a light wood gavel resting on a sounding block with a toy red antique town car on the right side and a black version of the same toy car in front of it to show that you can bid on cars at auctions

Tips for Buying Your Vehicle at a Used Car Auction

Did you know that you can purchase your next vehicle at a used car auction and save money? All over the United States, there are sales open to the public that allow you to bid and win autos at wholesale prices. However, you shouldn’t go to a used car auction without reading these useful tips.

Government vehicle auctions have detailed car histories.

Government auctions for used cars sell police cruises, school buses, and other local and county vehicles that are no longer useful. These vehicles have a complete history of how they were maintained, used and fixed, and the mileage of each car is honest. 

Keep a sharp eye at police vehicle auctions.

Even though you know the history, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep a sharp eye. You can’t drive a car at a government auction, so any decisions are based on what you can see. Keep a keen, trained eye that way you can spot any inconsistencies. 

Competition is brutal at auctions for used cars.

Whether you’re at a government vehicle auction or a general auction for used cars, the competition can be very rough. Some individuals could be bidding to win a vehicle they used on the job, taxi companies looking for old cruises, or dealers looking to sell items overseas. 

Auctions for used cars can be shady.

Sometimes, public auctions for used cars can be very suspicious. Vehicles can be sold as “miles exempt” meaning that there is no guarantee of the mileage. This can also mean that the owner rolled back the odometer to reflect a lower mileage—which can cause big problems down the road. 

Don’t believe everything you see.

Fixing up a car with Bondo, polish, and touchup paint is cheap. Examining a car is about what you can see, but assume that every vehicle has been cleaned and refined to the point that it looks nearly brand new. Keep a level head because autos at public auctions aren’t always as good as they look.

Don’t let the superficial scare you.

At government auctions, you may find weathered paints, dents, and scratches, but the car itself could be mechanically sound. A small bump could be a parking lot issue rather than signs of misuse. This only goes for the case of government auctions. 

Check the Vehicle Identification Number.

Write down the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) from every car that you’re considering. Then, check other places where the VIN might appear like the trunk lid sticker and doors. If the numbers don’t match, the car could have been in a major accident. 

Check the fluids and pull the dipsticks.

A well-maintained car should have clear liquids, and the dipsticks should be clean. If you come across a car with extremely dirty fluids or dipsticks, you could be purchasing a vehicle with several mechanical issues.

Know the car values. 

Kelley Blue Book is a great source for getting a general idea of what used cars are worth, but take the time to research local prices on Craigslist and classified listings. Knowing the car values could help you get a quality vehicle without paying too much or purchasing a “lemon.”

There are no guarantees.

A vehicle sold at public auctions has no guarantees and is considered “as is.” After you purchase the auto, there are no warranties or means of legal recourse if there are issues down the line.

Last Updated: December 13, 2018