Twelve Washington, D.C.-area credit unions booked about $4 million in auto loans earlier this month at an unorthodox car sale.

Loan-hungry credit unions sponsor car extravaganzas for their members all the time. But the sale held Oct. 14 and Oct. 15 in Alexandria, Va., was unusual because it involved used autos instead of new ones.

"I don't know of anyone who's doing what we're doing," said William Batchelor, senior vice president of credit and collection for $2 billion- asset Pentagon Federal Credit Union, which organized the sale.

The credit unions collaborated with more than 10 used-car dealers, because working with new-car franchises caused too many headaches, Mr. Batchelor said.

In the early 1990s, new-car dealers accused the credit unions of price- fixing, because only sellers that agreed to a certain price ceiling could participate, Mr. Batchelor said. Credit unions denied what they did was illegal, and the state attorney general's office investigated.

Since the investigation, rules and enforcement have made holding a new- car sale impractical, Mr. Batchelor said. All dealerships of a franchise must be invited to the event. If one chooses not to come, the others must get permission from that dealer.

With this month's sale, however, the credit unions merely had to invite all the dealers in the area, Mr. Batchelor said. No shop had veto power over another.

"It's more difficult to do this with new cars," Mr. Batchelor said.

About $2 million of the loans were split between Pentagon Federal and Navy Federal Credit Union. This was the first such sale for Navy Federal, which would strongly consider participating again.

"We decided to do it this time to increase the amount of our lending," said Navy Federal senior vice president Brian McDonnell. One of the sale's appealing features was that, by participating, dealers couldn't sell cars for more than the average retail price.

"We wanted to make sure our members were being treated properly," Mr. McDonnell said.

Juri Valdov, president of Northwest Federal Credit Union, said the sale's timing - just as new car models were rolling out - ensured that quality used cars would be on the market.

"We felt that the used-car sale was something new and something different, and the timing was good," Mr. Valdov said.

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