What is an Auto Auction? A Guide for First-Timers

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Buying a new car can be both exciting and annoying; enjoyable and frustrating.

If you go through a car dealership, you will have to contend with pushy sales staff who claim “I actually own this one myself” for every car in the lot and think that free fluffy dice are enough of an incentive for you to make a $30,000 purchase.

If you go through classifieds, you’ll be met with a succession of sellers who think that their rusted lemon is worth $10,000 because they paid $20,000 “just” 10 years ago.

It’s a minefield, and it’s enough to make you reject the human race, cut-up your license, and spend the rest of your days living in a yurt miles from the nearest car or human.

But there is an easier way, one that will give you an affordable run-around without requiring you to duck and dive through sales pitches.

Auto auctions can be a little intimidating, and that’s why many buyers swerve them, but if you have a few basic facts on your side, you can tackle these auctions like a pro and save big on your next vehicle purchase.

What are Auto Auctions?

Auto auctions are just giant car auctions.

They are often open to the public and everyone is invited to participate, bid, and buy.

The auctions list a huge number of used cars, many of which are sold by insurance companies or lenders.

They may have been damaged and repaired or they may have been repossessed to cover a private debt.

There are also police auto auctions, in which case the cars may have been seized or are just being sold off to facilitate the purchase of a new fleet.

How to Buy in an Auto Auction

Auction cars are often cheaper than vehicles purchase through car dealerships and private sellers.

Auction prices will vary depending on the vehicle and the demand, but generally, you can get a very good deal.

If you want to pick up a bargain from an auto auction, keep the following tips in mind.

Do Your Research

Do some research on your local area to see what car auctions are available.

It’s also worth looking into nearby cities, as you can save a lot of money with auto auctions and it’ll make the extra trip worthwhile.

Once you find an auto auction, check the listings and see what’s available.

You should be able to see some basic information on the vehicles that will be sold, giving you an idea of what to expect and allowing you to prepare your budget accordingly.

Check the Vehicle in Person and Prepare

Show up early to give yourself plenty of time to check the car.

Give it the once-over and make sure it has what you need and is in good condition.

You can also use this time to plan your budget and your approach.

It’s important to set a budget for every vehicle that you will be bidding on.

As soon as this budget is reached, stop bidding.

It’s easy to convince yourself to bid just a little more, and if there are very few bidders, a little more might be enough, but it’s easy to get carried away and start bidding more than you can afford.

Take Your Time

The auctioneers will assign individuals to act as the “ring men”. It’s the job of these staff members to find the bidders.

They will be the ones that record your bid, so make sure you know where they are.

If you’re not sure about any part of the auction process, ask questions.

Not everyone can be an expert and you’ll generally find that people are willing to help.

More importantly, just take your time, don’t rush things, and make sure you know which car is being auctioned, what the current price is, and how much you are bidding.

What Else Do I Need to Know about a Car Auction?

Still got a few questions about auto auctions? Take a look at these FAQs:

Is There a Dress Code? No, but you should dress warmly and comfortably, as you will be spending some time outdoors.

Is It Like on TV? Car auctions are a little different from art and antique auctions. They are often held outdoors and there may not be any seating. It depends on the auction house, of course, but you will probably need to spend some time standing.

How Many Bidders Will There Be? It depends on the vehicle, but car auctions often have over 100 people there and it’s not uncommon to see 500+ and even several thousand.

What do the Lights Mean? You may notice a traffic light system being used at the auto auction. These lights are displayed above the vehicles and indicate its condition. Red means that it is being sold “as is”. It’s a risky purchase, and you may be buying a dud. Green denotes a vehicle in good condition. Yellow means that arbitration could be necessary and further announcements will be made. You may also see a blue light, which indicates that there is currently no title and it is expected within 30 days of the sale.