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Public Car Auction Buyer’s Guide

Public Car Auction Buyer’s Guide

car auction priceIf you are curious about buying a car at a car auction, this guide can help you along the way. The entire process is surprisingly easy compared to other ways of buying a car. At an auto auction, you do not have to worry about high-pressure sales tactics at a used car dealership or the danger and unpredictability of buying a car on Craigslist Autos. Car auction prices are much lower than what one might pay at a used car dealer. It is the best way to save money on a used car with your W-2 or income tax return.

At most car auctions open to the public, you can browse a large inventory of used cars and trucks at your own pace before the auction starts. Some people imagine that you see the car for the first time as it is being bid on. On the contrary, most auctions will even allow you to have a mechanic inspect a vehicle before the auction starts. This brings us to our first tip…

Tip #1 – Arrive at the car auction early so that you can view the inventory during the daylight at your own pace

While public car auctions move at a slower pace than a dealer auction, there is still only a few minutes of bidding for each vehicle. Even the most experienced car buyers can make mistakes in accessing the value of a car in such a fast-paced situation. Auctions benefit the buyer when the buyer has the most amount of information available to them. It is highly beneficial to arrive early so that you know the true value of a vehicle prior to placing your bid.

Tip #2 – Many car auctions have “Buy it Now” prices on cars so that you can make an offer and buy a car without having to bid during the auction

This is great for anyone that does not want, or is unable, to attend the actual auction. Fortunately, most car auctions allow a buyer to negotiate a price on their own. This is useful since the auction works off of the price given to them by the seller. Typically, the auction staff are not the sales sharks that you see at most used car dealerships. This option allows you to receive the benefits of an auto auction without the pressure of the actual auction bidding that intimidates many people.

Tip #3 – Expect to wait at least a couple of weeks before receiving the title to your vehicle

In most cases, the auction must process your title through the state so that your tag and title can be mailed to you. You will be issued a temporary tag to satisfy your state’s vehicle registration requirements and you will also be able to obtain insurance on your vehicle right away. On the other hand, if you plan to do something with the vehicle that requires the title, such as ship it internationally, expect to wait until the title arrives.

Tip #4 – Public Car auctions’ inventories change frequently – Do not worry if you do not find a suitable vehicle your first visit

Vehicles are sold frequently at car auctions so their inventories can change dramatically from week to week. Do not force yourself to “settle” for a car that you do not want when you can return the following week and likely find the one you are looking for.

Tip #5 – Most car auctions will have “reserves”(or minimum prices) on the cars

This means that if the seller wants $2000 for a car, but the bid only goes up to $1000, the vehicle will not be sold. In most cases, a compromise price between the buyer and the seller may be negotiated.

Video: 5 Mistakes to Avoid at a Car Auction:

What to bring to an auto auction:

  • Your driver’s license
  • Form of payment – Verify beforehand what forms of payments are accepted. This is very important since you will be expected to pay for the vehicle right away once the bidding has ended.
  • Smartphone – This is vital so that you can research the value of a car and even obtain its VIN history.
  • Flashlight – When you are wondering the parking lot in the dark after the auction, you will be glad you did.


There’s no need to be intimidated by an auto auction. Just be sure to ask questions and the auction staff will almost always help you with each step. Don’t expect to buy $20,000 cars for $500, but you will realistically find some great deals at both used car auctions and police auctions.


Useful Car Auction Links:

Car Auctions in Alabama
Car Auctions in Arizona
Car Auctions in California
Car Auctions in Georgia
Car Auctions in Illinois
Car Auctions in New York & New Jersey
Car Auctions in North Carolina and South Carolina
Car Auctions in Ohio
Car Auctions in Texas
Car Auctions in Virginia

En Español: Subastas de Carros