above view of cars in lines and rows prepared for a dealer car auction which is different from a public vehicle auction

Dealer Car Auction vs. Public Vehicle Auction: What's the Difference?

Dealer car auctions and public vehicle auctions are very different from each other. Yes, they both offer to sell you a used vehicle for a fraction of the price, but that’s where the similarities end. These are some of the major differences you should know about if you’re considering vehicle auctions. 


Dealer car auctions only allow access to certain individuals. To enter one of these auctions, you must be a licensed dealer or have an authorized dealer with you. Sometimes, dealer car auctions don’t even allow guests, which mean only licensed individuals can enter. Auction houses can even restrict the bidding to only those who are registered as dealers—which can make it impossible for someone who isn’t licensed to find a vehicle.


The prices of vehicles at dealer car auctions are usually much lower than a public vehicle auction. The reason for this is that most dealers are there to purchase more than one item at a wholesale price. This isn’t the case for a public vehicle auction. Many people at a public vehicle auctions buy one car at a time, which can significantly increase the price. Wholesale lots are designed to sell, and dealers are interested in buying cheap and selling for a profit. 


Dealer car auctions usually have better quality vehicles when compared to other types of sales, although this isn’t always the case. Dealers are trained to know how to spot out cars that may not be high quality and could break down in the future. Items at a dealer car auction that aren’t high quality may not attract as much attention and could end up not being sold. 

Public vehicle auctions can attract people that don’t know much about cars but are looking for a good car at a low price. Some sellers take advantage of this and shine up a car with Bondo and paint. The vehicle may look new on the outside but is really mechanically unsound on the inside. This can be especially true for public vehicle auctions that don’t allow you to hear the engine or test drive before bidding begins. 

Attending Cost

Participating in a dealer car auction isn’t always free. Sometimes, attendees are allowed to look around without spending money even if they intend not to bid. However, some auction houses require dealers to pay a fee even when they don’t bid. 

Public vehicle auctions may also charge attendees, but it’s usually free for anyone to go view items up for bidding. Public vehicle auctions sometimes offset the cost of attending the show by charging sellers and bidders a transaction fee based on the winning bid. This may not always be the case as auction houses are run independently from each other and operate under different rules.

Last Updated: December 18, 2018