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Fun Facts About Free Government Cars

Updated on December 21, 2010

The Government offers many opportunities for obtaining cars at greatly reduced prices. From Audi to Volkswagen, the selection of used and nearly new vehicles available at government auctions is never-ending.

Why does the government wants to get rid of these cars?

Generally, cars confiscated by the government entities belong to the citizens of the United States. In some cases a law enforcement agency will retain possession of a vehicle for publicity purposes. A car may actually become part of a government fleet if it is confiscated under specific circumstances, but most vehicles must be liquidated in order to comply with laws and regulations.

Free information - How does the government get the cars?

Many government cars are seized during law enforcement operations. Specific laws vary, but in many cases a car is used in the commission of a crime. Government enforcement agencies such as the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations) or the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) find contraband in a vehicle. Government operatives have the legal authority to impound cars as evidence. This evidence is then used during the trial to gain a conviction. After the trial, cars are sometimes sold at greatly reduced prices in order to recoup court costs or investigatory expenses.

For example, a car may be used to smuggle illegal contraband across the United States border from Canada or Mexico. Believe it or not, a car can also be used to smuggle unauthorized materials from Europe or Asia. Cars have many nooks, crannies, and other hidden spaces that can be packed with any number of illegal substances. The vehicle may arrive on a container ship as part of a huge of automobiles or nestled in a single shipping crate as part of a private collection.

Cars packed with contraband can be identified by drug-sniffing dogs, by sophisticated imaging devices, by tips from informants, or by computer analysis of shipping patterns and practices. The huge volume of shipping traffic that flows into the United States every day makes checking every incoming car extremely difficult, but hard working government representatives do manage to identify and apprehend a significant amount of illegal trafficking.

Should a doctored car be detected a sea port, it will certainly be detained by government officials pending further investigation. If the vehicle is identified as a device used in the commission of a crime, the chances that anyone will step forward to claim the vehicle are slim. As a result, the government is left with the task of disposing of the vehicle in order to recoup investigatory costs.

One off-beat source for government vehicles is NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). These folks are paid to destructively test vehicles. This type of testing often results in vehicles that are no longer drivable but still contain some useful parts. Since NHTSA no longer needs the parts, they thoughtfully offer gently used leftovers to the general citizenry. Keep in mind that these vehicles will be burdened with a salvage title, which informs potential buyers know that the thing has been wrecked and possibly repaired. Check your state and local laws for specific information regarding salvage titles.

The clearinghouse for many government car auctions is the GSA (General Services Administration). Generally speaking, these folks provide functionality for other government entities that is beyond their charter. For example, the GSA disposes of cars that have been (intentionally) wrecked by NHTSA. NHTSA is configured to test vehicles, but not to provide auction and purchasing support for the mangled results.

What can you do with an almost free government car?

  • Drive it

    Many cars that are disposed of by the government are drivable. Contrary to many new stories, these vehicles are not riddled with bullet holes or dragged from the bottom of lakes. Some government auctions will allow winning bidders to drive home in their new vehicles. Of course, you will need to make arrangements for payment and also for proper licensing and title transfer. On the other hand, some vehicles may be damaged or partially disassembled as a result of evidence gathering. Some vehicles may need a little TLC in order to become roadworthy. Consider renting a car hauler just to be completely prepared for any circumstance.
  • Resell it

    No law requires you to keep your government vehicle. You may drive for a while, then decide that you have a need for it in the long run. If you worked a good deal at the government auction, chances are that you will be able to put the car back on the market and at the very least earn back your initial investment. Perhaps adding a little spit and polish to the vehicle will actually earn you a profit. If you're willing to 'sit on it' for a month or two, you just might find a buyer who is willing to pay a premium .
  • Part it out

    Automobile parts are big business. You may be able to profit from selling individual components. Instead of advertising the vehicle as a "daily driver", consider offering specific parts for sale. By doing this you may save yourself the hassle of transferring the title to a new owner. You may also earn more money than you would by selling the car 'as is'. For example, if the engine is leaking oil and making strange noises you will find your buyers apprehensive to invest in a vehicle that may need extensive repairs. Your pool of potential buyers shrinks appreciably. On the other hand, individual parts of the car will have significant value when sold separately. Online auction sites are a powerful resource for parting out used vehicles.

  • List it on eBay

    Sell the entire vehicle on eBay. Instead of listing it in the local newspaper, advertise it world-wide by putting it online. Your market of potential buyers increases by orders of magnitude. Someone somewhere longs for the precise year/make/color that you have for sale. Be patient. Be willing to answer questions about the vehicle and be prepared to negotiate a little.

How does the government get rid of the cars?

Many cars are sold at auction. Government auctions may be held online or may be configured in the traditional style, where bidders compete in person and the vehicles are available for on-site inspection.

A typical auction consists of multiple lanes of cars that are made available for inspection before the bidding actually begins. You probably won't be permitted to drive any of the vehicles in the lanes; buyer beware! The auctioneer reads a short description of the vehicle, including make/model/year, mileage, and any obvious damage, then bidding begins. The auctioneer usually increases the current bid in increments of $100. Auction house employees circulate throughout the bidding floor and signal the auctioneer when a bidder wishes to increase the current bid. Any vehicles not sold during the initial viewing may be offered later that day or at another auction in the future.

Note: Bidding on a specific vehicle typically ends in a minute or less! Be prepared!


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    • profile image

      carolyn rucker 6 years ago


    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 6 years ago from Ohio, USA

      metaxeirismena aytokinhta wrote...

      "People should have discipline and in order to attain this they be responsible and obey rules and if don't then they must face the consequences.I think government make the right move to sell those cars.I'm planning to buy an metaxeirismena aytokinhta."

    • profile image

      kiki26 6 years ago

      great use of n4,need more room lookn more for a suv,great use for my family..

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      @Brenda: Free info?

    • profile image

      Brenda 7 years ago

      Why is the title of this story ( Free gov. cars) if they really arent free?

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      @Autoaficianado: Oh, yes. Look for the dog dish hubcaps and the spotlight hanging out of the drivers side , just behind the A-Pillar. Those cars will stop traffic because they look like police vehicles but they might not be. This is a good way to identify some unmarked police vehicles as well.

    • Autoaficianado profile image

      Autoaficianado 7 years ago from California

      Sometimes as I'm driving down the roads I see Ford Crown Victorias that resemble "cop cars" but the drivers are seemingly ordinary citizens. Perhaps are these auctioned off cars??

    • profile image

      WebService 7 years ago

      I agree with Tom. Nice hub!

    • profile image

      Michele Roodbari 7 years ago

      It's great to learn about government tidbits!!!! It's educational and interesting!!!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 8 years ago

      Interesting article about something I was unaware of.

    • fishtiger58 profile image

      fishtiger58 8 years ago from Momence, Illinois

      Nice hub, I would love to get a hold of one of those cars.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      @drbj: I'm here to help!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 8 years ago from south Florida

      OMG, the stuff I learn on your hubs, nicomp.

      I knew about the government auctions of seized or otherwise obtained automobiles. But I wasn't aware of the NHTSA as a potential source of auto parts on the cheap.

      No, I take back the "cheap" remark. Like many things in life auto parts prove the adage that the parts are worth more than the whole.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      @Tom Whitworth: Yep. We have some interesting seizure laws.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 8 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      There is another curious aspect to this confiscation. The person who actually owned the car may have it confiscated even if they had no knowledge of the crime.