Guide to Car Boot Sales

Anyone who collects retro games will have been to a car boot sale at some point trying to find some retro items, but will most likely have found very little of interest. This is because there are lots of professional 'car booters' who know all the tricks of the trade for getting the best items first. Well, some time ago we wrote a fun article for a retro gaming magazine about car boot sales and how to get the best from them. We have reprinted it here for your enjoyment. Enjoy!

 

The Indispensable Guide to Car Boot Sales

OK, so you’ve decided that you want to do some treasure hunting at your local car boot sale, but you’ve never been before and don’t know where to start. Well, fear not as I now give to you the benefit of seven years car boot sale experience – an indispensable guide from an old timer!

Most people new to car boot sales think they will be able to turn up and find everything they ever wanted and more. Not so. You may hear people lamenting about how years ago you used to be able to turn up at Ten O’clock and take your pick from the Game & Watches and boxed Vectrex consoles. Well this may have been true once, but those days are gone my friends. To do well at a car boot sale, you have to know exactly what you’re doing, what you should be looking for, what you should avoid and how you should behave…

Planning:

The first thing you should do the day before a car boot sale is plan. Plan everything.

First off, check the forecast for the weekend. If it’s going to hammer it down all weekend fields will be soggy and farmers don’t like that, so any outdoor car boot sales will be cancelled. If you are lucky enough to have indoor ones nearby then great, but bad weather generally puts off everyone – buyers & sellers alike.

Secondly, you need to know where all the car boot sales are in your area and plan your route. Most local papers / free papers have a car boot sale section in them on a Friday – make sure you get it every week. Your paper will not only list the regular car boot sales, but ‘one off’ car boot sales such as those at schools, hospitals or church halls. The school car boot sales are often goldmines for the retro games hunter, but more of that later…

So once you have your weekend car boot sales listings you need to plan a route. I would say you should start with the biggest first, as the bigger ones normally start earlier. I tend to do the furthest away first, opting to get there just as it starts, then work my way back home through all the other booties. The smaller ones tend to be less busy and start later, and I can often turn up as late as Nine O’clock and still find some good stuff.

You may have two really big car boot sales running at the same time where you live and have to choose the best one. If this scenario happens, I would advise you to choose the one with the least traders (stalls selling stolen razor blades, mobile phone covers or dodgy plaster cast gnomes & hedgehogs) or choose the one nearest the smaller car boot sales, so to cut down your traveling time between sites.

It should be noted here that you want to be arriving at car boot sales as early as possible. There is no point turning up at a massive car boot sale two hours after is has started – everything will have gone. I normally arrive just as they are starting – if the papers say they start at Six O’clock you should aim for that time. Many sellers will get there even earlier, wanting to set up as early as possible. A lot of bargains are snagged in the first half hour of a bootie, and if you’re still in bed then you’re going to miss them.

The time of the year will affect what the car boot sales will be like. Firstly, summer is definably the best time to go; especially Bank Holiday weekends. As I mentioned before a lot of schools have car boot sales and many of the stall holders are selling off their kids ‘old games consoles because they only play on their PS2 now’. I always go to the school ones – without a doubt they are they have the most retro items. Private schools where the parents have more money and the children tend to look after their toys more always yield the best finds.

The other good time of the year is in September / October. This is when a lot of teenagers go to University and their parents can clear out all the ‘rubbish’ from their rooms. I am sure many first year Degree students have been horrified upon return to find their Mum has ‘got two pounds at a car boot sale for that old computer and games’ that they treasured so much.

Get everything ready the night before. Go to the cash machine and draw out your money – banks often screw up or run out of money over the weekend, it is very frustrating frantically driving around your town / city at six in the morning trying to find a working hole in the wall. Also, take more money than you think you will need – if you reckon you will spend around £100 take £150. There is nothing worse than losing out on a really good collection because you haven’t got enough money. When you do get your cash, get some of it changed into smaller notes and coins. Early on, a lot of stalls won’t have change and valuable time is wasted trying to find someone who can ‘break a twenty’.

Likewise you should fill up your car with petrol the night before, get your clothes ready (I always wear old jeans and walking boots – no point messing up your best clothes) and put some waterproofs in the car just in case; we do live in Britain remember? Get a big bag, preferably a rucksack, ready for carrying your haul. I have an eighty litre Karrimor rucksack that accompanies me whenever I go hunting. Carrier bags laden with games will cut into your hands and get ripped open spilling their contents.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t get too drunk the night before! You will either sleep in missing the car boot sales altogether or even worse drive while you’re still drunk. There always police on the lookout for early morning drunk drivers – you could loose your license or injure someone in an accident. Please don’t drink & drive. And remember to set your alarm at least half an hour early.

Strategy:

So you’ve panned your route, got your stuff ready and managed to drag your ass out of bed at some ungodly hour. First thing to do – get a coffee! You need to be awake for the drive, and on your toes to find all the bargains. I find a particularly strong Columbian does the trick.

Car boot sales get busy very quickly, and the trick is how to get around in as little time as possible, whilst not missing the good stuff. My personal approach is to hit the newest stalls first, and work back through the older ones, repeating the process every time a new row / area appears and dropping the oldest row / area.

You will need to learn to identify likely sellers of retro goodies. Typically, middle aged parents are the most likely to have some consoles / computers, although grand parents and young teenagers may have something to offer too, so there is no hard and fast rule. You should begin to spot the antique sellers reasonably quickly, and skip them. Likewise you will easily spot traders and avoid them too.

Soon enough you will be nipping around between stalls, doing a quick, quick, slow type of movement between potential sellers. The next important thing is to learn to ask people if they have X, Y or Z. Yes, it seems obvious but most people just fly so quickly between stalls they don’t bother actually asking the sellers if they have what they are looking for.

The best time to speak up is when a new car arrives. Do not become one of those Pikey types (more on this later) that climb in the back of peoples cars the second they turn up. Take it from someone that has done a car boot sale himself – nothing infuriates them more. The person will be busy enough unpacking without having to watch a pack of hungry wolves ransack the contents of his or her car.

The best approach is to politely ask the new arrival if they have any games or consoles. If they say yes, ask if they wouldn’t mind putting them aside for you and you’ll come back later when they’re not so busy. Be polite, courteous and friendly – they will appreciate it. I have some business cards printed with the Console Passion website logo and my contact details. This is useful as I can give it to the person and assure them I am a serious buyer and I will come back. My mobile number is on there so they can give me a quick call if they like once they have got everything sorted out.

Sooner or later you are going to run into some Pikeys, and most likely have some kind of argument. Pikeys, for the lucky few that have never met them, are mostly the ‘traveling type’ of folk, who are violent, smelly and generally obnoxious. Every car boot sale has a family of Pikeys in attendance. It is unfortunate that their current interests tend to be retro games – namely anything with Sega or Nintendo written on it. They will take the ‘buy all’ approach – favoring FIFA95 on the Megadrive just as much as Secret of Mana on the Super NES. The mentality behind this is that if you buy everything, at least one or two items will bring you a healthy profit, making up for all the other tat you have just bought.

The particular family of Pikeys where I go consists of several ‘searchers’ and one ‘expert’. The ‘searchers’ are a rather large woman accompanied by a child with a funny eye, a grubby looking kid with a shaved head and a rats tail, two really mean looking brothers (I think these are enforcers) and the ‘expert’ who is an older guy with a grey ponytail. If they are not sure about an item, they contact the ‘expert’ by walkie-talkie and ask him questions on its value. If you get chance try and listen in to the ‘expert’ with his analysis, it is more often or not factually incorrect and utter nonsense!

My advice if you get into an argument with some Pikeys is to just walk away. Firstly you can waste valuable searching time in an argument, and more often or not there are a lot more of them than you. Normally the argument starts with you buying something, and them telling you that they were going to buy that. Or this is there patch. Or (my personal favorite) you’re jumping on their bandwagon. Whatever the reason, just leave it - it isn’t worth the hassle.

You also have to remember that aside from the Pikeys, you aren’t the only person looking for games. But this can be a good thing too. I quite often swap part of my haul with other collectors – they have something I want and vice versa. It is also a good idea to befriend other hunters too – not just games hunters but toy hunters, record hunters etc. Let them know what you are on the lookout for and occasionally they will spot something you have missed and let you know about it. They may also know other collectors who you can ‘trade’ with.

You will have worked out by now that speed is the key to success at a car boot sale. So the situation arrives where you have found a nice Megadrive with a big box of games. So what do you do now? Do you take it all the way back to your car and then come all the way back. Uh-Uh! Pay the nice person and ask them to keep it in their car, saying you’ll collect it later. This saves loads of trips backwards and forwards to your car. I would suggest that if you have a poor memory a notepad will help here – you can write down the colour, type and registration of the car and its rough location. I have actually bought something in the past, asked the person to save it and then forgotten where it was (Doh!).

Always keep your eye out for ‘other’ potential bargains – there aren’t just games at car boot sales you know. The other day I picked up a DC-07 Dyson for £5 in full working order. I also got a full set of brand new professional Chef’s knives for £10 a few weeks ago. Even if you spot a bargain you don’t need you can always sell it on, or give it away as a gift to a relative!

Funnily enough, I find car boot sales are a really good way to meet people. Not just other collectors either. More often or not there is a stall with a couple of nice female students selling off their possessions to pay for tuition fees (or beer more likely). Your friendly chat will be a welcome change from all the old biddy antique collectors asking them if they have any Royal Doulton. It should be pointed out that gushing about how you have just bought a mint boxed copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga would not be the best approach here.

Haggling is acceptable to a degree, but if you are buying £200+ worth of items for a five quid, don’t be trying to knock off another pound – that’s just plain greedy. Also, you don’t have to buy everything either – leave some stuff for other collectors. If you see an unboxed Megadrive with ten games, nine of which you don’t want, ask if the person would just sell you the single game. Most people think that the consoles are worth the most and will only ask for a pound or so.

So there you go; my guide to successful car boot sale hunting. Follow the instructions well and you should get at least one or two ‘scores’ a weekend, and some smaller successes too. The only remaining thing I can say is don’t be disheartened when you miss out on a really nice collection. It will happen eventually. Just keep at it and sooner or later you will find something really great. Like a boxed Colecovision. Or a Neo Geo with ten games. Or a Super Famicom with a Super Wildcard DX. Yes, it’s true – there really is treasure out there, you just have to put the time and effort in.

© Andy Brown, 2006