What to Keep in Mind Before You Buy a Car At Auction

If you’ve been thinking about buying a car at auction, you probably know something about the subject. Maybe you’ve heard or read that auctions often have rare cars that can’t be found elsewhere. Maybe you’d like to avoid the dealers’ mark-up. Maybe you’re just looking for a reliable car at a decent price.

It’s true you can find some real gems for rock-bottom prices at auto auctions. Some of the major auction houses have longstanding and excellent reputations for value.

But there are caveats. Before you rush off to the scene– where more than one buyer has overbid on a lemon– here are some tips to keep in mind.

Rules to Bid By

1. Find an independent source for valuations such as the Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds Blue Book; or the National Auto Dealers’ Association Guide. (Remember that the NADAGuide is owned by the dealers, so their pricing is set to benefits dealers, not buyers.)

2. Read the auction catalog. You should be able to get some history on the cars you like, as well as photos, mileage, VIN, body condition, transmission and engine specs.

3. Investigate the real cost of the vehicle. The bidding price is not the total price you pay. You can learn the auction’s rules and fees before you bid on anything, so you know how much cash you need to bring to the table.

4. Take full advantage of the inspection time. Because auctions do not allow test drives, you might want to bring along a trusted mechanic or body man. Write down the VIN of the car you inspected, to make sure you’re bidding on the same car.

5. Decide beforehand how much you want to pay for a particular car, and then practice clamping your mouth shut. The purchase price is just the beginning, as you know; you also have to budget for taxes, registration, insurance, and delivery.

6. Make sure you distinguish between dealer-only auctions and public, repossession, or other retail auctions. Perhaps the safest alternative are government auctions, which tend to offer well-used but not abused police cars and official vehicles.

7. Attend a few auctions just to get the flavor. You might see people who bid on everything. (Are they working for the auctioneer, pumping up the prices?) Talk with people you meet on the scene, not just the organizers.

When you get home, the second call you make– after you’ve announced your great bargain to family and friends– should be to Allstate.

Let us bring the new baby home.