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Auto Auction Tips

Auction 3There might be a couple of reasons that you might look to buy your next vehicle at an auto auction. If your credit isn’t that great, banks and financing companies might not even pay attention to you, and no financing typically means no car. Another reason might be just to save money on a winter beater or second car. Looking around the private market on Craigslist or Kijiji might turn up a great deal, but there are dozens of other people looking at those ads, too.

Public auto auctions, on the other hand, are braved by few and may sell dozens of cars in a day, which means that you might be able to get a good price on a used car without a lot of competition. What should you know about auto auctions to get the best deal possible on a used car for yourself or for resale? Here are a few tips that can hopefully make your visit to the auto auction a pleasant experience, or at least not terrible.

Brace Yourself

Auction 2Keep in mind that auto auctions are pretty much where unsalable cars go to die, but not because they’re ready for the scrapyards – usually. Most vehicles you’ll see at the auto auction are cars that dealerships won’t sell because they’re high-mileage or overused, such as having over 60,000 miles or two or more owners. Still, they might have been totaled by the insurance company or really are ready for the scrapyards.

Be Honest

Auto auctions can get heated. Don’t get caught up in the hype! Preset your purchase and restoration budget. Don’t go beyond your budget! Make sure you’re paying close attention to vehicle values in the Kelley Blue Book and online classifieds. When you’re looking at a car on the auction block and it seems like it could be “the one,” be honest with yourself. Realize that there are no guarantees, even if the car looks like a winner. Ask yourself, “Do I have the time and money to take care of any problems that might arise after the sale?” If not, you might want to reconsider your attendance!


There are literally dozens of things that you should look at on an auction vehicle that can give you an idea of how roadworthy it is and how much additional work it might require. You likely will not be allowed to test drive the vehicle or have it inspected by a trusted mechanic, but you should be able to look under the hood, under the car, and the interior. If you see a puddle under the engine or transmission, smell a musty interior, or see a wheel pointing the wrong direction, look elsewhere!

VIN Check

Auction 1While you’re checking out the car mechanically and cosmetically, make a note of the VIN on the dash, and you’re going to need to do a couple things with it. First, make sure the VIN tags match all over the vehicle. If the VIN under the hood or on the frame isn’t the same, this could mean it’s been cut-and-pasted from multiple vehicles. Then, if the VIN tags match, you should use your smartphone to run a vehicle history report on VINcheck or CarFax, which can help you understand the vehicle’s history.

It’s true, there have been $200 Volkswagens that turned out to be million-mile winners, and maybe you can find one at your next auto auction. On the other hand, there have been $100,000 nightmare Ferraris that haunt their buyers straight back to the scrapyard. It truly is “anything goes,” but being observant and keeping your cool can help you find the right car for the right price.

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