Autoview Motorsport & Motoring

Monday, 23 January 2012

How to: Buying a car at auction

A trip to the auction to buy a used car will be an alien experience for many people; things happen at a rapid pace, and if you aren't used to the auctioneer's patter, it can be somewhat disorientating and confusing. The cars take only a  few minutes to go from 'on sale' to 'sold' at the crack of a hammer, which means it's essential to have your wits about you and be very well prepared beforehand, if you wish to purchase a car via a UK auction. There are many different types of auction too, but here I'll try to make it as easy to understand as possible.

Auction Types

There are a myriad of auction types, including Classic Cars, Commercial Vehicles, Motorcycles etc. but we're just focussing here on yer standard run-of-the-mill car auction!

Broadly speaking, the various types of auction can be boiled down into 2 categories: those for the public and those for the trade. Though having said that trade or public could be at either type of auction! The 'trade' auctions tend to be held at the large auction groups' vast premises in the day time. These are open to the public, but of course most people work during the day, so these are mainly frequented by motor traders. The traders buy cars in large volumes and so attract preferential buyers fees from the auction houses, who are only too glad to have their repeat business. The vehicles tend to come from large dealer groups, who for their various reasons (such as, the dealer group's policy means they won't sell cars to the public over a certain age, or of a certain brand) wish for a quick turnaround of the car.

There will be cars which have some issues, but you can return a car which has a major fault which was undeclared beforehand for a refund (*take care to read the auction's terms before you buy!). On the whole, however, the vehicles through these auctions are generally 'in good nick', have had a valet, often have service history and just need a tax disc to drive home.

Usually held in the early evening, these auctions tend to be frequented by people who are looking to bag a bargain and I'm sure that some do. Although, in my experience the cars tend to have seen better days, and you regularly see smoky exhausts, colour mismatched panels and hear tappy engines. Not usually that cheap either! If you are new to buying at auction or have little or no mechanical knowledge, you really would be better steering clear.

Buying at a 'Trade' auction
First of all, do your research by checking the type of vehicle you're looking for on the auction house website, as there are usually a few pictures of the car and a short appraisal of its condition. When you get to the auction make sure you know how much you want to spend and that the car(s) you want are going to fall roughly within your budget. Also be sure you have a deposit if you don't buy regularly or have set up an account (usually £500 or 20% of the hammer price minimum).

Get to the auction early, buy a catalogue or make your own notes, then seek out the car(s) you are interested in; they are usually tightly packed, but have a good look round for body damage, be there when the auction assistant starts it up, listen for it struggling to start or not, walk round the back to see if it's smoking from cold, and listen to the engine note. Open the doors and have a good look round, feel for dampness, especially in the boot, make sure all the panel colours match and there are no obvious signs of paint repair such as 'overspray'. If you decide it's for you, follow it into the auction hall, making sure you stand where the auctioneer can see you, and bid. And most importantly, DON'T go over your pre-set limit (I know you will because it takes a lot of control not to when you're caught up in the moment!). When the auctioneer points to you, you need to 'approach the bench' as it were and hand over your deposit and some details.

Here is a small sampling of the vehicles going through a 'trade' auction last monday, all prices shown are plus buyers fee, which is on a sliding scale depending on how many vehicles you buy and the hammer price of the vehicle. For a private individual this is likely to be around £400 for a £4,500 car (apologies for photo quality!) :

                A nice clean example of a Ford Focus 1.8 TDCi with 58,000 miles went for £4,400

   43,000 mile Honda Civic 1.8 '07 plate in black goes through the auction hall. It's new owner paid £6150

      A Grey Prius with 109,000 miles. This car is a '57plate and came with Full service history. Price: £5,200

                This 79,000 mile '06 plate Mazda RX8 looked immaculate but only fetched £2,300               Reliability worries of the 1300cc Rotary engine, allied to a thirst for fuel makes these coupe's look very cheap

'03 plate Porsche Cayenne

£46,660 - No, that was the cost when it was new! Having now been pre-loved for 98,000 miles and with no obvious signs of damage it fetched...... wait for it!!............. £7,200. According to What Car's online valuation service this car with that mileage has a Trade 'bottom book' value of £9,610!

So, if this article has whetted your appetite, or you would like to know more, our comprehensive auction buying services and guides will be available very soon. drop an e-mail to  and we'll make sure you are the very first to receive this remarkable insider info.

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