How I bought a $100 SUV, sight unseen, and hit the right kind of jackpot

Steven Lang

Drinking while shopping on the Internet is never a good idea. Those weird things you would never buy when sober, such as, say, a 20-year-old Ford Explorer stuck in storage for nearly two years? All of a sudden they become your next personal treasure.

Did I need an old SUV built in the Jurassic Park era? Of course I did!


This 1994 Ford Explorer had a few (cough! cough!) issues.

For starters, beyond the dire description, it also had no title. So I wouldn't be able to get it on the road without having to purchase what's called a bonded title. That can cost anywhere from a hundred bucks to many thousands of dollars depending on the value of the vehicle and where you live.

The second big issue was that I knew nothing about this vehicle. Let me rephrase that. For all I knew, this Explorer could have easily had a side of it bashed into kingdom come, or hundreds of rat droppings inside of it. Or even biohazard materials. Vehicles that sit for months can sometimes have unusual surprises inside of them. As a long-time car dealer in metro Atlanta, I once purchased a car from an impound lot auction that had a trunk full of baby snake carcasses.

Still, there's not much of a risk when you're bidding on a $100 SUV that can likely get you at least $400 more by just sending it to be crushed at a local auto recycler. Scrap metal prices are high these days. So since the Explorer was being sold "parts only," I figured a $100 bid would represent nothing more than the fulfillment of my current alcohol-ridden fantasy of bidding $100 for a vehicle I couldn't even afford in my college days.

I woke up the next morning, checked my email, and my first message was.

"Congratulations, Steven Lang! You are the high bidder."

$100. All mine. Unbelievable.

I looked back at the Carfax history I pulled up the night before. The odometer sat at 93,463 original miles as of a year and a half ago. Some parts of the Explorer's history made sense, such as the nice 3,000 mile jumps in mileage over the last 15 years that reflected a low-mileage vehicle. Others, such as the title transfers and the lack of emissions in an emissions county, could have been any number of things.

So I called the Water Department at the aptly named "City of Roswell" to find out the mystery behind the history of this Explorer.

It turned out it had been seized in a drug sting nearly 18 years ago. The city police department decided to re-title it and keep it as a surveillance vehicle. It was then maintained regularly, and eventually given to the water department. From there, the vehicle was kept in the back of the depot where it collected dust and debris.

The Explorer was as dirty as an old mop on the outside. But when I came to see it in person, this is what I found...

Spotless. And a bit weird. I had never seen vinyl seats inside an Explorer. I have also never seen one without the usual cupholders, armrest, and cubby holders that made mid-90s Explorers a popular family vehicle. This one was a brute in comparison, and once I replaced the battery and added some fuel, it fired right up and ran smoothly.

So now I have a perfectly good 20-year-old SUV that can be sold for around $2,000. Or maybe not?

What if we take this $100 purchase and turned it into something truly special for the right charity out there? Maybe modify it into a "Jurassic Park" style and offer it through an online raffle at $5 a ticket? That may be a good use for it? Or maybe something else?

Any ideas? Let me know in the comments below.