More than 1,000 bidders showed up in the rain to bid on confiscated vehicles ranging from "pretty nice" to "scrap value" at Saturday's Suffolk police car auction. Credit: Randee Daddona

About 1,000 bidders showed up in the pouring rain on Saturday in what the Suffolk County Police Department called the biggest-ever turnout for one of its vehicle auctions.

From scrappers to tow truck drivers, the newly licensed and people simply looking to take home a “beater,” competition was fierce for the 124 cars auctioned off at the Westhampton impound lot.

“You won’t get too great a deal today,” said Richard Ringhoff, whose Eastport farming family has been buying cars at the quarterly auctions for more than a decade.

Ringhoff was the 163rd person to register when he attended the auction preview Thursday. By 11:45 a.m. Saturday, with about 80 cars still to be sold, the number of registrants had climbed to 977, as the crowd burst out of the auction barn and huddled under umbrellas, hoping the auctioneer could spot their bids in the distance.

Many attributed the increased demand to inflation and a used-car market that saw prices surge last year due to a slowdown in new-car manufacturing. Officer Ralph Clanton, of the property section and the go-to auctioneer for the county, said the previous high turnout was in June at the first auction the department hosted after the COVID-19 shutdown, when 700-plus bidders showed up.

The first car sold Saturday was a 2004 Chevy Suburban that went for $1,100. Of the first 24 cars sold, the most expensive was a 2018 Subaru WRX that went for $14,500, about $6,000 under the Kelly Blue Book value. 

Despite some gentle ribbing and complaints from the boisterous crowd — “Go!” they chanted during a delay between the first two rows of cars — Clanton said he was happy to serve as auctioneer.

Car buyer Jeff Dietz of Bay Shore assesses impounded cars that will be auctioned Saturday at the Suffolk police impound lot in Westhampton. "Everybody's looking for a bargain," he says. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

“It’s public speaking, which I don’t mind,” the veteran officer said, noting that he used to visit schools as part of the county’s D.A.R.E program.

The vehicles auctioned were seized by the department following driving while intoxicated arrests, police said. They are sold in their existing condition and only for cash.

The auctions prove one person’s seizure is another person’s treasure.

“I'm walking away with a 1991 Honda Accord for $1,200, which is, in my opinion, a steal,” said Atticus Jaques of Maine, who totaled his car last month and was on the hunt for a replacement vehicle when he stumbled on a newspaper article about the auction.

Jaques, who grew up in Southampton and is back helping a friend build a racecar, said he needed a vehicle during his stay. He bought the oldest car in the auction.

“[I’ll drive it] while I'm here and it'll get me back up to Maine probably,” he said. “I’ll just drive it into the ground and then hopefully buy something a little newer.”

Other cars being sold on the low end of the auction were purchased for scrap, in some instances by companies specializing in metal. Ringhoff, 29, said he has dabbled in scrapping and flipping cars. He said the police auction is a good way to make a quick buck.

“Drinking money,” he joked.

Ringhoff said the best deals typically come at the end of the auction, when cars that bidders failed to pay for get thrown back into the mix. He recalled a Dodge Charger his mom drove for a decade after they paid $1,500 for it when someone else had bid significantly more earlier in the day.

Adam Tucker of Bay Shore hoped he could be so lucky. Entering with a budget of $3,000, he ended up paying $1,900 for a 2009 Nissan Altima he intends to use for his commute to work.

“It’s a beater,” he said. “My little beater.”

The department’s next vehicle auction is set for June 10.

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