How To Buy a Car at Auction

Buying a car can be both an exciting and daunting experience, especially if you’re exploring the world of auction cars. For many, the thrill of the hunt is addictive as the bidding war intensifies, and you get a chance to bring home a vehicle at a fraction of its market price. If you’re new to the car auction scene or just want some tips to improve your chances, this guide is for you! 

Understanding Auction Cars and Their Appeal

Before diving into the intricacies of car auctions, it’s essential to understand why so many individuals are drawn to this method of purchasing. Auction cars can range from damaged vehicles to repo cars, classics, or even luxury and exotic models. The primary appeal? The opportunity to snag a car at a significantly lower price than its actual market value. 

Research Before You Bid

Research is key before you even set foot in an auction or start browsing online listings. 

Determine What You Want: 

Knowing what you want beforehand will prevent impulse buys, whether you’re eyeing an antique classic or seeking exotic car transport options. 

Check the Car’s History:  

Most auctions provide a vehicle’s VIN, allowing you to conduct a thorough background check. This will inform you of any accidents, ownership history, or potential liens. 

Inspect the Car

Auction cars often come “as is.” This means there’s limited or no warranty, so inspecting the car before placing a bid is crucial. While some auctions offer preview days for potential bidders to examine the vehicles, always consider bringing a trusted mechanic to ensure there are no hidden issues. 

Understand Auction Fees

Every auction house will have fees, and these can quickly add up. Make sure you’re aware of any buyer’s premiums or additional costs. Factor these into your maximum bid to ensure you stay within your budget. 

Participate in a Few “Practices” Auctions

Before you get into the thick of things, attend a few auctions without the intention to bid. This will help you familiarize yourself with the process, pace, and strategies seasoned bidders employ. 

Set a Budget—and Stick to It!

It’s easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment. Setting a budget in advance can prevent overspending and potential regrets. 

The Post-Purchase Process

The journey isn’t over once you’ve successfully bought an auction car. 


If your newly acquired vehicle isn’t in drivable condition or an exotic model requiring special care, consider exotic car transport services. These professionals are adept at safely transporting high-end vehicles. 

Cross-Country Shipping:  

Not all auction cars will be located near you. If you’re purchasing a car from another state or region, you’ll need to explore shipping car cross-country. Companies specializing in Snowbird Auto Transport are often experienced in handling such long-distance shipments. 

Choosing the Right Shipping Company:  

Finding the best car shipping company can be overwhelming with so many options available. Look for companies with stellar reviews, experience, and appropriate insurance coverage, like Optimance Transport. Some even offer door-to-door auto transport for added convenience. 

Understand Your Rights

Laws regarding auction cars vary by state. Familiarize yourself with your state’s lemon laws and your rights when purchasing a vehicle without a warranty. 

What are the disadvantages of buying a car in an auction? 

Buying a car at an auction can be an exciting experience and often presents an opportunity to get a vehicle at a lower cost. However, there are several disadvantages to consider: 

Limited Inspection Opportunities:

  • Limited Information: Auction cars often come with limited information about their history or condition. 
  • Limited Inspection Time: While some auctions allow for pre-viewing, you may have a very limited amount of time to inspect the car. This is especially true in larger auctions or online platforms. 
  • No Test Drives: In most cases, you won’t be able to test drive an auction car, which means you’re buying based mostly on a visual inspection. 

“As Is” Purchases:

  • Most auction cars are sold “as is,” meaning they come without any warranty. If you discover issues after the purchase, you are responsible for repairing them. 

Competitive Bidding:

  • Overbidding: The competitive nature of auctions can lead to overbidding, especially among inexperienced bidders. You might end up paying more than the vehicle’s market value. 
  • Fast-Paced Environment: Auctions move quickly. If you’re not prepared, you might miss out on a vehicle or make hasty decisions. 

Hidden Costs:

  • Auction Fees: Winning the bid often means you’ll also be paying a buyer’s premium or auction fee on top of the winning amount. 
  • Repairs: Since many auction cars are sold due to defects, repossession, or after accidents, they might require significant repairs. 

Limited Vehicle History:

  • While some auction cars come with a report or some historical data, others might have limited or no accessible records, making it challenging to gauge the car’s past usage, accidents, or potential liens. 

Potential for Bad Buys:

  • There’s always the risk of buying a lemon or a car with hidden issues that aren’t immediately apparent during a brief inspection. 

Title and Registration Issues:

  • Some auction cars, especially from salvage auctions, might come with title issues. This can make getting a clear title and registering the vehicle challenging, time-consuming, or even costly. 

Financing Challenges:

  • Many traditional lending institutions don’t provide loans for auction cars or might have stringent terms, forcing buyers to have the full amount in cash or to seek alternative financing options. 

Pressure and Emotional Decisions:

  • The fast-paced and competitive nature of auctions can create a pressured environment. This can lead some buyers to make emotional or impulsive decisions they might regret later. 


  • Some of the best deals might be at dealer-only auctions, which are not accessible to the public. While there are ways around this (like using a broker), it can add to the complexity and cost of the purchase. 

What do I need to buy cars at auctions? 

Purchasing cars at auctions requires a mix of preparation, research, and understanding the specifics of auction procedures. Here’s a comprehensive list of what you’ll need: 

Registration and Documentation: 

Before you can bid at many auctions, you’ll need to register. This typically involves filling out a form, providing identification, and occasionally paying a fee. You’ll need a dealer’s license for dealer-only auctions, although some services can bid on your behalf if you don’t have one. 

Financial Preparation: 

Ensure you have cash or a cash equivalent, as some auctions demand cash payments. If you’re eyeing more expensive vehicles, be prepared to show proof of funds. Should you wish to finance your purchase, have arrangements made in advance, as not all financial institutions finance auctioned vehicles. Sometimes, a deposit is required to place a bid. 

Research Tools: 

Equip yourself with access to vehicle history report services like CarFax using the vehicle’s VIN. It’s also useful to have price guides, such as Kelley Blue Book or NADA Guides, on hand to help assess the market value of cars and ensure you don’t overbid. 

Inspection Resources: 

If the auction permits, carry out pre-bidding inspections. Bring along a trusted mechanic or a thorough inspection checklist to evaluate the car’s condition. 

Transportation Arrangements: 

After a successful bid, you’ll need a plan to get the car to its new home. Consider local towing services or car transport companies if the vehicle isn’t drivable or the auction is a considerable distance away. If the car is operational and you have insurance lined up, you can drive it home. 

Knowledge of Auction Procedures: 

Every auction has its set of rules and procedures. Understand the nuances of bidding, be aware of any associated fees, and get clarity on payment terms before diving in. 


If you’re considering driving the vehicle after the auction, arrange for insurance beforehand. Most auctions will require proof of insurance if you’re driving the car off the lot. 

Patience and Strategy: 

Lastly, approach the auction with a well-defined budget and a list of cars you’re interested in. The auction environment can be electrifying, so a clear plan will help you avoid impulsive decisions. 

Entering the world of auction cars can be both rewarding and challenging. However, with adequate research, a well-planned strategy, and an understanding of the post-purchase requirements like shipping and transport, you can make the process smoother and more enjoyable. Whether you’re looking for a fixer-upper or an exotic beauty that requires special transport, car auctions can be the perfect place to find your dream vehicle.