How to Buy a Car at an Auction

For those without experience, auctions might be intimidating. They most certainly aren’t for everyone because of the impulsive bidding and the leap of faith required to purchase a car you may not have seen in person. However, consumers looking for a unique item or a fantastic value could find a lot to like at these events.

Used-car sellers frequently buy and sell vehicles at wholesale auctions, but the general public is not allowed to attend those events. Regular automobile purchasers have fewer alternatives, and depending on what you want to buy, those selections can be even more constrained.

How to Buy a Car at an Auction

A quick approach to buying a cheap car is to purchase it at an auction. Fast bidding takes place, and prices are typically less expensive than on the open market. However, taking this path can result in a lot of unanticipated costs and planning. For instance, you might have to pay off a lien against the car you purchase or you might end up with a lemon.

Well, in this article, we’ll walk you through how to buy a car at an auction. Even so, the answers to the following question will be discussed:

  • Why should you buy a car at an auction?
  • What are some of the things to consider when buying a car at any auction?
  • How do buy a car at a live auction?
  • How do buy a car at an online auction?

Read more: How to Find a Car You Previously Owned

So, let’s begin!


Why should you buy a car at an auction?

There are several reasons why buying a car at an auction can be advantageous. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Competitive Prices: Auctions often provide an opportunity to purchase vehicles at competitive prices. Since auctions attract a wide range of buyers, including dealers, wholesalers, and private individuals, bidding competition can drive prices lower than those found at traditional dealerships.
  • Variety and Selection: Car auctions offer a wide range of vehicle options. You can find vehicles of different makes, models, years, and conditions, all in one place. Whether you are looking for a specific model or are open to exploring various options, auctions provide a diverse selection to choose from.
  • Potential Bargains: Auctions sometimes present opportunities to find exceptional deals. Some vehicles may be undervalued or have minimal bidding activity, allowing you to secure a car at a lower price than its market value.
  • Transparency: Auctions often provide transparent information about the vehicles being sold. You can typically access vehicle history reports, mileage details, and inspection reports to assess the condition and value of a car. This transparency helps buyers make informed decisions based on the available information.
  • Efficient Process: Car auctions offer a streamlined purchasing process. Once you win the bid, the transaction can be completed swiftly, simplifying the buying experience. However, it’s important to be prepared with financing or sufficient funds in advance to complete the purchase promptly.
  • Potential for Profit: While primarily beneficial for buyers, car auctions can also provide opportunities for those interested in reselling vehicles. If you have knowledge of the market, you may be able to acquire a vehicle at a lower price and sell it later for a profit.

It’s crucial to note that attending an auction requires adequate research, preparation, and careful evaluation of the vehicles. It’s recommended to inspect the cars beforehand and set a budget to avoid overspending. Additionally, some auctions may be open to dealers only or require specific qualifications, so it’s essential to check the requirements and guidelines of each auction beforehand.

In summary, buying a car at an auction can offer competitive prices, a wide selection of vehicles, potential bargains, transparency, an efficient process, and even opportunities for profit. However, thorough research, careful evaluation, and a clear understanding of the auction process are vital for a successful purchase.

Read more: Car insurance deductible

What are some of the things to consider when buying a car at any auction?

The majority of the time, auction houses won’t offer a warranty or guarantee on the vehicles they list because they are only middlemen and not actual sellers. For vehicles that fulfill specific requirements, eBay offers a purchase protection plan that offers customers some security against fraud-related problems (such as non-delivery of the vehicle, hidden title faults, or inaccurate description), but it won’t fix every issue. If the seller has a dealer’s license, you could have some financial options if the car turns out to be a lemon, but it depends on where they have their license.

But there is no protection when purchasing from an individual.  However, as auction houses have their own reputations to uphold, they usually make an effort to verify that the cars are accurately portrayed prior to the event. You can feel more comfortable pressing the “bid now” button or waving your bidder’s paddle in the air if they eliminate bad sellers from their platform. Others will attempt to mediate severe disputes between the buyer and seller, or they may refund all or a portion of the buyer’s price to help make up for a bad deal.

Read more: Can you cancel an insurance claim?

How do buy a car at a live auction?

Live auctions held by auction houses like Barrett-Jackson, Mecum, and RM Sotheby’s frequently have a circus-like atmosphere and feel like a show. Although these events don’t arrive in town on a train filled with giraffes and elephants, their dazzling signs, bright lighting, and well-kept presentation all contribute to the enthusiasm that stimulates extravagant spending. These car-focused auctions might be exciting for lovers with a sizable budget. Even those who choose not to register to bid can enjoy themselves by looking at the cars.

How to Buy a Car at an Auction

As a prospective buyer, you will have the chance to examine the car closely and perhaps even hear it operate if you attend the auction. Although you usually won’t get to drive it, the vendor might be there to answer your questions. A collector-car auction is sure to provide some great cars, but not many deals. Look for government or university fleet auctions or estate sales, where you could find more affordable, more common vehicles mingled with furniture and jewelry. The bidding process at these kinds of auctions is substantially the same as at collector-car shows, albeit frequently with less ceremony and fanfare.

Read more: How Much Does Car Insurance Cost?

Here’s how to buy a car at a live auction:

  • Register.
  • Place your bid.
  • Meet reserve prices.
  • Pay.


Before you are able to place a bid at an auction, you must first register, frequently for a small charge. While you can usually complete this on-site, most auction houses advise that you do so at least 24 hours beforehand to give them time to review your application. You’ll need to show the auction house that you have the money available for an immediate wire transfer once the auction closes by providing a credit card number and maybe a bank’s letter of guarantee.

Place your bid

Bidders who attend the auction in person will receive a paddle with a number on it. A commentator will declare the car up for bid at the beginning of each auction, offering a brief description of it and perhaps revealing new facts about the car that isn’t in the catalog. Any interested parties will then raise their paddles as the auctioneer calls out a starting price.

Their intention to bid at the current price will be noted by an astute auction-house agent. A representative from the auction house might courteously circle a bidder in an effort to subtly encourage them to place another bid. The hammer (or gavel) drops, signaling the end of the auction, after the auctioneer has called for further bids but received none.

Join our Newsletter

Even for high-value vehicles, bidding at live auctions typically lasts no more than a minute or two. Some live events allow you to bid online, over the phone, or through a proxy who will put bids on your behalf up to your declared maximum if you are unable to attend in person. However, using these techniques could include additional costs.

Read more: Everything you need to know about building insurance

Meet reserve prices

The minimum amount the seller will take, which is hidden from potential buyers, is known as a reserve price. Sellers can choose to offer their car with or without a reserve price. Many auction houses impose an extra charge to establish this safety net, and they might consult with the seller to establish a reasonable price.

The lot won’t sell if a car drives around the block without meeting the reserve. The auction house might make an effort to facilitate a sale in the days that follow under specific circumstances, such as if the highest bid came close to exceeding the reserve.


The winning bidder will pay the auction house a buyer’s premium in addition to the registration fee and the sale (or hammer) price of the vehicle. Typically, this is 10% of the winning price, so if a car sells for $25,000, the winning bidder will still owe the auction company $2,500. Additionally, sales tax may increase the cost by hundreds or even thousands.

At the end of the auction, the winning bid and any associated costs are due and payable, often by wire transfer or certified check. If a bidder does not complete the purchase, the auction house will still charge the credit card on file for the fee, and the bidder will still be responsible for the whole amount as well as any legal fees necessary to address the situation.

Read more: Lists of best car insurance companies

How do buy a car at an online auction?

How to Buy a Car at an Auction

Online auctions don’t have the same “pomp and circumstance” as physical ones, but they do provide a considerably larger selection of vendors and buyers. This implies that you’ll have a better chance of discovering the precise vehicle you’re looking for but possibly more bidding competition.

If you’re a buyer, you might prefer online auctions to live ones. Bidding via your phone or computer screen takes away part of the excitement and passion of a live event. Additionally, depending on the website, auctions can last anywhere from three days to a few weeks, giving you plenty of time to consider your options.

Read more: What happens if you get into an accident with no insurance?

Things to Do While Waiting

Use the lead time to better comprehend the worth of the offered car. You might be able to get in touch with the seller to see the automobile in person or take a test drive if it’s close to where you live. If that’s not a possibility, some sellers will allow a pre-purchase inspection by an expert, usually at the bidder’s expense, but this could be a waste of money if you lose the auction. If you want more pictures or have inquiries about the car’s past or the state of specific parts, you can email the seller or utilize the website’s commenting function.

Here’s how to buy a car at an online auction:

  • Register.
  • Place your bid.
  • Meet reserve prices.
  • Try the “Buy it now and make offer” option.
  • Pay.


Filling out a brief form with your contact information is required to register for an online auction. Additionally, if you win a car, the auction company will instantly charge your credit card for the winning bidder’s fee. Despite the fact that completing this paperwork is not very challenging, it is better to register well in advance of the auction’s completion.

Read more: Understanding full coverage auto insurance

Place your bid

While it’s probably not a good idea to start bidding high as soon as the auction goes live, it’s a good idea to start out with a low price so you can gauge how long it will take the site to process your offer. Check to determine if the website you’re using permits sniping, which is when a bidder makes an offer in the very last seconds of a timed auction so that no one else can make a counter.

This tactic is not only uncool, but it may also backfire if your bid cannot load in time due to a slow or lagging internet connection or a page-refresh issue. Likewise, the practice has been challenged by at least a few online auction platforms. An auction will be extended by two minutes anytime a last-second bid is made, for example, on Bring a Trailer, the biggest collector-car auction site.

Read more: Understanding credit insurance

Others might ask bidders to complete a CAPTCHA test to confirm they are manually inputting their bids rather than utilizing software to get an advantage. Occasionally, some of the more established auction houses will have an online auction where they will offer a car using a sealed-bid process. Unless of course, you win the lot, you won’t be able to see the current high bid or the final sale price in these auctions.

The house will occasionally, but not usually, inform you of your bid’s position in comparison to other bids. Therefore, sealed-bid auctions frequently stimulate higher bidding since interested parties will want to present their best proposals upfront rather than simply trying to outbid the highest bid.

Read more: Review of Wawanesa auto insurance for California drivers

Meet reserve prices

Most online sales let sellers set a reserve price for a fee, much like real-world auctions do. The website will just mention if someone has met it rather than telling bidders what it is. It’s still worth asking because some dealers will provide this information upon request.

Try the “Buy it now” and “Make offer” option

On eBay, sellers have the option of including “buy it now” and “make offer” buttons in their auction listings. The former enables purchasers to bypass the anxiety of an auction by paying a premium and purchasing the vehicle outright. The latter lets potential buyers put an offer on the vehicle; the seller then has a predetermined length of time to accept, reject, or make a counteroffer.


Similar to live events, the online auction house will deduct the buyer’s fee (if applicable) from the credit card on file before sending the winner’s contact information to the seller. It is up to the seller and the winning bidder to arrange for payment and shipping when that transaction has been confirmed (often within a few minutes). The majority of websites recommend wire transfers and quick payment. The auction house may intervene to exert pressure or even remove the winner from their platform if they don’t follow through.

Compared to live auctions, online ones typically have lower fees. Although other websites may have higher or lower maximums, Bring a Trailer requires the winning bidder to pay 5% over the hammer price up to $5,000. The buyer pays nothing to use eBay, which acts as a marketplace for everything from brand-new minivans to hybrids that are five years old to million-dollar supercars.

Read more: Review of Pemco auto insurance

Final words

In conclusion, buying a car at an auction can be a fun and worthwhile endeavor. You can confidently participate in the auction process by following the instructions provided in this guide, which include registering, placing bids, meeting reserve prices, taking into account the “Buy it now and make an offer” option, and finishing the payment process.

In addition to reasonable costs, a large selection of vehicles to pick from, potential savings, transparency due to the availability of vehicle information, and a quick purchasing procedure, auctions also provide a number of other benefits. To guarantee a good purchase, it’s crucial to do extensive research, carefully assess the vehicles, and set up a budget.

Keep in mind that each auction platform may have different procedures and restrictions, so be sure to educate yourself about those before signing up. You will be more likely to find the ideal car at a competitive price if you are well-prepared and knowledgeable, and you will ultimately have a happy buying experience.

Read more: Review of AIS auto insurance

Remember that purchasing a vehicle at an auction necessitates study and caution. It is advisable to conduct a preliminary inspection of the vehicles, go into their histories, and consider any potential dangers or additional expenses related to the purchase.

You may improve your chances of finding a car that meets your demands and your budget by adhering to these recommendations and being proactive during the auction process. Take advantage of the chances and excitement that come with purchasing a car at an auction, whether you are a seasoned bidder or a first-time buyer.

Read more: Ways to find good and cheap car insurance

Well, that is all for this article, in which we looked at how to buy a car at an auction. Even so, the answers to the following question will be discussed:

  • Why should you buy a car at an auction?
  • What are some of the things to consider when buying a car at any auction?
  • How do buy a car at a live auction?
  • How do buy a car at an online auction?

We hope it was helpful. If so, kindly share it with others. Thanks for reading; see you around!