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Car dealer can't afford to stick around
The 2002 Chevy sedan sitting on the virtually empty lot of Kent's Kars in downtown Ceres represents the end of a career for Kent Hancock.

He's closing up shop after 23 years of buying and selling cars at the eastern foot of the Pine Street overpass.

"I'm fading it out," said Hancock, who stares at the car noting a $4,700 sale ends his business. "I'm pretty much done. Yeah, I'm saddened by it. I have a lot of stress right now."

Hancock, whose grandfather Rolla Hancock operated a garage across the street over a half-century ago, said his business fells into serious decline because of the economy, burdensome state smog laws and tighter auto financing.

"In 2010 I lost money. I've been breaking even during the recession while working my tail off. I'm working 10 to 12 hours a day to not make money. I'm going to quit before I lose everything."

Hancock said it became increasingly more difficult to do business with people who needed to secure auto loans. Places that used to give lines of credit to his customers - such as Town & Country Bank and County Bank - are gone.

"The finance companies are drying up. They will loan on five-year-olds, like 2006s. I can start carryng really junky cars where I hate to do that or more expensive cars. They won't finance $5,000 cars. So that's a big strike right there."

Selling more expensive cars would be tough, he said, because he'd be competing with the other lots in Modesto like Robert's Auto Sales.

"The new car stores are selling a ton of used cars."

Hancock had the toughest words for the state of California, which is tightening smog laws with time.

"Smog laws are driving us crazy."

He explained that when a battery loses its charge on his lot, the car's computer system shuts down which requires resetting it and having to test it under more monitors.

"I'm it having 3-4 cars a week that have to be driven hundreds of miles before I can get them smogged. That's $80 or $100 to drive them unnecessarily - like to Fresno and back - to get it smogged. You can't drive them enough. And it's only going to get worse next year and for what? Does it make the air any cleaner?"

The economy has taken its toll as well. During what he calls "the good years," Hancock was selling an average of 13 cars per month. In the past year he was selling between seven and eight cars.

The closure of the business means another vacant lot in Ceres such as the ones on Mitchell Road. He said it means he will have to find a job working for someone else.

"I'm hoping and praying someone will come and rent this place because I need the income," said Hancock.