(Photo: Steve Seifert)
By Rick Weinberg, California Business Journal
When Mark Harrington was looking for the exotic sports car of his dreams, there was only one person for him to turn to — Steve Seifert.
Ditto for Greg Chones, Terri Tracy and hundreds of others.
Seifert represents Car Connection, which gives retail buyers access to wholesale prices on pre-owned cars of any kind. He purchases the vehicles at dealer auctions — the same auctions where big car dealers find inventory for their lots, which they then mark up to retail price or beyond to cover their massive overhead, commissions and profit.
Seifert’s business has turned the tables in favor of the customer – he researches and finds the cars his clients want, bids for the car when it comes to the auction block and delivers it at a price that can be thousands less than what it would cost at a traditional dealer’s lot. He even does all the DMV paperwork.
Harrington, a construction-industry executive, purchased high-line cars for his son and wife through Seifert – and then he bought an exquisite Aston Martin DB9 for himself. Chones, an IT consultant, has purchased three vehicles through Seifert – an Audi A8, a Mercedes R500 and a Porsche 911 turbo, the car of his dreams.
Perhaps the rarest vehicle that Seifert has landed for one of his clients is a BMW Z8 for Tracy, an attorney in LA.
“What I tell people is ‘if you want your next car buying experience to be a matter of teamwork rather than a battle, if you want the dealer to be on your side rather than your adversary, if you want a great car at a great price in a transparent transaction where nothing is hidden, then call me,’” Seifert says with a smile.
His motto is simple: “Basic transportation, family SUV or exotic super car — just the vehicle you want at a wholesale price.”
Seifert was a chiropractor who practiced in Irvine from 1980 until wear and tear on his wrists caused him to retire in 2015. A self-described lifelong “car nut,” he obtained his dealer’s license in 2003 to buy cars in the wholesale market for himself and his family and friends.
“I bought a car for my sister, then one for my Dad, then one for my sister’s friend and then one for her friend. Pretty soon I was getting calls from people I didn’t even know,” he says with a laugh.
These days, he trades options in the morning and works in his car business the rest of the day.
In just the last two years alone, Seifert has arranged more than 100 transactions, saving his clients hundreds of thousands of dollars in all.
“If I was doing more volume, the big dealers would probably be thinking of ways to kill me,” he says.
Seifert pauses for a moment and glances out at a California palm bending against the onshore breeze.
“Would you walk into a courtroom to argue your case by yourself or would you rather have an attorney do it for you, someone who knows the ins and outs of the process?” he asks. “I’m my clients’ ‘attorney’ in the car-buying process. I represent them. My goal is to get them the best car at the best price. Sure, I get a fee, but everything is fully disclosed before we start the hunt. The most important thing is that my customers drive away with big smiles on their faces, feeling like they couldn’t have gotten a better deal anywhere else, and then tell others about their experience.”
Which they do. Most of Seifert’s clients are repeat customers – and they regularly refer family and friends. They cite similar reasons for working with him – convenience, savings and the trust they have for him.
“Anyone can hunt for a good deal on the internet but it takes time, and you have to know what you’re looking for,” says Herb Benham, who has bought six cars for himself through Seifert. “Steve has a tremendous interest in cars and has a real good eye. Buying used cars can be tricky – it’s not like buying a new car.
“Since he can shop the wholesale market, I’d rather pay someone like Steve,” he adds. “Of the 10 cars I’ve bought [including ones for family and friends], not one has been a lemon. That’s 10 for 10. More than anything, I trust him. I mean, I really trust him.”
Last year, Benham purchased a 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee with 30,000 miles on the odometer.
“The car has been fantastic,” he says. “I liked it a lot when I first got it and I like it even more now. It showed up with extras that I didn’t even bargain for like heated seats and a sunroof, so I felt even better about it right off the bat. It was better than advertised, not worse.”
The car looked almost new when he bought it for $15,000 versus $35,000 for a new one.
“If you hit the sweet spot like I did, you can get a phenomenal car for half the price,” he says.
Seifert agrees. “With as many as 250,000 vehicles selling in the wholesale market in any given week, it can take as little as a few hours to find a car. It can also take a few months. It all depends on the rarity of the car and how flexible my customer is with regard to color, options, trim level, mileage, etc. As you’d expect, it’s a lot easier to find a silver Honda Civic than a lime green Lamborghini.”
“Whenever I go on the hunt, I feel like a kid in a candy store,” he adds. “Even if we don’t get a particular car, because it either doesn’t meet our standards or the price gets bid up too high, it’s still enjoyable. I love the excitement.”
Seifert has been a “car nut” from nearly Day 1. When he was five years old, he’d stand up in the back seat of his parent’s 1955 Packard, lean over toward the front seat, his chin on his folded arms, and he would tell his parents which car was coming toward them – not only the make of the vehicle but the year to boot.
“That’s a ’53 Ford,” he’d announce. Lo and behold, as the car passed, his father would say, “Yep, that’s exactly right.”
“It wasn’t a ’52 or a ’54 – it was a ’53,” Seifert says proudly. “My parents were astonished that I could tell the make and year of every car. No one could believe it. It wasn’t something I worked on. It just came to me”
His love for cars grew through childhood and into his teenage years – and has never stopped. The only gifts he’d ever want for birthdays and Christmas were model cars. He’d spend his days building them, painting them, taking them apart, rebuilding them and repainting them.
“I was obsessed – but very happily,” he says.
He’d also read every car magazine he could get his hands on – from cover to cover. Nothing could distract him. Front page to last page, Seifert was transfixed when he read Car and Driver, Road and Track, Motor Trend and Hot Rod.
Not even the most beautiful girl in town could distract him for very long from his automobile fixation. One time, when Seifert was 18, he and his girlfriend were driving along in his Ford flatbed truck on a Saturday night in Los Angeles. Suddenly, a classic Corvette passed by. At the same time, a group of college girls were crossing the street. Seifert’s head spun around. Next thing he knew, his girlfriend slapped him. “Stop looking at those girls,” she said. “What girls?” he asked. “I was looking at the Corvette.”
Seifert laughs when he tells the story. He pauses and says, “I’ve just always been a car nut. I can’t explain it. It’s a disease.”
His first car was a ‘57 Ford Ranch Wagon. He bought it in 1967, before his 16th birthday, with $125 he’d saved from mowing lawns and doing odd jobs. He and his father took the motor apart and rebuilt it. From that moment on, he found himself buying and selling cars. Virtually every year, sometimes every six months, he’d be driving another car. “I wasn’t trying to make money,” he says. “I just wanted to drive something different.”
When he wasn’t at school or working at his father’s service station, Seifert could be found at car shows all over California. To this day, he still goes – when he’s not bidding for cars at an auction, that is.
He’s been to virtually every major car show in the world, including The Frankfurt Auto Show in Germany, perhaps the biggest of all the shows. He’s been there four times.
“I get my car fix by getting cars for other people,” he says. “I usually have the car for a few days, making sure it’s ready to go mechanically for my clients. I do this for the love and fun of it — and I want to make sure my clients get a great deal.”
Contact Steve Seifert