Auto Auction Bargains: 10 Guidelines for Smart Buying

Yes, you CAN save a bundle on a used car. If you shop the auctions, and shop smart.

There are plenty of opportunities, at government auctions, police auctions, repo auctions, and more. Lots of auctions, with inventories that change constantly.

Many prospective buyers don’t know there are auctions, or where they are, or how to participate. Smart buyers know where the good auctions are, and understand how to make the moves that lead to a successful bid. Here are a ten important guidelines every buyer should know.

1. Understand that for smart auction buyers, information is king. Don’t just walk in and start bidding. Do your homework. Know where the best auctions are. Know about the vehicle you’re bidding on. Ask questions. Know what’s the right price for the car you want.

2. Come to the auction site early. Give yourself time to look around carefully and identify the cars you’re interested in. Generlly, you’re not allowed to start the vehicles, or drive them.

3. You may want to consider traveling to auctions that are some distance from big cities or towns. They’re likely to be less crowded with bidders, and the cars may fetch lower prices.

4. Check the history of any car you intend to bid on, with CarFax or similar data base. Some buyers at an auction use their cell phones to send cars’ VINs (Vehicle Identification Numbers) to friends at home, who go on line to check vehicle service histories, then phone back the information before the bidding starts. Some auctions supply car histories to prospective bidders.

5. Check VINs on a car’s trunk, hood, doors, etc. If all the VIN markings on a car aren’t the same, the vehicle has been assembled from parts of other cars, and may have been stolen.

6. Look up the prevailing market value of the cars that interest you. Search for information in authoritative publications: Edmonds, nada (National Automobile Dealers’ Association), or kbb (the Kelley Blue Book). You may also want to check on line at

7. Don’t catch “auction fever.” Set a limit on how much you’ll pay for a car you’re interested in, and don’t bid above that limit. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of bidding, and feel you must win the bid no matter how high it goes. Keep a cool head. There are a lot more cars to choose from.

8. Find out the auction’s buyer’s premium before you bid. Remember, you’ll actually pay more than your winning bid. You’ll also pay a buyer’s premium to the auction house, generally 10 percent of the bid. Also, some auctions charge an entrance fee to get the number that makes you eligible to bid.

9. Read the contract carefully. When you win a bid, you’ll be asked to sign a contract that sets down the details of the deal. Read the contract carefully, paying particular attention to how long you’ll have to wait for the car’s title, if the auction house doesn’t have it at the time of sale.

10. Be sure you have the money. You can’t finance an auction car. Know the auction’s payment requirements.