How to Buy a Car at Auction

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Posted on 15th November 2017 – Cars Shows

Buying a car at an auction can be a great way to make savings. And auctions aren’t all about super rare and expensive vehicles. You can also find auction houses that specialise in everyday vehicles. However, it is important to do your research and be prepared. The atmosphere at an auction can do strange things to bidders and one can end up paying far too much for a wreck.

1. Provenance of cars

When it comes to high-end cars, they will usually come from private collections. Over the years, there have been surprising finds too, with several lots of dilapidated valuable cars found rusting in barns.

For everyday cars, they may come from car dealers unable to close a sale on a particular car and trying to lower their stocks. It can also come from bailiffs and repossessions, when cars are sold to cover debts contracted by an individual. Salvage cars sold for spare parts are another source.

Whichever type of car you are looking for, take the time to research the auction house credentials. Sadly, a percentage of cars sold at auction are in fact stolen cars so you want to make sure that you don’t do business with unscrupulous companies.


2. Do your research beforehand

Decide on what kind of car you are looking for and consult car magazines and other resources to find out their market values. They can vary greatly from car to car and as they get mileage so don’t guess or you may pay much more than you should on the day of the auction.


3. Be realistic

Restoring an old car yourself can be very rewarding but it requires reasonable mechanical knowledge, a place to work, the right tools and the budget to do it. If you don't have all of these, don’t talk yourself into believing you can do it, as you will end up with either an unusable car sitting in your garage, or that great bargain you thought you bought turning into a financial abyss.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t buy a car at an auction, just that you are clear that you are looking for something that is in a good state.


4. Arrive early

If it is your first auction, arrive early so that you can get used to the atmosphere. Auctions can go very fast and it is important to experience a few of them as a spectator so that you know what to expect and can keep a cool head.

Then pick up the sales catalogue and decide on the maximum bid you are willing to offer. Remember that you will also have to pay the auction house a fee.

You may also be asked to register before being allowed to bid. In addition, some auction houses may ask you for a lump payment as a security.


5. Inspect the car(s) you are interested in

Unfortunately, you are not allowed to perform anything else than a visual assessment, but there are telltale signs to look out for. Paint overspray could indicate an attempt at concealing damage; puddles under the vehicle fluid leaks; scored brake discs are never a good sign either. If a car smells musty or the carpet is wet, you would probably have to change the whole upholstery.

On the other hand, don’t be put off a vehicle because it shows some paint scratches. You have to differentiate between cosmetic superficial problems and deep-rooted ones. The vehicle that looks like it could do with some love may be a better choice than the one that has been recently polished and pampered to hide more worrying problems.


6. Do some basic checks

a) Check the VIN

We talked earlier about making sure that the auction house you use is reputable and doesn’t sell stolen cars. The other thing you may encounter is cases where a car has been in a major accident and written off, then repaired by unscrupulous individuals who pass it off for a car that is safe and in good condition. Even rebuilt, these cars can have serious structural damage and they should never be put back on the road.

A way to check that it isn’t the case for the car you are considering is to look for its VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). It is unique and can usually be found at the base of the windshield. Then check other places where it may appear like windows, doors and trunks. If the numbers don't match throughout, it is a sure sign that the car isn’t what it seems.

b) Check the dipsticks

You should be allowed to check the oil and transmission fluid by pulling the dispticks. You want the fluids to look clear and clean.


7. During bidding, listen carefully to the car’s description

The auctioneer will start by describing the condition of the car with a set choice of words. It is important to understand what those terms means:

No major mechanical faults: the major components of the car (engine, gearbox, clutch, brakes, steering and transmission) have no issues.

Specified faults: the auctioneer will read out the defects they were notified of by the seller.

Sold “as seen” means that the seller makes no guarantee about the state of the car, and that you accept that it could have anything and everything wrong and you will have no legal recourse against the seller. The term “Without warranty” may also be used, and has exactly the same meaning.

On an engineer’s report: This means that the vehicle was examined by an engineer and that the sale is based on the description contained in the vehicle’s report, placed on the windscreen.


8. Don't get caught up in the bidding

Once you are primed to buy something, it can be very difficult to stop bidding on the car you have set your heart on. But it is crucial to stick to the budget you have set yourself and be ready to walk away.

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