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  • Writer's pictureJeff Guymon

Public Car Auctions: What You Need to Know

Updated: May 4, 2021

Have you ever wanted to buy a car from an auto auction? Luckily, not all car auctions are closed to people with a dealer's license only. If you are looking to score an excellent deal on a new set of wheels, then going to a public auto auction can be a great idea. That being said, there are some things to be aware of before you try getting a car at wholesale prices. This article will discuss some faqs and how to buy a car at a public car auction.

Car Auctions Open to the Public

Two types of car auctions open to the public

1. Government & police auctions: Government and police auctions list vehicles like buses, police cars, and utility trucks. They also auction impound vehicles that have been confiscated because of traffic violations and crime. At these types of auctions, you will be competing against car dealers, taxi companies, exporters, and others who are knowledgeable about the vehicles' value.

2. Public car auctions: These auctions list vehicles from banks, repos, wholesale lots, flood cars, beat up trade-ins, and sometimes high-end sports cars and SUVs. The quality and reliability of the auction listings vary greatly. Due to the rise in popularity in recent years, competition for the best deals is intense. You could pay more than the market price if you are not careful and overbid. Some of the most sought after used car brands at vehicle auctions are Pontiac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, GMC, Mazda, Acura, BMW, Audi, Volvo, and Volkswagen.

What to know before and during buying a car from a public car auction

· Research prior to the auction: Some public car auctions will let you have the chance to view the listings before the auction occurs. This provides you with an opportunity to see what’s available and make a list of the vehicles you like. Many public auto auctions have online auto auctions, which makes bidding for used vehicles easy. After you make a list of the vehicles you are targeting, assess the car's current market value on Kelley Blue Book.

· Bring cash: If you buy a car at a public auction, you will need cash or an approved loan from your lender. Find out in advance if credit cards are permitted. Other fees will be taxes, title, and registration fees. If you're financing the purchase of your car, you'll likely be required to carry collision or comprehensive insurance by the lending agency.

· Beware of problems: Most of the cars will be cleaned and polished, but do not let this deceive you! Remember, used cars at auctions do not come with warranties. Before the bidding, you should be allowed to inspect the car by sitting in it and turning on the engine. Most auctions do not allow for test drives. If you have a car-savvy friend, consider bringing them along for a second set of eyes (and ears!).

· Check the VIN #: Make sure you check for a vehicle identification number, or VIN #, for each car. You can use the VIN to search for a vehicle history report on websites like Carfax. Vehicle history reports reveal important information on the car, including the previous owners, major accidents or damage, maintenance history, odometer readings, and manufacturer recalls.

· Set a limit beforehand: After making your list of potential targets and researching their market value, set a limit, and stick to it. Bidding can get intense as the auctioneer speaks rapidly, so do not let your emotions get the best of you!

· If you want an old police car: Do not base your decision on the mileage the car has on it. Usually, police cars sit for long hours idling, given the nature of police work. Police cars come with hour meters, which will indicate what type of wear and tear the vehicle has on it.

· Check if it is drivable: After inspecting the car within the auction's limitations, make sure the car is drivable if you plan to drive it home. If the car is not drivable, but you want to buy it to fix it or for other reasons, make sure you plan to have it shipped to your destination and factor in those costs when bidding.

· Beware of shills: Sometimes, dealerships will bid on their own auction listings to get the price to rise. Be on the lookout for this type of activity, and make sure you are sticking to your limit if you are in a bidding war.

Are public car auctions worth it?

Public car auctions might not be suitable for everyone. Make sure you understand your reasoning behind going to a public car auction. If you are just looking for a cheaper used car, it might be best to be patient and keep shopping until something pops up. If you are worried about your ability to get financing, there are many options out there, and you can check our website for articles on how to get a loan with bad credit. With all that being said, if you have a plan, take precautions, and know what you are doing, then you just might drive home in some hidden treasure at a live auction!

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