Buying a Car at Auction? Here’s What to Know To Avoid the Lemons and Get the Best Deal
You know that sinking feeling in your stomach? The one you get when you’ve just dropped a huge amount of cash on a purchase that you’re not 100% sure is the best deal? If you’ve never purchased a car from an auction before, you might worry about just that sensation. Let us help by setting a few expectations and giving you some timely tips.
What You Can Expect When You Visit a Government or Public Auction
When you visit an auction, you’re taking a gamble. You’re betting, first of all, that you can recognize a car’s value and handle any mechanical issues that may come up. You’re also betting that you can either pull the trigger on a deal or walk away when the moment is right.
There are two types of auctions that are becoming more and more popular: government auctions and public auctions. They each have pitfalls you’ll want to be aware of. At a government auction, you may be able to buy used police cruisers or trucks and buses used by local agencies. The good news is that these vehicles do have known histories. You’ll be able to ascertain how well they were maintained, and you can feel secure that the mileage on the vehicle is legit. The bad news is you won’t be able to drive the car before you buy. So, what you see is what you get. Be aware, too, that you won’t be the only bargain hunter there. You may be in for competitive bidding.
Public auctions may have a lot of potential, but there are some very real pitfalls you’ll want to avoid. Popular Mechanics puts it bluntly: “If you can’t fix a car, don’t go to a public auction.” Sure, the cars at public auctions may look shiny, but there’s really no telling what you’ll get. Some cars have been damaged by floods, others have “no guarantee of mileage” (which usually means the mileage has been rolled back and the buyer will never know). And again, you can’t drive these vehicles before you buy them. There’s a big chance your great deal is really a lemon, so be very, very careful before you make a purchase unless you’re extremely confident about your mechanical abilities.
8 Tips for First-Time Auction Buyers
Remember, first of all, that sellers at a public auction don’t have much of an obligation to reveal defects. What they do have is a lot of incentive to sell. So you can expect cars to be spruced up, despite any ugly surprises hiding under the hood.
If you can, research the car you’re interested in ahead of time. Often, dealers will post a list online in advance. You can even look up information by VIN number! Here are some more tips for the first-time buyer …
1. Read the auction catalog.
You’ll want to read critically, asking yourself questions about the vehicles presented. For instance, does the vehicle have a published ownership trail? Is it original or a re-creation of a model you love? What’s the history of this vehicle? We can’t stress enough the importance of educating yourself on the model you want to buy.
2. Attend the auction, if possible.
Again, if you’re not an expert on the model you’re shopping for, bring an expert with you. It helps to talk with someone who has experience or who can look past the “shine” and get under the hood for you.
3. When you bid, set your top price and don’t go above it.
We know that’s a hard rule to follow sometimes, but setting boundaries a little early is better than feeling buyer’s remorse when it’s too late.
4. Know the car values before you bid.
The Kelley Blue Book is your friend. It doesn’t hurt to do a little comparison shopping before you take a gamble.
5. Consider your mechanical abilities and your future budget.
It’s one thing to buy cheap, it’s another to break the bank later on expensive repairs. Be honest about what you’re willing to spend and fix yourself.
6. Look for signs of cover-up.
Many sellers will overspray paint, score brake discs, or conveniently ignore dripping oil. We recommend inspecting the vehicle carefully with a prejudiced eye.
7. Check the VIN.
Check all locations on the car where the VIN may appear. If any of the numbers don’t match, that’s a sign the car has been rebuilt. Here’s a great source of information at Safercar.gov.
8. Watch the other bidders.
Keep in mind that some bidders are only there to drive the price up. Observe a little first before jumping into the ring yourself. And always be willing to walk away.
Rely on PreOwned to Ship Your New Vehicle
One final piece of advice? Get your newly purchased vehicle shipped! The last thing you want is to discover that your hot find needs repairs halfway home!
We can make shipping easy. Rely on us when get your first great deal at auction!