If you're interested in buying a car at an auction, you'll have a choice between government and public auctions. Once you find the type of auction you're looking for, look at the auction's sale catalogue, and do as much research as you can about the cars that will be up for sale. On the day of the auction, be sure to arrive early so that you'll be able to have enough time to register and inspect the cars on the lot. Finally, one of the most important things you'll want to do is set a maximum price for yourself. Then, try your best to avoid ending up in a self-destructive bidding war.
Method 1 of 3:Finding an Auction
1Search online for government vehicle auctions near you. To start, type in your location and “vehicle auction” into an internet search bar. If you're interested in government-owned vehicles in particular, look at the websites of local or national agencies for relevant information.
If you're interested in cars owned by the U.S. government, search for auctions near you on the GSA's auto auction website: https://www.usa.gov/auctions-and-sales.
You can start to search for state government surplus auctions at this website: https://www.usa.gov/state-surplus-sales
Police departments also routinely auction off surplus vehicles, so you may want to look at their websites.
2Look for public auctions in your local newspaper or online. You can find notices for public auctions in the classified section of a newspaper. If you're searching online, simply type your location and the term “vehicle auction” into your internet search browser.
3Stick to government auctions if you want more transparency. At a government auction, you'll be able to buy used police cruisers, school buses, and other fleet cars used by a variety of government agencies. The information government auctions provide about the vehicles up for sale is generally much more reliable and comprehensive than what you'll see at any public auction.
At a government auction, you'll have access to the maintenance and repair histories of vehicles.
Because of the transparency of government auctions, competition can be fierce, so it may be difficult to find a good deal.
4Buy a car at a public auction only if you're prepared to repair it. Most cars you'll find at public auctions are old or damaged. Unlike government auctions, most public auctions aren't transparent about the histories of the cars being sold. For this reason, you should assume that any car you find at a public auction will require fixing.
Avoid cars that are sold as ‘Miles Exempt.' This term means that the auction does not guarantee the accuracy of the mileage displayed on the car's odometer.
You won't be able to test drive a vehicle before bidding on it, so take care before making a final decision.
Method 2 of 3:Doing Research
1Research cars that interest you online. Many auction houses will put out a list before the day of the auction with the make, model, and year of all of the cars that will be auctioned off. If this is the case, pick out a few cars that you're interested in and do some research about them, such as looking at their resale value and safety records.
The auction may even publish vehicles' VINs (vehicle identification number) online, which you can use to check their car history reports.
Check out the Kelly Blue Book to see the market value of a specific make and model: https://www.kbb.com
Edmunds is another great resource: https://www.edmunds.com.
2Visit an auction ahead of time to get a sense of what it's like. If you go to your first auction planning to buy a vehicle, you may find the whole experience a bit overwhelming and confusing. So, if you're interested in buying a car at an auction, go to at least 1 as an observer first. Attending a few before you place a bid yourself would be even better. Take notes about how the bidding process works and familiarize yourself with the environment.
If you know anyone who has bought a car at an auction, you may want to invite them to come with you so they can explain the process to you.
Don't be afraid to ask other attendees at the auction any questions you may have.
3Read over the auction's rules thoroughly ahead of time. While auction cars are generally much cheaper than cars sold at dealerships, buying one is a riskier investment. This is because most auctions don't guarantee the quality of their cars. Most also won't accept returns if you're unsatisfied. Make sure you're comfortable with all of the auction's terms before purchasing a car.
You can usually find the terms and conditions of auction sales on the auction house's website.
Method 3 of 3:Attending the Auction
1Make sure you're eligible to register for the sale. To place a bid on a car at government auctions, for example, you must be at least 18 years of age. You may also be required to provide your social security number or taxpayer ID number.
Most auctions will also need to see your driver's license before letting you remove a car from their lot.
2Arrive early at the auction house to register as a bidder. As part of the registration, you may need to provide evidence that you have enough money to buy a car, like a bank statement or a credit card. You'll also have to sign a contract agreeing to pay a buyer's premium, which is an additional fee on top of your winning bid.
If you don't register as a bidder, you won't be able to place a bid.
If you couldn't find a sale catalogue online, you can usually pick one up when you sign in.
3Inspect cars on the lot up close. If you see any cars that interest you, look them over closely. Look for rust spots, dents, scratches, and any other signs of damage or excessive wear. Write down the make and model of the cars that seem to be in the best shape and their lot numbers. Most auction houses won't let you test drive any cars, but you may be allowed to start them to see how the engine and other accessories perform.
Bring along a friend or family to help you evaluate the cars. 2 or more sets of eyes is always better than 1, especially if the other set of eyes belongs to a mechanic.
Things you should look for, include: puddles under the vehicle, an uneven stance, scored brake discs, and paint overspray, which can be a sign of repairs.
You'll also want to smell the car. If it smells musty, that's a clear sign that it was flooded, and you should steer clear of it.
4Check a car's VIN before bidding on it. If you see a car you like, look for its VIN at the base of its windshield. With a car's VIN, you'll be able to look up its car history report. This will allow you to see whether it has experienced any significant damage in the past.
If the auction house doesn't let you see this number ahead of time, they're trying to hide its background history, and you should go to a different auction house.
Look for the VIN in other places where manufacturers commonly put them, such as on door and trunk lid stickers.
If the numbers are different, don't get the car. Different VINs on a single car are a clear indication that the car has undergone repairs after a major accident.
5Raise your paddle to place a bid on a car. When a car you're interested in comes up on the auction block, make sure you're somewhere where the auctioneer or ringmen will be able to see your raise your paddle. Continue bidding on the car until you reach the maximum price you set for yourself.
When setting a price limit for yourself, remember that you'll still have to pay a buyer's premium and any costs associated with shipping the vehicle.
6Make sure you know what type of payment the auction house accepts. Some auction houses will accept only cash as payment for their cars, and won't accept credit cards. Others may accept credit cards, cashier's checks, or money orders. Unlike dealerships, auction houses do not offer financing options for car purchases.
Set a maximum price limit for yourself ahead of time and try not to exceed that amount.
When the auction house accepts your bid, you are contractually obligated to pay for the car and move it off the lot. If you don't do so for any reason, you may have to pay a fee.