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Can you save money by buying a car at auction? 6 Tips

As more and more people look at cheap ways to buy a reliable car, auctions are beginning to rise in popularity.  But is buying a car at auction a good idea?  

The sad reality is that you are more likely to get a hunk of useless parts than a great deal.  However, that doesn’t mean you should completely overlook car auctions. Follow these tips to learn how to bid like a pro. 

What Types Of Auctions Should I Look For?

The kind of auction you will be looking for is a “government auction” or “public auction” (although a big “buyer beware” should be noted with this type, as this will likely produce clunkers that require the skills of an advanced mechanic to repair). 

While government auctions tend to come with honest car histories, public auctions may be a bit shadier.  Although the car might look shiny and well maintained, keep on the lookout for anything “off” with the vehicle that you can see: bumps in the sheet metal, scratches, lopsidedness, paint overspray, and moisture.  Take a whiff too. Iif you smell anything weird, such as mustiness, gas, chemical or smoky smells… pass it up immediately.  

And just remember: In the case of either type of auction, you will not have the opportunity to drive the vehicle before buying it.  So keep a sharp eye.  This is one case where being a pessimist and a skeptic is encouraged. 

1. Be Real

You will likely have to make repairs of some kind to the vehicle you buy.  If you don’t have the skills or budget for repairs, be honest with yourself about that.    

2. Don’t Nitpick

Yes, yes, it was just mentioned that you should be as skeptical as possible… but at a government auction, don’t overdo it.  If everything else seems sound but you notice a small dent or a scratch in the paint, don’t immediately overlook the car.  It could be mechanically sound, and let’s face it, the car you drove in college looked way worse.  (Note: this does not apply at a public auction. Don’t trust anything there.)

3. Get the VIN

The VIN on the car is like it’s social security number.  It stays with the car for its entire life, and all of the car’s history will be listed under that number.  If nothing shows up for the VIN, run away, because that’s shady as all getup.  

4. Check the Kelly Blue Book

It’s no good buying a car at auction when you don’t even know if you’re getting a deal or not.  Check the KBB on the car before you bid.  

5. “As Is”

The term “As Is” means just that – you’re getting exactly what it looks like.  This is usually an indicator that there’s something wrong with the car that you’re not going to like, because it’s used to absolve the seller of any legal recourse should you decide you didn’t get what you paid for.  

6. Don’t Get Bid Happy

We’ve all seen that movie scene where someone raises their hand and majorly outbids everyone else (“One MILLION dollars!”), only to find out that, after they made that stupid move, they were on the hook to pony up the cash.  Don’t do that.  

Finally, make sure you understand what you’re getting into, and observe how the pros do it, so you can make sure you’re not having to take the bus home as the new owner of a car you’ll end up having to sell for parts.