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“Maybe they should look underneath it before they bid again!”

That was me this afternoon. To say this Jeep Wrangler Sahara with four-wheel-drive, a manual transmission, 49,000 miles on the odometer, and a hardtop would bring decent money at a Carmax dealer auction this morning was hardly surprising. 

What was surprising? 24 years of Massachusetts rust on the undercarriage and a set of seat covers hiding who-knows-what didn’t matter all that much to the 200+ dealers who had the chance to bid on it. I sat out from this pointless dogfight, but in the auction business all it takes to drive a price sky high is two bidders with an ego problem (see this Toyota Tacoma from last week). When the dust settled I watched this late-90s Jeep Wrangler sell for a fat $9,400 at wholesale. Imagine what some poor customer will pay after auction fees, taxes, and the dealer's profit are added! 


Carmax Auctions is on tap to liquidate over 13,000 trade-ins this coming week. When they’re not selling out the less desirable vehicles of the used car market to independent dealers, such as a 30-year-old Chrysler minivan that smelled like a rolling piece of mildew that got just one $500 bid, they get a lot of unique and valuable cars. 

Everything crosses the block from a heavily modified Toyota Tundra with only 1,578 miles to this six-cylinder 1997 Jeep Wrangler with the exact right options. In four-wheel-drive form this Wrangler was Jeep’s top-of-the-line model a generation ago, and the first year of a model run that lasted all the way to 2006. 

Gallery: 1997 Jeep Wrangler Sahara auctioned at CarMax

A loaded mid-90s Jeep with only 49,000 miles is rare. Over the last 20 years of buying cars all over the eastern United States, I typically see only one or two a year with similar mileage. These short-wheelbase Jeeps have been largely swallowed up by the highly optioned long-wheelbase Unlimited, which adds 16 inches of length and make these vehicles far more family friendly.

This, along with a more youthful demographic during the 1990s, means that a future classic like this Wrangler has very little company in the low mileage sweepstakes.

This Wrangler likely got a healthy $2,000 push to its final $9,400 selling price due to the fact that it was in Massachusetts where rust isn’t always seen as a dealbreaker. The few older Wranglers that make it to dealer auctions are almost always located in the rust-free climates that span from the western Carolinas to the inland parts of California. 

In the wholesale car business, three things usually matter more than anything else - condition, condition, and condition. For all the rust underneath this particular Wrangler, I have seen way worse. Chances are when it sells in the tin worm capital of the USA, it will go for well north of $12,000... at least as long as it stays up north.

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