Most people are familiar with the more glitzy and glamorous high-dollar auctions hosted by Barrett Jackson and televised on cable TV. The parade of classic and rare cars fetching six-figure bids from well-to-do attendees is quite a spectacle. But it is a far cry from the types of auctions this guide is made for.
Our auction guide focuses more on the every day, mundane vehicles that are available for thousands below retail prices at auctions occurring all over the country. And while bidding on a Ford F150, or Volkswagen Jettas or Toyota Corolla may not seem so exciting compared to a bidding on a pristine 1967 Camaro, learning the ins-and-outs of the car auction world isn’t without its appeal when you consider how much money you could save. You may not make it in prime time but you will have the opportunity to get used cars and used trucks on the cheap — if you’re smart about it.
Car auction popularity has only increased thanks to more marketing and exposure through the internet in addition to changes in lending laws. As restrictions and regulations made it more difficult for buyers to get financing, they turned to their cash-buying power to leverage in the auction space.
Many times the vehicles found at auctions are there because dealers didn’t believe they fit the retail marketplace. These “rejects” include flooded vehicles, cars fixed in car dealer stores, fleet turnover from rentals, recovered thefts and those dismissed by insurance companies as salvaged wrecks. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find gems, but that you may need to be more careful and critical in your analysis. Follow these 10 simple tips to make it even easier.
How to Win at Used Car Auctions
- Know Your Limits
If you don’t know how or don’t know someone that does, don’t pretend you can fix a problem vehicle. Just because you think you can fix something, doesn’t mean you will be able to and that short-term saving could end up costing you plenty in the long run.
- Use Your Eyes
Cars at public and police auctions are sold under visual inspection so it is important that you do your best to analyze every detail. Look at everything to identify the signs of previous or needed repairs: repainting, puddles under the vehicle, etc. And don’t forget to use your other senses! If the inside of the vehicle smells musty or moldy there may be more damage hidden beyond your sight.
- You Can’t Shine A Turn – Unless You Can
It doesn’t cost much money to slap some touch paint on a vehicle and give it a good waxing. And it’s an easy way to make a car shine under the lights and hide its many imperfections. When you’re doing your due diligence with a car at public auction, you need to consider that vehicle as if it’s been past over by a quality makeup artist.
- What Is Acceptable – And What Isn’t
You need to use critical analysis when you are at an auto auction. There are bound to be blemishes and imperfections on the vehicles in front of you and you need to be able to ignore the insignificant and avoid the problematic. Weathered paint may be the only issue of an old Chevy pickup that’s still in great shape when you consider the frame, engine and transmission. A dented bumper may be nothing more than a poor parking job or exit. Sometimes, those dents and dings will be enough to get a good vehicle passed off a dealer’s lot and in front of you and when that happens, it’s an opportunity to get a great deal on a good car.
- Investigate the VIN
If you don’t know where to find a vehicle’s VIN, check the bottom of the windshield. Once you have that identifier use one of the several availbale services to research the vehicle history before you commit to purchase.
- Check The Oil
Clean and clear liquid is usually indicative of a vehicle that’s been taken care of. If it’s not, the car or truck may be on auction block in serious need of long-term TLC and upkeep to maintain its condition.
- Know the Car’s Worth Beforehand
Using Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book, get an idea of what the vehicle is worth before your first bid. 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.
- Undertand What “As Is” Means
All vehicles sold at auction are sold “as is”. 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.
- Watch The Competition
Look around you and consider what other bidders are doing. If someone appears to interested in too many vehicles, they may be there to pump the prices up. Don’t get suckered into a bidding war and end up paying more than you should have. In fact, we recommend you attend a few auctions BEFORE you place your first bid to familiarize yourself with the environment and process.
- Keep Your Cool
It’s not uncommon to become addicted to the rush of the bidding process. But getting sucked up in the excitement can lead you to spending more on a used car than you originally bargained on. To win deals, you need to be rational and disciplined. 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 discounted and donated used cars and trucks in inventory here.