A view from slightly above of a lot of vehicles lined up and ready for an auto auction

How Do Auto Auctions Work?

Auto auctions are very similar to regular auctions, although you may be surprised at some of the rules and rituals. This general information on how auto auctions work could help prepare you to attend a government vehicle or used car dealer auction.

Finding an Auto Car Auction

Finding an auto auction can sometimes seem harder than it should, but certain resources can direct you toward your first auction. Government vehicle auctions are some of the easiest to find since state and local governments display available items on websites such as GovSales.gov. Each listing will inform you of the vehicle’s details before you go to the auction and even gives you the address where the auction will be held.

Once you find a reputable auto auction, you should research the house to discover any specific rules. Auto car auctions may use rules that you may not be familiar with, and it’s important to become comfortable with any restrictions before bidding begins.

Previewing at an Auto Auction

Any time you purchase a used car from a dealership or individual, you can test drive the vehicle to see if it handles right. Sometimes, you can even take it to a mechanic to make sure it’s not a “lemon.” Auto auctions don’t allow you to test drive your vehicle before bidding begins.

The only thing you can do before bidding is walk around and inspect every aspect of the vehicle. This visual inspection should include checking the VIN to be sure that the same number appears in each area and checking all the fluids and dip sticks. If the auctioneer or seller is lenient, you might get to start the car to listen to the engine.

Bidding at an Auto Car Auction

Auto car auctions are very similar to regular auctions when the bidding begins. Sometimes the auctioneer will use a light system that lets you know when bidding begins, ends, or anything else important takes place. You should be aware of any specialized auction rules before you start bidding.

The auctioneer will move quickly once he begins. Bidders start to offer amounts, and you may feel pressured to do the same. Remember that it’s fine to quit when the price is too high. Doing research beforehand to find out how much the vehicle is really worth can help you avoid overpaying for a car that isn’t worth the price.

Shipping after an Auto Auction

Shipping is the last step at an auto auction. You may be tempted to drive it yourself, but you never know the condition of the vehicle. You could end up stuck somewhere on the side of the road. Auction houses have reputable shippers that may be able to transport your car in an enclosed trailer—although this will cost extra. You’ll also still have to pay sales tax, but this doesn’t take effect until you reach the state where the vehicle will be registered.

Last Updated: December 18, 2018