Car Auction Buying Guide

Going once… Going twice… Sold! Before you place your bid, check out our expert advice on how to get the used car of your dreams at a car auction

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What You Need to Know About Car Auctions

If you play your cards right and know what to look for, an auto auction can be a great place to buy a used car. There are hundreds of automotive auctions scattered around the country, and chances are, you'll find at least one within a reasonable driving distance. 

Buying a car at an auction does not have to be intimidating or scary. If you do your research and understand the rules, you can score a great deal on the vehicle of your dreams-possibly saving thousands of dollars in the process. Here are some tips on how to get the best possible deal when the auction gavel goes down.

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1. Get to Know Local Car Auctions

If there is more than one car auction near where you live, you'll want to research each one and learn what it has to offer, and what it specializes in. What kinds of cars come through the auction most often? Is the auction filled with low-mileage late-model cars, or is it a dumping ground for lemons? Is the auction closed to car dealers only, or is the public welcome to come in, shop around and place a bid?

The more you know about the auction in advance, the easier it will be to get a great deal. 

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2. Scope Out the Car Auction Inventory Ahead of Time

If you are allowed to do so, it's a good idea to browse the auction a day or two before. Many dealers and private sellers move their vehicles onto the lot ahead of time to make auction day easier and less stressful. Use this opportunity to get a preview of the available cars and make notes on the ones you want to research when you get home.

You may not be able to get inside the cars, and you certainly will not be allowed to test drive them. You can, however, examine the exterior of the vehicles for signs of recent accident damage-like mismatched paint-as well as rust and other body problems

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3. Know the Car Auction Rules Before You Bid

Every car auction will have a different set of rules, and the onus is on the buyers to be aware of them before they bid. For instance, the auction may offer a limited warranty on its vehicles-but cars that sell for less than a certain price might automatically revert to "as-is" status. 

Knowing the rules ahead of time can help you avoid costly misunderstandings. Keep in mind that once your bid goes in and the hammer goes down, you own the car. 

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4. Research Used Car Market Values in Advance

Doing your homework is vitally important, especially when buying in a high-pressure setting like a car auction. You might want to bring along a price guide so that you can research the vehicles you are considering, and plan your bids accordingly.