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A Beginner's Guide to Buy a Car from an Auction

Rohini Mohan
Being a major purchase, buying a car is no casual matter. Automobile auctions are a great alternative for buyers who wish to save money and still buy themselves a car that is in good condition.

Did You Know?

Manheim Auctions is the largest automobile auction held in the U.S.
There has been a remarkable spike in the number of buyers who are opting to buy their cars from auctions, where they can find good quality cars at comparatively cheaper prices.
The private buyer is more concerned about the condition of the car; if the vehicle passes all the points of inspection, it hardly matters if the car is pre-owned. Secondly, with the economy stuck in uncertain tides, it comes as no surprise that the present-day buyer is looking to make an informed and penny-wise purchase that prevents unplanned expenditure.
So, it goes without saying that buyers who frequent automobile auctions are on a fixed budget and are likely to stick to car models that fall within their price range. This story discusses some crucial things you need to know before you buy a car at auction.
GSA (U.S. General Services Administration) is known to conduct public vehicle auctions and requires its participants to register beforehand to get their bidder numbers before the sale begins. The vehicles put up for auction by the GSA are pre-owned and off-leased.
Once the lease term is complete, these vehicles are sold off to the public. Participants are not required to pay a registration fee, nor is there any buyer's fee.
The biggest advantage of opting for a vehicle through a government auction is that the entire history of the vehicle is recorded and available for the perusal of the potential buyers, which makes it easier for buyers to weigh the pros and cons of purchasing the vehicle.
Secondly, these vehicles are usually in first-rate condition and are well-maintained, thereby avoid incurring additional expenses in service and repair after having purchased the car. Even vehicles that have been seized by banks and government agencies are sold in public auctions.
Auto auctions in the U.S. are also organized by financial firms and car rental companies who wish to auction older vehicles and off-lease vehicles that have completed their lease term.

Tips for Buying a Car from an Auto Auction

Not Protected with Warranty

Cars sold in auctions are not protected by warranty, do not come with a guarantee, and thus, do not give the buyer the option of taking a legal recourse in case some major problems are discovered in the car post purchase.

Study the Catalog

Every auction has a catalog of all their cars. Streamline your options based on your budget, and target only a few cars.
However, keep your options open in case the car targeted by you is purchased by someone else. Whether you're checking out the cars in person or bidding online, make sure that you read the history of each car. Check whether the specifications match the model, does the ownership trail add up, do the numbers make sense, do the features seem realistic?

Reach Early

It is recommended that you personally attend the auction so as to check the cars before you decide to buy a specific model. Some auction houses allow early birds to start the vehicle, which gives a good idea about the condition of the engine. In rare cases, some public auctions even allow their cars to be test driven.

Inspect the Car Firsthand

Visual inspection can help you detect hidden flaws in the vehicle. If you do not know much about cars, consider taking an expert friend along.
Inspect the engine to make sure it's genuine and fitted properly, use a dipstick to check whether the engine oil looks clean, check the wiring and oil, look for signs of haphazard repair, shoddy paintwork, engine light, faulty brake discs, among other things. Check the upholstery of the car as well, look for burn marks, stains, and odor.

Match the VIN

Once you have shortlisted the cars you wish to check out from the catalog, you will need to note down the vehicle's VIN (vehicle identification number), and match it with the other areas in the car, where the number is featured. If the numbers match, you have got yourself a car with its original parts still intact and non-replaced. If not, steer clear and move on to the next car on your list.

Observe other Buyers

Use your power of observation to your advantage, and study how other potential bidders react when they inspect the cars you're interested in. Do they seem genuinely happy with the vehicle or do you see them frowning.
Secondly, if you're not sure about the quality of the car you wish to buy, wait and watch the other bidders before you set your bid. Make a note of how people react to the car in question. If the response seems good, go ahead and place your bid as well. Also, beware of planted bidders who may simply be present to raise the initial prices of each bid.

Get the Car's Worth

As discussed earlier, get hold of the auction's catalog, and do your research prior to reaching the venue. Find out the worth of the cars you have shortlisted through automobile resources such as Kelley Blue Book.
Find out what's the local price for the same car and model through online resources such as Craigslist. Thereafter, streamline your options to 3-5 cars that fall within your budget. Being aware of the prices will ensure that you will be able to walk away from a bad deal, especially if a seller at the auction is quoting too less or way more than he ought to.

Set and Stick to Your Budget

It is very easy to get swayed at such auctions and you, being the buyer, must be careful not to exceed your budget, not if you're going to regret it later. Set a reasonable budget for buying your car, and try to get the best possible deal through the seller.
Unless, you truly find a car that surpasses your expectations and is better than the one you were considering, it really isn't cost-effective to exceed your budget.
Finally, discuss transportation charges with the seller, if you wish to have the car shipped or brought to your place. You may have to spend more for these services, so make sure that the seller takes full responsibility for the safe delivery of your car.