nicely detailed versions dealers were selling, but more than crappier examples in worse condition or with much more mileage.

I could feel the frustration of car shoppers. I knew they were thinking something like “2 years ago, that car would only sell for half as much”

And my response was “yeah but we live in the present and I based my pricing on the reality of here and now”.

I had one dipshit tell me “that car will be worth scrap value in a year”… to which my response was a deliberately annoying perky reply “Well if you truly believe that, you should look at some of these other ‘better’ cars that are for sale” (and then gave links to other Yarises that were cheaper, but in MUCH WORSE condition.

And I’d cap it off with an annoying “Good Luck!!! :-)”

I managed to sell my mom’s Yaris (which my mom bought for $9000 back in 2011) for CAD$7000 to a very nice young woman whose boyfriend also had a Yaris and was very familiar with them

RadarEngineer
RadarEngineer
20 days ago

What would have really made this story would have been if you had gone back to the charity that was selling the vehicle and given them some portion of what you made on this flip. Otherwise, to me, the title of this article should be “How I screwed a charity out of a $5000 car for only $1000.”

RadarEngineer
RadarEngineer
20 days ago
Reply to  Steven Lang

I understand the free market and how that works. And if this was just any auction, I’d be saying “Kudos, you did good!!” But you specifically state that this was a charity buy, so you knew you could get it cheap, and then how you were able to get this even cheaper, and that you really did nothing to be able to sell it for 5X what you paid them for it. Imagine if you were the person who had donated that car to the charity, only to find out that a flipper had bought it for $1000, then sold it immediately for $5000. I wouldn’t be happy. My point is that this could have been such a more uplifting article, if it had ended with “I wrote a check for $XXXX back to the charity, and still made $YYYY. Or, completely omit the part about this being a charity sale, and instead just write about what a great deal you got, and tips on how the rest of us could do similar.

Oh, and I’m sure the Crohn’s and Colitis foundation appreciated what you did. Too bad the other charity couldn’t have done the same.

RadarEngineer
RadarEngineer
20 days ago
Reply to  Steven Lang

Huh?

RadarEngineer
RadarEngineer
20 days ago
Reply to  RadarEngineer

I don’t begrudge you making the money….that’s what you do for a living, after all. And thanks for sharing some tips, maybe some day I’ll be able to take advantage of some of them and do the same. My point was that this was a charity auction car. Anyway, I’m going to go away now, since I can see I’m the only one with this opinion, so I know I’m going to lose.

PS – please write another article titled “how I’m able to get insurance for a family of four for two months for $4000”. You must not live in California!! Or your insurance has enormous restrictions / deductibles!!

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
20 days ago
Reply to  RadarEngineer

It was an auction. Other buyers had the opportunity to drive up the price. No one else saw the value he did as a buyer. Before he reworked it, it wasn’t worth $5K. For the vehicle to be worth the $5K, he had to put in the work. Somewhat limited in this instance, but still work. Which means for the Auction to see that amount, they needed to hire a person to do all the jobs Steve did, reducing margin. And since auction buyers are NEVER going to pay retail for a vehicle like this, because they want a margin, then yet again, the auction house looses margin. His $4000 profit has become $2000 at best for the auction house on this one vehicle. But to employ people to do this to every vehicle on the lot, many of which won’t show that kind of value increase, then their overhead goes way up. then if they employ people to sell the cars at retail, again, their overhead goes up. Now selling that vehicle for $5000 costs them $4500. And now they are a used car dealership, who is much less likely to be able to get vehicles given to them as a charity, because the community loses trust.

So yeah, maybe the auction thing is fine as it is for the charity. Chances are that people also pay $1000 for what turns out to be $250 in junkyard value, so there is balance at the auction house.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
20 days ago
Reply to  RadarEngineer

“How I screwed a charity out of a $5000 car for only $1000.”

Oh please… get real.

Ask yourself… Did the vehicle fix itself up magically for free?

No it didn’t.

There was some work involved and that has value.

Beasy Mist
Beasy Mist
20 days ago
Reply to  RadarEngineer

That is not at all how any of this works.

KennyB
KennyB
20 days ago
Reply to  RadarEngineer

Other people could have viewed this same car and put in the legwork to judge what it was actually worth. He got lucky in that no one else bid on it. That’s how auctions work – you get lucky if no one else is interested in the item you’re bidding on. What is he supposed to do, bid against himself?

The charity got money for a vehicle they put zero time/money/effort into. A vehicle that cost them nothing because someone gave it to them. A vehicle that had an unknown status and had been sitting for some time.

Framed
Framed
20 days ago
Reply to  RadarEngineer

Let’s see. He paid $1000 for the car. No one else at the auction thought it was worth that. If he didn’t bid, it would likely have sold for less. Then he paid buyer’s premium ($300), tow fee ($75), new cable + installation (~$150), radio (~$100), radio installation (~$100), phone holder (~$25), floor mats (~$200), detailing (~$300), and incurred labor costs associated with attending the auction then advertising and showing the vehicle (~$600 total value). Total: $2850. Those are just the direct expenses. Then he has overhead from his auto dealer business (rent/mortgage, employees, utilities). On top of that, all the risk was on him. If any significant problem had popped up it could have wiped away much or all of his profit. If anything, the article shows why it is necessary for auto dealers to pay much less than the final selling price in order to cover their costs and make a reasonable profit.

Auto dealers are not alone here. Many businesses buy items for half or less of what they then turn around and sell them for.

And no, I am not an auto dealer.

Last edited 20 days ago by Framed
SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
19 days ago
Reply to  RadarEngineer

Not specifically relating to this offering, but I am not too fond of car-donation charities. Some of them have less than stellar reputation.

https://www.charitywatch.org/charity-donating-articles/costly-and-continuous-kars4kids-ads-disguise-charity39s-real-purpose

Don Mynack
Don Mynack
19 days ago
Reply to  RadarEngineer

I’m fine with how it ended, actually.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
20 days ago

Welcome Steven. Do you have a website or anything to see what you’re selling? My son is in the upper Atlanta area. His Kia is getting repaired after he was hit earlier last month. I think I will be looking for something else for him to drive the next two years of his university studies.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
20 days ago
Reply to  Steven Lang

He’s a uni student that has no skin in the game right now LOL.
I bought his Kia when he was 16, its lasted for 4 yrs so far, longer than I thought it would. I just don’t trust the repair work that the other insurance is paying for. It got smacked directly into the passenger front tire. I know it’s going to have trans/engine problems down the road. The suspension was really jacked up.

Echo Stellar
Echo Stellar
20 days ago
Reply to  Steven Lang

Thank you for this resource. It is probably the most valid data source on true quality that’s available. I frequently refer family or friends to see for themselves why that used Volkswagen is a terrible idea.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
20 days ago
Reply to  Steven Lang

A Rondo with that low of miles!

StraightSixSymphony
StraightSixSymphony
20 days ago
Reply to  Steven Lang

Great article! I enjoyed the read. I may have missed it – is this a one off or will you be a regular contributor? 🙂

Also, marketing question. Have you found that the all caps in the title on Craigslist help?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
20 days ago

My favorite are the low ballers offering 20% but capitalize CASH!!!. It is a couple grand I’m not financing it I don’t care if it is money from a bank. Twenty percent is an insult. Too much fake reality TV.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
20 days ago
Reply to  Steven Lang

I blame American Pickers.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
20 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I blame people People suck!

LOL

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
20 days ago

As an owner of a 2006 TSX, I cannot believe those seats look that good! Acura leather or that cost age SUCKS. I replaced the driver seat bottom with a newer seat, but it too is starting to crack!

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
20 days ago

Welcome, Steve. I’ve enjoyed your work in the past and I’m glad to see you here.

Salaryman
Salaryman
20 days ago
Reply to  Steven Lang

I thought that was a picture of Herb Tarleck.

PresterJohn
PresterJohn
20 days ago

These are truly incredible cars. My dad had a first gen MDX that he bought used with (I think) 75k miles on it and when he sold it it had 275k miles on it. Nothing but basic maintenance in between and some suspension work you’d expect for a car that age. It did have an issue with shifting roughly into certain gears but absolutely no issues with the engine. Still ran like a top and didn’t burn a drop of oil in between changes.

PresterJohn
PresterJohn
20 days ago
Reply to  Steven Lang

Incredible! Honda never did figure out reliable torque converter autos but man the engines of that era were bulletproof

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
20 days ago

So with just those two minor issues, why was this car listed as inop?

Sergey Pan
Sergey Pan
20 days ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

ran out of blinker fluid

Data
Data
20 days ago

Hmmm, Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) from WKRP in Cincinnati in the header image. I think Kurt Russell from Used Cars would have been appropriate.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
20 days ago
Reply to  Data

Tarlek is the right sentiment, wrong business. I’m thinking Joe Isuzu.

Last edited 20 days ago by Rad Barchetta
Data
Data
20 days ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

I was trying to choose someone who was a snazzy dresser like Herb, but Joe Isuzu is great.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
20 days ago
Reply to  Data

If Herb hadn’t worked at KRP, he’d definitely be selling malaise-mobiles at the BHPH.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
20 days ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Herb drove a last-gen Cordoba, just like my old man.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
20 days ago
Reply to  Steven Lang

Please tell me your fedora has a Navin Johnson-esque feather in it.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
20 days ago
Reply to  Data

WKRP fans, upvote if you think Bailey was hotter than Jennifer.

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