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Top 10 tips for buying a car at auction

Carl Brennand 20th Feb 2020 9 Comments

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Buying a car at auction can be a great way to find a bargain – after all, this is where the motor trade go to purchase their stock.

However, it can be a tricky business if you don’t know much about cars and, as most consumer guides will tell you, your normal legal rights may not be applicable as sellers can issue disclaimers such as the phrase ‘sold as seen’.

Visit car auctions first

If you’ve never attended an auction it is a good idea to go to one to witness what happens before you think about buying. This will give you an idea of how auctions work and an understanding of the terms used and the conditions of sale. The law permits auction houses to change the usual conditions of sale (and they usually do) by removing the buyer’s rights as outlined in the Sale of Goods Act.

Although auctions can be far cheaper than used car dealers, a dealer can give you peace of mind with the opportunity for test driving the vehicle before buying and maintenance warranties. It may be worth spending a bit extra to know that if anything goes wrong, you can take it back to be repaired. Unfortunately, this won’t happen when buying from an auction.

Know what you want to buy

Before you think about buying a car at auction, you need to have a good idea which make and model of car you’re looking for. Spend time on What Car? to suss out which make of car you’d like depending on your preferences (reliability, performance, comfort etc). Once you’ve determined which car you want, visit Autotrader to see what price it’s currently going for. Armed with this information on buying a used car, you can go to an auction with a lot more confidence.

Want to save time? You can check the price of vehicles using the widget below!


Be clever when buying a car at auction

Be savvy when buying a car at auction

Once you decide to go for it and bid for a vehicle at auction, work out how much you can afford and set yourself a limit; the cardinal rule being never to go over that limit however good the incentive might be. If you don’t know much about cars it also might be prudent to take someone with you who does and can offer advice.

When buying a car at auction always check the full mileage history so that you know exactly how much the car has been used. It’s also vital to ask if the auction house can guarantee that the cars on offer have not been stolen.

Car auctions promise real value – after all, it’s where the motor trade buy stock, so prices are highly competitive. However, many private buyers can find auctions intimidating, with cars selling rapidly in a flurry of bids.

There are bargains at car auctions for experienced, hard-headed buyers. Firstly, decide exactly what you want and what your top bid will be (a few percent over the ‘trade’ price should silence trade buyers). Secondly, read the conditions of sale and check your chosen cars out before the bidding starts – and stop bidding when you reach your limit!

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Top ten tips for buying a car at auction

Before you buy, get a feel and flavour of the process. Things move fast, so make sure you’re comfortable with the process before you bid. You may be able to subscribe for auction house catalogues beforehand to find the latest vehicles on offer.

What to do when you arrive at the auction:

  1. When you arrive at the auction, get a catalogue. This lists all the vehicles entered in the sale.
  2. View the vehicle that you’re interested in bidding for. Arrive with plenty of time to spare before the auction starts to have a look around and check the vehicle details (usually displayed in the windscreen).
  3. Inspect the bodywork of the car, looking along its lines and check for dents or misaligned body panels – it could have been in an accident, repaired or at worst an insurance write-off.
  4. Stick to your budget! Don’t get caught up in the action.
  5. Buyer’s premium or administration charges are in addition to your bid. Check with the auction house beforehand for details of their fees and charges.
  6. Remember to take along photo ID and proof of address.

What happens during a car auction

  1. When buying a car at auction, listen to the auctioneer. They’ll include vehicle details e.g. service history, road tax and verification of mileage.
  2. If the hammer falls on your bid then well done, you’ve been successful! You’ll then need to see the auction clerk (they’re usually next to the auctioneer).
  3. A ‘provisional bid’ means that the highest bid was lower than the reserve price. Auction house staff will liaise with the seller to see if your bid will be accepted or negotiate further on your behalf.
  4. There are numerous ways to pay. Deposits and full payments can be paid by:
  • Cash*
  • Credit card**
  • Debit card
  • Maestro
  • Solo card
  • Banker’s draft

* There’s usually a handling fee. Money laundering legislation allows a maximum of £8,999.
** There’s usually a 3% surcharge on all credit card transactions.

So, if you decide to take the plunge and opt for buying a car from an auction, remember the key pointers above but do have fun and enjoy the experience – there’s something most enjoyable about placing the winning bid and beating the competition to secure your new car! Don’t miss our fab article on getting the best deal when buying used cars – it’s got all the info you’ll ever need.


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Michelle Allen
Michelle Allen
10 months ago

What about using a professional car buyer for instance Car Auction Buying Service Limited

Daniel Lewis
Daniel Lewis
4 years ago

You are giving a nice article. these tips are are valuable for every one.

6 years ago

Perfect article. described in details. I would also suggest always negotiate the price, this really helps to sell car. I had situation, when i had to reduce price twice 🙂 But the most important is to set price higher a bit, so you can reduce later 🙂 I was selling my car through sell free now it took me about 1 week to sell. Thank you for the article, follow the steps and you will be the first seller of your car.

8 years ago

Above, you are given such a good tips to buy a car from an auction. Especially I really like your guidance process where you are described all point steps by steps. These guidelines will help to car buyers to take right decision.

9 years ago

Not had much luck as yet at auction,
first car ran well for a month then turbo blew, because it was a renault it was electric ignition and coulnt turn the engine off so wrecked that as well.

Just bought a skoda octavia on a 56/2006 plate with 106k on clock
turned out to be an ex taxi with over 200k

similar issues,

not giving up though,

will get there in th end…………….I hope…..

g j dawson
g j dawson
9 years ago

Personally i think car & van auctions are a great way to grab a bargain . best to look into the business first if your new to car and van auctions but with experience can make it a profitable sideline or business . always listen carefully to auctioneer and always read the smallprint .”sold as seen” means exactly that . happy bidding .

13 years ago

i bought a car from Mannheim auction centre. after paying for the car and got the key to the car, i realised that the car has gearbox problem and can not be move or drive which makes it not road wealthy and there was no disclosure in any document on the car at the time of sale .the company don’t won’t to refund my money.what do i do now?

13 years ago

Some good advice, but little mention of potential risks. Car auctions are a bit of a lottery for the inexperienced – very hard to spot mechanical defects in many modern cars, and a half decent paintjob can fool even the most seasoned veteran.
However, the benefits can be pretty great if you are lucky.

14 years ago

Car auctions really are fantastic. With some luck and some patience you can find the perfect vehicle at a fraction of the cost that a dealer would be prepared to let you have it for. I think that a lot of these auctions offer something for everyone, from the higher end of the scale right down to a heavily damaged vehicle perfect for restoration.

Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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