How to Buy a Car from an Auction

posted by Chris Valentine

Going to car auctions can be rewarding and adventurous for some buyers. A good day at an auction can yield a decent car at a pretty low price. However, there are many ways that a deal can go sour, too. The worst is buying a car that was not worth what you spent.

While many will agree that buying a car at an auction is not always the best choice, it offers you an opportunity to compare a range of vehicles and probably land one at a much lower cost than at the dealership. Here are our tips on buying a car from an auction.

Where to Find Auctions

There are different types of car auctions: government auctions, public auctions and online auctions. Government auctions offer a safer bet when you want a car in good shape and at a good bargain. However, with competition growing in county car auctions, getting a car at an affordable price is no longer easy. Be careful not to get burned.

Public auctions used to be a good option, but are getting more complicated. Unless you have great mechanical training or are willing to spend more on doing extra repairs and tweaks, you want a safer car purchase option. If you can’t fix, avoid it. This doesn’t mean you can’t find a good car, it’s just getting harder. Whatever option you choose, consider these tips.

How to Bid

When it comes to the actual car bidding process, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

Be Honest with Yourself

If you don’t have the ability to deal with potential mechanical challenges, don’t talk yourself into it. You may be looking for a cheaper option, but dealing with expensive repairs later will ruin you.

Get Used to the Auction First

If you’ve never been to a car auction, consider tagging along to familiarize yourself with how it’s done before taking part. It can seem too fast, but you’ll get used to it.

Arrive Early on the Day of the Auction

Pick up the car sales catalog to get a picture of what’s on offer and decide how much you want to spend. Keep in mind that in addition to the hammer price, there is a buyer’s fee to pay.

Be Prepared to Bid

At some auctions, registration is required before making a bid, but in many auctions, it’s not required. Know how payment is made and other small details.

Use Your Eyes

At the auction, visual inspection is what counts most. Examine the vehicles you’re interested in. Look at everything including telltale signs of repairs, dents, accidents and scored disc brakes and other details. Use your nose, hands and legs too. If the car smells musty, leave it. Remember that at the auction, nothing is as good as it looks.

Give Your Ears to the Auctioneer

Auctioneers will read out the details of each vehicle before the bidding starts. In particular, be aware of the car’s selling description including:

  • No major vehicle mechanical faults
  • Specified mechanical faults by seller
  • Sold-as-seen – Means the vehicle is sold as seen/no warranties
  • Sold on a mechanical engineer’s report

Be Seen by the Auctioneer

Bidding is best done when the auctioneer sees you. Hanging back and joining the bidding late can sometimes work but you could lose out on a great bargain.

Go In person or Hire Someone

It might seem a lot of work to do during your first-time car bidding at an auction, but you can always bring someone experienced to help you do the bidding if you can’t do it yourself.

Getting Your Car Home

Once you’ve made a successful bid, completed the necessary paperwork and collected the car keys and other documents like registration. It’s time to take your car home. If the car auction house doesn’t provide shipping, you need to find an auto transport company that is reputable and affordable to ship your car home.

Ensure that you also have proper paperwork or information needed for the shipper to pick up your car and deliver it to your home. Confirm if the car is also inoperable or in operational condition as shippers can charge extra fees for inoperable cars.

To ensure the safety of your car, be sure that the shipping company has the proper equipment to tow or move your vehicle, such as winches and forklifts. The last thing you want is your vehicle being damaged during transit due to unprofessionalism on the part of the car shipper.


Always be cautious with cars you buy at a car auction. Be keen with inspections, have a fixed budget and go for a car that you’re willing to service at an extra cost.

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