Buying a car at an auto auction can be fun, and even a great bargain, but there are some tricks you need to be aware of. Most people aren’t aware of what to look for and how to approach an automobile auction. Here are some tips to make sure you come out ahead.

1. Find Out What Kind of Auction It Is

5 Tips for Buying a Car at an Auto Auction

Image via Flickr by Simon Davison

First, figure out what kind of auction you will go to or will be permitted to attend. Not all auctions are open to the public; others are open only for dealers. Second, you’ll want to verify if the vehicles are pre-inspected or if they are auctioning off anything they have on their lot. In most cases, the cars are going to be ex-rentals, repossessed, off-lease or trade-ins a dealership is trying to unload. You can discover a lot about an auction by conducting a Google search for your area, plus “auto auction,” plus “public.”

2. Arrive Early to Inspect the Inventory

Show up to the auction early; give yourself some time to look over the inventory. Do some surveillance before bidding on any vehicles. Those who show up late might rush into something and end up with a lemon. Review the inventory listing thoroughly and see if there is anything in particular you really like. Some vehicles may simply be out of your price range.

3. Preview Vehicles at the Auction House

Most auctions will have a preview-secession the day before the actual auction. Here you will be able to start the car, see if it turns over (although you aren’t allowed to drive it). You can pretty much do all the things you’d do if you were buying a used car: pop the hood, check for fluid spills, and most importantly bring someone who knows cars and have them inspect it.

4. Do Your Homework on Vehicles that Interest You

Do online research either before or during the auction. Verify book values for cars you’re interested in. Also, check any auto documentation for a salvage title. A salvage title means that the car has been in a wreck and was repaired. That will affect the resale value of the car, not to mention it’s an indication of future problems with the car. You will be able to find this information out on the title prior to the bidding.

5. Learn the Ways of Bidding

Generally the auctioneer will start with a high number. Resist the need to jump in right away. Sometimes no one will engage in the bidding and the auctioneer will be forced to ask for a starting bid. In that case, don’t be the first one to bid, or if you must, don’t bid too high. Keep in mind that if there is no starting bid the auctioneer may simply let the vehicle go without any bidding. They like to move through these auctions quickly, generally around 15 an hour. Go into the auction with your highest bid in mind and never go beyond that.

Getting a great day at a vehicle auction can be a great experience. Just make sure you go in knowing what to expect and how to get the most out of it.