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Car auctions: What are they, how do they work, how to participate?

Car auctions are just one of the many different ways that you are able to purchase your next vehicle. As you probably already know, you can of course buy a car brand new straight from the dealership, or you can buy a used car either through a dealer or a private party. But car auctions are another, arguably less mainstream way of buying your next vehicle, and one which could potentially save you some money.

What is a car auction?

Unlike buying a car from a dealership or a private party, car auctions involve you competing with other interested buyers for the same car. The starting price of a car auction will typically be way below the true market value of the car, and potential buyers will bid a higher price to have themselves as the highest bidder, and thus the provisional buyer. The auction of the car concludes when a bid price has been reached where no other person wishes to commit to a higher price.

Speaking of the price, car auctions really do give you the potential to save a serious amount of money if you manage to strike it lucky. Since the starting price is below market value, if very few people have an interest in the car, it can potentially sell for a price far cheaper than you’d typically find in a traditional dealership. Some auctions do put a reserve price on the cars (meaning if the bidding ends before a set pricing threshold, the vehicle will not sell) but there are also plenty of no-reserve cars out there waiting to be snatched up, too.

Whilst they have the potential to land you a serious deal, car auctions are not necessarily fully risk-free. Read on for top tips on how to purchase your next vehicle confidently and safely through an auction later in the article.

Online and in-person car auctions

As we now live in an online world, car auctions have readily adapted to take advantage of the instantaneous delivery of information that the Internet offers. Online auctions follow the same principle as traditional car auctions, with the only major difference being that everything is done virtually. For example, you may only see photos or short videos of the car you’re bidding on, rather than exploring it in the bare metal beforehand.

Online car auctions also tend to have a much larger number of potential bidders, since most auctions are open nationwide or even worldwide in some cases. So long as you have an Internet connection, you can bid online at a car auction!

On the other hand, traditional car auctions are commenced in-person – usually in a warehouse or garage. Bidders and organisers assemble in one room, and the car that’s being auctioned is driven in. Once it’s sold, it’s driven out, and the next car comes through. Whilst an online auction is without doubt more convenient, in-person car auctions can provide a bit more piece of mind, since you’re able to view the car in person and check for any faults that photos might otherwise leave out.

Different cars mean different kinds of auction

Car auctions - choosing a platform to sell a carCar auctions - choosing a platform to sell a carOf course, cars can be sold in any kind of condition, ranging from the rare ultra-collectable models that will only appreciate in value, right down to cars that are only fit for the scrapper, and are only worth their value in raw materials. Naturally, it would be a bit strange to auction off a brand-new Rolls Royce and immediately follow it with a rusted Ford Ka, so different car auctions exist to fill in different specialities.

At one end of the spectrum, you have Motor Breaker salvage vehicle auctions. These car auctions specialise in selling cars, vans and trucks that have been damaged beyond uneconomical repair, damaged but repairable, or simply excess stock that dealerships wish to move on in order to clear some space. A salvaged vehicle will be categorised depending on the severity of any damage, ranging from Category N for very minor damage up to Category A for a total write-off. Salvaged vehicles can offer very strong discounts to potential buyers – even when considering repair costs.

At the very opposite end sits auctions for specialised and collectable cars, such as supercars or one-off rare models. Only certain cars in good condition qualify for these types of auction, to give buyers spending large amounts of money some confidence. For normal everyday cars, there are countless car auction companies, both online and in-person. One of the well-known examples of online car auctions is eBay.

Car auctions - tips and tricks

If the idea of getting a potential bargain with a car auction along with the buzzing excitement that tends to come with the activity appeals to you, then there are a few tips that may potentially really help you if and when the time comes to participate.

Firstly, be sure to fully inspect the car you wish to bid on beforehand. If possible, bring with you a friend who has good mechanical knowledge to give it a looking over. As previously mentioned, cars in all kinds of condition are auctioned off, so be sure yours is in the condition you want. If it’s online, look through all the photos and videos, and potentially request the auctioneer to send through more details if necessary.

Always set a strict budget! It’s very easy to blow your money in the tense atmosphere of an auction room, so go in knowing exactly what you want to spend. You might want to attend a couple of auctions beforehand without spending anything to get a feel for the atmosphere.

Beware of buyers’ fees at many car auctions, too. They usually sit at 5% of the vehicle value, so what may initially seem like a bargain can end up pricier. Always keep it in the back of your mind when bidding at most auctions. However, Motor Breaker bucks the trend by not charging fees to buyers – making it the go-to platform for selling or scrapping your car, van, or truck. For more information, visit the Motor Breaker bidding FAQs.

And finally, do your homework. It’s not recommended to go into a car auction not knowing what sort of car you want – certain cars may appear cheap but maybe notoriously unreliable or have a pricy maintenance schedule. The more prepared you are walking in, the more confident you can be. Happy bidding!