Car Auctions: Tips to Win and Save

Image of man reviewing vehicle before purchase at a car auction.
How to Win at Car Auctions

Everyone with even a passing familiarity with classic car auctions knows the name Barrett Jackson. Most of us have seen the frequent broadcasts of this spectacle. The parade of classic and rare cars is awesome and all the more impressive to witness in person. But far from the glitz, glamour and million dollar bids is another type of car auction – one that us mere mortals are more likely to not only attend but participate in.

This car auction guide won’t help you score a Ferrari for pennies on the dollar. But it may help you save thousands on some of the most common of everyday vehicles: old Ford F150s, Volkswagen Jettas, Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics with many miles and many stories.  They may not make it in prime time but they offer you the opportunity to get used cars and used trucks on the cheap — if you’re smart about it.

Interest in these auctions has boomed as the market remains credit and stagnated rules have stiffened. Buyers who previously could qualify for auto loans on used cars that are new or sound discover they want to shop with cash. But the Usa is a nation built around the automobile, and it is not a lot more difficult to get a job if you’ve got a car so for many individuals car auctions are a means to fill the need.

Autos at public auctions are frequently those that would not sell at wholesale dealer auctions. Yes, some are flooded vehicles, and Hurricane Hermine should be fresh in your head. Some are automobiles fast reconditioned in car dealer stores to fill in intervals that are slow when there is otherwise little work. And many are simply flat out crap. “A car that goes across the block at a public auction that’sn’t spewing smoke is frequently packaged with heavy racing oil to ensure it does not,” Lang continues. “Everything at a public auction appears glossy, but gleaming does not mean much about the quality of the automobile.”

This does not mean it is not possible to locate a great car at auction; it simply means it is becoming more difficult. But if you decide to head down to gawk and perhaps offer to an auction, keep these 10 tips in mind.

How to Win at Used Car Auctions

  1. Be Honest With Yourself

If you don’t have the mechanical skills or tools to deal with mechanical issues, don’t convince yourself otherwise. Thinking you can handle something you can’t will turn short-term savings into a much longer and painful cost. Avoid it by being honest about your capabilities when it comes to working a car with trouble.

  1. Trust Your Eyes

Autos at public and authorities auctions sell on visual inspection. Look at everything and try to find telltale signs of repairs including paint aerosol, less than puddles under the vehicle, smooth sheet metal, scored an irregular position, brake disks and a million other details. Use your nose, hands and legs, also. If a car smells musty or the carpeting is not dry, run away.

  1. Seeing is Believing But Not Always

Touch-up paint and car wax isn’t expensive. And it’s an easy way for a car to really sparkle under the lights and hide imperfections. We’re ok with a little makeup to highlight and showcase. But when you’re doing your due diligence with a car at public auction, you need to consider that vehicle as if it’s been photoshopped in real time. Especially at public auctions, suppose every vehicle there’s been rubbed on to the stage that there is a reality distortion field encircling it. Nothing is of the same quality as it seems.

  1. When What You See Should Be Ignored – Or Send You Running

At used car auctions, weathered paint may cover an older  Ford that’s still in great shape when it comes to its engine, frame and transmission. A dent in the bumper of a Chevy may only be the war wound of a long-ago back-in bump at the grocery store and not an indicator of anything worth worrying about. At a public auction those dents and dings may simply be identifiers of a vehicle with great bones but too many blemishes for a dealer to work on their lot.

  1. Investigate the VIN

Write down the VIN from the foundation of the windshield for any auto you are contemplating. Subsequently assess other areas where the VIN might seem, for example door and trunk lid decals. If the amounts do not fit, the automobile reconstructed and may have been in a major injury. Look for more promising options.

  1. Check The Oil

If a car’s been taken care of and received regular service, you’ll see clean and clear liquid on the dipstick. If it’s not, you may want to steer clear as the vehicle may’ve made it to the auction block but be in serious need of long-term TLC and upkeep to maintain its condition.

  1. Know the Car’s Worth Before You Bid

Use Edmunds and Kelly Blue Book to get an idea of what the vehicle is worth before you consider a bid. Pride works against us in the bidding game. If you don’t really know what the car you’re bidding is worth STOP BIDDING. The auction is no place to try the old “fake it till you make it” routine.

  1. “As Is” Means “AS IS”

Vehicles at auction sell in “as is” state. That means there are no warranties, no guarantees and no means of legal recourse. If you don’t have the means to deal with a car with problems, don’t bid. Period.

  1. Keep Your Eyes on Other Bidders

Take your time and observe the activity around each car or truck as it goes up for auction. Look for suspicious actions from other bidders — if someone appears to interested in too many vehicles, they may simply be bidding to pump up the strike price. Don’t fall for someone trying to lure you into a bidding war just to get you to pay more. Before you even consider placing your first bid, you should attend more than a few auctions to get a feel for the process and the games people play — and who some of the regular players are.

  1. Mind The Drama

It’s easy for us to get caught up in the excitement of an auction and become addicted to the rush of bidding only to wind up spending way more on a used car than we should. The ones who win big at public auctions do so by being disciplined and rational. Passion and feelings are fine in their place – the auction lot is for cold-blooded calculations. Don’t get emotional. The win isn’t worth losing money. Sometimes, you will have to just walk away. Better to walk away today so you can drive away happy in the future.

Now that you have a better understanding of how the auction process works and what you can do to better navigate one, check out the  many donated and used cars in our inventory search portal here.

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