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Tips for buying a car at an auction

Tips for buying a car at an auction

If you really want to buy a good car at an auto auction you have to invest time, energy, and research a lot. Some people bid by phone because they don’t want to spend extra time and energy. But to us, nothing beats being in the midst of it all. Besides, buying a car without seeing it may prove to be a risky business. To help you navigate the world of competitive sales, we’ve compiled a quick guide with tips for buying a car at an auction.

How to buy a car at an auction?

Settle on a budget

It is easy to be carried away when bidding, so settle on a budget beforehand. And don’t forget to include registration fee, taxes, and any other fees to your final price as well as car transport from the auction. This way you will be more prepared to deal with any challenges that may arise. Moreover, every auto auction has its own terms. Hence, you will need to read them in advance and make sure you have the correct payment options available in case you win the car.

Do your homework

Take your time and check out different car prices online to get a general idea so that you won’t be fooled at an auction. Search for particular models or types of cars in order to make sure you’ll find what you’re looking for and you will know in advance how much it usually costs. Check out sites like to estimate the cost of ownership. You can also look up local prices in classified listings and check Kelly Blue Book, Edmunds, Auto Trader Classics, or Nada Guides to get a bit more familiar with the used cars’ market.

Always check the terms and conditions beforehand

You need to get familiar with the terms and conditions of any auction beforehand. Some auction houses require you to register before you bid, for example, so make sure to check the terms and conditions of the auction in advance.

Check the car history

You will be surprised at how much you can learn about a vehicle by just looking at its history report on AutoCheck or Carfax.  A lot of auto auctions list their inventory online along with their VIN codes so it is always smart to subscribe to one of these vehicle-history report services and find out which vehicles are worth buying.

Go to a few auctions before you participate in one

Another thing you should look out for is the fake bidders. If you’ve been to several auctions before you will know what I am talking about. In almost every auction, there are fake bidders specifically hired to pump up the prices. It is not hard to notice them if you go to several auctions in advance. They are everywhere, they participate a lot but never actually buy. So, try to spend some time analyzing the auction itself and the suspicious bidders before you go and participate in an auction. You will also get a sense of atmosphere, see how things work, and get the chance to ask the staff any questions you might have before you get involved in any bidding.

Know the difference

A government auction is totally different from a public auction.  Any sign of misuse might be a false alarm at a government auction while the same signs of misuse at a public auction may mean the car’s condition is even worse than you can ever imagine.

Also, not all auctions are open to the public. Some are only open to dealers and those types of auctions require a car dealer license in all 50 states so make sure to check that as well.

Don’t bid on a pretty picture

Okay. Think a little bit. Not all the cars you see in an auction are what they look like. Every single one of them has been ‘fixed’ before the auction so don’t get deceived and don’t trust everything you see. Pull the oil or transmission fluid dipsticks. When a car is very well maintained, the lubricants must be clear and clean when you pull the dipsticks. Check the tires, look carefully for any signs of repairs, and inspect the interior of the car before bidding.

Don’t pin all your hopes on only one car.

When you go to an auction, always take a pen and a notebook with you. Pick up to 5 cars that you think are worth buying and write down any notes you have and also write down the maximum amount you are able to pay for each of them. In this way, whenever you start biding on one of those cars you pre-selected, you will have all the information you need in your notebook. If the bid seems to get way higher than you are able to afford, by having the notebook in front of your eyes you won’t get caught up in the bidding and it will be easier for you to let go.

Go during the weekdays

You probably have thought to go to an auction during the weekend so that you won’t have to take a day off work. But if you really want to attend a worthy auction, take a day off and participate in an auction that is being held on a weekday.

Go there as early as you can

You will need time to look carefully at all the cars to choose the one, so go there early. If you go there a few hours early you might get extra bonus points such as being able to drive the car around and also ask about buyer’s fees which usually aren’t spelled out until you buy the car.

So, as you can see, there are a lot of benefits if you do your homework, go to an auto auction as early as possible, and spend time before you make any decisions. If you can, ask a friend to accompany you. It is always good to have someone you know and trust with you, especially if he or she is a car guy or girl and knows a lot about cars.  If your friends are not into cars, take an expert with you. An expert will understand the VIN codes and notice if anything is wrong with a car right away.

And last but not least, don’t forget to check our top 5 most popular car auctions, because it only takes one click!

Now, tell us your car auction story. Have you attended one recently and what have you bought? If you have not, good luck when you go there! I hope my tips were helpful.

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