Many people think that car auctions are just for dealers. Not so – private buyers are increasingly turning to auctions in the hope of picking up a bargain. You need to know all the risks and the ins and outs of bidding at car auctions to be sure of picking up a sold used vehicle at a cheap price.
What sort of vehicles are sold at car auctions?
Unless it is a specialised sale of rare or vintage cars, you’ll find almost all sorts of vehicles at a car auction, from a Ferrari to a Ford Transit panel van. Aside from a wide variety of makes and models, you will also find cars of all ages and mileages, as well as those with faults, and some in perfect running order.
Cars put up for auction come from numerous sources. They might be ex-dealer demonstration cars that have done their time; surplus dealer stock being cleared from the showroom floor; ex-fleet vehicles; ex-hire cars being sold off by rental companies; or repossessed vehicles.
You won’t find many cars being auctioned by private sellers, for the simple reason that a person looking for a good price for their used car is likely to do better selling it by advertising in one of the online auto trading websites, or even putting a “for sale” sign on the windscreen.
Prices at car auctions tend to be low, which is why used car traders rely on them heavily for their stock, and private buyers are beginning to discover the advantages of bagging an auction bargain before it goes to a dealership with a marked up price.
Where to find a car auction?
The easiest way to locate your nearest car auction house in the UK is to conduct a search on the dentons.net directory. There are plenty of auction venues in or near most sizeable towns and cities. You can also keep an eye on the local media for notice of any specialised auto sales scheduled by regular auction houses – although these will most likely be for collectors’ cars, sports car classics or vintage motors.
Once you have located a car auction venue, check whether there are special sales that are trade-only, so that you don’t end up dashing to a sale that turns out to be just for VAT-registered dealers. Some auction houses do reserve certain events just for the trade since it is the traders who rely on the auctions for their “bread and butter”. You may find that some car auction establishments limit the number of private buyers who can register for a particular auction, for the same reason.
You can also check (online is usually the most convenient way) whether a particular auction venue has different sales for different categories of vehicles – for instance selling vans on a Wednesday, and luxury sedans on a Thursday.
When you’ve settled on a car auction venue or two spend some time familiarising yourself with the auction “scene”. Sit in on a few sales to get the feel of the action – you’ll probably be surprised and a little intimidated by the speed at which the lots roll through and the bids are made. When you have picked a car auction venue for your purchase, it’s time to find a likely vehicle, and learn how the process works.
How do I choose a car to buy at an Auction?
Car auction establishments will have an auction catalogue available either online or in print (available from the auction house) – or even both. The catalogue will usually give you a full description of each car in the sale and details of its history and current condition. The reserve price will also be listed (the minimum price at which the vendor has agreed to sell the vehicle).
Study the catalogue of the available vehicles and narrow down the list to those which appeal to you. You should then do a little research to see what the “going price” is for the vehicles you have an eye on, so you can make an informed estimate of how much you should pay for your chosen vehicles.
If you want to make absolutely certain about the provenance of a vehicle you are interested it is worth investing a small amount of cash in a vehicle history check, such as the comprehensive check offered by HPI Check, which will reveal things such as whether the car has ever been stolen, or involved in an accident.
The only opportunity you will have to actually physically inspect a prospective purchase is for a short time in advance of the actual auction itself. This will probably only give you sufficient time for a quick once-over, so make the most of it! A test drive is out of the question, but usually, the auction attendants will be happy to start the engine so you can listen to it run, while you check out the bodywork. If you aren’t familiar with cars, it would be good to take a mechanic friend along with you.
Unlike buying a car from a car dealership, there is little or no recourse for the buyer at auction if you end up with a “dud”! The responsibility of the auction house ends with the description given by the auctioneer when the car comes up for sale, which amounts to a legally binding selling statement. It is, therefore, crucial to listen to the auctioneer and be certain you know what you are dealing with before you make a bid.
The auctioneer will announce that the car is “sold as seen” – in other words, any mechanical or cosmetic faults are the buyer’s problem, or else perhaps specify:
- No major mechanical faults
- Specified faults (a list will be read out)
- Sold with warranted mileage
Once you have done all you can to satisfy yourself that your chosen vehicle is the right one for you, then you are ready to start bidding …..
How do I bid for a car at an Auction?
Before bidding commences on a lot you are interested in, make sure you are registered to bid, understand the auction house’s terms and conditions, and know exactly how you are going to pay for your purchase should you make the winning bid.
The canniest auction bidder will enter the fray with a fixed budget! It is very dangerous to overshoot your limit, but easy to get swept up in the bidding contest, especially if the increments are small. If you don’t stick to your budget and keep calm, you may end up paying way over the odds. If you lose on a preferred vehicle, put it down to experience and return to fight another day.
The usual procedure at a car auction is that each car up for sale is driven up to the rostrum when it is about to “go under the hammer”. The order of the cars (lots) coming up for sale follows the order of the sale catalogue.
Make sure you are in place to make your bid well before your chosen vehicle comes up for sale. Bids usually start very low (even well under the reserve price) but creep up very quickly under the encouragement of the auctioneer, who tends to lead things on at a very fast speed.
Bidding usually increases in increments of £100 or £200 but can jump up by £1,000 at a time for a top of the range vehicle.
When you’re ready to enter a bid raise your hand, or a copy of the catalogue, or a bidding paddle if you were issued with one. Listen carefully to any overriding bids, and keep bidding until your self-imposed limit is reached. If you were the highest bidder with no follow-up bids forthcoming, the auctioneer will strike his hammer down after your final bid, and the car will be yours.
How do I pay for a car I have bought at an Auction?
You should obviously have made sure you have the funds readily available to cover your intended purchase at the car auction. It is also wise to bring your driver’s licence and some other form of identification (such as a utility bill or passport) with you.
When you have made the top bid at a car auction you will need to pay an immediate deposit to the Auction clerk. This is usually 20% of the sale price, or £500 – whichever amount is the greater. You will also be charged a buyer’s fee by the auction house. The fee varies but is usually around 5% of the price of the car.
After these formalities, you can then proceed to the cashier’s office and pay the balance owing on the car, by bank transfer or card (there will probably be a card or cash handling fee). Most auction houses have speciality services on hand on the day of the sale to enable you to arrange road tax and insurance immediately if you wish to drive it away, otherwise, you will have to arrange to have the car transported.
Most Auction houses offer a delivery service. If you have to leave the car on the site beyond the day of the sale you will incur a storage charge.
Is buying a car at an Auction a good idea?
While you can definitely score a bargain at a car auction, you have to realise that most auctions are run on a “buyer beware” basis, which means you will have no recourse to the seller or auction house if the vehicle proves to have severe problems. There are no built-in consumer safeguards, or “extras” in the form of warranties or servicing, as is usually the case when you buy a car from an authorised dealer.
If you are willing to take a risk – which can be a somewhat calculated risk if you do your homework on car auctions before taking the plunge – you could, however, find the experience exciting, and an economical way of buying a used vehicle. All the better if you are handy with a spanner, or have a close relative who is a car mechanic!
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